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The 9 races that could decide Senate control

Georgia, Nevada, and Wisconsin are some of the closest contests in the country.

Christina Animashaun/Vox; Getty Images

The fight for control of the Senate is basically a dead heat at this point.

All the toss-ups were incredibly close throughout election night, as expected. Ahead of Election Day, projections — which once favored Democrats — began to suggest Republicans had a plausible path to a majority.

Of the 35 Senate seats that are up this cycle, nine were truly in play according to Cook Political Report, a group that conducts nonpartisan political analysis. These include Republican-held swing states like Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, and Democrat-held battlegrounds like Nevada, Georgia, and Arizona — all of which could potentially change hands this fall.

Here’s a look at the dynamics in these key races, and a preview of what each of them could say about the future of the respective parties, and Senate control.

Five states are true toss-ups

Pennsylvania

AP has called this race for John Fetterman. Read more here.

The Democrat: John Fetterman (winner)

Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman had one of the strongest polling leads of Democrats this cycle, though surveys have tightened since he’s been hit with numerous attacks on crime and questions about his fitness for office following a stroke earlier this year. Fetterman has long sought to strike an interesting balance: While he backs progressive policies like Medicare-for-all and a $15 minimum wage, he’s distanced himself from the progressive label and tried to use economic populism to broaden his crossover appeal.

Fetterman’s campaign has responded to questions about his health by releasing cognitive tests that show his brain function is comparable to other individuals his age, though they’ve declined to share his full medical records, and argued that his health will continue to improve over time. He’s also defended his record on criminal justice reform, noting that he’s fought to free those who were wrongly convicted and those who were deemed low safety risks by corrections officials after serving decades in jail. Fetterman has pointed, too, to how he helped reduce gun violence during his time as mayor of Braddock, Pennsylvania.

The Republican: Mehmet Oz

Reality show doctor and Trump pick Mehmet Oz has spent heavily to suggest that he’d be tougher on crime than Fetterman, seizing on fears about the parts of the state that have experienced upticks in violence during the pandemic.

He’s also adopted conservative policy positions including support for abortion restrictions and expansive gun rights, notably saying during the recent debate that the decision to get an abortion should be between “women, doctors, and local political leaders.” Beyond his policy positions, Oz has gotten flak from Fetterman’s campaign for living in New Jersey for years and for seemingly moving to Pennsylvania just ahead of his Senate run.

Why this race is interesting: This seat is critical for Democrats to pick up as they try to keep control of the Senate and grow their majority. It’s also one that will reveal how effective Republicans’ “soft on crime” messaging ultimately is, as they’ve sought to paint Democrats — especially Fetterman — as ill-equipped to address the issue.

Democrats are hoping to flip this seat given Fetterman’s momentum in the state and Biden’s success there in 2020. Questions about how voters think about Fetterman’s health have also played a role in the race after the Democrat struggled to provide in-depth answers during a late October debate.

The state of the race: Cook rates the race as a toss-up, and FiveThirtyEight’s polling aggregator has Fetterman up by 0.3 percentage points as of November 3.

Arizona

The Democrat: Sen. Mark Kelly

Sen. Mark Kelly, a former astronaut, is vying for a full term after winning a special election for his seat in 2020. Kelly has emphasized his independence on issues like immigration and leaned into his willingness to buck his own party when necessary. He’s also known for being a gun control advocate alongside his wife, former Rep. Gabby Giffords, who was previously shot in the head during a constituent event.

The Republican: Blake Masters

Venture capitalist Blake Masters, who has the backing of tech billionaire Peter Thiel, is among the election deniers running this year. Masters has also supported the 15-week federal abortion ban that Sen. Lindsey Graham introduced, but attempted to soften his hardline stance on the issue as it’s become clear the politics have been less favorable to Republicans. He’s been criticized for making controversial statements in the past including blaming Black people for gun violence as well.

Why this race is interesting: This race could reveal if a far-right GOP candidate can succeed in a battleground state. Kelly has been able to establish a strong base of support by reaching independents and moderate Republicans, though Masters is still likely to benefit from some of the momentum the opposition party typically sees during the midterms, and surging enthusiasm among Republicans.

The state of the race: Cook rates the race as a toss-up, and the FiveThirtyEight polling aggregator has Kelly up by 2.4 percentage points as of November 3.

Georgia

The Democrat: Sen. Raphael Warnock

Sen. Raphael Warnock won a closely contested runoff in January 2021 and is now running for a full term. Warnock, a pastor at Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church, where Martin Luther King Jr. was once a pastor, has emphasized his work on reducing insulin costs and support for Medicaid expansion. He’s also tried to separate himself from President Joe Biden, who’s had lower approval ratings in the state.

