12 Races To Watch On Election Day

Beyond control of Congress, individual House and Senate races – from Pennsylvania to Nevada – could be bellwethers of larger national trends.

Republicans are heavily favored to take control of the U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday and in a strong position to take over the U.S. Senate as well.

But even with control of Congress at stake, the details matter. The outcomes of a handful of bellwether House races in Virginia could signal whether the evening is a bloodbath for Democrats, a modest defeat, or even a poll-defying overperformance for the party in the White House.

Other House races test individual candidates’ ability to defy their party’s brand in hostile territory, progressive contenders’ viability in swing seats, the extent of Republican inroads with Black and Latino voters, and the fate of House Democrats’ symbolically important campaign chair.

In the Senate, where the map is slightly better for Democrats, the loss of Democratic incumbents in Nevada, New Hampshire or Georgia narrows the path to preserve the party’s paper-thin majority in the chamber.

And in Pennsylvania, poll watchers are observing a war of candidate weaknesses. The outcome of the closely watched race hinges on whether Democrat John Fetterman’s stroke and progressive criminal justice record are more incriminating in the eyes of the state’s voters than Republican Mehmet Oz’s ties to former President Donald Trump and lack of roots in the state.

Here are 12 races we’re watching:

Three Bellwether House Races In Virginia

Rep. Elaine Luria (D-Va.) is locked in a tough reelection race.
Rep. Elaine Luria (D-Va.) is locked in a tough reelection race.
via Associated Press

If there’s one thing we can safely predict, it’s that we won’t know who won many races around the country on Tuesday night. Mail-in ballots, and rules barring them from being processed before Election Day, mean it could take until the end of the week to know the victor in key states like Pennsylvania and Arizona.

However, a trio of House races in Virginia could give a quick summary of how the election is shaping up. Virginia typically counts quickly, and its races are usually called fairly early.

In the Old Dominion, three Democrats are facing reelection bids of varying competitiveness. Rep. Elaine Luria, a moderate defense hawk who represents the Virginia Beach area, is battling GOP state Sen. Jen Kiggans. If Luria manages to pull off a victory, the night is likely going better than expected for Democrats.

Rep. Abigail Spanberger, another moderate, represents a district stretching from the Washington, D.C., suburbs into more rural territory. Her opponent, Yesli Vega, has made costly gaffes on abortion and is generally considered too conservative for the district. If Spanberger loses, things are going slightly worse than anticipated for Democrats.

Finally, Rep. Jennifer Wexton, a mainstream liberal, represents a seat covering D.C.’s most college-educated suburbs. Biden won Wexton’s seat by nearly 20 percentage points two years ago. If she loses, Republicans are on track to replicate their wave victories of 2010 and 2014.

The Race To Represent Joe Biden’s Hometown

Rep. Matt Cartwright (D-Pa.) is fending off a challenge from Republican lobbyist Jim Bognet.
Rep. Matt Cartwright (D-Pa.) is fending off a challenge from Republican lobbyist Jim Bognet.
Aimee Dilger/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

In Pennsylvania’s 8th Congressional District, Rep. Matt Cartwright, a progressive Democrat, is fending off a second challenge from Jim Bognet, a Republican political operative and lobbyist.

The overwhelmingly blue-collar and white seat in the northeastern corner of Pennsylvania is home to the city of Scranton, where President Joe Biden was born and spent his early childhood years. The seat also carries the distinction of being just one of two districts where an incumbent Democrat is defending a seat where Trump won twice. (Rep. Jared Golden of Maine represents the other.)

Cartwright, a personal injury lawyer by trade who now serves on the powerful House Appropriations Committee, has defied the rightward shift of his district by maintaining strong relationships with constituents, delivering federal resources, and occasionally bucking left-wing environmental orthodoxy.

If Cartwright survives in what is expected to be a Republican wave year, he will be viewed as a model for Democrats hoping to prevail in parts of the country where the party has grown less popular. If he loses, it will deliver a symbolic embarrassment to Biden, whose brand is a liability in his hometown, and suggest that even the most skillful members of Congress are no match for the forces of partisan polarization.

