Of course, Democrats would love to take Senate seats in places like Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, where John Fetterman has led all recent public polls. And Republicans dream of victories in Colorado and Washington.
However, the easiest way for Democrats to retain the majority still involves bringing back their so-called core four battlefield senators: Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire, Mark Kelly of Arizona, Raphael Warnock of Georgia and Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada. And while Hassan and Kelly are breathing a little easier these days, Cortez Masto and Warnock are breaking a sweat in extremely close races. As Peters put it, “I’m more comfortable with — or I’m fine with — the trajectory that we’re seeing in Arizona and New Hampshire.”
It’s time for a political turnaround before November, but the reality is that both parties have modest dreams at the moment. And Democrats have cause for concern if they fail to retain a majority of their four vulnerable incumbents.
Currently, a good Republican night would include holding Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Florida and Ohio while catching Nevada and Georgia — a net two-seat shift. A good Democratic night would mean no incumbents lost, plus pickups in Pennsylvania and maybe another state, giving the party enough votes to comfortably confirm President Joe Biden’s nominees.
Hassan and Kelly aren’t out of the woods just yet, but both have taken advantage of chaotic GOP primaries to steadily lead the polls and benefited from the Govs. Chris Sununu (RN.H.) and Doug Ducey (R-Ariz.) pass on Senate nominees.
The Republicans nominated former soccer star Herschel Walker in Georgia, a state where partisan polarization and sporting fame keep him afloat despite his foibles. And Nevada is returning to its swing state status as it recovers from the horrific economic impact of the pandemic.
That makes Cortez Masto and Warnock the two incumbents whose campaigns are keeping Democrats up at night.
“You’re climbing a hill if you’re a Democrat running for office in Georgia.”
“You’re climbing a hill if you’re a Democrat running in Georgia,” said Senator Tim Kaine (D-Va.), who expressed confidence in both Cortez Masto and Warnock.
Nevada GOP nominee former Attorney General Adam Laxalt lost a gubernatorial race in 2018 but cites a strong political legacy from his grandfather, the late Sen. Paul Laxalt (R-Nev.). Kaine noted that the name “Laxalt in Nevada is like a Sununu in New Hampshire. Nevada is the only place where [Republicans] got the candidate they wanted.”
Though Democrats have clearly outclassed their enemies on every Senate battlefield, Laxalt and Walker are holding their own. Recent polls show that both Republicans have run close races and even led on occasion, while Hassan and Kelly have led all public polls in their states since the GOP nominated Don Bolduc and Blake Masters, respectively.
“Georgia is the most competitive battleground state in the country,” stated Sen. Jon Ossoff (D-Ga.). Warnock got 50 percent in some recent public polls, but if neither candidate reaches a majority threshold in November’s vote — as they did in the state’s 2020 regular and special Senate elections — the race goes to a runoff in December.
In Georgia, both Walker and Warnock’s campaigns admit there are few swing voters to win. So the Peach State’s winning strategy is all about turnout, while Nevada has more independents to fight for. Nevada ballots even have a “None of these candidates” option, which can affect the outcome of a close Senate race.
Herschel Walker speaks during a campaign rally in Emerson, Georgia | Bill Barrow/AP photo
Cortez Masto claimed the state is not as blue as its reputation suggests, even though Democrats have won the state’s last two Senate elections and have worn it in the last four presidential elections.
“Nevada is always competitive,” she said. “It’s a swing state.”
Speaking to more than a dozen strategists and senators, members of both parties said Nevada and Georgia represent the best opportunities for Republicans to flip seats, while Pennsylvania is the best choice for Democrats for a pickup. New Hampshire will now be a big challenge for the GOP, the consensus says, and top Republicans also see Arizona’s flipping as a pipe dream.
The New Hampshire GOP nominated Bolduc, a retired Army brigadier general, despite Republican challengers spending millions of dollars to stop him. Fergus Cullen, the former New Hampshire Republican Party leader who backed Senate President Chuck Morse in the primary, said Bolduc lacked the skills or field operations to run a competitive campaign.
At the end of August, Bolduc had less than $84,000 in cash on hand, compared to Hassan’s $7.3 million.
“Nothing has changed, suggesting the preschool concerns were unfounded,” Cullen said of Bolduc’s history of gaffes and controversial positions. “The Democrats can’t pocket that just yet, but they need to breathe a sigh of relief.”
Bolduc spokeswoman Kate Constantini said he was “underappreciated by the pundits and critics, and yet he won his primary without spending a penny on television advertising.”
The top Senate Republican super-PAC, the Senate Leadership Fund, has kept its $23 million pledge in the state. But Hassan has a significant early lead in the first public polls for the general election, and Bolduc was quick to rescind his earlier endorsement of false voter fraud allegations about the 2020 election and his support for Medicare and Social Security privatization. Still, Republicans say they’re staying indoors.
“We see a path to victory, but don’t take our word for it: the National Democrats are pumping millions into New Hampshire throughout the month of October,” said Jack Pandol, a spokesman for the SLF.
Hassan and her allies, in particular, still insist that the race is not over yet.
Senator Maggie Hassan speaks to the media after casting her ballot in the New Hampshire Primary at Newfields Town Hall on September 13, 2022 in Newfields, NH Scott Eisen/Getty Images
In Arizona, Republican Blake Masters is voting behind Kari Lake, the state’s Republican gubernatorial candidate who spent less on her campaign than he did. Members of both parties say Masters is hurt because he rambled on about the state’s abortion ban.
On Thursday, Kelly launched a new ad about Master’s support for abortion restrictions, one of several Democratic spots about his stance on the issue. In an interview, Kelly said voters “recognize that’s what my opponent wants: an abortion ban with no exceptions.”
A Masters spokesman did not respond to a request for comment. Before winning the primary, he advocated a federal anti-abortion “person law,” but has since sought to soften his stance while still supporting a proposed 15-week national ban.
The main Senate super-PAC GOP has since withdrawn all of its planned Arizona ads. Other outside GOP fundraisers have cobbled together money in recent weeks to keep him on the air, but he’ll likely need a sizeable funding source for October to remain competitive, according to a Republican with knowledge of the race.
Another person with knowledge of a recent Arizona Republican internal poll noted that Masters’ favorability rating was lower than that of Roy Moore in 2017, when the Alabama Senate nominee amid reports of the past sexual misconduct, including romantic pursuit of minors, imploded.
Three Republicans involved in national races said the party’s chances of unseating Kelly are comparable to those of GOP victories in blue Colorado or Washington. The party’s candidates in those states raised significant funds to topple Democratic incumbents with tepid approval ratings — and they’re still underdogs.