The 13 Most Important Republican Senate Primaries To Watch

We’re almost six months from the 2022 midterm election, and Republicans have big dreams for their potential gains. President Biden’s approval rating is mired in the low 40s, and the GOP already holds a lead in generic ballot polling that history suggests could grow as the election nears. In the race for the Senate, this means that the GOP has a very good shot at gaining at least the one seat it needs to capture the evenly-divided Senate. As such, there’s an especially strong focus on the Republican Senate primaries, as the eventual nominees could be part of a new GOP majority following the November election.

We took a look at the Senate contests and broke down the high-profile races into three groups: First, the seven primaries in battleground states, where Republicans will try to either maintain control of competitive GOP-held seats or defeat Democratic incumbents. Second, the four red-state primaries for seats where Republican retirements have set the stage for contentious GOP nomination battles, if not necessarily competitive general elections. And lastly, the two races where incumbent Republican senators face a potentially serious primary challenger. In the table below are the 13 Republican Senate primaries that fall into these categories for the 2022 midterms — a list that could change going forward.

13 Senate races with (potentially) competitive GOP primaries

Senate elections by incumbent party, whether the incumbent is seeking reelection, whether Trump has endorsed in the Republican primary, general election race rating and state partisan lean

Battleground states
Senate race Inc. party Inc. running again? Trump’s endorsed in GOP primary? Median general election rating Partisan Lean
Colorado D Likely D D+6.4
New Hampshire D Lean D D+0.3
Nevada D ?Toss-up R+2.5
Pennsylvania R ?Toss-up R+2.9
North Carolina R Lean R R+4.8
Georgia D ?Toss-up R+7.4
Arizona D ?Toss-up R+7.6
GOP retirements in red states
Senate race Inc. party Inc. running again? Trump’s endorsed in GOP primary? Median general election rating Partisan Lean
Ohio R Likely R R+12.4
Missouri R Solid R R+21.2
Alabama R Solid R R+29.6
Oklahoma* R Solid R R+37.2
GOP incumbents in red states
Senate race Inc. party Inc. running again? Trump’s endorsed in GOP primary? Median general election rating Partisan Lean
Alaska R Solid R R+14.6
Arkansas R Solid R R+31.8

*Special election

Median rating based on race ratings from Inside Elections, Sabato’s Crystal Ball and The Cook Political Report.

Partisan lean is the average margin difference between how a state or district votes and how the country votes overall. This version of partisan lean, meant to be used for congressional and gubernatorial elections, is calculated as 50 percent the state or district’s lean relative to the nation in the most recent presidential election, 25 percent its relative lean in the second-most-recent presidential election and 25 percent a custom state-legislative lean based on the statewide popular vote in the last four state House elections.

Sources: Inside Elections, Sabato’s Crystal Ball, The Cook Political Report, News Reports

Republican primaries in battleground states

Of the seven battleground races in the Senate, the Pennsylvania Senate primary may be the most high profile for the GOP this cycle. Republican Sen. Pat Toomey’s retirement attracted a bevy of candidates to the race, but the GOP field has now developed into a close contest between former hedge fund manager David McCormick and physician and TV personality Mehmet Öz. 

Both men are independently wealthy and have largely self-funded their campaigns — Öz has loaned his campaign $11 million, McCormick nearly $7 million. But they’ve also received ample help from allied outside groups, which have spent $18.6 million supporting or opposing the two frontrunners in the primary, according to OpenSecrets. McCormick and his allies have tried to cast Öz as a Hollywood celebrity out of touch with conservative values, while Öz and his team have sought to portray McCormick as a wealthy job outsourcer and “friend” of China.

Recent polls have shown McCormick and Öz running neck and neck with about a month to go until the May 17 primary, but it remains to be seen how the latest big development in the race — former President Trump’s endorsement of Öz in early April — will affect the contest. The first post-endorsement survey from GOP pollster Trafalgar Group found Öz leading McCormick 23 percent to 20 percent, but that was a less substantial lead than Oz’s 11-point advantage over McCormick in Trafalgar’s February survey. Moreover, McCormick and Öz haven’t been polling so far ahead of other candidates as to rule out a surge by another contender like conservative activist Kathy Barnette, businessman Jeff Bartos or former Ambassador to Denmark Carla Sands. 

