As the holiday season begins to wrap up, Senators on both sides of the aisle are preparing for tough midterm battles as Republicans seek to take back Democrats’ one-vote majority in the upper chamber.
The Senate, always an important aspect of the U.S. legislative process, has taken on new significance in recent months due to its peculiar ability to halt legislation sent to it from the less deliberative House of Representatives. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) slim majority in the House have sent several bills to the Senate that have been killed through the Senate’s filibuster power.
Bills that would federalize elections, forbid state restrictions on abortions, and approve the many iterations of President Joe Biden’s monolithic $1.85 trillion Build Back Better budget have all passed easily through the House but have been held up or halted in the Senate.
Other Democratic proposals, including to pack the Supreme Court or end the filibuster, have not been able to get off the ground either, in part due to Sen. Joe Manchin’s (D-W. Va.) and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema’s (D-Ariz.) refusal to accept wide-reaching changes to federal rules.
In the upper chamber, Democrats hold the thinnest possible majority: 50 seats are controlled by Democrats, 50 by Republicans; Only with unanimous Democratic support and Vice President Kamala Harris’ tie-breaking vote can Democrats overcome unanimous Republican resistance to their proposals.
While Manchin and Sinema have been key swing votes in the 117th Senate, if Democrats pick up only a few crucial seats in 2022, many of Democrats’ hitherto-rejected proposals could gain a new lease on life.
On the other hand, if Republicans manage to pick up only one more seat, they will be able to stop almost any major Democratic proposal that comes to the Senate.
In 2022, 34 Senators, including 14 Democrats and 20 Republicans, are up for reelection. Thus, the outcome of this year’s Senate races has the potential to make or break the fortunes of both parties.
Here are the Democratic seats that are likely safe and those that are in play in 2022.
Democrats in Safe Seats
Several Democrats are at little risk of losing their seats, hailing as they do from solid-blue states.
Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) have about the safest seats among their colleagues.
During their last election, both senators won by huge margins: Schatz received the support of around 74 percent of Hawaiians, while Schumer received the support of almost 71 percent of New Yorkers. In both races, their GOP opponents garnered less than 30 percent of the vote.
Also relatively safe are Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.).
Hailing from the blue-stronghold of Connecticut, Blumenthal received around 63 percent of the popular vote during his last election, with only around 35 percent voting for his Republican challenger.
Van Hollen, running in the Washington-adjacent state of Maryland, saw similar margins in his last election. Around 61 percent of Marylanders voted for Van Hollen in 2016, compared to only around 36 percent for his GOP opponent.
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) garnered similar results in his last election, with 61.3 percent of the popular vote. However, Leahy has also announced his intention not to run again.
But even though Leahy himself will not be returning to the Senate, Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-Vt.) state is unlikely to replace Leahy with a Republican, and the seat will almost certainly return to Democratic hands.
Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) also has a fairly safe seat in Chicago-dominated Illinois.
While the heartland of Illinois went overwhelmingly Republican in the 2016 Senate election, Chicago’s Cook County, with around 5 million residents, went to Duckworth. Cook County continues to dominate the state of Lincoln; the one county alone holds around a half to a third of Illinois’ entire population of nearly 13 million people.
Because Cook County is likely to remain a Democratic stronghold, the GOP has little chance of making a breakthrough in Illinois during the 2022 cycle.
In the Pacific Northwest, Democratic Sens. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), and Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) are also likely to retain their seats.
Despite facing nearly unanimous opposition from eastern Washington state counties, Sen. Murray won the support of Seattle and the coastal counties of Washington, and Murray easily overcame challenger Chris Vance, winning about 59 percent of the popular vote compared to 41 percent for Vance.
In Oregon, the same scene played out.
In an electoral battle with challenger Mark Callahan, Sen. Wyden was opposed by many of the eastern counties of Oregon but took voter-rich Portland and the surrounding areas, garnering 56.6 percent of the vote. Several third parties, including the Working Families Party, one Independent candidate, and the Pacific Green Party siphoned off a substantial portion of the remaining voters, leaving Republican Callahan with only 33.4 percent of the popular vote.
In California, Sen. Padilla won a special election to replace then-Sen. Kamala Harris that featured no GOP challengers at all, and the Democrats’ grasp on the Sunshine State is likely to hold for the foreseeable future.
Vulnerable Democratic Seats
Of the 14 Democrats up for reelection, nine seats are located in Democratic strongholds scattered across the northeastern and western United States.
But the other five seats are highly vulnerable to GOP incursion, and could offer Republicans a chance to take back the upper chamber.
New Hampshire Sen. Maggie Hassan
Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) won in one of the closest elections of any congressional race during 2016, but that close victory now means that Hassan is highly vulnerable in 2022.
In that race, Hassan only just edged out her Republican challenger, Republican Kelly Ayotte, who won 47.84 percent of the vote. Hassan won 47.98 percent. In other words, a mere 0.14 percent or 1,017 vote-lead put Hassan into her seat, and it is sure to be a main target for Republicans in 2022.