House Democrats’ Campaign Chair On The Ropes

Former President Bill Clinton rallied to help Rep. Sean Maloney (D-N.Y.) win reelection.
Former President Bill Clinton rallied to help Rep. Sean Maloney (D-N.Y.) win reelection.
Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

Republican super PACs’ massive fundraising advantage has enabled them to expand the battlefield into the backyard of New York Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, who chairs the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee responsible for electing Democrats to the House.

Maloney has won five terms in a centrist Hudson Valley seat that Biden carried by just five percentage points in 2020.

But due to a redistricting fiasco that prompted intra-party sniping and a costly progressive primary challenge against Maloney, his home was drawn into a seat that is at once more Democratic — Biden carried it by 10 points — and that comprises mostly new terrain where he must introduce himself to voters.

Maloney’s Republican challenger, New York Assemblymember Mike Lawler, a former political operative, has tried to make Maloney the face of national Democrats’ failure to tame inflation and New York Democrats’ controversial law restricting cash bail. He’s been buoyed by Republican Rep. Lee Zeldin’s crime-focused campaign against New York Gov. Kathy Hochul (D), which has picked up steam in the suburbs.

A defeat for Maloney would give Republicans symbolically powerful bragging rights for having unseated a Democratic Party leader deep inside enemy territory. It would also indicate that Republicans are on track to flip other House seats in the New York City suburbs that were previously viewed as bright spots on the map for Democrats.

A Progressive Test Case In Oregon

Republican Lori Chavez DeRemer is favored to defeat Democrat Jamie McLeod-Skinner.
Republican Lori Chavez DeRemer is favored to defeat Democrat Jamie McLeod-Skinner.
Steve Dipaola/Associated Press

Back in May, Jamie McLeod-Skinner, an attorney and local government consultant, unseated Rep. Kurt Schrader, a business-friendly Democrat in a primary election in Oregon’s newly drawn 5th Congressional District. McLeod-Skinner overcame Schrader’s massive spending advantage with unrelenting attacks on Schrader’s coziness with the pharmaceutical industry.

The activist left consistently argues that its platform is politically viable outside of deep-blue strongholds. McLeod-Skinner’s nomination gives progressives a chance to prove that proposition in a seat that Biden carried by under nine percentage points.

But Republican nominee Lori Chavez-DeRemer, a former mayor of Happy Valley, a Portland suburb, is currently the favorite to win. Chavez-DeRemer has downplayed the more hard-line stances she took during the GOP primary, including support for a state-level “heartbeat bill” banning abortion early in a pregnancy (she now emphasizes that she would not vote to restrict abortion at the federal level) and casting doubt on the validity of the 2020 election results (she now says only, “President Biden is the president of the United States”).

At the same time, Chavez-DeRemer and her allies have tied McLeod-Skinner to the least popular parts of the radical left in Portland, a sliver of which is in the district. For participating in a Black Lives Matter march, serving as a civil technocrat in a left-leaning Bay Area city and accepting the support of the left-wing Working Families Party, which has embraced calls to “defund the police,” Republicans have branded McLeod-Skinner an anti-police radical. McLeod-Skinner, who has never supported reducing police funding, enlisted the support of a former Bend, Oregon, police chief to vouch for her pro-law enforcement credentials.

The Changing Face Of The Republican Party

A win by Republican Jennifer-Ruth Green in Indiana would deprive Democrats of one of the party’s few remaining blue-collar and white bastions in the industrial midwest and signal that the GOP is continuing to make incremental inroads among Black voters.
A win by Republican Jennifer-Ruth Green in Indiana would deprive Democrats of one of the party’s few remaining blue-collar and white bastions in the industrial midwest and signal that the GOP is continuing to make incremental inroads among Black voters.
Paul Beaty/Associated Press

Home to a cluster of Chicago suburbs, union-heavy industry towns and the majority-Black city of Gary, Indiana’s 1st Congressional District is a microcosm of America’s changing demographic winds. In 2020, Biden carried the seat by eight percentage points, making it, on paper, well within Republican reach during a wave.

