We are now just a few days away from Election Day. One of the many stakes of the 2022 midterm elections is which party will hold majority control of the U.S. Senate beginning next January. Currently, the partisan divide in the Senate is evenly split between 50 Republicans and 48 Democrats and 2 independent senators who caucus with the Democratic Party. This means the Democratic Party currently holds majority control of the U.S. Senate due to Vice President Kamala Harris’s constitutional role as President of the Senate and her ability to cast tie-breaking votes. This election cycle, there are 34 regularly scheduled U.S. Senate elections along with special elections in California and Oklahoma. Of the 35 unique seats at stake, 14 are currently held by Democrats and 21 are currently held by Republicans.
This semester in PSC 407: Campaigns and Elections, political science students at UIS have been researching some of the most competitive and high-profile congressional elections taking place in 2022, including several of these U.S. Senate elections. Below, Steve Hanlon, Colleen McGee, and John Thomson, all of whom are pursing M.A. Degrees in Political Science at UIS, share some of their research on the candidates running for U.S. Senate and the issues and policies at stake in the elections they have been following the past several months.
by John Thomson
Instead of the traditional Democrat vs. Republican matchup, Alaska’s Senate race features three candidates: moderate Republican and current incumbent Senator Lisa Murkowski, Republican and Trump-loyalist Kelly Tshibaka, and Democrat Pat Chesbro.
To be clear, the winner of this race is almost guaranteed to be Republican. Democrat Pat Chesbro is running behind both of her opponents in the polls and only succeeded in garnering 6.8% of the vote in Alaska’s new top-four primary. The real question is whether Alaskans will select moderate conservative Murkowski or Trump-endorsed Tshibaka.
Polling over the last several months has shown a close race between the two Republican candidates. However, Tshibaka faces a challenging road to ousting Murkowski. As of October 19th, Murkowski had outspent Tshibaka by more than $4.5 million and still had a $1.5 million cash on hand advantage. This disparity in funding will make it difficult for Tshibaka to match Murkowski during the final sprint to Election Day.
However, the factor that may decisively tip the scales in favor of Murkowski is Alaska’s use of ranked-choice voting (RCV), a system that allows voters to rank candidates by preference and that may include multiple rounds of vote tabulations. Recent polling by the Alaska Survey Research group estimates that Murkowski is likely to win with 55% of the vote to Tshibaka’s 44% after 3 rounds through a coalition of moderate conservatives and supporters of Democrat Pat Chesbro. Regardless of who wins, this race will not only test the effectiveness of RCV, but also impact the balance of power between establishment Republicans and Trump loyalists in the Senate.
by Steven Hanlon
This Pennsylvania Senate seat is currently held by Republican Pat Toomey, who is retiring from Congress. The candidates are Republican Mehmet Oz, who won a contested primary by less than 1,000 votes over David McCormick. Oz is backed by former president Trump. The Democratic candidate is John Fetterman, the current Lieutenant Governor of Pennsylvania. Fetterman won a contested primary with 58.6% of the vote; his next closest competitor was Conor Lamb who gained 26.3% of the vote. Fetterman is endorsed by President Biden. There are also six third-party candidates running for this senate seat.
The main issues are the economy, abortion rights, concerns about election security brought about by the “Big Lie”, and Fetterman’s health. Fetterman had a stroke in May and is still recovering; Oz’s campaign has tried to claim Fetterman is not healthy enough to perform the duties required of a senator. Both candidates claim they would be best suited to address the economy. Concerning access to abortion, Oz is pro-life and although he states he is against a federal abortion ban, he previously stated "If life starts at conception, why do you care what stage our hearts starts beating at? It’s, you know, it’s still murder, if you were to terminate a child whether their heart’s beating or not,” which makes many voters wonder if he would not support such a ban if elected (Kapur, 2022). Fetterman is pro-choice and wants to codify the protections of Roe v. Wade into law. Oz was a supporter of the “Big Lie,” saying “We cannot move on (from the 2020 election)…,” and calling the election a “tragedy (for the voters),” but since winning the primary has backed away from those claims (Philo, 2022).
