With all 435 House races, 35 Senate races and 36 governors’ races on ballots across the country, it’s hard to know where to look on Election Day to get a sense of just what kind of night it is going to be.
Below are my picks for races worth watching – not just for their outcomes, but for what they can tell us about the national playing field. The races are listed alphabetically.
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* Connecticut’s 5th District: Connecticut is not a battleground state, but this race has become indicative of the struggles some Democratic incumbents are having in New England. Rep. Jahana Hayes has held the western Connecticut seat since 2018 and was reelected in 2020 with 55% of the vote as Joe Biden was carrying the district in the presidential race with roughly the same vote share. Republicans, however, have been bullish for a while about their nominee, George Logan. The former state senator is vying to become the first Republican to represent the district in about 16 years. Inside Elections rates the race a Toss-up. If Republicans win here, it is likely a sign that they are cruising to the majority nationwide.
* Michigan Governor: Michigan has been one of the top swing states in the country over the past two national elections, but Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer looks like a favorite here in her race against Republican Tudor Dixon, who won a contested primary fight thanks to the endorsement of former President Donald Trump. Dixon has struggled to stay financially competitive with Whitmer since winning the nomination. Polls suggest this race is Whitmer’s to lose, but keep an eye on the margin. If she wins by low single-digits, it would suggest an overperformance by Dixon that could affect races down-ballot.
* New Hampshire Senate: After retired Army Brig. Gen. Don Bolduc became the Republican nominee earlier this fall, it appeared as though national GOP groups were giving up on the race. The super PAC affiliated with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell pulled out more than $5 million in planned advertising in the state, and it appeared as though Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan was on her way to victory. But the National Republican Senatorial Committee jumped back into the race and Democrats’ Senate Majority PAC added money to its ad reservation over the final week of the campaign, suggesting that this is a closer contest than expected. If Bolduc manages to win, you can be almost certain that Republicans will regain the majority in the Senate.
* New York 17th’s District: This is where Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, who also happens to be the chair of House Democrats’ campaign arm, is running for reelection. The early spending in the race by Republicans seemed to be nothing more than a troll move designed to annoy and distract Maloney from other races around the country. Then, like so many races in the Northeast of late, it turned competitive. GOP state Assemblyman Mike Lawler has stayed within striking distance. Inside Elections recently moved its rating of this race to Toss-up, a sign that the momentum is with Republicans. If Lawler is able to pull off the upset, it will be doubly sweet for his party – they will pick up a seat no one expected and take out a member of Democratic leadership in the process.
* North Carolina Senate: North Carolina went for Donald Trump in 2016 and then again, more narrowly, in 2020. Which means that GOP Rep. Ted Budd should be the favorite here. And he is. But former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley has kept things closer than many expected in a race that has been overshadowed by Senate contests with bigger personalities in states such as Georgia and Pennsylvania. If Democrats manage to win this race, it would suggest they have a very real chance at holding the Senate majority as results roll in further west. If, on the other hand, Budd’s margin is 5 points or higher, that’s a good sign for Republican prospects.
* Oregon Governor: Like other blue enclaves throughout the country, Oregon is surprisingly competitive in this election. (Oregon hasn’t elected a Republican governor in almost four decades.) That’s due in no small part to the deep unpopularity of outgoing Democratic Gov. Kate Brown, who has weighed down the chances of her party’s nominee, Tina Kotek. Another complicating factor is the presence of former Democratic state Sen. Betsy Johnson, who is running a credible campaign as an independent. The beneficiary of all of this is the Republican nominee, Christine Drazan. A win in Oregon for Republicans would be hugely symbolic – a sign they can compete anywhere in the country (at least in this election cycle).
* Virginia’s 2nd District: If you’re looking for a bellwether district in the early part of the night, this Virginia Beach-area seat is the one for you. Democratic Rep. Elaine Luria is notably a member of the House committee investigating January 6 – and has emphasized throughout the campaign not just her role, but the panel’s focus on preserving democracy. State Sen. Jen Kiggans has proved to be a solid Republican recruit in a redrawn district that would have narrowly gone for Biden. If Luria is able to pull out a win, the idea of a massive red wave in the House takes a hit. If Kiggans wins, however, it tells us that the environment for Republicans is a good one.