Three months into President Joe Biden’s term, the candidate fields are taking shape and the first early data is emerging about the fight for control of the chamber that will ultimately determine how successful he can be.
On every hot-button issue of the day, whether on gun control or police reform, the evenly divided US Senate has been the biggest roadblock so far to Democrats capitalizing on their full control of Washington. That means that both parties have an incentive to pour more resources than ever before into winning Senate control in 2022.
The seat most likely to flip partisan control next fall remains Pennsylvania, according to CNN’s updated ranking, but there’s a new GOP-held seat cracking the list this month with Missouri coming in at No. 10. The top 10 Senate seats most likely to flip are based on CNN’s reporting and fundraising data, as well as historical data about how states and candidates have performed. As the cycle heats up, polling and advertising spending data will also become factors. Our inaugural ranking was published in March.
Senate challengers had their first big opportunity to impress last week, with first quarter fundraising reports due to the Federal Election Commission. Those who are proud of their hauls often announce them ahead of time, sometimes eager to keep would-be primary challengers at bay. And for incumbents, early fundraising numbers are an indication of how seriously they’re taking their races (or whether they’re even planning on running).
Four of the 10 seats on CNN’s ranking are currently held by retiring Republican senators, including the newest addition to the list. Missouri wouldn’t have made it if Sen. Roy Blunt were running for a third term – and if a certain former disgraced governor weren’t running to replace him. (The Show Me State replaces the increasingly blue Colorado, where Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet hasn’t attracted any significant GOP challengers yet).
Retirement remains a big question in Wisconsin, where GOP Sen. Ron Johnson has not said what his plans are. Open seats often make defending the seat more perilous (see Missouri) but Democrats are feeling increasingly confident that running against the conspiracy-peddling Johnson is an attractive option, and Wisconsin retains its spot as No. 3 on this list.
The Senate race in Alaska – where GOP Sen. Lisa Murkowski hasn’t officially announced her reelection plans – is getting a lot of attention as the first major proxy battle between former President Donald Trump and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. But the contest still doesn’t make the top 10. Murkowski has proven she can overcome a challenge from the right, and the state’s new top-four ranked choice voting system may give her an advantage.
The start of the second fundraising quarter likely means there’ll be a wave of new candidate announcements soon. But one factor to watch in several of these states is whether the top talent instead decides to go for the gubernatorial contests, which are often less nationalized (read: partisan) affairs, making it easier to be elected as a Democrat in a red state or a Republican in a blue state.
Here is CNN’s second ranking of the 10 seats most likely to flip in 2022:
Incumbent: Republican Pat Toomey (retiring)
As an open seat that Biden carried last fall, Pennsylvania remains the seat most likely to flip in 2022 with Republican Sen. Pat Toomey not running for reelection. Democratic Lt. Gov. John Fetterman raised about $4 million in the first quarter – an impressive haul for the first three months of the off-year. But the former Braddock mayor is still going to have competition for the Democratic nomination. He got a reminder of that late last month when the current mayor of the western Pennsylvania town endorsed one of his opponents, state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta from Philadelphia, who raised just $374,000 in the first quarter. The field is still growing, with Montgomery County Commissioner Val Arkoosh launching her campaign earlier this month. Yet another Philadelphia politician, state Sen. Sharif Street, announced an exploratory committee, while members of the congressional delegation, like Reps. Conor Lamb, Chrissy Houlahan and Madeleine Dean, are eyeing the race, although they also have redistricting on their minds and would probably have to forgo reelection before knowing what their House districts look like in 2022. So far, it’s mainly businessman Jeff Bartos running on the Republican side, who raised about $792,000 and loaned his campaign $400,000 in the first quarter, although current and former members of the congressional delegation could still join that contest too, as could several former Trump officials. While Democrats may be contending with a messy primary, they see the wide interest in the seat as a sign of the opportunity to flip it.
Incumbent: Democrat Raphael Warnock
Months after twin Senate runoffs here flipped control of the Senate to Democrats, Georgia continues to be the center of the political universe, this time with a controversial election law that has led major corporations to boycott the state and the President to condemn it as “Jim Crow in the 21st century.” While voting rights advocates say the law makes it harder to vote for Black Georgians – a key part of Democrats’ winning constituency in this longtime red state – it may also embolden minority voters to turn out, which has traditionally been a problem for Democrats in midterms. It could also inspire liberal donors to keep Georgia in their checkbooks, despite the state not being a presidential battleground this cycle. That would all be good news for Sen. Raphael Warnock, who won this seat by just 2 points in the January special runoff election and is running for a full six-year term. He’s already well-positioned financially, heading into the second quarter with $5.6 million in the bank. But Republicans argue that Warnock and voting rights activist Stacey Abrams – who may also be on the ballot next year if she runs for governor again – will be punished for the economic hit to the state from corporations siding with their opposition to the law and boycotting Georgia. The GOP field is still taking shape, but this is one place Republicans are on offense where they feel good about a deep bench of potential candidates. Warnock’s opponents from last fall, former Sen. Kelly Loeffler and former Rep. Doug Collins, are eyeing the race, and GOP Rep. Drew Ferguson – a member of House GOP leadership – may also be a contender. The big question is how Trump will get involved in this race given his penchant for meddling in Georgia politics. As CNN reported last month, he’s pitched former NFL running back Herschel Walker, who lives in Texas, to run here.
