BOSTON (CN) — Expectations that Republicans will win control of the U.S. Senate in November, like the apocryphal reports of Mark Twain’s death, may have been greatly exaggerated.
Republicans face an uphill battle and could very easily lose seats, despite political winds in their favor with President Biden’s approval rating hovering near 40% and as many as three-quarters of Americans telling pollsters that the country is on the wrong track.
“Right now I’d say the Democrats are very slightly favored” to hold the Senate, said David Niven, who teaches American politics at the University of Cincinnati.
“Based on the fundamentals, you’d rather have the Republicans’ hand this year, but when you look at it race by race, the Democrats are not in bad shape,” agreed Stephen Medvic, director of the Center for Politics and Public Affairs at Franklin & Marshall College.
This is due to the peculiarity of which seats are in play this year, some key Republican retirements, and the fact that the GOP has repeatedly followed its 2016 playbook at the state level and nominated celebrity political neophytes rather than proven vote-getters.
“The problem with rookie candidates is that they make rookie mistakes. They’re more likely to do stupid things,” said Andrew Smith, director of the University of New Hampshire Survey Center. Such a candidate “can’t necessarily win a race for your party, but they can definitely screw it up.”
“Candidates matter in close races,” agreed Medvic. “We’ve seen this in past cycles, where Republicans nominate someone the base may be excited about but who makes mistakes and goes down to defeat.” Three such candidates over the years were Christine O’Donnell in Delaware in 2010, Todd Akin in Missouri in 2012 and Roy Moore in Alabama in 2017.
President Trump in particular has pushed the party to embrace political amateurs. “In high-profile races, you’d ordinarily want someone who’s experienced and battle-tested,” Medvic said, “but that’s not Trump’s approach. He likes celebrity. And it’s risky.”
Niven commented that, “in state after state, Republicans have nominated some variation of Trump rather than the strongest candidate.”
With the current Senate split 50-50, Republicans need a net gain of one seat to take control. They have targeted four Democratic incumbents they hope to pick off — and yet not one of the Republican challengers in those states is ahead in the polls.
Meanwhile, Republicans must defend five seats of their own, including a vulnerable incumbent in Wisconsin and four states where the incumbent is retiring, and the party must hold onto an open seat with an untested candidate. Polls are close in most of those states and in one, Pennsylvania, the Democrat is clearly ahead.
Here’s a look at the nine races that will likely decide control of the Senate:
The Democratic Seats That Republicans Hope to Flip
GEORGIA. Incumbent Democrat and minister Raphael Warnock is squaring off against Heisman trophy winner and legendary running back Herschel Walker, who has never run for office before. Walker has “hero status” in Georgia and does very well among voters old enough to remember his exploits in the early 1980s, said Charles Bullock, a political science professor at the University of Georgia.
But although Walker is Black, he’s polling at only 7% among Black voters in one recent poll, which showed the race tied overall.
Walker has the support of Trump, but he also has a checkered history including numerous public falsehoods about his business and personal affairs, the recent disclosure of three out-of-wedlock children, allegations of domestic abuse, and the fact that he has dissociative identity disorder and has acknowledged having 12 different personalities.