The 19th Explains: Senate Races We’re Watching In 2022

Amanda Becker, The 19th

This story was originally published by The 19th.

There are 35 U.S. Senate races in November that will determine which party controls the 100-seat chamber, which is currently evenly divided. Republicans and Democrats are both trying to pick up seats to get closer to the 60-vote threshold that most legislation needs to pass.

On the ballot are the country’s first Latina senator, who is facing a tough reelection bid; two Black women trying to flip Senate seats at at time when the zero Black women are serving in the chamber; and a Republican woman who seems to be one of the only members of her party to not face serious political fallout for crossing former President Donald Trump.

Gender is also on the ballot via the candidates’ policy plans. After the Supreme Court in June ended the federal right to abortion, Democrats are trying to pass a law to protect access nationally, and Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has said if he again becomes majority leader they might pursue a national ban. The issue has already reshaped the midterms conversation. If they keep or grow their majority, Democrats would likely also pursue components of President Joe Biden’s agenda that have thus far stalled in the Senate, such as subsidized child care and paid family leave.

Here are the Senate races The 19th is tracking, either because women are running or because they are competitive races and we’re watching how they discuss abortion, or both.


Alaska is a safe seat for Republicans, but its top-four primary system means that incumbent Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski will be on the ballot in November, along with fellow Republicans Kelly Tshibaka and Buzz Kelley, as well as Democrat Patricia Chesbro, and the winner will be decided by ranked-choice voting. Murkowski, who is seeking her fourth term, received the most primary votes in a crowded field of 19 candidates, besting Trump-backed Tshibaka by more than 10,000 votes.

Murkowski is a unique voice in her party, sometimes siding with Democrats. She supports some abortion rights and voted for Trump’s impeachment but is neverthless backed by McConnell in the race. Her political stature in Alaska is unparalleled: In 2010, before the state adopted the top-four and ranked-choice voting systems, she won as a write-in candidate after losing her primary. In a sign of Trump’s unpopularity in the state, Democrat Mary Peltola won a special election for a House seat in August, besting Trump-backed Sarah Palin to become the first Alaska Native in Congress. Peltola will be on the ballot again in November.


There will be no women on the ballot in Arizona’s Senate race, but incumbent Sen. Mark Kelly is one of the most vulnerable Democrats in the country, and the outcome of the race could prove pivotal for Biden’s agenda in Washington. Plus, with a competitive governor’s race between current Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs and Trump acolyte Republican Kari Lake, abortion access has taken center stage in the state. Republican Senate candidate Blake Masters in August  removed language from his website indicating support for a “federal personhood law” that would treat abortion as murder, as polling showed both that he was trailing Kelly and that the proposal was unpopular with voters. The GOP-controlled Arizona legislature passed a 15-week abortion ban, but the state also has a decades-old total ban on the books, creating legal uncertainty. With Masters on defense on the issue, Kelly has not made abortion rights central to his campaign, though he, along with most Senate Democrats, co-sponsored legislation to codify abortion rights at the federal level and was highly critical of the Supreme Court’s Dobbs ruling.


Current Democratic Rep. Val Demings is challenging Republican Sen. Marco Rubio in Florida. Polling shows she has a chance in this state, where Trump’s presence looms large and where Republicans have a political trifecta, controlling the governor’s mansion as well as both chambers of the statehouse. Demings made history as the first woman to head Orlando’s police force and now she is aiming to be the third Black woman ever elected to the Senate, following former Sens. Carol Moseley Braun of Illinois and Kamala Harris of California, whose elevation to vice president left the upper chamber with none.


Georgia voters made shockwaves in 2020 when they sent Rev. Raphael Warnock to the Senate and backed Biden, the first time the state had gone for a Democratic presidential candidate since 1992. Warnock is one of the most endangered Democratic incumbents this year but polls show him neck-and-neck with Republican Herschel Walker, a former NFL player and star for the University of Georgia. Democrats — and anti-Trump Republicans — are highlighting threats Walker made against his ex-wife and other women. Walker has not denied the abusive behavior and attributes it to disassociative identity disorder, formerly known as multiple personality disorder. Herschel supports a total abortion ban with no exceptions for rape, incest or the gestational parent’s health. Warnock, meanwhile, has called himself a “pro-choice pastor” and faced criticism for it from religious conservatives. Georgia has a six-week abortion ban that took effect in July.