Incumbent: Republican Ron Johnson
GOP Sen. Ron Johnson remains very vulnerable as the only incumbent running for reelection in a state carried by the opposite party’s presidential nominee in 2020. And he doesn’t seem to be doing himself any favors, giving voice to an elongating string of conspiracy theories about the 2020 election and the January 6 insurrection. But he still hasn’t said whether he’s running for reelection. He raised about $545,000 in the first three months of the year after ending 2020 with just half a million dollars in the bank. His quarterly haul is much less than he had raised during the same period the last time he was facing reelection (about $1.3 million in the first quarter of 2015.) A prominent Republican is pushing him to stick around: “Run, Ron, Run!” Trump said in a statement earlier this month. If Johnson doesn’t run, Republicans will be in the same boat as Democrats – trying to navigate a late primary, which could suck up candidate resources ahead of what’s sure to be an expensive general election. On the Democratic side, Milwaukee Bucks executive Alex Lasry raised about $1 million (including a $50,000 personal loan) after getting into the race mid-quarter. Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson, a former lieutenant governor nominee, raised about $264,000. And a new fundraising quarter brought a new candidate: state Treasurer Sarah Godlewski is running on a message about fighting climate change, raising the minimum wage and ending the filibuster. “Instead of conspiracy theories, we can focus on actually helping families,” she says in her announcement video, calling out Johnson and his defense of Trump. While Republicans wait to see what their incumbent does, they’re also eager to see what Democratic Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes decides, believing he’d be a formidable opponent regardless of who their candidate is.
4. North Carolina
Incumbent: Republican Richard Burr (retiring)
Democrats have fallen short in North Carolina Senate races lately, and Republicans feel better about holding a seat in this Trump state than they do in either Pennsylvania or Wisconsin. But with Sen. Richard Burr not running again, there’s more of a chance Democrats could pick it off. State Sen. Jeff Jackson is already running, as is former state Sen. Erica Smith, whom Republicans tried to boost in last year’s primary. But two other Black women could soon change the dynamics. Cheri Beasley, the former state Supreme Court chief justice who narrowly lost reelection in 2020, has been expected to announce this month and would be a formidable candidate. Former NASA astronaut Joan Higginbotham – the third Black woman to go into space – could also enter the race soon. North Carolina Republicans interested in the race rushed to criticize Burr’s vote to convict Trump earlier this year, all eager to proclaim their Trumpiness in a state he won, but it remains to be seen if an actual Trump will enter the race. Lara Trump, the ex-President’s daughter-in-law, may have taken herself out of the running by signing a deal with Fox News. Former Rep. Mark Walker (who raised only $208,000 in the first quarter) got some company when former Gov. Pat McCrory entered the race last week with an announcement video saying, “It’s time we join together and take back the Senate from Kamala Harris.” The former governor, perhaps best known for backing the state’s so-called bathroom bill, lost reelection in 2016 when Trump carried the state. The field is still likely to grow here, especially if Trump passes on the race.
Incumbent: Democrat Mark Kelly
Mark Kelly, who just won this seat last fall, raised $4.4 million in the first quarter for his quest to win a full six-year term. Kelly only won by about 2 points and Biden only narrowly carried the Grand Canyon State last year, so it’s by no means a slam dunk for Democrats to hold this seat. But it’s not yet clear who Republicans have to run against the former astronaut. Gov. Doug Ducey, who’s been censured by the state party, has said he’s not interested in running for Senate, leaving a fractured GOP without an obvious candidate who could win the general election against a first-time politician who seems to be following a moderate path in Congress. The governor’s race could also attract Republicans who would rather run in an open race than face such a strong Senate fundraiser. Rep. Andy Biggs, the chairman of the hardline conservative House Freedom Caucus, could challenge Kelly, but while he’d likely appeal to the base, he might struggle to appeal to some more moderate suburban voters. With a late primary, there’s still plenty of time for Republicans who have ruled it out to change their minds or new folks to jump in, but that late primary also means that Kelly will have a significant head start on the eventual GOP nominee.
