States to Watch in the 2022 Midterm Elections
August 3, 2021
For the next year and a half, these states will play host to both a competitive U.S. Senate race and a competitive gubernatorial contest.
If you are a voter living in Arizona, Georgia, Pennsylvania, or Wisconsin, you were in the middle of the whirlwind during the 2020 election. Each of these states flipped from former President Donald Trump to presidential candidate Joe Biden, providing Biden with the electoral votes he needed to win the presidency.
Voters in these states shouldn’t expect the attention to recede during the 2022 midterm election: For the next year and a half, each of these states will play host to both a competitive U.S. Senate race and a competitive gubernatorial contest.
These four states could eventually be joined by a few others, such as Florida, Nevada, New Hampshire and Ohio, depending on how the campaigns play out in each. But the big four states from the 2020 Trump-Biden election are almost certain to have double-barreled competitive races for Senate and governor.
Given today’s political polarization and nationalized partisanship, it’s natural to wonder whether the twin races in these states will inevitably be won by the same party. So we looked at the midterm election cycles going back to 2006 and found that split results in competitive Senate and gubernatorial races are relatively infrequent – and are growing less frequent, campaign cycle by campaign cycle. (We didn’t count states where one or both races were rated non-competitive by handicappers such as the Cook Political Report.)
In 2006, one of the two states that had competitive Senate and gubernatorial races that year – Rhode Island – ended up with a split decision between the parties. In 2010, only two of the seven states in that category – Illinois and New Hampshire – produced a split decision. In 2014, three of the seven states had splits: Colorado, Michigan and Alaska. (In Alaska, the winning governor was an independent rather than a Democrat.)
By 2018 – the first midterm cycle after Trump won the presidency – the percentage of dual races that ended up split plummeted. In Florida, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, the same party won both races. In only one state, Ohio, was there a split, as Republican Mike DeWinewon the governorship but Democrat Sherrod Brown won reelection to the Senate.
All told, in the midterms since 2006, more than two-thirds of these dual Senate and gubernatorial races have ended up being won by the same party – a pretty high percentage for races that, according to analysts at the time, could have been won by either party. And in the most recent midterm cycle, 2018, the percentage of same-party winners rose to its highest level, 83%.
Will the correlation between Senate and gubernatorial results remain that high in 2022? It’s too early to tell, but here’s a rundown of the twin races in the four vital states for the midterm.
Arizona is historically Republican, but Biden won the state in 2022 thanks to a strong showing in Maricopa County (where Phoenix is located), especially among moderate suburbanites unhappy with the GOP’s Trump-era drift.
In 2022, Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly will be running for a full term after winning a partial term in 2020. He’s raised $5.9 million in the most recent quarter and has $7.6 million on hand. The GOP field to take on Kelly is evolving, but it’s expected to produce fireworks stemming from the aggressive, pro-Trump posture of the state Republican Party and the ongoing “audit” of the election pushed by allies of Trump. The GOP field includes Attorney General Mark Brnovich; solar energy executive Jim Lamon; retired Maj. Gen. Michael McGuire, the former head of the Arizona National Guard; and venture capitalist Blake Masters.
The governorship, meanwhile, is being vacated by term-limited Republican Doug Ducey. The Democratic front-runner is Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, a high-profile critic of the audit. On the GOP side, the contenders include state Treasurer Kimberly Yee; Karrin Taylor Robson, scion of an Arizona political dynasty; Kari Lake, a former TV anchor from Phoenix; former Rep. Matt Salmon; and businessman Steve Gaynor.
In both competitive Republican primaries, the politics of the audit will only exacerbate the rightward pull, said Stuart Goodman, a veteran political consultant for Arizona Republicans. GOP candidates in both races “will likely be forced to adopt positions that appeal to Republican primary voters and that may not resonate with the majority of Democratic and independent voters,” Goodman wrote via email.
In Georgia, the political tumult never paused after the 2020 election. First came Trump’s efforts to overturn Biden’s victory, then came the runoff victories by Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock that handed Senate control to the Democrats. Trump has continued to play political godfather in the state, targeting Gov. Brian Kemp and other elected Republicans for not overturning the vote in his favor.