Missouri has an open Senate seat left by GOP Sen. Roy Blunt’s retirement that is all but sure to remain in Republican hands. Republican Eric Schmitt was a state treasurer who was appointed attorney general in 2019. In July, he sued St. Louis for allegedly supporting access to abortion care. Democrat Trudy Busch Valentine is a nurse and heiress to the Anheuser-Busch beer fortune whose campaign platform centers women’s rights. She has said that if elected, she will “work like hell to make abortion a federal right.” Missouri has a total abortion ban with very few exceptions.


Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto is the first Latina to serve in the role, and her reelection bid against Republican Adam Laxalt is one of the most competitive in the country. They are both Nevada-born former state attorneys general, and the main issues in the race are the economy and abortion. Nevadans support abortion rights at higher rates than nationally. Laxalt, who describes himself as “pro life,” has said he would not support a national ban, but he has also called the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision a “joke.”

New Hampshire

At the beginning of the 2022 cycle, incumbent Sen. Maggie Hassan was thought to be the most vulnerable Democrat in the country. But when current Republican Gov. Chris Sununu decided to aim for a fourth term instead of running for Senate, it eased her path to reelection. She’ll face Republican Don Bolduc, an election denier.

North Carolina

Democrats have been eyeing North Carolina as a state they can “turn blue” for several cycles now. While the Cook Political Report rates it as a race that “leans Republican,” polls show a tight race between Democrat Cheri Beasley and Republican Ted Budd for the seat left open due to a Republican retirement. Beasley is a former justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court; Budd is a current member of the House of Representatives. Like Demings, Beasley is vying to be the third — or fourth — Black woman elected to the Senate.


Democrats have been eyeing North Carolina as a state they can “turn blue” for several cycles now. While the Cook Political Report rates it as a race that “leans Republican,” polls show a tight race between Democrat Cheri Beasley and Republican Ted Budd for the seat left open due to a Republican retirement. Beasley is a former justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court; Budd is a current member of the House of Representatives. Like Demings, Beasley is vying to be the third — or fourth — Black woman elected to the Senate.


Oklahoma has two Senate races this year, and in both the Democrats have nominated women candidates — both, coincidentally, with the same last name. Neither is likely to win in this conservative state.

Democrat Madison Horn, a cybersecurity expert, is trying to oust Republican Sen. James Lankford, who reversed course to certify the 2020 election results but voted to acquit Trump of impeachment. Oklahoma has a total abortion ban, and Lankford has called traveling to another state to access care “abortion tourism.” Horn has highlighed that Oklahomans face some of the strictest abortion laws in the country.

The second Senate election in Oklahoma this year is because GOP Sen. James Inhofe decided to retire in the middle of his latest six-year term. Democrat Kendra Horn, who served one House term before losing her seat in 2020, has made abortion rights central to her campaign. Her opponent is GOP Rep. Markwayne Mullin, who earlier this year introduced the “Partial Birth Abortion is Murder Act” and made the case for legislation banning abortion nationally during one of his primary debates.


The matchup between Democrat John Fetterman and Republican Mehmet Oz is receiving national attention: it is the only seat currently in Republican hands that the nonpartisan Cook Political Report rates as “lean Democrat.”  Days after Trump-backed Oz said he would not support a federal abortion ban, audio surfaced from a May town hall in which he referred to abortion as “murder” at any point during pregnancy. Fetterman has said in a tweet that he will “fight as hard as I can to protect women’s reproductive freedom + codify abortion rights into federal law.” His campaign used Oz’s “murder” comment in an advertisement.


Patty Murray has been in the Senate for 30 years, and protecting abortion rights have been central to her work for the duration. Murray’s seat is rated as one of the safest for Democrats in the country, and in the state’s nonpartisan, top-two primary, she bested Republican Tiffany Smiley, whom she will face in November, by nearly 20 points. Smiley has said she is “pro-life” in the past but has tried to deemphasize her position during the campaign by saying she respects a state law that protects abortion until fetal viability.


Incumbent Sen. Ron Johnson has the distinction of being the most imperiled Republican senator in the country. Democrat Mandela Barnes, currently the state’s lieutenant governor, has led Johnson in polls. Overturning the Senate filibuster — which has stopped Democrats from passing major pieces of Biden’s agenda, including protections for abortion — has become central to Barnes’ campaign trail pitch.


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