In 2020, Democrats Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Osoff changed the balance of power in the U.S. Senate with their run-off election victories. But with a 50/50 split, Chuck Schumer’s position as Majority Leader sits on a knife’s edge, and most states will be going back to the polls in 2022—including, once again, Georgia. Warnock holds the seat vacated by former Sen. Johnny Isakson, whose term was set to expire next year. Additional seats currently held by 21 Republican and 12 Democratic Senators will up for grabs, and five of those Republican Senators are retiring. The Democrats would seem to have the advantage to hold onto the Senate, but midterms are traditionally difficult for the party in power—especially when led by an unpopular president—and Republicans will look to pick up seats in places like Georgia, New Hampshire and Nevada.
In our increasingly partisan landscape, most of the incumbents are safe. But we’ve been looking at and regularly updating the 10 most competitive Senate races in 2022, in order of how likely they’ll flip.
When Toomey was elected to represent Pennsylvania’s 15th District in the U.S. House in 1998, he pledged to serve no more than three terms. He was elected to the Senate in 2010 and won a second term by a margin of 1.5% as Donald Trump breached the blue wall in 2016. But Pennsylvania continues to be a competitive state, and Toomey announced that he won’t be seeking a third term as Senator. The open seat attracted plenty of candidates from both parties. On the Democratic side, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman beat out moderate U.S. Rep. Conor Lamb. He’ll go up against Mehmet Oz of The Dr. Oz Show in November. Recent polling has Fetterman with a growing lead, thanks to both Oz’s poor attempt to connect to Pennsylvania voters and Fetterman’s success at tagging him as an out-of-touch New Jerseyite.
Ron Johnson was elected to the senate in 2010, defeating Sen. Russ Feingold in a Republican wave that year. A fiscal conservative, he was reelected in 2016 in a rematch with Feingold by a margin of 3.4%, capturing 50.2% of the vote. Wisconsin has since elected a Democratic governor in 2018 and tilted toward Biden two years ago. Johnson will be running for a third term, but has given his opponent plenty of fodder by grabbing hold of that most famous political third rail, social security. He’ll face Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, who defeated Milwaukee Bucks senior vice president Alex Lasry and State Treasurer Sarah Godlewski in a crowded primary. Barnes will have strong backing from the national party and will be in a tight race to retake this seat from the Republicans.
Nevada was more competitive than expected in 2020, and Republicans are taking it seriously this November, as Sen. Masto is up for reelection after the former Nevada Attorney General narrowly defeated Joe Heck by a margin of 2.6% in 2016 to succeed majority leader Harry Reid. Republicans have recruited another former state Attorney General, Adam Laxalt, to challenge for the seat. Polling shows Cortez Masto with a very slim lead.
North Carolina’s junior Senator Thom Tillis surprised pundits by holding onto his seat in purple North Carolina in 2020, but Richard Burr decided not to do the same, announcing his retirement soon after winning his fourth term in 2016. It’s just as well, in the wake of insider trading allegations that saw him sell off hundreds of thousands of dollars in stock after being briefed on the severity of Covid-19—even Fox’s Tucker Carlson was calling for his resignation. He’s remained in the Senate, but the seat is now up for grabs. Former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley emerged from a crowded field to win her Democratic primary in May, while former U.S. Rep. Ted Budd beat former Gov. Pat McCrory for the Republican nomination. Budd seems to have a slight polling advantage going into the general election, but the race has become surprisingly tight.
While New Hampshire wasn’t as much in play as Trump hoped in 2020, Sen. Hassan won her seat by a razor-thin .1% margin in 2016 against an incumbent Republicans, and the GOP will have the former Governor in their sights when she faces reelection for the first time. Republicans, including Sen. Mitch McConnell and Sen. Tim Scott, were unsuccessful in convincing current Gov. John Sununu to run for the seat. The crowded Republican field of challengers instead includes President of the New Hampshire Senate Chuck Morse, Brigadier General Donald C. Bolduc, cryptocurrency mogul Bruce Fenton and Londonderry Town Manager Kevin Smith. They’ll compete in one of the latest primaries in the nation on Sept. 13.
