Republicans are looking for opportunities to go on offense in their battle for the Senate majority and stunt the momentum Democrats have built over the course of the summer.
But Democrats, fresh off a season of eyepopping fundraising and legislative wins, aren’t taking their rose-tinted summer for granted as Republicans ramp up spending in key states and tailor their general election messaging.
Seven weeks before Election Day, Senate races in closely watched swing states remain tight, but a clearer picture is beginning to emerge of the landscape heading into the final midterm sprint.
Here’s a look at the seven Senate seats most likely to flip in November:
John Fetterman (D) and Mehmet Oz (R)
Democrats are growing cautiously optimistic about flipping the Senate seat being vacated by retiring Sen. Pat Toomey (R).
The Cook Political Report last month moved the race from “toss up” to “lean Democrat,” and Democratic nominee John Fetterman has since outpaced Republican Mehmet Oz in several polls. A Muhlenberg College-Morning Call poll showed Fetterman receiving 49 percent support while Oz received 44 percent among likely voters in the state, but the polling falls within the margin of error, effectively tying the two.
But Republicans say a lot can still change.
“I think coming out of the primary the polling was pretty stark, obviously Oz had had quite a few negative ads run against him, Fetterman hadn’t,” said GOP strategist Scott Jennings, a former adviser to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) past campaigns. He noted separately, “I think some of the definitional work on Fetterman is currently being done.”
Fetterman has sought to paint Oz as an inauthentic carpetbagger from New Jersey, using a social media campaign and other means to troll the Republican candidate.
But Oz’s campaign has hit back, most recently by focusing on Fetterman’s health and fitness to serve, accusing him of hiding from voters and pressing him to debate.
Fetterman returned to the campaign trail this month after suffering a stroke in May.
Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D) and Adam Laxalt (R)
Nevada is perhaps Republicans’ best chance at flipping a Senate seat — and the state most likely to cost Democrats their majority.
Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D), who made history in 2016 as the first Latina to be elected to the Senate, is facing off against Republican Adam Laxalt.
Cortez Masto, a former state attorney general, has leaned into issues like abortion and sought to emphasize her ties to the Latino community while Laxalt, also a former state attorney general, has campaigned on issues like inflation and human trafficking.
“I think that this is one of those races where it’s economy first. Las Vegas especially took a beating during COVID … it’s a tourism industry. And folks are still reeling and they’re still recovering, and so I think that’s first and foremost in folks’ minds,” said Democratic strategist Rodell Mollineau, a former aide to the late Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), adding the pandemic also made it harder to engage with voters in-person.
Sen. Raphael Warnock (D) and Herschel Walker (R)
Sen. Raphael Warnock (D) made headlines during the 2020 cycle for pulling off a major upset against former Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R), but he’s now fighting for his first full term against Republican contender Herschel Walker.
Warnock has outraised Walker, bringing in more than double his GOP opponent’s haul in the second quarter, and has not suffered from the same negative headlines that have plagued the former NFL star.
But recent polling has shown a highly competitive race, with Republicans saying Walker has become more disciplined as a candidate.
Jon Reinish, Democratic strategist and former aide to Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), said one factor that could help Walker is the fact that he’s a former football star. Walker, who was endorsed by former President Trump, was a Heisman Trophy-winning running back at the University of Georgia.
“Football is God in that part of the world, and he is a Trump proxy and he could be successful in rallying a lot of the MAGA faithful,” Reinish said.
Sen. Ron Johnson (R) and Mandela Barnes (D)
Sen. Ron Johnson (R) won his first two elections in 2010 and 2016 by single digits, and this year could be a similar nail-biter as he goes up against Democratic challenger Mandela Barnes in November.
Barnes, the state’s lieutenant governor, became the Democrats’ presumptive nominee after three other serious contenders within his party effectively cleared the primary for him.
Democrats last month cheered a series of polls showing Barnes outpacing Johnson, but that lead has evaporated. A Marquette University poll that showed Barnes leading by 7 points in August showed Johnson up by 1 earlier this month, and Johnson led by 4 points in an Emerson College poll released Tuesday.
While Johnson has a history of controversial and incendiary comments that Democrats hope turn off moderate voters, it’s unclear if Barnes can notch a win running as a progressive in the swing state.
“He has to have sky, sky, sky-high numbers in the two main cities in Madison and in Milwaukee. And if he can turn those people out, you know, then you can show that a progressive with broad appeal can win in a purple state,” Reinish said.
J.D. Vance (R) and Rep. Tim Ryan (D)
Sen. Rob Portman (R) announced early last year that he would not be seeking reelection, setting up a frenzy for the open seat that ultimately led to a faceoff between Republican J.D. Vance and Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan.
Ryan was always expected to face headwinds in the Buckeye State. Former President Obama won the state twice, but, more recently, so did former President Trump. And President Biden’s approval ratings are still underwater.
But some Democrats are feeling cautiously hopeful, given he’s represented his district in Congress for nearly two decades and focused his campaign on himself and his state, only cautiously embracing Biden.
Still, a poll from Emerson College and The Hill earlier this month showed Vance leading by 4 points, and Ohio has only one Democratic statewide elected official.
“I know everyone thinks that Ohio is a red state. Sherrod Brown … has been [in] statewide office for years, so there’s certainly a path for Tim Ryan to win this,” Mollineau said, referring to Ohio’s Democratic senator. “And I think the Republican strategy will likely be to continue to try to pummel Tim Ryan on the airwaves.”
Ted Budd (R) and Cheri Beasley (D)
Republican Senate hopeful Ted Budd and Democrat Cheri Beasley are vying for the open Senate seat in North Carolina after Sen. Richard Burr (R) announced he wouldn’t be seeking reelection.
Budd has the backing of big GOP names like Trump, and former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley and was among more than 140 House members who voted to overturn the 2020 election results. Beasley is a former chief justice of the state Supreme Court and former public defender.
A Civiqs poll released this week showed Beasley leading Budd 49 percent to 48 percent among likely voters, but it falls within the poll’s margin of error.
Reinish said Beasley could have a pathway to victory if she turns out voters the way Obama did in 2008 when he won the state by less than a percentage point, noting “Democrats have not had that sophisticated of a turnout machine really since then.”
Sen. Mark Kelly (D) and Blake Masters (R)
Venture capitalist Blake Masters, who received Trump’s endorsement and backing of GOP megadonor Peter Thiel, is the Republican challenger taking on Sen. Mark Kelly (D) in just over seven weeks.
The race was considered a possible Republican pickup opportunity, but there are signs those hopes might be unraveling with one poll from Ohio Predictive Insights showing Masters trailing Kelly by a 12-percentage point margin.
A super PAC aligned with McConnell slashed spending in the state while other groups have tried to fill the void, and the nonpartisan Cook Political Report shifted its rating of the race from “toss up” to “lean Democrat.”
Still, Republicans aren’t giving up on the state just yet.
“I think it’s destined to be a close race, but [a] Democrat incumbent with that kind of fundraising advantage — he’s certainly, I would say, Kelly is in far better shape than most of the other [Democratic] incumbents on the board. Certainly he’s in better shape than Cortez Masto,” Jennings said.