The 2022 midterms will likely favor Republicans, both because the history of midterm elections pulls in that direction and because President Biden’s performance repulses voters, as evidenced by his record-low approval ratings. A recent Rasmussen poll gave Republicans a larger lead in 2022 than Democrats enjoyed when they took back the House in 2018. Amid the excitement, readers may not know which races are most significant. Here are a few of the races that bear watching in the 2022 primaries, and in the general election divided by Senate, governor, House of Representatives, and state ballot issues.
Wyoming Republican House primary: The question is not if Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) loses her seat, but to whom. The Republican primary for Wyoming’s lone House seat will determine that. The daughter of the former vice president canceled her 2014 primary campaign against then-Senator Mike Enzi after polls showed her trailing badly. She became the state’s lone member of Congress in 2016 and rose to the fourth-ranking position in the House. Yet during the Trump years, Cheney so embittered her party’s base by berating them as an out-of-control cult indulging in “THE BIG LIE” (her emphasis) that she lost her leadership position and looks poised to lose her seat. A poll taken in December showed Cheney trailing her primary opponent, Harriet Hageman (whom Donald Trump has endorsed), by 18 points. This race will measure which faction of the party controls the GOP and whether the party will tolerate someone in leadership campaigning against her own voters.
Alaska Republican U.S. Senate primary and general election: Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) has made a career of serving the Republican Party against the GOP’s wishes; 2022 will determine whether she continues that for a fourth term. Murkowski is the only one of the seven Republicans who voted to impeach Donald Trump who is facing reelection this year. But Murkowski strained her relationship with the Republican Party long before Trump entered political life. Murkowski, who was appointed to the Senate by her father, then-Governor Frank Murkowski (R), in 2002, lost the 2010 Republican primary to Tea Party challenger Joe Miller; she won the general election as a write-in candidate, even after a video surfaced showing a federal contractor essentially stumping for Murkowski. In 2018, she voted against advancing the nomination of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh in the Senate Judiciary Committee, then voted “present” on his final confirmation. Both Trump and the Alaska state Republican Party have endorsed Murkowski’s primary challenger, a political neophyte named Kelly Tshibaka.
Not only will this primary demonstrate which wing of the party is ascendant, but it may test the strength of Alaska’s newly instituted ranked-choice voting system, which the state Supreme Court upheld earlier this month. Under the new system, all candidates appear on one ballot in the August 16 primary. The four candidates who receive the most votes in the primary, regardless of party, then appear on one ballot in the general election. Voters rank the candidates in order of preference, from one (favorite) to four (least favorite). Rather than rewarding the candidate with the most votes, ranked-choice voting requires some candidate to receive a majority of votes; if no candidate won an outright majority in the first round, then the bottom candidate is eliminated, and that candidate’s second-choice votes are distributed to the remaining candidates. One poll found that Murkowski, who has never won a majority of voters in any of her three Senate races, would win under the new voting system on the strength of her support from Democrats.
Ohio Republican Senate primary: After center-right U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R) announced his retirement, numerous candidates have angled to attract the GOP’s conservative base. The two front-runners are former Congressman and state Treasurer Josh Mandel and “Hillbilly Elegy” author J.D. Vance, both men with staunch conservative backgrounds. Former state party chair Jane Timken, Cleveland Guardians owner Matt Dolan, and businessmen Mike Gibbons and Bernie Moreno have also vied for the support of the state’s evangelical Christian vote before the May 3 primary. The Democratic front-runner, Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH), succeeded former boss Jim Traficant into office and announced that he had abandoned his pro-life views in 2015. Ryan has tried to run as an economic populist like Senator Sherrod Brown — the only Democrat to hold statewide office.
In November, 34 Senate seats will be up for election. The Democrats currently control the evenly divided Senate, because Vice President Kamala Harris wields the tie-breaking vote — although Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) have resisted unpopular aspects of the Democrats’ agenda such as the Build Back Better act and abolishing the filibuster. Republicans must flip at least one seat to overcome Democrats’ institutional power in the chamber.
