Senate Primary Preview



This fall, voters will respond to the successes and failures of President Biden’s administration by voting in midterm elections on a number of positions, from school board and city council posts to governorships of the largest states in the country. However, the most consequential elections will be for the membership of the House of Representatives and 35 seats in the Senate. While the House will be largely determined by the success of party gerrymanders in states like Illinois and Florida, the Senate is likely to be far more competitive, depending on the major party nominees. This article provides a brief overview of the most competitive races, and my personal thoughts on who would have the best chances in November. This will likely be the most expensive midterm election in history.

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Republicans: Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH), a moderate Republican disgusted with the current state of the GOP, decided to retire, leaving his seat open. Ohio is somewhat “red,” with most state offices and the legislature held by Republicans. Candidates include state Sen. Matt Dolan, heir to the Cleveland Guardians, investment banker Mike Gibbons, former State Treasurer Josh Mandel, former state GOP chair Jane Timken, and Hillbilly Elegy author J.D Vance, who is backed by Republican power broker Peter Thiel and Donald Trump. Currently, Vance holds the lead in polling, but Dolan is surging at this late point in the race.


Democrats: Ohio occasionally elects Democrats, with Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) having served since 2007 despite being relatively progressive. Rep. Tim Ryan is the establishment Democrat in the race, serving in the House since 2003. Similar to Brown, Ryan is focused on bringing back blue-collar jobs from China, and faced controversy for an ad attacking China. Ryan’s primary opponent is progressive lawyer Morgan Harper, a Black woman and supporter of a $15 minimum wage and Medicare for All, who lost to Rep. Joyce Beatty (D-OH) in a 2020 primary. While Harper is a compelling candidate, Ryan is the likely Democratic nominee for the seat.


Predictions: The Republican primary has already been one of the most discussed in the nation, with its especially combative competition between candidates to find the Trumpiest. As of writing, J.D. Vance seems like the most likely primary victor with his Trumpist zeal and charisma, and he will probably face off against Tim Ryan this fall. The primary is on May 3. 

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North Carolina


Republicans: After an insider trading scandal, Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) announced his plans to not seek another term in the Senate, leaving the seat open. The major contenders include Rep. Ted Budd, a relatively unknown Trump ally, former Gov. Pat McCrory, known for the infamous “bathroom bill” which cost him re-election, and former Rep. Mark Walker, who served as vice chair of the House Republican Caucus. Budd, who received the coveted endorsement from Donald Trump, initially fell behind in polling to McCrory, but has now achieved a commanding lead and is favored in the primary election.


Democrats: North Carolina, once a Democratic stronghold, has become a swing state in recent years, and has not gone for Democratic candidates for President since 2008. Still, Democrats hold multiple statewide offices including the governorship, and had Democratic nominee Cal Cunningham not been caught cheating on his wife, he might have defeated Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) in 2020. Cheri Beasley, the former state Chief Justice, has emerged as the presumptive Democratic nominee.


Predictions: In a midterm election where Republicans are naturally advantaged, Democrat hopes rest on the Republicans nominating a proven loser like Pat McCrory. With Ted Budd in the lead, and with no major scandals attached to his name yet, this race is his to lose. Cheri Beasley also lost a statewide election last year for Chief Justice, further indication that she may not be popular enough to win a Senate seat. Budd currently leads Beasley by 7 points, although Beasley has the advantage in terms of fundraising. The primary is on May 17. 

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Republicans: Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA), known as a bipartisan dealmaker, decided to retire from the Senate after two terms. Running for his seat includes TV host Dr. Mehmet Oz, former U.S. Treasury Under Secretary David McCormick, former Ambassador to Denmark Carla Sands, Fox commentator Kathy Barnette, and businessman Jeff Bartos. Oz clinched the Trump endorsement, and he and McCormick are neck and neck in the lead for the nomination, although McCormick has eked out a small lead within the margin of error. Both men have relentlessly attacked each other, and the results are a toss-up between the two.


Democrats: Pennsylvania has been a swing state since the 1930s, and while its governorship, a Senate seat, and other statewide offices are held by Democrats, the state House and Senate are controlled by Republicans. Democratic candidates include Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman, state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta, and Rep. Conor Lamb. Fetterman, despite a controversial incident when he pointed a gun at a black jogger, has consistently led polls and will likely clinch the nomination.


Predictions: This race has been one of the most watched in the nation, and is one of, if not the best pickup opportunity for Democrats this year. John Fetterman has attracted national attention for his attention-grabbing stunts, including asking for a $3 million bounty from Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick for identifying three cases of Republican voter fraud. Meanwhile, David McCormick and Mehmet Oz are both not Pennsylvania natives, with Oz also having a past of promoting medically dubious “miracle cures.” If the Democrats win a Senate seat, it is this one. The primary is on May 17. 