The Republican: Herschel Walker

Herschel Walker, a former football star, is among the Republicans with serious candidate quality issues this cycle. Most recently, he’s faced allegations that he paid for two women’s abortions in the past despite favoring abortion restrictions himself. Walker has denied both allegations.

In addition to these recent issues, Walker has also fielded allegations of domestic violence, and scrutiny over how he’s misrepresented his business record and experience in law enforcement. Walker’s celebrity status and support from Trump have given him a boost among some voters, however.

Why this race is interesting: Georgia is one of the tightest races this cycle, and could well go to a runoff if no candidate wins more than 50 percent of the vote this fall. It’s also a real test of whether Republican candidate quality issues will be able to sink the party’s nominee, or if factors that favor the GOP — like a strong top of the ticket and a voter base advantage — will be sufficient to save Walker.

Warnock is considered the stronger candidate of the two due to his incumbency and favorability, though other headwinds that Democrats are facing, including inflation and crime concerns, as well as historic midterm trends, could help Republicans.

The state of the race: Cook rates the race as a toss-up, and FiveThirtyEight’s polling aggregator has Walker up by 0.3 percentage points as of November 3.

Nevada

The Democrat: Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto

Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, the first Latina lawmaker elected to the Senate, is running for reelection and making her support for abortion access a key focal point. Prior to winning a Senate seat in 2016, Cortez Masto served as the state’s attorney general and has been known for taking more moderate positions.

The Republican: Adam Laxalt

Adam Laxalt, also a former Nevada attorney general, has centered the economy and law-and-order rhetoric as he tries to flip the state. He’s also an election denialist and has tried to curb abortion rights in the past as AG. Laxalt is the grandson of Paul Laxalt, a former governor and senator in the state.

Why this race is interesting: Republicans are eyeing Nevada as a potential pick-up because of how competitive the polls have been up to this point. The race is a face-off between a low-key Democrat who’s emphasized her defense of abortion rights and a hard-line election denier and “law and order” candidate. Republicans hope to continue building on gains with Latino voters in the state by highlighting changes they’d make to economic policy. Specifically, Laxalt’s emphasis on inflation is aimed at winning over working-class voters in the state, where the tourism industry was decimated by the pandemic.

The state of the race: Cook rates the race as a toss-up and FiveThirtyEight’s polling aggregator has Laxalt up by 0.6 percentage points as of November 3.

Wisconsin

The Democrat: Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes

Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes is a former community organizer who has stressed his family’s union background and focused on economic policies aimed at helping the middle class. Barnes also previously served in the Wisconsin state assembly and backed progressive ideas like Medicare-for-all, though he’s moderated his messaging for the general election.

In the last few months, Barnes has faced relentless, and sometimes racist, Republican attacks regarding his support for criminal justice reforms including policies to eliminate cash bail and reduce the state’s prison population. While these are all positions he’s taken, Republican ads have sought to distort them to suggest that they’d lead to more violent criminals on the street.

The Republican: Sen. Ron Johnson

Incumbent Sen. Ron Johnson is defending his seat in a state that Biden won in 2020 by less than 1 percentage point. Johnson is a longtime fiscal conservative and Trump ally who has made controversial comments downplaying the January 6 insurrection, and questioned vaccines during the pandemic. He’s also invested heavily in “soft on crime” messaging against Barnes and argued that he’d take a stronger approach to these issues.

Why this race is interesting: Given Biden’s success in the state, Johnson was considered the most endangered Republican this cycle, though he’s actually been able to maintain a solid polling lead. This race is another one that could show how effective Republicans’ soft-on-crime messaging is, and whether a contentious incumbent is able to win reelection yet again in the swing state.

The state of the race: Cook rates the race as a toss-up, and the FiveThirtyEight polling aggregator has Johnson up by 3.8 percentage points as of November 3.

Democrats have an advantage in Colorado and New Hampshire

Colorado

AP has called this race for Michael Bennet.

The Democrat: Sen. Michael Bennet (winner)

Two-term Sen. Michael Bennet is defending his seat. Bennet has focused heavily on expanding the child tax credit during his time in the Senate, and touted the funding he’s brought back to the state for infrastructure improvements.

The Republican: Joe O’Dea

Joe O’Dea, a more moderate Republican who is the CEO of a construction company, is attempting to appeal to voters in the center by taking more measured positions like opposing the Supreme Court’s decision on Roe v. Wade.

Why this race is interesting: O’Dea is more moderate compared to several other Republican Senate candidates — and his success in casting himself as someone who’d be a middle-of-the-road senator could make this race more competitive. As Vox’s Nicole Narea explained, however, O’Dea still holds many typical Republican stances. He’s said he would have voted to confirm the conservative Supreme Court justices who’ve played a central role in restricting abortion access, previously voted for Trump, and supports the construction of a border wall.

