Less than a week since Chuck Schumer took the gavel as Senate Majority Leader, and three weeks after that development was assured with two Democratic Senate victories in Georgia runoffs, speculation about 2022 Senate races began with two-term Ohio Republican Rob Portman announcing he will retire that when his current term expires. This makes three open Republican seats in 2022 so far, with Pennsylvania’s Pat Toomey and North Carolina’s Richard Burr having already announced retirements. Iowa’s Chuck Grassley and Wisconsin’s Ron Johnson could also retire but haven’t indicated they will just yet.
Portman is one of those Republicans who has combined a relatively moderate tone in the Senate with a resolutely conservative and pro-Trump voting record. His complaints about partisanship in his retirement announcement should definitely be taken with a grain of salt.
Portman’s retirement could lead to a nasty Republican primary in Ohio, particularly if House Freedom Caucus veteran and hard-core Trump defender Jim Jordan decides to run for his seat. There are also quite a few prospective Democratic aspirants in the mix, including former presidential candidate Tim Ryan, 2018 Senate nominee Richard Cordray, or possibly former top Bernie Sanders backer Nina Turner, who is currently running for the House seat Marcia Fudge will soon vacate to join Joe Biden’s Cabinet. Ohio is also one of several states where a competitive Senate race could coincide with an interesting gubernatorial race. Republican governor (and former U.S. Senator) Mike DeWine hasn’t indicated whether he will run for another term in 2022, but his record on COVID-19 restrictions and 2020 voting rules could definitely attract a right-wing primary opponent, while a GOP split could help create a strong Democratic candidacy.
Having said all that, Ohio has tilted to Republicans pretty strongly of late, with Trump carrying the state by eight percent in both 2016 and 2020. With the exception of current senator Sherrod Brown, no Democrat has won a U.S. Senate or gubernatorial contest in the Buckeye State since 2006.
Meanwhile, Democrats have to worry about the interim senators who won in two highly competitive states in 2020: Arizona’s Mark Kelly and Georgia’s Raphael Warnock. But, in an echo of Ohio, Republicans in Arizona and Georgia are divided over the rejection of Trump’s effort to overturn Joe Biden’s election by the states’ Republican governors, Doug Ducey (who is term-limited in 2022) and Brian Kemp (who was threatened repeatedly by Trump with a MAGA primary challenge). Ducey has ruled himself out as a challenger to Kelly. In Georgia, the future plans of former congressman Doug Collins, the close Trump ally who challenged and lost a runoff spot to Kelly Loeffler in the Senate race ultimately won by Warnock, will bear watching; he could run against Warnock or against Kemp. There’s also early speculation about freshman congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene, who has received a lot of statewide and national attention for her extremist views, her support for Trump’s attempted election coup, and her introduction of an impeachment resolution aimed at Joe Biden the day of his inauguration.
Historically, the party not controlling the White House tends to make congressional gains in midterm elections. But that happens less often in the Senate than in the House, with the outcome depending a lot on the landscape. In 2022, 20 Republican seats are up as opposed to 14 Democratic seats, and, as noted above, there are competitive races brewing in both blue and red territory. As the Cook Political Report observes, there are
seven seats up (four currently held by Republicans, three by Democrats) in states where either Biden or Trump won by less than five percent: Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Nevada, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.
Aside from retirements and the course of national events during the early days of the Biden administration, the key factor in 2022 Senate races is likely to be how Republicans deal with the ruptures caused by Trump as he fought to overturn his loss of the presidency — and perhaps as he fights to regain it going forward.