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Washington Watch: These 3 races could determine whether Democrats or Republicans control the Senate in 2023

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Thirty five Senate seats are up for reelection in November, but only eight are considered toss-ups, according to RealClearPolitics. Of those, there are three that are most likely to determine which party controls the Senate, according to research firm Beacon Policy Advisors.

Georgia

In a report released Friday, Beacon predicted “the likely tipping point race to be Georgia, a purple state that is still to the right of the nation by about three points.”

The incumbent senator, Democrat Raphael Warnock, defeated Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler in a special runoff election last year by two points, but faces another steep challenge this fall. His new opponent, former NFL player Herschel Walker, is well within striking distance.

Polling in July gave Warnock a comfortable lead of anywhere between 3-9-points. But in recent weeks, Walker, who is backed by former President Donald Trump, has gained steam and polling since August has favored him by one to three points.

The race’s competitiveness has prompted massive fundraising efforts, with Warnock raising over $60 million and Walker raising over $20 million as of the end of June

Nevada

Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto is up in the polls against former Nevada attorney general Adam Laxalt by an average of 1.7 points, a small lead that Beacon notes is weak for an incumbent.

A poll conducted by Fabrizio Ward and Impact Research in late August on behalf of AARP showed Democrat Cortez Masto leading Republican Laxalt by four points, within the poll’s margin of error. Pollster Tony Fabrizio told the Nevada Independent at the beginning of September that if the election was held today, then he’d expect both the state’s Democratic governor and Cortez Masto to lose due to their low favorability, a Republican lean among undecided voters and national conditions such as inflation and President Joe Biden’s approval rating.

Beacon noted a demographic factor in the race: “there is more upside for the relatively uncontroversial Laxalt in a state that’s moving to the right as Latinos and non-college educated voters shift right.”

Pennsylvania

Of the three races listed by Beacon, Pennsylvania is the most favorable to Democrats.

In the race to replace retiring Republican Sen. Pat Toomey, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman holds a lead over Republican challenger Mehmet Oz that’s outside the margin of error. A RealClearPolitics average of polls conducted between Aug. 15 through Aug. 28 shows Fetterman leading by 6.5 points.

That lead is lower than last month, Beacon notes, plus “[n]ational Republicans are making a big investment in the state and there’s more chatter about Fetterman’s health as he continues to recover from a stroke.”

Other toss-ups

While Beacon has identified the races in Georgia, Nevada and Pennsylvania as the most likely to determine which party will hold the majority in 2023, there are a number of other toss-ups to keep an eye on. And as Beacon notes, “If Republicans are winning Arizona or New Hampshire or if Democrats are winning Wisconsin or Ohio, we’re talking about the size of their majorities not if they will have a majority.”

The other races deemed toss-ups by RealClearPolitics are Arizona, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio and Wisconsin. While polling averages show tight races in each — particularly North Carolina and Ohio — RCP does not predict that any of them will change party control (RCP predicts the GOP will pick up Nevada and Georgia, which would lead to a 51-49 Republican majority).

Democrats’ odds of controlling the Senate have considerably improved in recent weeks — FiveThirtyEight gives the party a 69% chance of winning the majority, up from 56% on Aug. 1 — there’s still a lot that remains to be seen in the coming weeks. Some things that could positively impact Republicans, Beacon noted earlier this week, are the looming national rail strike and an anticipated increase in gas prices
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