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Democrats: Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-GA) defeated Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-GA) to win Senate seats for the first time since 2004 along with Sen. Jon Ossoff. Warnock, the preacher at Martin Luther King’s old church, triumphed with 51% of the vote, becoming the first Black Democrat to represent a former Confederate state. This success built on the work of Stacey Abrams in registering non-white voters for the Democrats, and the Senate election, along with a concurrent gubernatorial contest where Abrams is the presumptive nominee, will test Democrats’ new strength in Georgia.


Republicans: Georgia was one of the key states lost by Donald Trump in the 2020 election, and in 2022 the former president is focused on electing his allies to ensure Georgia stays red. Along with former Sen. David Perdue (R-GA) challenging incumbent governor Brian Kemp, Trump recruited his friend Herschel Walker, a Black Republican, a former college football superstar from the University of Georgia. Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black, who has won statewide elections in the state three times before, is also seeking the nomination, as are several other state Republicans. Walker currently has 66% support in the primary contest, and is extremely likely to clinch the win.


Predictions: In Raphael Warnock, Democrats have an excellent candidate who has stood at the forefront of the fight to defend voting rights. Meanwhile, Herschel Walker currently lives in Texas, a record of failure at business and domestic violence allegations stemming from a history of mental illness. Warnock also maintains a massive war chest of $25.6 million, outpacing Walker’s fundraising totals. While Georgia could have been a winnable seat, Warnock will spend millions reminding voters how awful the GOP candidate is This is probably going to be the most-followed Senate race this cycle. The primary is on May 24.

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Democrats: Sen. Mark Kelly (D-AZ), a former combat pilot turned Space Shuttle astronaut, defeated Sen. Martha McSally (R-AZ) to become the second Democrat since 1995 to win a Senate seat in Arizona after his fellow Democrat Krysten Sinema won in 2018. Kelly defeated McSally with 51.2% in the 2020 special election, and now faces re-election for a full term. Arizona has edged towards the Democratic column in recent years after decades of Republican dominance, and this will be a test of Democratic strength in the state.


Republicans: But Republicans are not done yet in Arizona. The Arizona Republican Party controls the governorships and a majority in the state House and Senate, along with more registered Republicans in the state. GOP candidates include Attorney General Mark Brnovich, venture capitalist and Peter Thiel associate Blake Masters, energy businessman Jim Lamon, and Air Force General Michael McGuire. In polling so far, Brnovich has maintained the lead, but Lamon’s numbers have been rising over the last few months and Masters has millions of dollars potentially at his disposal. Still, a plurality of voters remain undecided. 


Predictions: So far, Mark Kelly leads in polling with potential candidates, and has a massive war chest of $31.9 million dollars ahead of the election. He is an incumbent with all the advantages it confers, and has gained a reputation as a moderate without losing support among state Democrats like his Senate colleague. Brnovich, meanwhile, has embraced election conspiracies to win support from the right and pick up the endorsement from Donald Trump, who was furious that Brnovich did not fight harder to steal the election. This is Kelly’s race to lose. The primary is on August 2.

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Republicans: Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) has been a lightning rod for Democratic vitriol, facing criticism for conspiracy theories on COVID-19, climate change, and the 2020 election. Johnson promised to serve only two terms to secure votes in his 2016 re-election campaign, but has reneged on his promise. He is the only remaining Republican statewide official in Wisconsin, although the Republicans also control the heavily gerrymandered state House and Senate. Johnson eked out a small victory in 2016 over former Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) on Donald Trump’s coattails, so this will be a test of Republican strength in Wisconsin.


Democrats: Reportedly, Democrats were glad that the far-right Johnson sought re-election, viewing him as an easier target to knock off than if the seat was open. Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes, State Treasurer Sarah Godlewski, senior Vice President of the Milwaukee Bucks Alex Lasry, and Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson are all eying Johnson’s seat for themselves. Barnes, an ally of Bernie Sanders, currently leads in polls, but Lasry has been edging closer to Barnes in recent days. Barnes is currently the favorite, considering his statewide success, but there are still three months until the primary.


Predictions: Since the race is so far away, it is hard to make predictions of who will face Ron Johnson in the fall, although Mandela Barnes has already won statewide election with Tony Evers in 2018. Current polls show Barnes and Johnson tied, but it is sure to consume much attention and money. The primary is on August 9.