Warnock, like Kelly in Arizona, must run again in 2022 after winning a partial term last year. And Warnock, like Kelly, has posted impressive fundraising numbers, raising more than $7 million in the first quarter and reporting $10.5 million in cash on hand. Trump would like former football star Herschel Walker to run, though a few other Republicans are already in the race – including Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black and former Trump White House aide Latham Saddler – and others could enter the contest if Walker does not.
The gubernatorial race should be at least as dramatic as the Senate contest, starting with Trump’s feud with Kemp. Already, Kemp faces a primary challenge from former state Rep. Vernon Jones, a Democrat-turned-pro-Trump Republican. Others could enter the race, too. Whatever happens in the GOP primary, the general election is poised to be a barnburner if, as expected, Stacey Abrams – Kemp’s 2018 opponent and a prominent voting rights advocate – gets in the race. Abrams’ key role in registering voters and energizing Black turnout in 2020 has only raised her profile, both in the state and nationally. The prospect of two major Black candidates running for the Democrats in 2022 have the party optimistic about high turnout.
“Warnock's fundraising has been through the roof, and combined with the money Abrams has raised for her advocacy group Fair Fight, the Democrats are in much better shape than they have been in several election cycles,” said Tom Baxter, a longtime Georgia political journalist who now writes for the political newsletter Saporta Report, in an email.
The Keystone State has been a political battleground every campaign cycle in recent years, and 2022 should be no exception.
The governor’s office is coming open after being held for two terms by Democrat Tom Wolf. Attorney General Josh Shapiro is expected to be the prohibitive favorite for the nomination. The GOP field is unsettled and includes former Rep. Lou Barletta and several other local Republican officials and legislators. The Democrats start with an edge, but if the Republicans can nominate a candidate with centrist appeal, the general election could become more competitive.
The Senate race to replace retiring Republican Sen. Pat Toomey starts off as more compelling. The Democratic field includes several credible candidates, including Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta, Montgomery County Commission Chair Val Arkoosh and moderate Rep. Conor Lamb. The GOP field includes Trump-backed veteran Sean Parnell (who lost to Lamb in 2020), developer Jeff Bartos (who lost to Fetterman in 2018) and former Trump-nominated Ambassador to Denmark Carla Sands.
“There is likely to be a high degree of synergy between the Senate and gubernatorial race in Pennsylvania next year,” Christopher Borick, a Muhlenberg College political scientist, said in an email. “The broader political climate and high polarization are likely to limit the ability of candidates to distance themselves from their parties, and thus force unified messaging and campaigning by the candidates. This may be even more the case if the GOP nominees are both fully immersed in the Trump wing of the party, allowing Democrats to try and attach the Republican nominee to Trump's baggage."
Wisconsin has not only been an intensely contested state in recent election cycles, but it’s also one of the rare states today to elect one Republican senator and one Democratic senator. The Republican senator, Ron Johnson, is up for reelection in 2022, although he hasn’t officially said whether he’s running.
Ignoring Wisconsin’s swing-state reputation, Johnson has become increasingly allied with Trump and has made controversial statements about the coronavirus and vaccines. Johnson’s outspokenness has made him one of the Democrats’ highest priority Senate targets. The Democratic primary field includes state Treasurer Sarah Godlewski, Milwaukee Bucks executive Alex Lasry and Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes.
As for the gubernatorial race, Democratic incumbent Tony Evers is seeking reelection, following a first term in which he sparred constantly with the Republican majority in the legislature. The GOP field potentially includes former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch; Kevin Nicholson, a Democrat-turned-Republican and Marine; and Bill McCoshen, a more pragmatic Republican who once advised then-Gov. Tommy Thompson. (Some of the GOP’s gubernatorial candidates could switch to the Senate contest if Johnson doesn’t run again.)
It's conceivable that the two races in Wisconsin could unfold somewhat differently, said Barry Burden, a political scientist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
“The governor's race will largely be about Evers' handling of the pandemic, the budget he recently signed, and the state's economic situation,” Burden said via email. “The Senate contest is more likely to focus on the Biden administration and whether the president's efforts to address the pandemic and the economy are necessary remedies or harmful government overreach.”
Could this dynamic mean that the Senate and gubernatorial races in Wisconsin produce divergent results on Election Day? History suggests it’s unlikely – but far from impossible.