Incumbent: Democrat Catherine Cortez Masto
Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto is facing her first reelection. On the Republican side, former Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt, whom sources told CNN last month is considering it, is the name everyone’s waiting on. He’s a former statewide elected official and could gain traction in a state Biden only narrowly carried last fall. Democrats argue, however, that Laxalt would be motivating to voters on the left since he’s been a Trump defender, helping bring various lawsuits over the 2020 election. Republicans admit their chances here will largely depend on what the environment looks like next year. Cortez Masto, meanwhile, fresh off a term as chair of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, raised $2.3 million in the first quarter and has nearly $4.7 million in the bank.
7. New Hampshire
Incumbent: Democrat Maggie Hassan
Republicans feel increasingly bullish about the Granite State because of the chance that Gov. Chris Sununu will enter the race. But he hasn’t yet, which means this race is staying where it is on the list for now. New Hampshire voted for Biden last fall – by a significantly larger margin than it did for Hillary Clinton in 2016. Of the most competitive seats Democrats are defending, it’s the one that Biden carried the most comfortably. That said, Sununu has the name recognition and profile to make this a real race for first-term Sen. Maggie Hassan, who raised nearly $3 million in the first quarter. The GOP governor has likely frozen the field until he makes anything official, which he has said he wouldn’t do until after the end of the legislative session in June. There’s plenty of time for the field to take shape here too – New Hampshire is another state with a late primary – but if and when Sununu gets in, expect this race to get much more competitive.
Incumbent: Republican Rob Portman (retiring)
While the Democratic field may be shrinking here, the Republican field is growing bigger – and messier – as candidates trip over each other to claim the Trump mantle in a state he won comfortably twice. The most public sparring has been between former state Treasurer Josh Mandel and former state party chair Jane Timken, but there are others who are tying themselves to the former President, too. Businessman Bernie Moreno recently announced his campaign, touting the involvement of Kellyanne Conway and some other former Trump officials. Businessman Mike Gibbons, who lost the 2018 primary to Mandel, launched another bid. And members of the delegation are still eyeing the race, like Rep. Mike Turner, who recently tweeted a polished bio video. Another big name who could shake up the race is “Hillbilly Elegy” author JD Vance. If he runs, he’ll benefit from a super PAC that Peter Thiel has already kicked $10 million into. On the Democratic side, former State Health Director Amy Acton, a Democrat who served in a GOP administration, has passed on the race, likely leaving Rep. Tim Ryan – who hasn’t yet officially launched – the biggest name. Republicans are relieved Acton is out and feel better about running against someone with a voting record. Ryan raised $1.2 million in the first quarter – an impressive sum for a House incumbent but less than the impressive sums some Senate Democratic challengers have recently posted.
Incumbent: Republican Marco Rubio
Trump’s endorsement of the incumbent likely removes one major headache that Sen. Marco Rubio could have faced: a Trumpier primary challenger, who, at the very least, could have cost Rubio some extra money defending himself, and in the worst case scenario for Republicans, put the seat at greater risk. But with the former President (and Florida resident) behind Rubio, Republicans feel good about this seat even though Trump only carried the state by 3 points, less than he won Ohio. Rubio has a track record of success here, whereas Democrats don’t yet know their candidate. As a moderate with a compelling personal story, Blue Dog Coalition cho-chair Stephanie Murphy could make this race competitive. She’s considering but hasn’t entered the race yet, and while others could still get in too, the governor’s race may also attract some top talent.
Incumbent: Republican Roy Blunt (retiring)
Missouri wouldn’t be on this list if it weren’t for one man: former Gov. Eric Greitens, who unabashedly launched a pro-Trump Senate campaign after Sen. Roy Blunt announced he wasn’t running for reelection. Greitens resigned from office following a probe into allegations of sexual and campaign misconduct, leading to Republican fears that he could endanger the Senate seat (and the rest of the map next year). That kind of situation isn’t without precedent: in 2012, Todd Akin cost Republicans the Show Me State and became a name GOP nominees around the country had to answer for. Sen. Josh Hawley – an avowed Greitens enemy – is said to be working behind the scenes against him. But the announcement of Kimberly Guilfoyle as the national chair of Greitens’ campaign boosts his pro-Trump bona fides in a primary. Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt is also running, and several members of the delegation are eyeing the race, but the more people who get in, the more the anti-Greitens vote will be split. On the Democratic side, state Sen. Scott Sifton was already running, while Marine veteran Lucas Kunce, a progressive who says “It’s time to Marshall Plan the Midwest,” announced after Blunt said he was retiring. Several bigger names, like former Sen. Claire McCaskill and 2016 nominee Jason Kander, who only lost to Blunt by 3 points, have passed. For now, the possibility that Greitens’ candidacy entices some bigger-name Democratic candidates (even those who have already ruled it out) into the race or eventually becomes the GOP nominee is enough to land Missouri a spot on this list.