11 Midterm Races That Could Determine Control of the Senate
Races heat up in final stretch.
WASHINGTON — Amid the 35 Senate seats at stake in the 2022 midterm elections, control of the chamber will come down to a handful of tight races. Democrats currently have Senate control by razor-thin margins, with a 50-50 split and Vice President Kamala Harris casting the tie-breaking vote.
Races in 11 states will be key to determining Senate control and the extent to which President Joe Biden and Democratic lawmakers or Republican majorities will control the legislative agenda, setting the table for how issues of particular concern to Catholic voters, including economic policy, abortion, immigration and the welfare of women, will be addressed in the next term of Congress.
States that will be crucial to watch are Pennsylvania, Georgia, Arizona, Nevada, North Carolina, Wisconsin, Ohio, New Hampshire, Florida, Colorado and Washington. In several of these key battleground contests, including the tightly contested races in Pennsylvania, Nevada, Arizona, New Hampshire and Florida, Catholics comprise more than 20% of the state population.
Throughout these races, Republicans have focused on the economy and soaring inflation, while Democrats have focused on the Supreme Court’s recent overturning of Roe v. Wade.
In Pennsylvania, Republican and celebrity surgeon Dr. Mehmet Oz is running against Democratic state Lt. Gov. John Fetterman to fill retiring Republican Sen. Pat Toomey’s seat. Fetterman is recovering from a stroke that occurred just before the May Democratic primary. According to his campaign, he is still suffering from an auditory processing disorder that has caused him to use closed captioning in recent interviews, but has “no work restrictions.”
Abortion has been a central issue in that race. Oz describes himself as pro-life and said that “the abortion decision should be left up to the states.” Fetterman vowed to “reestablish Roe” and also stated that he doesn’t support any restrictions on abortion, even in the third trimester.
Oz has targeted Fetterman for saying the economy “is on the upswing” while inflation was at 7% in December. He has blamed the Biden administration’s policies for inflation, while Fetterman blamed corporate greed and “insiders” in Washington, D.C., for the economic “mess.”
As of Oct. 26, Fetterman has been narrowly leading Oz by a couple percentage points in recent polling. In an October EWTN/RealClear Opinion Research poll of 500 Catholic likely voters which looked at six Senate races, Oz led Fetterman by 50.7% to 45.2%.
In Georgia, incumbent Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock is facing a challenge from Republican Herschel Walker, a former University of Georgia football icon and former NFL player. Warnock, a prominent Baptist pastor, narrowly won the 2020 special election against Republican businesswoman Kelly Loeffler.
The abortion issue has become a focus of that race, as allegations emerged in October that Walker paid for a former girlfriend’s abortion. Walker denies the claims and stated that he did provide the woman with a check, but said he did not know it would be used for an abortion. A second alleged former girlfriend came forward Oct. 26 claiming that Walker pressured her to get an abortion in 1993, drove her to the facility, and paid for the procedure.
Walker has said there is “no exception” in his mind where abortion is necessary, but later clarified, in explanation of his support for the state’s heartbeat bill, that “the people’s voice is the Georgia heartbeat bill, which has exceptions in it.”
Warnock has declined to state when he would place any limits on abortion, saying when asked only that “women have seen a core constitutional right of theirs that they’ve known now for half a century undermined by an activist court.”
The economy was also an issue at their Oct.14 debate, with Walker linking Warnock and the Biden administration’s policies to rising inflation and calling for energy independence when pressed on how to address rising costs. Warnock lauded the $485-billion Inflation Reduction Act, focusing on provisions he sponsored to cap health-care costs for Americans.
Warnock is polling a few percentage points ahead of Walker, with one recent Trafalgar group poll giving Walker a two-point lead. Walker is largely favored by Catholics in the EWTN survey, leading Warnock by 64.7% to 32.7%.
In Arizona, Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly, a retired astronaut and businessman, is running for reelection against Trump-backed Republican venture capitalist Blake Masters. Kelly defeated former Republican Sen. Martha McSally by just over two points in the 2020 special election.
In a recent debate, Masters highlighted his support for the proposed national 15-week limit on abortion from Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. Kelly stated, “Under Roe v. Wade, there were protections, and there were restrictions that were allowed under that law; and late-term abortion in this country only happens when there is a serious problem. And that’s what I support.”
Masters accused Kelly of always saying “Yes” to Biden’s spending bills contributing to record-high inflation across the country, including record 13% inflation in Phoenix. Kelly said he “stood up” to Biden on economic issues.
The race is tightening, with Kelly recently polling just a few points ahead after previously enjoying a more sizeable lead. Catholic voters in the EWTN survey favored Masters over Kelly 51.4% to 46.3%.
In Nevada, Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto is running for a second term against Republican former state attorney general Adam Laxalt. Cortez Masto has made abortion access a focus of her campaign, vowing that “I will block any efforts in the Senate to advance a nationwide abortion ban — full stop. We don't need any more male politicians telling women what we can and can’t do with our own bodies.”
Laxalt wrote in an op-ed in the Reno Gazette Journal that he supported a referendum in the state to limit abortion to 13 weeks of pregnancy and denied that he would support a national ban on abortion.
Laxalt has attempted to tie rising gas prices to Biden and Cortez Masto’s energy policies. Cortez Masto sits on the Senate energy panel and backs a move to reduce the cost of solar power and create clean-energy jobs.
The two are polling closely, with Laxalt recently pulling ahead by two percentage points. In the EWTN poll, Laxalt was preferred by Catholic voters by 56.7% to 36.4%.
Republican Rep. Ted Budd is running against Democrat Cheri Beasley, former chief justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court, for the seat of retiring Republican Sen. Richard Burr.