Georgia: Incumbent Senator Raphael Warnock (D) narrowly won a special run-off election last January 5 over Republican Kelly Loeffler, who made a windfall in the stock market on the basis of “nonpublic knowledge” about COVID-19. Warnock’s likely opponent has never had trouble during a face-off: Former NFL great Herschel Walker has won Trump’s endorsement and the broad support of the state’s grassroots voters. Walker has collected $10 million in campaign donations, and polls currently have a Walker-Warnock race in a dead heat. The race merits watching not only because of its role in determining control of the Senate, but to see if Georgia will continue to be represented by a far-Left Democrat who has preached that the Bible teaches socialism, called Israel an apartheid state, and hailed Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan as an “important voice” in society.
Pennsylvania: Incumbent Senator Pat Toomey (R) opted not to seek reelection, opening the swing state’s Senate seat at the same time that its governor will be leaving office. The Democratic primary pits Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman, who endorsed Bernie Sanders for president in 2016, against Rep. Conor Lamb, who styles himself a moderate. (State Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta, who favors packing the Supreme Court and granting statehood to the District of Columbia, is also in the race.) On the Republican side, TV personality Mehmet Oz — known to the world as “Dr. Oz” thanks to his appearances on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” — faces businessman Jeff Bartos and Trump’s Ambassador to Denmark Carla Sands in the GOP primary. Oz has already bought $5 million to purchase air time in the state. But some conservatives remain wary of the TV doctor, who has a long history of making campaign donations to Democrats. For instance, he has said he is pro-life but favors an exception for “the health” of the mother, a term so elastic it has been used to allow abortion for virtually any reason. If he can calm conservatives’ fears, he may have the popularity and name recognition to hold the seat in this swing state.
Nevada: First-term incumbent Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) may be vulnerable to a challenge from a conservative rival with a famous name. Her likely challenger, former state Attorney General Adam Laxalt, is the grandson of the late Senator Paul Laxalt — a stalwart conservative whom Ronald Reagan is said to have personally favored as his vice president instead of George H.W. Bush — as well as the son of former U.S. Sen. Pete Domenici (R-NM). Cortez Masto served as state attorney general for the two terms (2007-2015) immediately preceding Laxalt’s tenure, where he distinguished himself. While the Democrat has raised far more money than Laxalt at this time, two polls taken last month showed Laxalt leading Cortez Masto by three and four points, respectively. And while the state has been reliably Democratic, their margin of victory has been slim: Democrats Hillary Clinton in 2016, Cortez Masto in 2018, and Joe Biden in 2020 all won their respective races by exactly 2.4%. What are the odds?
Arizona: Senator Mark Kelly (D-AZ), former NASA astronaut and husband of former Rep. Gabby Giffords. Kelly defeated incumbent Sen. Martha McSally (R) in 2020, but his favorability rating has been sliding. Kelly has contradicted the Biden administration’s sunny view of the border, calling the historic level of illegal immigration a “crisis.” His moderating comments and likely Republican candidate Attorney General Mark Brnovich’s limited resources auger somewhat in Kelly’s favor. A loss would signify that Arizona has returned to the GOP fold.
State Governor’s Races:
Michigan: Once considered a rising star in the Democratic Party, incumbent Governor Gretchen Whitmer (D) has emerged as one of the most polarizing figures in American politics. Her controversial nursing home order led to an unknown number of preventable deaths; the state has yet to come clean with the full figure. Whitmer, whom Biden considered for the vice presidency, presided over some of the strictest COVID-19 lockdowns in the nation — for her citizens. Her husband dropped her name when asking for an exemption from state regulations to sail his boat near Memorial Day 2020, and she flew to Florida shortly after warning her citizens about the perils of out-of-state travel. A recent poll found that she and former Detroit Police Chief James Craig, the Republican front-runner, are tied at 46%. Whitmer, the elite face of technocratic indifference, could easily lose reelection to the black conservative.