Gov. Brian Kemp appointed businesswoman Kelly Loefler to the Senate in December of 2019 to succeed Sen. Isakson, who resigned due to health concerns. Her challenger Rev. Raphael Warnock unseated her to give the Democrats a 50/50 split and control of the U.S. Senate. Democratic voters showed up in unprecedented numbers for a run-off and they’ll have to repeat that in a non-presidential election year to keep Georgia blue. He’ll be running against former University of Georgia football star Herschel Walker, a popular figure in the state, but one who comes with a lot of baggage. Allegations of domestic violence, secret children, stalking and physical threats have been piling up against Walker, who was diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder years ago, and Warnock has begun polling ahead of his Republican opponent. Gaffe after gaffe from Walker has given Democrats increasing confidence in holding a seat, which was once considered their most at-risk.
Ohio has become more reliably red in recent years, and Sen. Rob Portman beat his Democratic opponent by more than 20 points in 2016. But Portman is retiring, and Democrats are pinning their hopes on U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, who represents a blue-collar district in northeastern Ohio and is currently polling surprisingly well against his Republican opponent J.D. Vance. The venture capitalist and author of Hillbilly Elegy won his primary after an endorsement from former President Donald Trump and securing $10 million from Peter Thiel to his super PAC.
As with Georgia, the seat that Mark Kelly just won in Arizona was an appointment after the death of Sen. John McCain, and he’s having to defend it again after just two years. Republicans will be out for revenge and will be running someone other than Sen. Martha McSally, who has now lost two Senate races in a row in the Grand Canyon state, whose counties we all now know so well. With an endorsement from Donald Trump, Thiel Capital COO Blake Masters defeated Arizona’s Attorney General Mark Brnovich, solar power magnate Jim Lamon, retired Arizona National Guard Major General Michael McGuire and Arizona Corporate Commission’s Justin Olson in the Republican primary, but trails Kelly in the polls.
Sen. Rubio is probably feeling more confident about retaining his seat after seeing the 2020 election results in Florida. Democrats keep holding out hope of winning statewide elections only to fall short, in part due to strong support among his fellow Cuban-Americans in the southern part of the state. Still, Democrats will be stepping up to the football one more time, hoping Lucy doesn’t pull it away. He’ll face U.S. Rep. Val Demings, who will be hoping Democratic momentum can lead her to a surprising upset.
Colorado has been reliably blue in recent years, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will take comfort in at least one candidate free from the stain of the former president. Joe O’Dea defeated controversial state Rep. Ron Hanks, who took part in the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, to claim the Republican nomination. The latest poll had him only five points behind Sen. Michael Bennett, who has held the seat since 2009.
Alabama – Sen. Richard Shelby (Rep.)*
Alaska – Sen. Lisa Murkowski(Rep.)
Arkansas – Sen. John Boozman (Rep.)
California – Sen. Alex Padilla (Dem.)
Connecticut – Sen. Richard Blumenthal (Dem.)
Hawaii – Sen. Brian Schatz (Dem.)
Idaho – Sen. Mike Crapo (Rep.)
Illinois – Sen. Tammy Duckworth (Dem.)
Indiana – Sen. Todd Young (Rep.)
Iowa – Sen. Chuck Grassley (Rep.)
Kansas – Sen. Jerry Moran (Rep.)
Kentucky – Sen. Rand Paul (Rep.)
Louisiana – Sen. John Neely Kennedy (Rep.)
Maryland – Sen. Chris Van Hollen (Dem.)
Missouri – Sen. Roy Blunt (Rep.)*
New York – Sen. Charles Schumer (Dem.)
North Dakota – Sen. John Hoeven (Rep.)
Ohio – Sen. Rob Portman (Rep.)
Oklahoma – Sen. James Lankford (Rep.)
Oregon – Sen. Ron Wyden (Dem.)
South Carolina – Sen. Tim Scott (Rep.)
South Dakota – Sen. John Thune (Rep.)
Utah – Sen. Mike Lee (Rep.)
Vermont – Sen. Patrick Leahy (Dem.)
Washington – Sen. Patty Murray (Dem.)
This story was originally published Nov. 12, 2020 and updated Aug. 24, 2022.