Bottom line: Whoever advances from the GOP primary faces a highly competitive race in November, likely against either Lt. Gov. John Fetterman or Rep. Conor Lamb on the Democratic side, which is why Pennsylvania’s Senate race is one of the most important battleground races in 2022.

In North Carolina, Sen. Richard Burr’s retirement has forced the GOP to defend another open seat in a competitive state, and the Republican primary there has become a head-to-head tilt between Rep. Ted Budd and former Gov. Pat McCrory. Whoever wins could find themselves headed to the Senate, too. Although North Carolina often has close elections, it leans just red enough that either Republican would likely start out as a slight favorite against former state Supreme Court Justice Cheri Beasley, the presumptive Democratic nominee. 

At this point, Budd looks to be the likely favorite as he has Trump’s backing and most polls have put him ahead of McCrory. He also has a clear financial edge thanks to outside support from the Club for Growth, which has spent about $8.7 million backing Budd and attacking McCrory. (Both candidates have raised a little over $4 million.) The former governor isn’t giving up, though, as he’s attacked Budd as a D.C. insider and played up his own conservative credentials.

Turning now to the five competitive seats held by Democrats, Arizona’s GOP primary field is also quite busy, as five candidates are competing to take on Arizona Sen. Mark Kelly. Recent surveys suggest state Attorney General Mark Brnovich and energy executive Jim Lamon might be co-frontrunners, but venture capitalist Blake Masters is also in the mix. Brnovich actually once seemed to have a clear lead in this race, but he’s earned Trump’s antipathy in recent months by failing to aggressively back Trump’s false claims about fraud in the 2020 election. 

As a result, Trump looks likely to endorse someone else here, should he take the plunge. And thanks to their financial edge, Lamon or Masters could be well-positioned to capitalize on such backing. Lamon has given his own campaign $13 million, while Masters has raised $3.8 million and garnered $3.5 million in outside support via a super PAC funded by billionaire tech investor Peter Thiel. Brnovich, meanwhile, has only raised $2.5 million, paling in comparison. Money is likely to really matter in this race, too, since the primary winner will need to bring in enough resources to remotely match Kelly’s fundraising prowess (he’s raised $39 million so far).

Democratic-held seats in Georgia and Nevada will also be extremely competitive in November and, as such, are seeing a fair amount of competition on the GOP side since Trump-endorsed Republicans haven’t entirely cleared the field. In Georgia, former NFL running back Herschel Walker is polling at around 60 percent in his primary, making him the favorite to take on Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock. But he might still have some primary problems: Walker’s past mental health struggles, allegations of violence against women and revelations about his business record have encouraged opposition Republican super PACs to spend millions ahead of the May 24 primary to push his support below 50 percent, which would force a June 21 runoff against either state Agricultural Commissioner Gary Black or former Navy SEAL officer Latham Saddler.

In Nevada, meanwhile, former state Attorney General Adam Laxalt has Trump’s endorsement and is the frontrunner to take on Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, who might be Democrats’ most endangered incumbent. But it’s not clear yet that Laxalt will face off against Masto, as he’s attracted a serious challenge from Army veteran Sam Brown, who has managed to raise $3.2 million to Laxalt’s $4.4 million. Granted, the only primary poll we’ve seen found Laxalt way ahead, but it was a poll released by Laxalt’s campaign, and as always, we have to be cautious when interpreting internal polls.

Last in this category are the primaries in Colorado and New Hampshire, where Republicans may also have a shot at defeating Democratic incumbents if the electoral environment is very favorable toward them this fall. There’s a lot of uncertainty in both races at this point, though. The Colorado GOP’s pre-primary convention, for instance, sent two largely unknown candidates to the primary, while the Republican primary field in New Hampshire is still developing, partly because popular GOP Gov. Chris Sununu took a pass on the race.

Red-state Republican primaries where retirements have shaken up the field

In four more states, GOP retirements have set the stage for crowded primary fields. These states won’t be as competitive in November as the previous category, but who wins in each of these states is important for the future of the GOP. And of these four contests, Ohio’s Senate primary is probably the most high-profile.

