By Moira Warburton
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Control of the U.S. Senate hangs in the balance in the November 8 midterm elections as Republicans need to win just one seat to gain control of the 100-seat chamber, which which would allow them to block much of President Joe. Biden’s agenda.
The chamber is currently split 50-50 between Republicans and Democrats, who retain control thanks to Vice President Kamala Harris’ decisive vote. Democrats hope to widen their margin.
Here are eight races that could determine the outcome.
John Fetterman, the state’s Democratic lieutenant governor, flipped Pennsylvania’s Senate seat, beating Mehmet Oz, a television host and heart surgeon who was endorsed by former President Donald Trump.
The race has appeared to tighten in recent days, particularly after a rocky debate performance from Fetterman, who has been hampered by the lingering effects of a stroke he suffered in May.
Oz faced carpetbagging charges as a longtime New Jersey resident and said “local politicians” should be involved in a woman’s decision to have an abortion.
Incumbent Democrat Maggie Hassan retained her seat against Republican Don Bolduc, a retired US Army general who promoted Trump’s lie that the 2020 election was stolen.
The seat was seen as a great opportunity for Republicans, but some of Bolduc’s statements — including saying the FBI should be abolished and espousing COVID-19 conspiracies — made it impossible for him to win support beyond his right-wing base, despite his post-appointment tries to moderate his positions.
Republican U.S. House Representative Ted Budd beat former state Supreme Court Justice Cheri Beasley, a Democrat, for an open seat in the U.S. Senate in a relatively low-key race that did not not garnered as much national attention.
Budd, a gun store owner, has highlighted core concerns like inflation to appeal to moderate voters, backed a nationwide ban on abortions after 15 weeks, and attended several rallies with Trump.
North Carolina has been politically competitive for more than a decade, but Republicans still tend to win most statewide contests. The previous incumbent was a Republican.
Republican JD Vance, author of the hardscrabble memoir “Hillbilly Elegy,” won the open seat in the Ohio Senate, beating Democratic U.S. House Representative Tim Ryan in a Republican-leaning state during the last decade.
Former President Donald Trump has backed Vance, and tech billionaire Peter Thiel has been a top donor to his campaign.
Vance’s most controversial views — that he didn’t care what happened in Ukraine and that the Biden administration was deliberately flooding the Midwest with fentanyl — and Trump’s comment at a campaign rally that Vance “kiss my ass” made the race more competitive than expected. National Republican groups have spent heavily to solidify his outlook.
Ryan emphasized his blue-collar background, supporting domestic jobs and a $15 minimum wage as his main policy thrusts, and distanced himself from the liberal wing of the party.
Democratic Senator Mark Kelly, former astronaut and husband of former US Representative Gabby Giffords, takes on Blake Masters, a Republican backed by Thiel. The state is a former right-wing stronghold where Democrats made gains in recent elections — Biden won the state by 0.3% in 2020. Masters sought to distance himself from controversial comments suggesting Social Security should be privatized. He also recently removed parts of his campaign website where he advocated for a total ban on abortion.
Kelly has been a moderate Democrat in the Senate, pushing to lower prescription drug costs and sometimes criticizing the Biden administration’s response to asylum seekers on the southern border with Mexico.
Although Republicans initially withdrew funding following the Masters’ struggles, the race – like many others – has tightened in recent days.
In what should be one of the closest races of the cycle, freshman Democratic senator Raphael Warnock takes on Herschel Walker, who is endorsed by Trump.
Walker is a former college football star who has been hampered by a series of scandals, including allegations of domestic abuse. A staunch anti-abortion advocate, Walker’s campaign has been rocked by reports that he has paid for several former girlfriends to have abortions in the past.
Warnock, who is pastor of the Atlanta church once led by Martin Luther King, Jr., won a surprise victory in a special election in early 2021, giving Democrats control of the US Senate. If none of the candidates obtains 50% of the votes, the race will take place at the beginning of December.
Democrat Catherine Cortez Masto, the first Latina to serve in the Senate, is defending her seat against state Attorney General Adam Laxalt, a Republican who led his party’s efforts to overturn Biden’s victory in the 2020 election.
Cortez Masto has focused on abortion rights, while Laxalt has sought to tap into voter concerns about rising prices — a trend happening in other states as well. The race remained extremely tight.
In a state where 30% of the population is Latino, analysts are watching whether those voters will continue to drift toward Republicans or whether Democrats can reverse that trend.
Republican Senator Ron Johnson is running against Democrat Mandela Barnes, the state’s lieutenant governor. Johnson’s statements against COVID-19 vaccines and the 2020 election could make him vulnerable, but he has won surprise victories in previous elections.
Republicans say Barnes is too radical for the state, pointing to his past support for progressive policies like Medicare for All and a 2018 photo of him holding a shirt that reads “Abolish ICE,” an agency immigration law enforcement.
(Reporting by Moira Warburton in Washington; Editing by Andy Sullivan, Josie Kao, Aurora Ellis and Daniel Wallis)