Until last month, Fetterman was polling much better than Oz and out raising him in donations, but in the last month both the donations and the polls have tightened up. Oz and Fetterman participated in one debate which took place on October 25th, well after early voting began in Pennsylvania.
by Colleen McGee
The Wisconsin U.S. Senate race is one of the most competitive races in the country and for good reason. Wisconsin happens to be one of only six states with split senators, meaning they have one Republican senator and one Democratic senator representing the state. The Republican Incumbent Senator Ron Johnson is up for re-election and is being challenged by the current Wisconsin Lieutenant Governor, Democrat Mandela Barnes. In addition to the split representation, Wisconsin is also one of only two states, where Biden won in 2020, holding a U.S. Senate election in 2022 featuring a Republican incumbent. Moreover, during each of the past two presidential elections, the winner of Wisconsin was decided by less than one percentage point. Wisconsin is, by definition and example, a battleground state.
Ron Johnson and the Republicans have gone hard after Barnes, going negative from the start of the campaign by trying to paint Barnes as soft on crime and immigration and anti-police. In contrast, Barnes, since winning his primary on August 9th, has spent the first two months of his campaign introducing himself to voters across the state and to the issues he deems important: fighting inflation and lowering taxes on the middle class and protecting social security, Medicare, and reproductive rights. Barnes only launched his first negative ad on October 3rd, going after Johnson on his abortion stance. The FiveThirtyEight polling averages have gone back and forth throughout the election season, with Barnes at one point sitting with a +3.8% lead in August; however, Johnson currently sits with a +4.2% lead as of October 31st, indicating that his attacks may be having an effect with the Wisconsin voter.
Although it has not received as much national media attention as the three elections highlighted above, likely due to the perception that it is a safe seat for the Democratic Party, voters in Illinois will also be electing a U.S. Senator in 2022. Incumbent Democratic Senator Tammy Duckworth is running for reelection against Republican Kathy Salvi, who won the Republican nomination in a primary election that featured seven candidates. Duckworth and Salvi participated in a debate on October 27th. Polling for this election has consistently shown Duckworth with a double-digit lead over Salvi suggesting she is favored to win reelection.
- Steve Hanlon, Colleen McGee, and John Thomson are pursing M.A. degrees in Political Science at UIS.
- Matthew Geras is an Assistant Professor of Political Science in the School of Politics and International Affairs at UIS.
“Alaska Senate 2022 Race.” OpenSecrets. https://www.opensecrets.org/races/summary?cycle=2022&id=AKS2&spec=N (November 3, 2022).
“Alaska: U.S. Senate: 2022 Polls.” 2022. FiveThirtyEight. https://projects.fivethirtyeight.com/polls/ (November 3, 2022).
“Illinois: U.S. Senate: 2022 Polls.” 2022. FiveThirtyEight. https://projects.fivethirtyeight.com/polls/ (November 3, 2022).
“Illinois U.S. Senate Debate.” 2022. C-SPAN. https://www.c-span.org/video/?523759-1/illinois-us-senate-debate (November 3, 2022).
@IvanMoore1 (Alaska Survey Research). 2022. “Round 3: Murkowski 55.5% Tshibaka 44.5% Murkowski Looking Strong…” https://twitter.com/IvanMoore1/status/1584590078680399872 (November 3, 2022).
Kapur, Sahil. 2022. “Mehmet Oz in May Audio: Abortion Is ‘murder’ at Any Stage of Pregnancy.” NBC News. https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/2022-election/mehmet-oz-may-audio-abortion-murder-stage-pregnancy-rcna45621 (November 3, 2022).
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Philo, Kaila. 2022. “Another One Bites the Dust: Dr. Oz Takes Back His Election Denial.” MSN. https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/politics/another-one-bites-the-dust-dr-oz-takes-back-his-election-denial/ar-AA12mqol (November 3, 2022).
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“United States Senate Election in Pennsylvania, 2022.” Ballotpedia. https://ballotpedia.org/United_States_Senate_election_in_Pennsylvania,_2022 (November 3, 2022).
“United States Senate Election in Wisconsin, 2022.” Ballotpedia. https://ballotpedia.org/United_States_Senate_election_in_Wisconsin,_2022 (November 3, 2022).
“WATCH: Full Pennsylvania Senate Debate between Oz, Fetterman.” 2022. WPXI News. https://www.wpxi.com/video/watch-full-pennsylvania-senate-debate-between-oz-fetterman/ad1ed658-ea72-431f-ba96-af0dff8f41f8/ (November 3, 2022).
“Wisconsin Presidential Election Voting History - 270toWin.” 270toWin.com. https://www.270towin.com/states/Wisconsin (November 3, 2022).
“Wisconsin: U.S. Senate: 2022 Polls.” 2022. FiveThirtyEight. https://projects.fivethirtyeight.com/polls/ (November 3, 2022).