Sinfernos of red and blue are popping up in unexpected places as Senate Republicans and Democrats vie for a majority in the upper house.
Ohio and North Carolina, considered safe for Republicans for most of the cycle for most of the 2022 cycle, are now deeply competitive, according to a list of polls. Meanwhile, a longtime target of the Democratic Senate race, Wisconsin, is slipping away. And with less than 40 days until the votes are counted on the night of Nov. 8 (and most likely beyond), Democratic Senator Catherine Cortez Masto is playing defense against her tough GOP rival in Nevada.
None of this guarantees that Democrats will win the Senate races in Ohio and North Carolina, which twice gave former President Donald Trump their electoral votes, or that the eternal states of Wisconsin and Nevada will become Republicans. But the very fact that this scenario is possible reflects the volatility and unpredictable nature of the 2022 Senate races, as each side seeks to break out of the 50-50 split of nearly two years, with the decisive vote of the Vice President Kamala Harris. giving the Democrats their current majority like a razor.
The shift in political reckoning is fueled at least in part by a new poll in North Carolina. Republican Sen. Richard Burr is retiring after 18 years in the Senate (and another 10 in the House), but the race was not initially considered a high profile contest. Democrats had hoped North Carolina would become a swing state when, in the 2008 presidential race, Barack Obama narrowly won the Tar Heel State. Since then, however, Democrats have suffered a series of disappointments in presidential and senatorial contests.
The Cygnal poll, conducted for the John Locke Foundation, shows Rep. Ted Budd, the Republican nominee, locked in a 44% to 44% tie with his Democratic opponent, former Supreme Court Justice Cheri Beasley. The poll was conducted September 24-26 among 650 likely voters in the general election. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.79 percentage points.
Beasley has been getting a lot of publicity statewide lately. Budd’s campaign, meanwhile, has had to endure a series of negative headlines about his family’s business activities. This is a significant improvement over a Hill– Emerson poll released Tuesday that had Budd up 3 points on Beasley.
Democrats are also becoming cautiously optimistic about their chances in Ohio, a red-leaning state long considered out of the picture in calculations for a Senate majority. The seat is open because GOP Senator Rob Portman is retiring. A Spectrum News-The Siena poll released Monday showed Democratic nominee Rep. Tim Ryan leading his Republican opponent, Trump-endorsed author and venture capitalist JD Vance, 46%-43%. The poll was conducted September 18-22 with 642 likely voters and a margin of error of 4.5 points.
The poll was in line with others released recently, giving Ryan a small lead – although scattered polls also showed Vance in the lead. Any trend line in favor of Ryan is positive for his party’s fortunes in the Senate, as it shows him staying above water in the choppy political waters of Ohio. Trump in 2020 beat President Joe Biden in Ohio by about 8 points, a margin similar to his 2016 Buckeye State victory over Democratic rival Hillary Clinton. This after Ohio twice backed the Obama-Biden tickets.
However, all of this potentially good polling news for Democrats is tempered by increasingly disjointed polling results in states where they had high hopes until recently. Democrats raced to defeat Republican Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson, a product of the 2010 tea party wave that in many ways presaged Trump’s populist appeal to the Badger State.
Still, an AARP-Fabrizio poll released Thursday shows Johnson beating Democratic nominee Wisconsin Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes 51%-46%. It’s the first part of that number that’s most troubling for Democrats, because any candidate voting 50% or more should be considered a frontrunner. The poll was conducted September 18-25 with 500 likely voters and a margin of error of 4.4 points.
The poll came as Milwaukee Journal Sentinel dug into Barnes’ history on Twitter over the past decade, several posts of which give Republicans an opportunity to paint the former state lawmaker as a left-wing radical.
Among the highlights (or low points, depending on perspective): “I really don’t care about a 2nd Amendment ‘good'” Barnes tweeted in July 2013. And five years later, he joked reference Far-left Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), then a first-time nominee, as “my president.”
Then there’s the Nevada Senate race, in which Democrats unexpectedly find themselves playing defense as Cortez Masto seeks a second term against Republican opponent Adam Laxalt, a former state attorney general. Recent surveys show that Cortez Masto is even more politically threatened than expected for most of the cycle. Cortez Masto’s seat may even be in more trouble than those of top Republican targets such as Sens. Raphael Warnock from Georgia, Maggie Hassan from New Hampshire and Mark Kelly from Arizona.
Cortez Masto has, for the most part, kept a low profile during his nearly six years in the Senate. Running for re-election, she plays her job trying to protect Nevada from being a dumping ground for nuclear waste, a longstanding problem in the desert state.
Laxalt is a strong supporter of Trump’s baseless accusations that the 2020 presidential race was rigged and that he was cheated out of a second term. Laxalt, grandson and son of senators, also highlighted his good faith in fighting crime as state attorney general and called for tougher measures to secure the US-Mexico border.
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These races could yet change course again. Upheavals in the works for Democrats in North Carolina and Ohio are not a sure thing, nor are Republican victories in Wisconsin and Nevada.
What recent polls and events suggest, however, is that there is considerable fluidity in the Senate campaign playing field, like the broader 2022 electoral landscape. big surprises on election night.