The state has historically leaned Democratic. In 2016, Bennet won with 50 percent of the vote to the 44 percent that Republican Darryl Glenn received. It’s worth noting, however, that Bennet did not secure a majority of the vote in either of his Senate elections — an indication that those victories were less decisive, and that a late change in the dynamics of the race could boost O’Dea, whose candidacy could give Republicans a roadmap for winning back bluer states.

The state of the race: Cook rates the race as leaning Democrat, and the FiveThirtyEight polling aggregator has Bennet up by 9.7 percentage points as of November 3.

New Hampshire

AP has called this race for Maggie Hassan.

The Democrat: Sen. Maggie Hassan (winner)

Incumbent Sen. Maggie Hassan has made the defense of abortion rights a centerpiece of her campaign, while her opponent has praised the Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe. Hassan is vying for her second term in the upper chamber after previously serving as New Hampshire governor.

The Republican: Don Bolduc

Retired Brigadier General Don Bolduc, a far-right candidate, previously leaned into claims that Trump won the 2020 election and told Hassan to “get over it” regarding the rollback of Roe. He has tried to backtrack on his election denialism, more recently noting that Biden’s win was “legitimate.” He’s also said that he wouldn’t support a bill from Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) that bans abortion after 15 weeks, noting that the decision should be left up to the states.

Why this race is interesting: The race will be another indicator of to what degree far-right candidates are able to gain traction in a general election in a swing state. Because Bolduc is more extreme than other possible options were, Democrats view him as an easier opponent to beat in a state that’s gone blue in recent presidential elections. New Hampshire remains a battleground, however, given the tight margins that Hassan won by in 2016 and the national trends that could favor Republicans this year. Republicans are also increasingly coalescing behind Bolduc, leading polls to tighten in the state.

The state of the race: Cook rates the race as leaning Democrat, and the FiveThirtyEight polling aggregator has Hassan up by 2.9 percentage points as of November 3.

Republicans have the advantage in North Carolina and Ohio

North Carolina

AP has called this race for Ted Budd.

The Democrat: Cheri Beasley

Former chief justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court Cheri Beasley is a moderate who has focused on reaching swing voters. She’s spoken in defense of abortion rights while emphasizing her independence from her party. If she were to win, she’d be the only Black woman in the Senate.

The Republican: Rep. Ted Budd (winner)

Rep. Ted Budd, a self-described “conservative warrior,” has run a more under-the-radar campaign with few large events, and has put the emphasis on issues like inflation. A gun store owner, Budd was among the Republicans who challenged the certification of 2020 election results.

Why this race is interesting: This seat has been vacated by retiring Sen. Richard Burr, meaning there is no incumbency advantage for Republicans. It’s a race that will depend heavily on whether a middle-of-the-road Democrat is able to reach independents in a state that’s skewed toward the GOP. North Carolina has also grown more diverse in the last two decades, a trend that Democrats could capitalize on if they engage in effective voter outreach.

The state of the race: Cook rates the race as lean Republican and the FiveThirtyEight polling aggregator has Budd up by 3.8 percentage points as of November 3.

Ohio

AP has called this race for J.D. Vance. Read more here.

The Democrat: Rep. Tim Ryan

Congressman and former presidential candidate Tim Ryan is a moderate who has made his campaign about bringing manufacturing jobs back to the state. He’s stressed that he’ll work across the aisle and was previously known for challenging Speaker Nancy Pelosi for her role in the House. Although Ryan has an uphill battle in the firmly Republican state, he’s picked up more attention for viral moments taking on Vance in a recent debate and running a stronger campaign than expected aimed at reaching swing voters.

The Republican: J.D. Vance (winner)

J.D. Vance, a venture capitalist and author of the bestselling memoir Hillbilly Elegy, tacked hard to the right in order to win the Republican nomination, and has supported conservative policies including Graham’s 15-week abortion ban. Vance has also faced some candidate quality questions, prompted by controversial statements he’s made, like those appearing to suggest that parents should stay in violent marriages for the sake of their children.

Why this race is interesting: The race is a microcosm of Democratic efforts to win back white working-class voters they lost to Trump — and a testament to how valuable close alignment with the former president continues to be for some GOP candidates. Vance’s controversial statements and policy positions have potentially made this race more competitive than it otherwise would be in this Republican-leaning state. Ryan has also carved out a fundraising advantage, and the race remains extremely tight.

The state of the race: Cook rates the race as lean Republican, and the FiveThirtyEight polling aggregator has Vance up by 2.7 percentage points as of November 3.

Update, November 9, 1:55 am ET: This story was originally published on September 25 and has been updated, most recently to reflect the status of races in the immediate aftermath of voting and some of the winners.