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Five Races to Watch for a GOP Wave

Five Races to Watch for a GOP Wave

May 2022

By Nathan Gonzales,
Inside Elections Editor and Publisher
Public Affairs Council Senior Political Analyst

With less than six months to go before the midterm elections, the uncertainty is whether Republicans will have a good 2022 or a great 2022. So how do we know which one it will be?

Now that redistricting has finally come to an end in the vast majority of states, the House and Senate battlegrounds are coming into focus. And from now until November, most of the attention will be rightly focused on the most competitive races. But if you’re looking for whether Republicans are headed for a wave or tsunami, then there are at least a handful of races worth keeping an eye on.

These are races that are either just on or just off the battleground. Republicans don’t need to win them to gain the majority in the House or the Senate, but their future competitiveness, and potential for a GOP victory, would be a sign that the Republican majorities are effectively in hand and the party is poised for a much bigger cycle than just gaining control of Congress.

To be sure, this is not a forecast of a wave, but if Democrats are struggling to win these races, then Republicans are headed for a big election night.

Senate Races to Watch

There’s no argument that Democratic Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada, Raphael Warnock of Georgia, Mark Kelly of Arizona and Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire are vulnerable. Republicans don’t need to defeat all of them to gain the one seat they need for control. But at least a couple other Democratic senators should be preparing for competitive races as well unless President Joe Biden’s political standing improves.

Colorado Senate. Biden carried the Centennial State by 13 points in 2020, 55% to 42%, so Colorado qualifies as a reach. Only two senators (Democrats Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Jon Tester of Montana) represent states that voted for the opposite party’s presidential nominee by a greater margin in 2020. But Colorado voted for a Republican for Senate as recently as 2014, when Rep. Cory Gardner defeated Sen. Tom Udall.

Republicans are convinced that the state is poised to swing back in their direction with former President Donald Trump out of office and less in the spotlight. But their June 28 primary could be critical. Wealthy businessman Joe O’Dea probably gives them the best chance to win while state Rep. Ron Hanks, who crossed police lines when marching on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, might be too close to Trump for too many independent voters. The race is currently rated Solid Democratic but will likely get more competitive if O’Dea wins the nomination.

Washington Senate. Republicans haven’t won a U.S. Senate race in Washington since the GOP wave in 1994 and Biden won the Evergreen State by 19 points, 58% to 39%, in 2020. So, if veterans’ advocate/former triage nurse Tiffany Smiley, the likely GOP nominee, defeated Democratic Sen. Patty Murray, Republicans are probably approaching 55 or 56 seats in the Senate next year. That’s because the five more vulnerable Democratic Senate seats will likely fall to Republicans as well in this scenario.

Murray had a $7.9 million to $2.5 million advantage in campaign cash at the end of March, but at least Smiley doesn’t have to navigate a primary such as in Colorado. Smiley has broad support among GOP officials in Washington, D.C., as well as Washington state. It’s the partisan trend of the state that will be the challenge. The race is rated Solid Democratic for now.

House Races to Watch

Republicans only need a net gain of five House seats for a majority. Winning some or all of the following batch would probably get the GOP into the range of a 40-seat gain or more.

New Mexico’s 3rd District. Democrats drew the new congressional lines to give them a better opportunity to defeat GOP Rep. Yvette Herrell in the 2nd District, but they may have left themselves vulnerable in a neighboring seat. Biden would have won the new 3rd District by 10 points, 54% to 44%, so the race looks within reach on paper in the current political environment.

But Republicans don’t have a top challenger to Democratic Rep. Teresa Leger Fernandez. Engineer Alexis Martinez Johnson, who lost last cycle by 17 points, is running again and had just $21,000 in the bank at the end of March compared to the congresswoman’s $812,000 cash on hand. That means a Johnson victory would be environmental rather than a result of the strength of the candidate. The race is currently rated Likely Democratic.

Colorado’s 7th District. Biden would have won the newly drawn 7th by 15 points, 56% to 41%, so a GOP victory would be a stretch, although Democratic Rep. Ed Perlmutter not running for reelection might make it a little easier. Democrats are counting on State Sen. Brittany Pettersen to keep the seat in their column while the GOP frontrunner is economist and e-commerce executive Tim Reichert.

Sen. Cory Gardner lost the new 7th by 10 points in his 2020 reelection loss, but he would have won this seat narrowly in his 2014 victory. The same goes for statewide GOP candidates for secretary of state, treasurer and attorney general in that good GOP cycle. So, there is a path. This year, if Sen. Michael Bennet is struggling at the top of the ticket, then this seat is likely to be very competitive. The 7th District race is currently rated Likely Democratic.

Maryland’s 6th District. The partisan performance of the district changed significantly after the first map drawn by Democrats was thrown out in court. The newly drawn 6th would have voted for Biden by 10 points, 54% to 44%, putting it in reach for Republicans.

It won’t be easy considering Democratic Rep. David Trone is wealthy to the point that he can write a check for whatever he thinks he needs to win reelection. But sometimes candidates have political problems that money can’t solve, and this might be one of those cycles for Democrats. Republicans still have to choose a nominee in the July 19 primary, but if this race gets competitive, it will be because of the political environment and not because of the strength of the nominee. The race is currently rated Likely Democratic.

Nathan L. Gonzales is a senior political analyst for the Public Affairs Council and editor of Inside Elections, a nonpartisan newsletter with a subscription package designed to boost PACs with a regular newsletter and exclusive conference call. His email address is [email protected]. 

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