Red wave? Blue firewall? I asked the pros to tell me which races to watch on election night

There is no such thing as a crystal ball, but New York, Texas, and Indiana could tell us a lot

Eric Garcia
Washington DC
Wednesday 09 November 2022 05:44 GMT
A voter casts a ballot on November 8, 2022 in Winston Salem, North Carolina
A voter casts a ballot on November 8, 2022 in Winston Salem, North Carolina (Sean Rayford/Getty Images)

Earlier today, I finally tapped out and said I didn’t know what was going to happen in the midterms. But that admission doesn’t mean I gave up altogether. Instead, it triggered my curiosity.

Some states are too tricky to focus on immediately. As much as voters may want to see results in Pennsylvania or Georgia’s Senate races, those will take time because of how long it takes to count the votes. Similarly, while I am obsessed with Nevada, the number of mail-in votes means we will need to be in for the long haul. So I spoke to experts and asked which races they were watching.

Mike Madrid, who previously worked for the California Republican Party and co-founded the Lincoln Project, is keeping an eye on New York’s gubernatorial race, where Kathy Hochul is in a surprisingly tough battle against Republican Lee Zeldin. (Hochul stepped in after Andrew Cuomo resigned in disgrace.)

Madrid is also looking at New York’s 19th district, which is an open seat. Republican Marcus Molinaro narrowly lost a race to Democrat Pat Ryan in a special election earlier this year in that district. But Ryan is now running for re-election in the 18th district, meaning that Molinaro is facing Democrat Josh Riley. We’ll see how he fares with his second chance at the same seat less than three months later.

Similarly, Madrid cited New Hampshire’s Senate race. New Hampshire has a much more libertarian streak than its more liberal New England neighbors; it only has an income tax for interest and dividends income. In 2016, Senator Maggie Hassan only won her race against incumbent Kelly Ayotte by 1,017 votes. This time around, she was supposed to have an easy race against retired US Army brigadier general Don Bolduc after Governor Chris Sununu, a Republican from one of the most prominent families in New Hampshire, passed on running.

But the race remains tight, despite the fact that Bolduc has fanned the flames of election denial. But on Tuesday night, Hassan pulled off the victory.

Conversely, Madrid cited North Carolina’s Senate race. Republican Senator Richard Burr, a genteel old Republican who voted to convict Donald Trump on an article of impeachment for his role in the January 6 riot, is retiring. In his stead, Trump-backed Representative Ted Budd, a Congressman who voted to object to the 2020 election results, ran against Cheri Beasley, the first Black female chief justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court. In 2020, she only lost her race by 401 votes. As I reported last month, Republicans have carpet-bombed the state with ads and Democrats barely responded in kind.

To be fair, Democrats haven’t won a Senate race in the Tar Heel State since 2008, when Kay Hagan defeated incumbent Republican Senator Elizabeth Dole. But throwing up their hands cost them dearly: the race, one of the most important of the mitderms at the time of writing, was quickly called for Budd.

“Those [races] will tell us everything we need to know about the direction we’re heading in,” Madrid said of New York, New Hampshire, and North Carolina.

Conversely, Chuck Rocha, a self-described “Mexican redneck” who wears a cowboy hat and worked on Senator Bernie Sanders’s campaign, is keep his eyes on Latino-heavy races. Republicans have been winning over conservative Latino voters, particularly in Rocha’s native Texas, and especially in the Rio Grande Valley that borders Mexico.

Rocha is keeping an eye on Texas’s 15th district, where Michelle Vallejo, a progressive, is running against Republican Monica De La Cruz. The Cook Political Report rates it as “likely Republican” and Democrats began to cut off Vallejo’s funding last month, Axios reported.

Rocha is also watching Colorado’s new eighth district, where Latinos make up a whopping 39 per cent of the population. Cook rates it as a toss-up. Similarly, he listed New Mexico’s heavily Hispanic second district. Yvette Herrell, the first Native American Republican woman in Congress, won that seat in 2020 but faces tough headwinds after redistricting. Rocha also cited Arizona’s sixth district, which leans Republican; Florida’s 27th district, which includes heavily Cuban-American Miami-Dade; and California’s 22nd district, where David Valadao, one of the few Republicans who voted to impeach Trump, is facing Democrat Rudy Salas.

“These races will determine who is the [Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee] chair next cycle and they are all huge latino population,” Rocha texted me, ending with a cowboy emoji.

For Lis Smith, who was a a senior adviser for Pete Buttigieg’s presidential campaign and is a New York Times best-selling author, it’s all about two swing districts: Indiana’s first district, where Representative Frank Mrvan is running against Jennifer Ruth Green, an Asian-American combat veteran in the US Air Force; and Virginia’s second district, where Representative Elaine Luria lost her quest for a third term against state Senator Jen Kiggans.

Luria is the sole member of the January 6 select committee with a tough general election race. So far, it looks like her colleagues from Virginia, Abigail Spanberger and Jennifer Wexton, have won. Unfortunately, she came up short, which isn’t the worst news for Democrats but still not great.

“Those races will be reported on the earlier side and will give us a sense of what sort of electorate we are dealing with this year,” she texted me.

Of course, these aren’t the sole races to watch as the returns come in. But they will be good indicators of what’s to come. I for sure will be watching.

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