In their recent debate, Beasley said she supported “the Roe v. Wade framework that allows for protections and restrictions on abortion later in pregnancy." Budd is pro-life and signed on to a House resolution to limit abortion to 15 weeks of pregnancy.
On inflation, Beasley said that “the president and Congress could work a whole lot harder to make sure that prices are being lowered.” Budd blamed rising costs on Biden’s economic policies and claimed that Beasley would be “an absolute rubber stamp” for those policies.
The race is close, with a recent Marist poll finding the two tied at 44%.
Another close race is in Wisconsin, where incumbent Republican Sen. Ron Johnson is running against Democratic challenger Mandela Barnes, the state’s former lieutenant governor.
Barnes said in their last debate that on abortion he backed Roe, which “allowed for some restrictions. It had strong protections for the life and health of the mother.” He cast Johnson’s pro-life stance as “extreme.” Johnson voiced his support for a statewide referendum on abortion, asking, “At what point does society have the responsibility to protect life, balancing the rights of the mother and the rights of the unborn child?”
Inflation and the economy have also featured prominently on the campaign trail.
Johnson tweeted that high inflation is “the result of bad policies, and hard-working Wisconsinites are paying the price,” blaming “Democrats’ destructive policies.” Barnes has advocated for raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour to “jump-start” the economy.
A recent CNN poll showed Johnson up by just one percentage point over Barnes.
In Ohio, Republican author and Catholic convert J.D. Vance is running against Catholic Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan to fill the seat of retiring Republican Sen. Rob Portman.
Abortion has been a prominent issue throughout the race. Ryan, who was formerly a pro-life Democrat, would not name any specific restriction he would place on abortion when pressed by CNN’s Dana Bash in August, telling her that “the decider has to be the woman and her doctor.” During their recent debate, Vance said, “It’s totally reasonable to say you cannot abort a baby, especially for elective reasons, after 15 weeks of gestation.”
Ryan has accused Vance of calling rape “inconvenient” and opposing rape exceptions in reference to a 2021 interview where Vance replied to a question about rape exceptions, saying, “It’s whether a child should be allowed to live, even though the circumstances of that child’s birth are somehow inconvenient or a problem to the society. The question really, to me, is about the baby. We want women to have opportunities, we want women to have choices, but, above all, we want women and young boys in the womb to have the right to life.”
Current polling has Vance and Ryan tied among likely voters. EWTN’s survey of Catholic voters found they preferred Vance to Ryan, 55.5% to 41%.
Incumbent Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan is facing a challenge from Republican Don Bolduc, a retired Army brigadier general in New Hampshire.
Bolduc has tied Hassan to the Biden economic agenda, making things difficult for small businesses recovering from the pandemic. Hassan has pointed to gains she has made in the Senate, including tax cuts for energy-efficiency improvements and legislation to increase American manufacturing of semi-conductors to help small businesses in the state and resolve supply-chain issues. Hassan said the Biden administration “was too slow to recognize the long-term reality of inflation” and “took too long to react to it."
Regarding abortion, Bolduc has said he favors “a system that protects lives from beginning to end” and on the campaign trail has stated that he would vote “No” on a federal abortion ban and leave the issue for the states to decide. Hassan has labeled Bolduc’s past statements on abortion as “extreme” and told NPR that she has heard from women voters more concerned about abortion than inflation, saying they have concerns “about whether they’re going to be able to pay rent and put food on the table. But they also said to me, but if my fundamental rights are gone, that’s much harder to get back.”
An Emerson College poll showed Hassan leading Bolduc, 48% to 45%, within the poll’s margin of error.
Republican Sen. Marco Rubio is running for a third term against Democratic Rep. Val Demings.
In their only debate, Rubio highlighted his co-sponsorship of the 15-week national limit on abortion, which includes exceptions for cases of rape or if the mother’s life is in danger.
“The extremist on abortion in this campaign is Congresswoman Demings. She supports no restrictions, no limitations of any kind,” Rubio said. Demings said she would “support a woman’s right to choose up to the time of viability” and would leave it to doctors to decide when that is.
Rubio has been consistently polling ahead of Demings by five or more percent in the past month. Among the Catholics EWTN surveyed, he has a 23-point lead.
In Colorado, incumbent Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet is running against Republican businessman Joe O’Dea.
O’Dea has said he supports Roe v. Wade and would support limiting abortion after 20 weeks, with rape, incest and life-of-the-mother exceptions. Bennet backed a measure that passed the state Legislature earlier this year and permits unrestricted abortion access in all stages of pregnancy.
Regarding the economy, Bennet said in an interview that high inflation is “because we’ve had this recovering economy out of COVID; we’ve got broken supply chains. We can bring those supply chains back. We can support the ones that we have.” He also stated that it will take time for the Inflation Reduction Act to drive down costs. O’Dea blames inflation on out-of-control government spending.
Bennet has been consistently polling roughly eight percentage points ahead of O’Dea.
In Washington, Democratic Sen. Patty Murray is running for her sixth term against Republican challenger Tiffany Smiley, who heads the veteran advocacy organization Hope Unseen.
Smiley has said she is pro-life, but she would vote against a national abortion limit and leave that decision to the states. Murray said that the decision about when to have abortion “should not be decided by politicians” and should be up to women. Murray backed removing the 60-vote filibuster-proof majority threshold in the Senate in order to codify Roe.
On inflation, Murray cited her attempts to lower prescription-drug costs in the Inflation Reduction Act. She also said that she believes a move to clean energy will help lower costs. Smiley said the Inflation Reduction Act “does nothing to combat inflation,” citing the Congressional Budget Office. She promised to “rein in” government spending.
Murray leads Smiley by eight percentage points in polling, but Smiley is gaining ground, as Murray led by 18 points in July.