The contest to succeed retiring Sen. Rob Portman is both crowded and costing everyone a pretty penny. Three of the candidates have done a lot of self-funding — state Sen. Matt Dolan to the tune of $10.5 million; businessman Mike Gibbons, $16.6 million; and former Ohio GOP Chairwoman Jane Timken, $3.5 million — and then two other candidates have benefited from millions in outside spending, former state Treasurer Josh Mandel and venture capitalist and author J.D. Vance. (Pro-Mandel PACs and super PACs have spent about $9.5 million aiding him, while pro-Vance groups have boosted their candidate with $7.6 million).

Polling-wise, the race has been a bit of a “Choose Your Own Adventure” story, too, because nearly every poll has been sponsored by a campaign — the most of any Senate race in the country. Most polls have put Mandel or Gibbons in the lead, but their advantage is hardly insurmountable; they typically earn less than 25 percent support. The race might also now take a turn: Last Friday, Vance earned Trump’s endorsement. No polls have been released since then, but at the very least, the Trump endorsement has already earned Vance’s super PAC another $3.5 million in donations from Thiel, who has bankrolled Vance.

An even uglier GOP primary is playing out in Missouri, where Sen. Roy Blunt is retiring. This race has centered around disgraced former Gov. Eric Greitens, who resigned in 2018 after being indicted by a grand jury over his alleged threat of blackmail against a woman with whom he’d had an extramarital affair, in addition to separate criminal charges against him for alleged campaign finance violations. But with high name recognition in the state and a super PAC backed by conservative megadonor Richard Uihlein, Greitens could win, which has given national and state Republican leaders fits

There are other major contenders in this race: Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt, Rep. Vicky Hartzler and Rep. Billy Long, with each of them trying to position themselves as the top anti-Greitens choice. But so far, no one has jumped ahead. Most recent surveys have found Greitens running neck and neck with Schmitt and Hartzler (and with Long in a distant fourth). GOP worries about Greitens have also only continued to grow with Greitens’s ex-wife alleging that he acted violently toward her and their children. A Trump endorsement might be enough to break the logjam, but Trump hasn’t weighed in yet, and we’re still a long way from the Aug. 2 primary, so there could be many more twists and turns in the Show Me State.

Two other red states, Alabama and Oklahoma, also have open-seat Republican primaries of note, and both could head to runoffs. In Alabama, the May 24 primary to succeed retiring Sen. Richard Shelby features a three-way race involving former Shelby chief of staff Katie Britt, Rep. Mo Brooks and Army veteran Mike Durant. Brooks initially had the upper hand, thanks in part to Trump’s endorsement, but his flailing campaign and inconsistent backing of false claims that the 2020 election was fraudulent prompted Trump to un-endorse Brooks in late March. The limited polling suggests Durant and Britt are now the likeliest pairing to advance to a runoff. 

In Oklahoma, Sen. Jim Inhofe’s resignation precipitated a special election that has attracted a big field, making a runoff a real possibility. Rep. Markwayne Mullin led a late-March poll from GOP pollster Amber Integrated with 39 percent, followed by former state House speaker T.W. Shannon at 14 percent, but former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt entered the race right before the filing deadline, further muddying the waters.

The Republican incumbents with notable intraparty challengers

Finally, there are two primaries involving Republican incumbents that are worth keeping an eye on. First up, Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who must face down an intraparty challenge from Trump-endorsed Kelly Tshibaka, the former commissioner of Alaska’s Department of Administration. It’s hard to know how much trouble Murkowski is in at this point, as the race will be decided by a top-four primary wherein each voter will cast a single vote for a ballot that features all candidates, regardless of party, and the top-four finishers will advance to the general election where ranked-choice voting will decide the winner. It’s likely Murkowski and Tshibaka advance to the general, though, and this is where the real action will take place.

Lastly, the GOP primary in Arkansas has attracted notice because Sen. John Boozman’s principal opponent, Army veteran and former NFL player Jake Bequette, has managed to raise more than $1 million while a super PAC backing him has also brought in $1 million in funding from Uihlein, the big-time GOP donor. Although Boozman has Trump’s backing, Bequette and his allies have tried to make the case that Bequette is more pro-Trump than the incumbent. Boozman will probably be fine, but Uihlein’s involvement and Bequette’s fundraising make this race at least a bit interesting.

Obviously, there is a lot to keep track of! But critically, these Republican primaries will help shape both key battleground contests that will decide control of the Senate as well as the future makeup of the GOP caucus.

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