Two names have been considered to challenge Hassan: 2016 GOP challenger Kelly Ayotte or New Hampshire Republican Governor Chris Sununu.
According to statistical research by the University of New Hampshire, Sununu is the stronger of these two potential rivals, but both GOP candidates, research projects, are statistically tied with Hassan.
Georgia Sen. Raphael Warnock
Also vulnerable is Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.), whose narrow election in 2020 secured Democrats’ Senate majority.
In the longtime red-stronghold of Georgia, Warnock edged out GOP challenger Kelly Loeffler, securing 51 percent of the vote compared to Loeffler’s 49 percent.
Despite efforts to paint Georgia as a purple state in the wake of the 2020 election, the state remains significantly conservative and Republican, and the GOP will have a good chance to make up for their unexpected loss in the state last November.
Strengthening the GOP’s chances in the state is legislation passed by the Georgia legislature designed to ensure election integrity after allegations of fraud and mishandling of votes in the 2020 election. Absentee voting, one of the most criticized aspects of the 2020 election, is now significantly more limited in the state, and has been subjected to more stringent rules and guidelines.
As such, Sen. Warnock’s tenure may be a short one, and the GOP is sure to target Georgia heavily with funding and campaigning.
Arizona Sen. Mark Kelly
Sen. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.) won a special election to fill the late Sen. John McCain’s seat in 2020, marking the first time since 1952 that both Arizona senators were Democrats.
But this political anomaly may be short-lived, and the GOP has a good shot at turning Arizona back into a purple state in 2022.
Like Georgia, Arizona reportedly voted for President Joe Biden. However, this election, as happened in Georgia, has faced significant criticism and allegations of fraud, particularly in Phoenix’s Maricopa County.
The Republican Arizona legislature has taken these concerns seriously and has, like Georgia, strengthened its election laws to better ensure the integrity of its future elections. Arizona also went a step further, ordering a forensic audit of contested Maricopa County.
So far, the frontrunner in the GOP primary race is Arizona Attorney Mark Brnovich.
In a Supreme Court case before Biden was inaugurated, Brnovich made national headlines after he won a case defending Arizona’s strengthened election laws. The Democratic National Committee (DNC) argued that the laws, which limited absentee voting among other measures, constituted discrimination against minorities.
The Supreme Court disagreed with the DNC, however, and let the laws stand.
As a hotbed for the larger national debates over 2020 election fraud and more stringent voting laws, a matchup of Brnovich and Kelly could come down to Arizonans perception of the 2020 election.
In any event, it is likely that the race will be a close one. In 2020, Kelly won by a relatively narrow margin, winning 51.2 percent of the vote against his Republican challenger’s 48.8 percent.
But compared to Sen. Kyrsten Sinema’s militantly moderate politics, some Arizonans may see Kelly as too liberal for the purple state, giving the GOP a great opportunity to win a foothold in 2022.
Nevada Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto
Also in play for both sides is Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto’s (D-Nev.) seat in the swing state of Nevada.
In her 2016 race, Cortez Masto pulled in 47.1 percent of the vote, narrowly edging out her Republican challenger who received 44.7 percent of the vote.
Despite these relatively narrow margins, however, Republicans may face more of a challenge in trying to make a breakthrough in the state than they face in other places.
Unlike in Georgia and Arizona, Nevada’s state legislature is run by Democrats, and because the desert state is dominated by metropolitan Las Vegas, the state’s recent track record is also notably blue-leaning: in 2020, Biden beat President Donald Trump in the state by 50.06 percent to Trump’s 47.67 percent, and in 2018, Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.) beat GOP challenger Dean Heller by a 5 point margin.
Still, amid Biden’s rising unpopularity and the slew of crises battering the nation, Nevada could fall into GOP hands in 2020.
Of the declared GOP candidates, former Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt is the current front runner to lead this challenge.
Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet
The last major opportunity for Republicans in 2022 is Sen. Michael Bennet’s (D-Colo.) seat.
Admittedly Colorado has, like Nevada, been reliably blue-leaning over the past few election cycles. Both its governor and its state legislature are Democrat controlled, and the state went for Biden in 2020.
Still, Republican candidates have, in the past, managed to win fairly respectable margins.
In his 2016 election, Bennet won 49.97 percent of the vote compared to his opponent’s 44.31 percent. But compared to other Democratic strongholds, where Republicans often receive less than 40 percent of the vote, this race was a fairly tight one.
While recent elections have indeed gone in Democrats’ favor, the state has sent Republicans to the Senate over the course of the last decade.
In 2014, former Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) beat his Democratic opponent by around two percent. In 2020, Gardner was defeated by Sen. John Hickenlooper (D-Colo.) in his bid for reelection, but some have speculated that Gardner may try to run again.
As a former senator with a veritable track record in the Senate, Gardner could really challenge Bennet in 2022 if he chooses to run.
Just as is the case in Nevada, continuing inflation, rising gas prices, and supply chain issues could sour Coloradans on the policies of the Democratic Party, giving the GOP an opening to take back one of Colorado’s Senate seats in 2022.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.