This cycle, Rep. Frank Mrvan (D), who outperformed Biden and won by 16 points in 2020, faces a spirited challenge from former U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Jennifer-Ruth Green, who is both Black and Asian American. As of late October, Green had nearly matched Mrvan in fundraising, and House Republicans’ biggest super PAC has spent more than $7.3 million on her behalf, making the seat a top target for the national GOP.

A victory for Green would deprive Democrats of one of the party’s few remaining blue-collar and white bastions in the industrial Midwest and signal that the GOP is continuing to make incremental inroads among Black voters. It would also be just one illustrative example of the Republican Party’s success in recruiting an unprecedented number of Black, Latino, Asian and female candidates.

John Fetterman vs. Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania

Democrats have long viewed Pennsylvania as one of their best chances to flip a Senate seat, with John Fetterman running against Republican Mehmet Oz.
Democrats have long viewed Pennsylvania as one of their best chances to flip a Senate seat, with John Fetterman running against Republican Mehmet Oz.
Lokman Vural Elibol/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

The contest between Democrat John Fetterman and Republican Mehmet Oz for an open U.S. Senate seat in Pennsylvania has understandably been the subject of major national attention. Republican Sen. Pat Toomey’s retirement gave Democrats the rare chance to pick up a GOP-held seat in a battleground state. And progressives, in particular, had high hopes that electing Fetterman, a six-foot-eight lieutenant governor and former mayor with a penchant for hooded sweatshirts, would show that with the proper packaging, a left-leaning populist can win a competitive statewide race.

But Fetterman suffered a stroke in May that sidelined him for several months and has hampered his speech and ability to interpret other people’s words quickly and effectively. Oz, a cardiothoracic surgeon-turned-daytime TV star, endured relentless attacks from Fetterman over the summer for moving from New Jersey to run and sometimes made matters worse with clumsy verbal flubs. He has closed the gap, however, by seizing on Fetterman’s work as chair of the board of pardons to paint him as soft on crime and by casting himself as a moderate seeking “balance,” despite his ties to former President Donald Trump, whose endorsement helped him prevail in a heated GOP primary.

If Oz prevails despite very low favorability ratings in Pennsylvania, it will speak to his success in countering Fetterman’s narrative, Fetterman’s vulnerability on crime, and possibly, voters’ doubts about Fetterman’s health.

Will Nevada Turn Red?

Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), the first-ever Latina in the Senate, is in a tight race against Republican Adam Laxalt.
Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), the first-ever Latina in the Senate, is in a tight race against Republican Adam Laxalt.
Mario Tama/Getty Images

Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) is the first-ever Latina in the U.S. Senate. The late Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid (D) picked her to succeed him when he retired in 2016.

But lately, the Democratic Party machine in Nevada that Reid built and that helped turn the state blue for several consecutive election cycles looks like it could be slipping out of Democrats’ grasp. Former state Attorney General Adam Laxalt has led Cortez Masto in a number of pre-election polls. Laxalt, a close ally of Trump’s, has questioned the validity of the 2020 presidential election results, while Cortez Masto has run as a stalwart defender of democracy.

Laxalt stands to benefit from Nevada’s high share of non-college-educated voters who are hard-hit by inflation and from dissatisfaction with the effect of Democrats’ COVID-19 pandemic policies on the state’s fragile tourism economy.

A win for Laxalt is likely to raise more alarm in Democrats’ minds about attrition among Latino voters, who made up nearly one-fifth of the state’s electorate in 2020.

In addition, since Democrats currently control the Senate with a 50-vote tie, a defeat for any Democratic incumbent makes the math for maintaining power in the upper chamber that much more difficult. Should Cortez Masto lose, Democrats would need to flip a Republican-held seat in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin, North Carolina or Florida to preserve their threadbare Senate majority.