Georgia: Looks to be a rematch of 2018, as Governor Brian Kemp (R) seeks a second term against Democrat Stacey Abrams. Since then, Abrams steadfastly insisted she actually won the governor’s race. “The election was stolen from the people of Georgia,” said Abrams in 2019, although she admitted, “I don’t know that empirically.” She denounced a voting integrity bill which Kemp signed into law last year as “a redux of Jim Crow in a suit and tie” and wrote an op-ed in USA Today praising efforts “to boycott [the state] in order to achieve change.” (After Major League Baseball moved its All-Star Game out of Georgia, the newspaper made numerous stealth edits to her article to soften her language and blame the boycott on Republicans.) Before Kemp faces Abrams, he must turn back a primary challenge from former U.S. Senator David Perdue, whom Trump has endorsed. The two sides have hurled lawsuits and ethics complaints against one another, and Kemp’s campaign has continued to highlight Perdue’s vulnerability over his stock portfolio. With the ideological gap between Kemp and Perdue relatively narrow, the primary may test the strength of Trump’s post-presidential endorsement.
Pennsylvania: Incumbent Governor Tom Wolf (D) will vacate the governor’s mansion in Harrisburg next year due to term limits. The likely Democratic candidate, Attorney General Josh Shapiro, has remained one of the most popular Democrats in the state. His likely Republican opponent, former U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta, first made national headlines as the mayor of the blue-collar town of Hazleton, where he championed a measure fining landlords who knowingly rented their properties to illegal aliens and denying permits to businesses who employ them. Barletta compiled a conservative voting record during his four terms in the U.S. House of Representatives (2011-2019), then ran for U.S. Senate, losing to Bob Casey. Successful candidates of both parties in Pennsylvania have mixed right-of-center positions on social issues with a less doctrinaire position on economics. Shapiro, who survived the state’s recent red waves, is the best-positioned Democrat to hold the state. But Barletta’s brand of politics is well-attuned to Pennsylvania, the state that gave birth to Rick Santorum’s “blue collar conservatism” and Donald Trump’s 2016 victory.
Florida: Governor Rick DeSantis (R) will likely face Charlie Crist, a former Republican governor who bolted the party, although Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried is running as a progressive Democrat. This race will likely be interesting, not so much for the outcome, but to see how DeSantis performs as a candidate en route to his possible entry into the 2024 presidential primaries.
Maine: Maine’s incumbent Governor Janet Mills (D) is one of the lesser-known but vulnerable Democratic governors. Not only is Maine intriguing as a possible pick-up for Republicans but also because it heralds the return of former two-term Governor Paul LePage (R). Rising from a hardscrabble childhood that included years as a homeless teen, he campaigned as an unapologetic conservative; for instance, he wanted Mainers to vote on abolishing the state income tax. In the process, he shattered the mold of the Northeastern Republican “moderates” such as Susan Collins or Charlie Baker. “You’re going to be seeing a lot of me on the front page saying, ‘Governor LePage tells Obama to go to Hell,” he promised voters in 2010. While most observers gave LePage no chance at winning reelection, he won again in 2014. He now looks toward a fight with his successor. While Mills enjoys an edge in fundraising, LePage enjoys a slightly higher favorability rating among Mainers.
Hot State Ballot Issues
Will Nevada confer special rights on transgender people and discriminate against people of faith? On November 8, Nevada voters will decide whether to adopt an “equal rights amendment” to the state constitution. It reads:
Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by this State or any of its political subdivisions on account of race, color, creed, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, age, disability, ancestry or national origin.
This amendment would give men who say they identify as women access to women’s intimate facilities — including women’s shelters, restrooms, and locker rooms — and force female athletes to compete against men. It could compel doctors who object to prescribing puberty blockers or transformative reproductive surgery to take part in such procedures or leave the medical profession. It would discriminate against religious colleges and faith-based nonprofit organizations that hold to traditional sexual morality. In practice, turning “gender identity or expression” and “sexual orientation” into protected classes for the purposes of civil rights laws lawsuits has imperiled religious liberty and subjected businesses to a bevy of frivolous lawsuits. “Several states have also interpreted nearly identical amendments to mandate taxpayer funding for abortion,” noted the Alliance Defending Freedom.
