Republican Senate Retirements Leave Seats Open in Three Swing States

Republican senators in three swing states recently announced their retirements, opening the floodgates for a slew of candidates vying for the highly-coveted spots in 2022.

In the past election cycle, Democrats raised unprecedented amounts of money but still largely lost Senate seats to Republicans in states that had the most expensive races, with Democratic wins in the Georgia runoffs marking a turning point. In 2022, with Democrats controlling the presidency and thin majorities in the House and Senate, the stakes will be high as Senate hopefuls throw their hats in the ring and start fundraising for likely volatile contests.

North Carolina

In North Carolina’s 2020 senate race, incumbent Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) held on to his seat despite being outspent by former state Sen. Cal Cunningham. Tillis’s campaign raised about $25.3 million while Cunningham’s raised around twice that number with approximately $51.2 million. North Carolina has two GOP senators and mostly Republican representatives representing the state on the national stage.

But Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) said in 2016 that his current term would be his last, meaning there is an open seat on the horizon that could shake up the Senate’s party balance. Burr’s campaign raised about $12.9 million in 2016 and around $10.9 million in the 2010 election cycle. He has served as senator since 2005 and was a House representative before that from 1995.

In February, before the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in the United States, Burr publicly declared his faith in the U.S. government’s response to the virus. But he privately warned those around him about the virus’ possible economic percussions before selling anywhere from $628,000 to $1.7 million in publicly traded stocks on Feb. 13.

North Carolina state Sen. Jeff Jackson (D) officially joined the Senate race on Jan. 26, launching a “100 county campaign” with a promise to hold town halls in every North Carolina county. He joins fellow state Sen. Erica Smith (D), who announced her entrance in January and previously competed with Cunningham for the Democratic nomination in 2020.

According to his campaign, Jackson raised $500,000 in the two days following his announcement with 90 percent of contributions coming from North Carolina, nearly 80 percent of which are donations of under $100.

As for the GOP, Rep. Mark Walker (R-N.C.) released a video revealing his Senate challenge on Dec. 1. He said that his campaign raised almost $370,000 in a little over a month after he launched his bid. Lara Trump, wife of former President Donald Trump’s son Eric Trump, is said to be considering a run, according to the New York Times.

The North Carolina Senate race is expected to be one of the highest profile and most expensive in the 2022 midterm elections. North Carolina’s Senate race broke records in the 2020 election, coming in as the third most expensive race ever with about $298.9 million spent in total.

Pennsylvania

The Keystone State was the state to watch in the 2020 election, turning blue by a slim margin after helping elect Trump in 2016. The state has a Democratic governor and GOP majorities in the state House and Senate.

Lt. Governor John Fetterman (D), a favorite among Pennsylvanian Democrats, particularly labor interests, initiated his campaign to fill Toomey’s seat on Monday after conducting an exploratory effort. According to Politico, he raised over $1.4 million in the weeks leading up to his announcement. Fetterman previously ran for Senate in 2016 and raised about $760,000, millions short of what winner Toomey and Democratic nominee Katie McGinty each raised.

Last summer, during a period of civil unrest sparked by George Floyd’s death, Fetterman wrote about the need for “discretion and de-escalation measures” to address police brutality. On Feb. 9, in what appears to be a preemptive move, Fetterman’s campaign released a video of the lieutenant governor defending a 2013 incident in which he chased and pulled a gun on an unarmed Black man who was jogging. Fetterman claimed that he had heard shots fired near his home in the events leading to the incident. While the jogger, Christopher Miyares, never pressed charges, he and Fetterman told different accounts of what happened.

Former Norristown borough council member John McGuigan has also launched his Senate campaign.

Fetterman’s bid comes after Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) announced in October that he would not run for reelection or for governor and would instead return to the private sector. Toomey, a two-term senator, raised $30.8 million in the 2016 election. Prior to becoming senator, he served three terms in the U.S. House from 1999 to 2005.

While Toomey supported Trump’s reelection, he called on the former president to resign after the deadly Jan. 6 Capitol riot. But Toomey and Trump’s relationship was fraught with tension even before the riot, with the two clashing over Trump’s decisions such as imposing tariffs on steel and aluminum during the coronavirus pandemic.

His retirement leaves the Pennsylvania seat up for grabs in the 2022 election, which could thwart Republicans’ plans to take back control of the Senate and instead assist Democrats in holding on to their slim majority.

