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Runners and riders in the 2022 midterm elections: (from top left) Herschel Walker, John Fetterman, Kari Lake, Mehmet Oz, JD Vance and Stacey Abrams (Image: Tina Tiller)
Runners and riders in the 2022 midterm elections: (from top left) Herschel Walker, John Fetterman, Kari Lake, Mehmet Oz, JD Vance and Stacey Abrams (Image: Tina Tiller)

PoliticsNovember 7, 2022

US midterms: The races to watch, and why they matter

Runners and riders in the 2022 midterm elections: (from top left) Herschel Walker, John Fetterman, Kari Lake, Mehmet Oz, JD Vance and Stacey Abrams (Image: Tina Tiller)
Runners and riders in the 2022 midterm elections: (from top left) Herschel Walker, John Fetterman, Kari Lake, Mehmet Oz, JD Vance and Stacey Abrams (Image: Tina Tiller)

Americans go to the polls this week, and the stakes could hardly be higher. Yet amid hundreds of races, just a few are truly competitive, as Catherine McGregor explains.

Welcome back to the three-ring circus that is US elections, where every two years we’re treated to an onslaught of political absurdity while also being reminded that this election is, yet again, the most consequential in a lifetime.

On November 8 the midterm elections will decide who controls the two chambers of Congress – the House of Representatives (“the House”) and the Senate – as well as hundreds of state offices including governor and secretary of state, the official in charge of elections.

Right now Democrats control the House, where they have a 220-212 majority (with three vacancies), and the Senate, which is split 50-50 with vice-president Kamala Harris holding the tie-breaking vote.

House members come from districts across the nation and are elected for two-year terms, so all 435 seats are being contested this week. Senator is a statewide office, with two per state for a total of 100 senators, each serving a six-year term. Senate elections are staggered; around a third of the Senate is up for re-election this time around.

So who’s going to win? Let’s get this out of the way: it’s probably the Republicans – in the House at least. In the wake of the outcry over the overturning of Roe vs Wade it looked briefly possible the Democrats could defy political gravity and hold onto their majority. But their momentum didn’t last. The polls have swung firmly back towards the Republicans and the go-to aggregator FiveThirtyEight now has them favoured to win the lower chamber.

The outlook for the Senate is less certain. Control of it – and with it, the ability to confirm judges, pass legislation and launch investigations – hinges on the results in just a handful of key states. Here’s some of the most interesting.


Probably the most high-profile senate race in the country is in Pennsylvania, where unorthodox Democrat John Fetterman is facing off against one-man gaffe machine Mehmet Oz, better known as Dr Oz. This election has had it all: health scares, viral videos, social media pranks and an 11th hour intervention by Oz’s former TV colleague Oprah Winfrey (she’s backing Fetterman). Oz has proved to be a truly awful campaigner and the widely liked Fetterman seemed to be cruising to victory before the race tightened dramatically over the last few weeks. Some observers put that down to Fetterman’s stumbling debate performance where the after-effects of his recent stroke were plain to see. But it’s more likely the poll numbers in Pennsylvania, as elsewhere, reflect Republicans “coming home” to their party as election day approaches and economic worries continue to grow.

Pennsylvania senate candidate John Fetterman returns to the campaign trail in August following a stroke three months earlier. (Photo: Nate Smallwood/Getty Images)


A close second to the Pennsylvania race in the drama stakes is Georgia, where incumbent Democratic senator Raphael Warnock is fighting off a challenge from Republican Herschel Walker, a former football star and current deadbeat dad who has admitted to holding a gun to his ex-wife’s head, among other horrors. Walker, a vocal opponent of abortion rights, is also reported to have paid for at least two abortions in the past – a fact that has been seized on by opponents in the wake of the Dobbs decision overturning Roe vs Wade. Yet neither that hypocrisy nor his manifest unfitness for the job – as one commentator put it, he holds “childlike views and struggles to communicate in even a semi-coherent manner “ – seems to have done much to dampen Walker’s chances. FiveThirtyEight now has him holding a slight lead. Surprising? Maybe. Depressing? Most definitely. But remember: control of the Senate is at stake, and Republicans know a Walker win would almost certainly hand them the reins.

The other high-profile race in Georgia is for governor, where Democrat Stacey Abrams is running against Republican Brian Kemp in a replay of their 2018 matchup which Kemp narrowly won. Despite Abrams’ popularity among the left, her campaign this time around has failed to catch fire. As with fellow Democratic darling Beto O’Rourke in Texas, Abrams is unlikely to be moving into the governor’s mansion anytime soon.


In a state that’s become a reliable Republican stronghold, Republican senate candidate JD Vance has encountered an unexpectedly tough race. Vance, a venture capitalist and author of the bestselling memoir Hillbilly Elegy, was once a “Never Trumper” but is now an enthusiastic supporter of the former president. That won him Trump’s endorsement – “JD is kissing my ass, he wants my support so bad!” he recently crowed – which should be enough to get him elected to the open seat. His opponent, Democrat Tim Ryan, has put up an impressive fight, however, by keeping a laser focus on economic issues and unapologetically courting Republican voters in an effort to win.


If you want to scare yourself about the future of American democracy, look no further than Arizona. Conspiracy theories and far-right views have taken hold throughout the Republican party there, and a GOP victory this week could have far-reaching consequences not just for the state itself but for the 2024 presidential elections as well. Running for governor, a role that involves overseeing elections, is Kari Lake, a charismatic former newsreader (and Democrat) with extreme rightwing positions and a seeming obsession with soft-focus camera filters. If she wins, she could be working alongside Mark Finchem, a fellow election denier and an Oath Keeper – he was at the Capitol on January 6 – who is running to become the state’s top election official.

Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake at a ‘Save America!’ campaign rally with former president Donald Trump, October 09, 2022. (Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images)

But wait, there’s more. Incumbent Democratic senator Mark Kelly is facing a challenge from Blake Masters, a Peter Thiel protégé who, as Politico put it, has become “the darling of the extremely-online right… with their masculinity-obsessed, reflexively anti-institutional, will-to-power view of politics”. If his own emails are to be believed, Masters is no fan of democracy either. He, Lake and Finchem are collectively a terrifying prospect; if you have prayers/good vibes to spare, I suggest sending them Arizona’s way this week.

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