Arizona in-state tuition for illegal immigrants. Arizonans could opt to erase a provision of their state constitution barring favorable college tuition rates to illegal aliens at taxpayer-funded state colleges and universities. The November 8 ballot initiative would replace language stating that “a person who was not a citizen or legal resident of the United States or who is without lawful immigration status is not entitled to classification as an in-state student” to say that “persons without lawful immigration status are eligible for in-state tuition” if they have been “physically present” in Arizona for two years and graduated from a high school or “homeschool equivalent,” or obtained a GED.
Arkansas defends religious liberty against lockdowns, etc. In April 2020, Governor Asa Hutchinson (R) effectively limited the number of people who could attend church by compelling “places of worship” to observe social distancing protocols; in May, he ordered churches to “[r]efrain from having people come forward to a common altar rail for Holy Communion.” Legislators responded by passing Act 94 last February, which states, “The [g]overnor shall not prohibit or limit a religious organization from continuing to operate or engage in religious services,” even “during a disaster emergency.”
To further protect religious liberty, they have asked state voters to approve the Arkansas Religious Freedom Amendment. Its language, which is modeled after the national Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) that President Bill Clinton signed in 1993, bans the government from forcing anyone to violate his or her deeply held religious beliefs unless it can prove it is acting in “furtherance of a compelling government interest” and using “the least restrictive means” possible. RFRA has offered churches relief from selective enforcement of COVID-19 lockdowns, religious nonprofits robust legal protection from lawsuits filed by LGBTQ activists, and spared military officers with religious objections from mandatory vaccination.
Gun rights in Iowa. Iowa’s voters will decide on November 8 whether to amend their state constitution to affirm the right to keep and bear arms. The substance of the amendment reads:
The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed. The sovereign state of Iowa affirms and recognizes this right to be a fundamental individual right. Any and all restrictions of this right shall be subject to strict scrutiny.
By specifying Iowans have an “individual right” to bear arms, the amendment echoes the language of the U.S. Supreme Court’s D.C. v. Heller decision and undercuts gun control advocates’ claims that the Second Amendment only confers gun rights on “a well-regulated militia.” Requiring gun restrictions to meet strict scrutiny in court means that their proponents must prove that the regulation furthers a compelling government interest in the least restrictive way possible, making onerous gun restrictions less likely to prevail in state courtrooms.
California: Rep. Mike Garcia (R) is a rare species: a California Republican. Not only did he win office in a district that had been trending blue, but he succeeded former Rep. Katie Hill, the scandal-plagued Democrat who quit after being caught in a throuple with a young campaign staffer. Hill had been regarded as a future star who would helm the district for some time. Garcia’s win gave the seat to Republicans for the first time since 1998.
Virginia: As the Democratic Party under the Biden-Harris ticket has drifted steadily leftward, Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D) has tried to act as the party’s voice of sanity. The former CIA case officer voted against Nancy Pelosi for Speaker and warned her party against following the voice of left-wing extremism. “No one should say ‘defund the police’ ever again,” Spanberger told her colleagues. “Nobody should be talking about socialism.” Her moderation stems in part from her seat, which no Democrat had won since 1971. If more Squad members win in safe, blue districts while she loses this toss-up race, it could steel the Democratic Party’s drift to progressivism.
New York: Rep. Claudia Tenney (R) won her election to the House of Representatives in 2020 but saw herself legally barred from taking her seat thanks to a lawsuit from her Democratic opponent, Anthony Brindisi. The following February, a New York judge ruled in Tenney’s favor, certified her as the winner by a 109-vote margin, and paved the way for her to assume office. (Brindisi defeated the incumbent Rep. Tenney by a narrow margin during her first bid for reelection in 2018.) A red wave will show up in her election results.
Texas Republican governor’s primary: Gov. Greg Abbott (R) has a seemingly prohibitive lead over his rivals, former Florida congressman and Texas Republican Party chair Allen West and former state Senator Don Huffines. The primary will help define the shape of the state GOP; the general will determine how bad a beating the Republican administers to likely Democratic candidate Beto O’Rourke in what could turn out to be his final race for statewide office.
The views expressed in this piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.