With control of the evenly divided Senate still anybody’s guess, the 2022 midterms have featured unusual uncertainty — from the primaries all the way to Election Day. While the national environment has favored Republicans, the questionable appeal of some of their candidates has kept Democrats in the fight.
Here is what to watch in the battle for the Senate:
New Hampshire is an early indicator.
Senator Maggie Hassan’s re-election in New Hampshire seemed all but assured when the state’s Republican primary voters selected Don Bolduc, a retired general, as their standard-bearer, with some help from Ms. Hassan’s fellow Democrats, who put money behind his primary candidacy.
Mr. Bolduc, a political neophyte, had made denying the outcome of the 2020 election a centerpiece of his campaign. But then he clumsily pulled a 180-degree turn the day after the primary and said President Biden had, in fact, won fair and square, which threatened to alienate his base as well as the state’s swing voters, who, polls showed, were already suspicious of him.
But as the national environment turned against Democrats, Mr. Bolduc has remained steadfast. Republican Party officials seemed to abandon him, only to rush back in to the Granite State as polls tightened. A Bolduc win in the Eastern time zone would signal a very long night ahead for Senate Democrats.
A Democratic win in North Carolina could lift their hopes.
The sleeper race of the season has been in North Carolina, where Cheri Beasley, a Democrat and former State Supreme Court chief justice, has been in a statistical polling tie for months with Representative Ted Budd, the conservative Republican hoping to keep the seat of the retiring Senator Richard Burr in his party’s column.
Mr. Budd has run a low-key campaign, hoping to ride the national wave as allies in the party strafed Ms. Beasley with negative advertising. Given President Biden’s unpopularity, it could work, but if Ms. Beasley pulls an upset, the Republicans will be the ones starting off behind the eight ball. And it would be substantially more difficult if Representative Tim Ryan of Ohio, a Democrat, also knocked off J.D. Vance, the Republican, in the contest for the seat of the retiring Republican senator Rob Portman.
Expect a long night for everyone.
Pennsylvania might be in the Eastern time zone and provide early results, but there is a good chance we will not know who wins the tight Senate race between Mehmet Oz, the Republican celebrity doctor, and John Fetterman, the Democratic lieutenant governor, until the early morning hours of Wednesday, if even then.
Just like in 2020, Pennsylvania election officials are not allowed to count mail-in ballots until Election Day. As it did two years ago, that rule could yield a “red mirage” — same-day voting heavily favoring Dr. Oz — followed by a blue swell, with the subsequent tabulation of early votes aiding Mr. Fetterman’s fortunes.
Watch the West for high drama.
No state exemplifies the seesaw battle for control of the Senate quite like Arizona. The state’s popular incumbent Democrat, Senator Mark Kelly, seemed to be cruising toward re-election, contrary to predictions that his would be among the toughest races. But in the last few weeks, his very conservative opponent, Blake Masters, has caught up in the polls.
In neighboring Nevada, the race to unseat the most endangered Democratic incumbent, Senator Catherine Cortez Masto, appears on a knife’s edge, along with the state’s Democratic governor, a senator, three House members and the secretary of state, all of whom face a potential wipeout. Farther north, two more Democratic incumbents, Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado and Patty Murray of Washington, are still favored to win, but if there really is a red wave, both are at risk, as is the Democratic firewall in the West.
Georgia on everyone’s mind — for a month?
In the end, control of the Senate might not be decided at all this week. That is because Georgia law requires the victor to win 50 percent of the vote on Election Day. If no one gets it, there will be a runoff on Dec. 6.
Enter the incumbent senator, Raphael Warnock, a Democrat, and his resilient Republican challenger, the former football star Herschel Walker. Polling has been all over the map in the last days of the campaign, with some surveys giving Mr. Warnock a clear lead over Mr. Walker, who has spent the closing weeks fending off accusations from former girlfriends that the staunchly anti-abortion candidate had paid for their abortions. Other polls give Mr. Walker a lead. But virtually no reputable poll has either one of them capturing over 50 percent of the vote.
Some Republican officials insist Mr. Walker can get to 50 percent on the coattails of a convincing re-election victory by the state’s Republican governor, Brian Kemp. But two years ago, in a special election, neither Mr. Warnock nor the Republican incumbent he was challenging, Kelly Loeffler, hit that threshold. Now, as then, a runoff in Georgia could determine control of the Senate.