Candidate Quality vs. Partisan Lean

Republican Herschel Walker has turned out to be one of the party's most controversial candidates this cycle.
Republican Herschel Walker has turned out to be one of the party's most controversial candidates this cycle.
Elijah Nouvelage/Getty Images

For months, Georgia Senate nominee Herschel Walker had been dropping hints that perhaps he wasn’t the strongest candidate on the GOP’s Senate roster. Then came a bombshell — Walker, who in staunchly against abortion rights, paid a woman he dated to have an abortion, she claimed to The Daily Beast. The proof was practically indisputable. There was a hand-written card from Walker, plus a $700 check he allegedly wrote to the woman.

The revelation allowed Georgia Democrats to breathe a little easier, but not for long. Turns out it may not have been a bombshell to actual GOP voters, who told HuffPost last month that everyone makes mistakes and that Walker deserves forgiveness. And even if Walker is a hypocrite, he’s still better, in their eyes, than the Democratic alternative.

Expect this race to answer whether partisan lean is a potent enough force to carry an imperfect candidate across the finish line. But don’t expect that answer right away. The race between Walker and Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock is neck-and-neck, and likely to head to a second round of voting if neither candidate secures a majority of the vote. Warnock narrowly won the seat in a 2020 runoff, but he’s not primed to keep it during an election year that’s less hospitable to Democrats.

He also doesn’t benefit from what’s happening elsewhere on the Democratic ticket in Georgia. Democrat Stacey Abrams is running several points behind incumbent Republican Gov. Brian Kemp, meaning that a lack of enthusiasm for Abrams might be dragging down Warnock, who doesn’t seem to be enjoying the same benefits of incumbency as Kemp.

Election Denialism Up And Down The Ballot

Republican Kari Lake has denied the results of the 2020 election and seems to be riding a wave of GOP momentum into Election Day.
Republican Kari Lake has denied the results of the 2020 election and seems to be riding a wave of GOP momentum into Election Day.
John Moore/Getty Images

Arizona might be ground zero of the GOP’s election denialism movement. From the governor’s race down to the state legislative races, the Grand Canyon State is chock-full of Republicans who believe some version of Trump’s bogus conspiracy theory about the 2020 election being stolen.

At the top of the ticket here is Republican gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake, who has called the 2020 election “corrupt” and “stolen.” Lake is running alongside a notorious election fabulist, Mark Finchem, who is actually vying to become the person in charge of Arizona’s elections. Both Lake and Finchem are running with Trump’s backing. And both seem to be riding a wave of GOP momentum into Election Day.

A former TV newscaster, Lake is a talented political candidate who is out-pizzazzing her opponent, Democrat Katie Hobbs. But Hobbs is the person with the experience to lead, having done the job that Finchem wants during the 2020 election when Republicans conducted their own rogue audit in an attempt to root out virtually nonexistent election corruption.

Arizona’s midterms will test whether the GOP’s election denialism repels the independents and moderates who constitute a crucial voting bloc in purple Arizona. Whatever the outcome, it will shape Arizona’s elections for years to come.

Senate Blowout? Look To New Hampshire.

A quick and easy win for Republican Don Bolduc, who is threatening to pull off a major upset against incumbent Democrat Maggie Hassan, might spell trouble for Democrats in other states.
A quick and easy win for Republican Don Bolduc, who is threatening to pull off a major upset against incumbent Democrat Maggie Hassan, might spell trouble for Democrats in other states.
Scott Eisen/Getty Images

For an early idea of where the Senate chips may fall, check out teeny, tiny New Hampshire.

The Granite State’s early results could be a bellwether for the races in Georgia, Pennsylvania and Nevada as those much bigger states tabulate votes throughout the night.

A quick and easy win for Republican Don Bolduc, who is threatening to pull off a major upset against incumbent Democrat Maggie Hassan, might spell trouble for Democrats in other states. If Democrats want to keep control of the now-evenly divided Senate, the math will be harder to come by without the Granite State.

New Hampshire will reveal whether Democrats were wise to hammer Bolduc on abortion rights — which are popular in a state that allows abortion up to 24 weeks — instead of sharpening their focus on economic issues, which propelled Republicans to Election Day.

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