On Feb. 10, Rep. Madeleine Dean’s (D-Pa.) son tweeted that she “seems comfortable in the Senate” after she condemned Trump for spreading lies and using violent rhetoric in his speeches during his impeachment trial, leading to speculation that she might run for the open seat. Dean is one of nine House members prosecuting Trump during the trial. She has not announced a Senate bid.

Insiders say other potential Democratic contenders include U.S. Reps. Conor Lamb, Brendan Boyle, Chrissy Houlahan, and Susan Wild; Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney; former state Treasurer Joe Torsella; Montgomery County Commissioner Val Arkoosh; state Sen. Sharif Street; Philadelphia City Council member Helen Gym; and state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta.

As for Republicans, Craig Snyder, a Never-Trump Republican and political consultant who founded the Republicans for Hillary PAC in 2016, said on Feb. 3 that he is considering a run. Others speculated to be potential candidates include Pennsylvania Reps. Ryan Costello, Charlie Dent, Dan Meuser, Lou Barletta, Brian Fitzpatrick, Mike Kelly and Guy Reschenthaler; former U.S. Secretary of the Navy Kenneth Braithwaite; 2018 lieutenant governor candidate Jeff Bartos; state Sen. Mike Regan; state Rep. Martina White; Chester County Commissioner Michelle Kichline; 2018 Senate candidate Jim Christiana; state Sen. Jake Corman; 2018 gubernatorial candidate Paul Mango; former U.S. Attorney William McSwain; former U.S. Ambassador to Denmark Carla Sands; 2020 congressional candidate Sean Parnell; and former state House Speaker Mike Turzai.

Ohio

With a majority GOP congressional delegation and a Republican governor, Ohio has leaned more right than ever in recent years with electoral votes going to Trump in both the 2016 and 2020 general presidential elections.

Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) said on Jan. 25 he would not seek reelection following the end of his second term in 2022. The senator, who has shifted more moderate in recent years compared to his more conservative colleagues, said in the statement announcing his retirement that “this is a tough time to be in public service.”

“We live in an increasingly polarized country where members of both parties are being pushed further to the right and further to the left, and that means too few people who are actively looking to find common ground,” he said.

Portman served in the House from 1993 until 2005, when he joined then-President George W. Bush’s Cabinet as U.S. Trade Representative. His campaign raised approximately $25.4 million in 2016 and about $13.2 million in 2010, when he was first elected to the Senate.

Despite Trump allies’ high expectations for a Senate bid, a spokesperson for Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) said that he would not be running for the position and would instead run for reelection in the House. The congressman was first elected in 2004, and his campaign raised about $18 million in the 2020 election cycle, a considerable jump from the approximately $1.2 million he raised in 2018.

As for other candidates vying for the open seat, former Ohio State Treasurer Josh Mandel (R) launched his campaign on Wednesday. In the 2012 Senate race, he won the Republican nomination but ultimately lost against incumbent Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), whose campaign raised about $24.8 million. Mandel, who was heavily favored by outside spending groups, raised around $18.9 million. He ran again in 2018 but lost early on with Rep. Jim Renacci (R-Ohio) becoming the Republican nominee. Mandel received about $5.3 million during his run. His platform this time around is targeted at continuing Trump’s legacy.

“I’m going to Washington to fight for President Trump’s America First Agenda and to pulverize the Uniparty – that cabal of Democrats and Republicans who sound the same, stand for nothing and are more interested in cocktail party invites than defending the Constitution,” Mandel said in a statement.

According to Politico, other GOP candidates who could compete with Mandel include J.D. Vance, a venture capitalist and author of the popular book “Hillbilly Elegy”; Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose; and U.S. Reps. Steve Stivers, Brad Wenstrup, Michael Turner and Warren Davidson.

On the opposite side of the political aisle, Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) is expected to make his bid public in early March according to the New York Times. He is already asking supporters for donations via email. Ryan has considered running for statewide office before and previously ran for president in the 2020 election cycle before bowing out in October of 2019. He raised $1.3 million during his short-lived campaign. In 2016, he unsuccessfully challenged House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) for the top spot in Democratic leadership.

Other potential entrants on the Democrats’ side include Ohio House Minority Leader Emilia Sykes and U.S. Rep. Joyce Beatty (D-Ohio).