Any big Supreme Court-related development can raise the stakes of Senate races because of the chamber’s role in confirming future justices. But last month’s ruling that found there was no longer a federal constitutional right to an abortion could drive even more attention to the Senate since it’s Congress that would set any future nationwide abortion policies.
Another bright spot for Democrats, underscored by the abortion issue, is that the Senate playing field includes states such as Nevada, New Hampshire and Colorado that have recently voted blue. In fact, seven of the 10 races on this list of seats most likely to flip are in states Biden won in 2020.
The addition of Colorado at No. 10 on this latest ranking, however, speaks to the challenging national environment for Democrats. Economic issues — high inflation and gas prices this summer travel season — are still weighing on voters and are often cited as their most pressing concern. Republicans have also tried tapping into Americans’ post-pandemic anxieties about safety, with ads suggesting Democrats are soft on crime. Some Democratic candidates have worked to get ahead of those attacks early by featuring uniformed police in their own spots and directly refuting the idea of “defunding the police.”
Besides Colorado’s appearance on the list, the biggest change to this month’s ranking is Nevada and Georgia trading places. It may seem somewhat counterintuitive, especially in this era of hyper-nationalized elections and considering Nevada is a more Democratic state than Georgia. But the change was driven by the candidate matchups in the two states, as things stand now. The ranking is based on CNN’s reporting, fundraising and advertising data, and polling, as well as historical data about how states and candidates have performed.
Just a handful of important Senate primaries that will shape the November midterms remain. They key ones to watch in August and September: The Republican primaries in Arizona, Missouri and New Hampshire and the Democratic primary in Wisconsin.
Incumbent: Republican Pat Toomey (retiring)
The start of the general election in the Keystone State was a mixed bag for Democrats trying to flip the seat of retiring GOP Sen. Pat Toomey. Their nominee, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, was sidelined by a stroke just before he won the primary and has been off the trail recuperating. But then they got the Republican opponent they wanted in celebrity surgeon Mehmet Oz.
Incumbent: Democrat Catherine Cortez Masto
Nevada moves up one spot, trading places with Georgia, where the fundamentals of the state (for example, past presidential performance) would seem to give Republicans a better chance of unseating a Democratic incumbent. But the Republican Senate nominee in the Silver State, former state Attorney General Adam Laxalt, is a more tested candidate than the GOP nominee in Georgia, ex-NFL star Herschel Walker.
That may not be saying much considering Walker, a political neophyte, is widely seen as the biggest wild-card candidate of the cycle and Laxalt lost his last bid for statewide office (the 2018 gubernatorial race). Laxalt, however, has held statewide office before and is the son of the former governor and senator with the same last name. Georgia Sen. Raphael Warnock, who was on the ballot just last year, also started the cycle as a better defined (and funded) Democratic incumbent than Nevada Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, who hasn’t faced voters in this transient state in six years. Masto has a tough road ahead, to be sure — and fissures in the state Democratic Party aren’t helping — but the Supreme Court ruling on abortion could work in Democrats’ favor in a state where even the most recent GOP governor supported abortion rights.
Incumbent: Democrat Raphael Warnock
What’s most encouraging for Democrats facing a tough national environment may be that Warnock is still viewed more positively than Biden. The senator’s job approval rating was at 49% in the Quinnipiac poll, compared with 33% for the President. That’s some impressive separation the first-term senator has been able to create from the White House in a state not predisposed to vote Democratic. The poll was mostly conducted after the Supreme Court’s abortion decision on June 24, so Warnock’s advantage over Walker may also reflect some of the immediate backlash to that ruling, which won’t necessarily be sustained through the fall.
Incumbent: Democrat Mark Kelly
Incumbent: Republican Ron Johnson
But Democrats have discounted him before. His 41% favorability rating in October 2016 — just before he won a second term — isn’t much better than his numbers now. And even if their incumbent isn’t in as strong a position as they’d like, the good news for Republicans is that Biden’s job approval in the Badger State is at 40% — the lowest mark in Marquette’s polling since he took office. GOP enthusiasm to vote also outpaced Democratic enthusiasm — 67% to 58% — in the Marquette survey.
The task for Democrats, who pick their nominee on August 9, is to show that Johnson has changed and is no longer the senator Wisconsinites elected twice. The primary is the last truly unsettled Democratic contest in a competitive general election state. Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes continues to lead the primary field with 25% in the Marquette poll, but his lead over Milwaukee Bucks executive Alex Lasry (21%) is within the margin of error. State Treasurer Sarah Godlewski was at 9%, while Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson was at 7%. Marquette tested hypothetical general election matchups for the first time this cycle, finding a margin-of-error contest regardless of the pairing.
6. New Hampshire
Incumbent: Democrat Maggie Hassan
Hassan is running for reelection in a state that increasingly votes blue in federal elections and has a GOP governor who supports abortion rights. Still, a bad national environment for Democrats, combined with the Granite State’s swingy nature, has Hassan on notice. Even if most of her would-be GOP challengers aren’t very well known ahead of the September 13 primary, it may not take much more than a generic Republican to unseat her if that’s the way the winds are blowing in November.
That explains why Hassan, whose campaign announced it had raised more than $5 million in the second quarter, is using the Supreme Court’s abortion ruling to try to shift the conversation toward a hypothetical Republican-controlled Washington that New Hampshire voters may not like. The great unknown, however, is whether frustrations with the economy and dissatisfaction with the direction of the country will outweigh other concerns in November.
7. North Carolina
Incumbent: Republican Richard Burr (retiring)
Democrats, meanwhile, are trying to portray Budd, who was boosted by the campaign arm of the Club for Growth in the primary, as too extreme for the state. Senate Majority PAC, a major Democratic super PAC, invested in this race after initially leaving it off its early reservations — a sign that Democrats haven’t counted this one out even if it’s less of a priority than other GOP-held seats in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
Incumbent: Republican Marco Rubio
GOP Sen. Marco Rubio still has the advantage in this race, but Democratic Rep. Val Demings, who’s heavily favored to win the Senate nomination on August 23, is keeping the race interesting by raising impressive money.
But in a state that has grown incrementally Republican in recent elections, Demings would face a difficult general election against Rubio, who has built a national profile over his two terms in the Senate and should benefit from political tailwinds this fall.
Incumbent: Republican Rob Portman (retiring)
That’s why Ryan, who once challenged Nancy Pelosi for House Democratic leader, is being vocal about distancing himself from his party. “When (President Barack) Obama’s trade deal threatened jobs here, I voted against it,” he says in another ad as he walks through Youngstown sporting a gray hoodie. “And I voted with Trump on trade,” he adds, trying to project an image of Buckeye State authenticity. It’s not clear that’ll be enough against a Trump-backed candidate in a nationalized election, but it may be Ryan’s best shot. And with his campaign announcing that he raised $9 million in the second quarter that ended June 30, it looks like he’ll at least have the resources to carry that message.
Incumbent: Democrat Michael Bennet
As a Republican who supports abortion rights in the early stages of pregnancy, O’Dea brings a unique profile to the race. Colorado has trended blue in recent federal elections — Biden won it by more than 13 points in 2020, the same year GOP Sen. Cory Gardner was unseated by 9 points. But Bennet’s previous elections have been close. In 2016, for example, he prevailed by only about 6 points against an underwhelming opponent whom the national GOP had abandoned. Against a more formidable Republican challenger in a tough year for Democrats, Bennet could be vulnerable.