The Cook Political Report on Friday shifted crucial Senate contests in Arizona, Georgia and Nevada from lean Democrat to toss-up. The seats – held by first-term Democratic Sens. Mark Kelly of Arizona, Raphael Warnock of Georgia and Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada – are three of the top four targets Republicans hope to flip from blue to red in next year’s midterms.
The Senate is currently split 50/50 among the two major parties, but the Democrats control the chamber thanks to the tie-breaking vote of Vice President Kamala Harris through her constitutional role as president of the Senate. While the GOP is defending 20 of the 34 seats up for grabs – including five open seats – it needs a net gain of just one seat to regain the majority it lost when Republicans were swept in January’s twin Senate runoff elections in Georgia.
In making the ratings shift, Cook Political Report Senate and Governors editor Jessica Taylor noted that "we can't say under this current environment any longer that Democratic incumbents in the top target states for Republicans remain the favorites."
The move by the Cook Report comes amid the continued decline in President Biden's approval ratings, due in part to the well-documented rise in inflation this summer and autumn, the surge in COVID-19 cases over the past five months among mainly unvaccinated people due to the spread of the highly infectious delta variant, and Biden's much-criticized handling of the turbulent U.S. exit from Afghanistan.
And the ratings change follows the release the past week of new polls indicating a surge in support for the GOP in next year’s Senate and House races. It also comes two weeks after Republican businessman Glenn Youngkin edged former Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe of Virginia in a state that Biden carried by 10 points a year ago over former President Trump and where Republicans hadn’t won statewide in a dozen years. Republicans also captured the lieutenant governor and attorney general offices from the Democrats and flipped the state’s House of Delegates.
The GOP victories in Virginia coupled with Republican gubernatorial nominee Jack Ciattarelli's near upset of Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy of New Jersey – along with GOP legislative pickups in the very blue Garden State – are seen as ominous signs for the Democrats as they try to hold their razor-thin House and Senate majorities in the 2022 midterms.
Republicans face competitive and combustible primaries in a number of key Senate races, among them Arizona, that could potentially weaken the party’s eventual 2022 nominees. But Taylor said the ratings shift was made "even with the minefields the Republicans surely face."
"The trio of races we're moving are all states that Biden carried by 2.5 points or less — the only three Democratic races that fall into this category — and if there is a sizable partisan swing we see come next November it's easy to see how these races get swept away even if GOP candidate quality is subpar," Taylor spotlighted.
The fourth state the GOP’s been targeting is New Hampshire, where last week the party lost its top recruit prospect, when Republican. Gov. Chris Sununu announced he would run for reelection rather than launch a challenge against Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan.
"In New Hampshire, we are not moving Hassan's contest at this time — sticking by our guideline that there needs to be a viable challenger first in the race. We certainly would have shifted our rating had Sununu decided to run," Taylor said.
Democrats see promising Senate pickups in Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Wisconsin, and possibly Ohio.