The 2022 election likely won’t change this narrow balance of power. But it might change which party controls the chamber. A close look at the map shows that both parties have just a few vulnerable seats. Here’s the landscape and what it means:
Democrats are defending 14 seats, but only four currently look competitive.
Georgia: Sen. Raphael Warnock (D) eked out a win against a flawed opponent in 2020, and now he has to turn around and run again. Democrats have a strong base of Black and college-educated White voters, but the state is closely divided: Joe Biden won by only 0.2 percentage points in 2020. The Peach State might be the GOP’s best pickup opportunity.
Georgia Republicans attempted to tip the scales by passing a new law that includes new voter-ID measures and limits on early voting. Critics say the law will decrease Black turnout, while others argue that these changes will have a negligible effect.
The GOP primary is still taking shape, but multiple candidates — including former football star Herschel Walker — might run. And Warnock knows his opponent will be tough. On Twitter, he said, “I’m the most vulnerable incumbent Senate Democrat up for reelection next year” before asking for campaign donations.
Arizona: In 2020, Mark Kelly, a former astronaut, narrowly won his race to fill the last two years of John McCain’s term. Now he, too, has to run again.
Republicans have paths to victory: If they win back a small slice of the college-educated White voters who deserted the party in 2020 or build on Donald Trump’s gains with Latinos, they could reverse Kelly’s tiny edge.
But the Arizona GOP is its own worst enemy. The party is obsessed with the (false) notion that Trump won in 2020. It has started a partisan audit to prove that, and Chairwoman Kelli Ward told Gov. Doug Ducey to “Shut the hell up” after he defended the state’s vote count. It’s not clear whom the party will nominate (or who will run), but an extremist candidate who shares the party’s obsessions might turn off swing voters.
Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D) already has millions in the bank, and it’s not clear whom the GOP will nominate. But if Biden overreaches on policy and loses some swing voters, a Republican could swoop in and win this purple seat.
New Hampshire: Biden won New Hampshire by seven points, and Sen. (and former governor) Maggie Hassan (D) has a long history of winning statewide in New Hampshire. But if popular Gov. Chris Sununu (R) runs and Biden is a drag on down-ballot Democrats, the GOP has a shot. This seat is still a reach for Republicans, though.
Republicans are defending more seats than Democrats, but most are in safe, red states. That said, three seats might give the GOP heartburn:
Many Democrats have already entered the race — including John Fetterman, the lieutenant governor and former mayor of a western Pennsylvania steel town, and Malcolm Kenyatta, a 30-year-old Philadelphia-area activist turned state representative. On the GOP side, few have officially declared their candidacy — though Rep. Mike Kelly, a strong supporter of Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election results, and moderate former congressman Ryan Costello are both considering bids.
More candidates will probably join the race, but regardless of who they are, the race will likely be competitive.
Wisconsin: Wisconsin, like Pennsylvania, is an evenly divided state. And Sen. Ron Johnson (R) has a target on his back.
Johnson, originally elected as a tea-party insurgent, has spoken positively about insurrectionists who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6 and questioned whether all Americans need a coronavirus vaccine. Democrats call him “Villain number one on the Senate map” — meaning that, if he runs, his opponent will have staggering amounts of money to spend.
Johnson might choose to retire, which would create a chaotic, possibly fratricidal Republican primary. Democrats are hoping to lure Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, one of their strongest potential candidates, into the race.
North Carolina: In North Carolina, Democrats are a bit like Charlie Brown and the football. Every cycle, Democrats pick a seemingly strong candidate, do well in polls and convince themselves they’ll win. And on Election Day, Republicans usually pull off a narrow victory.
But both parties are optimistic, and candidates are pouring into the field. Two Trump-friendly candidates — Rep. Ted Budd and former congressman Mark Walker — are already in the race, as is former governor Pat McCrory. The Democratic field includes Cheri Beasley, the state’s first Black female Supreme Court chief justice; state Sen. Jeff Jackson, a military veteran; and Erica Smith, who placed second in the 2020 North Carolina Senate primary, among others.
What it means
It’s still early, and an electoral wave in one direction or the other could completely reshuffle the map. For now, only a handful of races look competitive. But we live in a volatile and changing political era. Best bet: The most likely result is another thin and fragile majority for whichever party prevails in the 2022 Senate races. Which means a dwindling number of moderates will retain outsize influence in the upper chamber.