The battle for control of the Senate increasingly is coming down to four key states: Nevada and Georgia, where two Democrats are seeking to hold on; and Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, where Republicans are trying to hold on to one open seat and save a vulnerable incumbent.
The four states are not the only competitive contests, but they are seen as the focal points for both parties and the races mostly likely to see a shift in power.
Incumbent Democrats are pulling away in Colorado, New Hampshire and even Arizona, which at the beginning of the cycle was seen as a potential gain for the GOP.
Republicans, for their part, are confident they’ll win in Ohio and North Carolina.
That would leave each party with 48 seats, and would mean the race for the Senate majority would come down to a final four.
“It’s up for grabs at this point,” Sen. Dick Durbin (Ill.), the No. 2 Democrat, told The Hill. “Every race we’re in the margin of error, which means the next six weeks can easily decide it.”
Republicans think they have a decent chance of winning the Senate majority despite a difficult map in which they are defending more seats.
“Republicans go 3 and 1, and that’s the ballgame,” said one GOP operative involved in midterm races.
In Nevada, Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) launched her latest offensive against former state Attorney General Adam Laxalt (R) on Thursday, accusing him of pushing the “big lie” about election fraud and the 2020 election.
Adding to her lines of attack, Laxalt told NBC News last week that the FBI has become “far too political.” The remark came after an event where he criticized Cortez Masto for not sufficiently backing law enforcement during the 2020 riots following George Floyd’s death.
In Georgia, Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.) has struggled to pull away from GOP nominee Herschel Walker. According to two recent polls however, the incumbent Democrat has hit the 50 percent threshold that has outsized importance in the swing state. If no candidate reaches that figure on Nov. 8, the top two vote-getters, presumably Warnock and Walker, will face off in a runoff on Dec. 6.
“Anybody who tells you they know what’s going to happen in Georgia and Nevada is lying,” one Democratic operative involved in midterm contests told The Hill.
In Pennsylvania, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (D) has generally held a significant lead in polls over Republican Mehmet Oz, even as Fetterman recovered from a stroke suffered shortly before his primary win.
However, the script has flipped in recent weeks as Oz and GOP outside groups have consistently targeted the former Braddock, Pa., mayor as soft on crime, a message that has helped move Republican voters into Oz’s column.
“The average voter wants to go to the grocery store and not pay more for their goods, and they want to walk down the street and feel safe,” the GOP operative said. “That’s it. It’s not any more complex than that. In Washington, D.C., we’re experts at making things more complicated than they are.”
According to a recent Fox News poll, Fetterman leads with 48 percent to 44 percent for Oz, but the wind is clearly blowing in Oz’s direction.
The 4-point margin is down from 11 points in Fox News’s previous poll in July. The more recent survey also shows that 83 percent of Republicans are backing Oz compared to 73 percent of those polled in July.
Democrats, however, maintain they are pleased with how things are shaping up.
“It’s tightening up as it was preordained to do. It’s going to take everything we have to win, but it’s absolutely positively doable,” said T.J. Rooney, a Pennsylvania-based Democratic strategist who previously served as chairman of the Pennsylvania Democratic Party. “We’re going to have to scratch and claw for every vote. … [Fetterman’s] getting the kitchen sink thrown at him.”
A poll released last week by Emerson College and The Hill also shows a 2-point Fetterman lead, putting the race within the margin of error.
Despite the tightening polls, the Cook Political Report still lists the race as “lean Democratic.”
Cook lists the Nevada and Georgia races as “toss-ups” along with the Wisconsin race, where Sen. Ron Johnson (R) is in a tight fight with Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes (D).
Unlike the other three races, though, Johnson finally seems to have broken through polling wise in recent weeks after a wave of massive spending rolled through the Badger State.
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According to AdImpact, an ad tracking firm, Republicans spent the second most in Wisconsin from Sept. 5-26, trailing only Georgia.
The incumbent Republican’s standing is a far cry from six years ago when much of the political world expected him to lose a rematch to former Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) to the point that the Senate Leadership Fund, which is backed by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), didn’t spend on the race. That victory for Johnson has stuck in the mind of Democrats ever since.
“Oh, I think everyone’s very much aware of it,” Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) told The Hill on Thursday. “Nobody’s counting their chickens before they hatch.”