November 19, 2020

ON TO '22:

Senate 2022: An Early LookDemocrats may ultimately have a better shot to win the Senate than the House in two years, although winning either will be challenging (Kyle KondikIn, November 19, 2020, Sabato's Crystal Ball)

PROBABLY COMPETITIVE 3 R, 3 D, 1 undecided

Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin

That leaves seven races where we are assuming a high level of competition, although not all of these races are guaranteed to be close in the end. Democrats are defending three of these states, Republicans are defending three, and one other -- the Georgia special -- will be decided in January. Let's set that one aside and focus on the remaining others.

The six closest states in the presidential election all feature Senate races in 2022: Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, and they are all included here. The seventh is New Hampshire, a politically fickle state where Joe Biden performed very well in 2020, carrying the state by seven points after Hillary Clinton carried it by less than half a point four years ago. Its inclusion here is predicated on the Republicans producing a strong challenger for Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-NH) -- and they very well may have such a challenger waiting in the wings.

The GOP's top choice to run against Hassan is almost certainly Gov. Chris Sununu (R-NH), who just easily won a third, two-year term. Sununu considered running against Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) in this past election, but ran for reelection instead; immediately following the election, Sununu's campaign manager signaled in a tweet directed to Hassan that Sununu may be closer to taking the plunge this time, and a Hassan-Sununu race would be very expensive and closely contested.

Republicans seem likely to take another shot at Sen. Mark Kelly (D-AZ), who will be back on the ballot in search of a full term in 2022, and Republicans may be able to produce a nominee who performs better than outgoing Sen. Martha McSally (R-AZ), who lost in 2018 and 2020. Term-limited Gov. Doug Ducey (R-AZ) would seem to be the leading potential Republican candidate, although there are plenty of other possibilities.

In Nevada, former Gov. Brian Sandoval (R-NV) would be a great potential opponent for Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), but Sandoval could have run for Senate six years ago and opted not to, and he recently took a job as the president of the University of Nevada-Reno. In all likelihood, Republicans will have to look elsewhere for a challenger to Cortez Masto in an evenly-divided state where Democrats nonetheless appear to retain a narrow statewide organizing edge. In some ways, Nevada is to Republicans what Florida is to Democrats: an elusive and frustrating target.

The three most vulnerable Republican-held seats are in three closely-contested states, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. Sens. Richard Burr (R-NC) and Pat Toomey (R-PA) have already announced their retirements. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) may or may not run again. So these may all be open seats, which would be a change from the 2018 and 2020 cycles, when almost all of the top races on both sides featured incumbents running for reelection.

Current or former House members could be factors in all three races. In the Tar Heel State, outgoing Rep. Mark Walker (R, NC-6) saw his district made much more Democratic in redistricting. He retired but could seek the Senate seat in 2022. Democrats surely would love to see newly-reelected Gov. Roy Cooper (D-NC) run for the Senate, but they may have to look elsewhere -- and Democrats ended up striking out in North Carolina this year when their lower-tier nominee, former state Sen. Cal Cunningham (D), blew up his campaign with a late-breaking affair (although Cunningham may very well have lost anyway absent the scandal given Biden's inability to win the state).

Redistricting in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin could determine whether members such as Reps. Conor Lamb (D, PA-17) or Ron Kind (D, WI-3) would try to make the statewide jump; meanwhile, a couple of Pennsylvania Republicans who retired in advance of 2018, former Reps. Ryan Costello (R, PA-6) and Charlie Dent (R, PA-15), might make sense as the Senate nominee, although if they ran they might have competition to their right in a primary.

Our assumption is that both parties will be able to produce strong candidates in these three races; of the three, North Carolina is the heaviest lift for the Democrats, but with good candidates and a good environment (two big assumptions), Democrats can credibly compete for all three.

Winning two of the three and holding the line elsewhere would get the Democrats a Senate majority even if they lose both Georgia seats in January.

Posted by at November 19, 2020 12:00 AM