A couple weeks back, we wrote about some of the biggest potential sleeper races for 2022. Now, with Election Day less than a week away, we’re updating the list and adding some races — including for the House.
If either party springs an upset in any of these races, it has probably had a very good night.
Below, we break them down by type of race.
Utah: Sen. Mike Lee (R) was not on anyone’s most-endangered list heading into this cycle. But Democrats, through some deft maneuvering, appear to have at least a slim chance of unseating him. The party opted not to field a nominee and instead lined up behind independent former presidential candidate Evan McMullin — a formula that has previously demonstrated some success in red states. Perhaps because of that unusual dynamic, polls are all over the map: Some have shown this as a single-digit race, and one even showed McMullin up by a slight margin, but others show Lee up by double digits. Republicans such as Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, a Lee ally, have signaled that this is a real race, while Lee’s campaign has lobbied — thus far in vain — for the endorsement of Utah’s other Republican senator, Mitt Romney. (Romney has cited his relationships with both candidates.)
Washington: This list previously included Washington alongside Colorado, but Washington is looking like it might actually be the better opportunity for a surprise GOP pickup, and the party is particularly keen here. George Will wrote recently that incumbent Senate Democrat Patty Murray’s contest with GOP challenger Tiffany Smiley could be the big 2022 shocker, particularly if Democrats have overplayed their hand by focusing so much on abortion rights. A flurry of recent polls has shown the race in the single digits. Most of them are from GOP-leaning groups, but even some nonpartisan ones peg an upset as within the realm of possibility. If Murray somehow loses, it’s almost assuredly a huge night for the GOP.
New Hampshire: It’s difficult to call this one a sleeper, given it’s a swing state. But in a Senate race that some had forgotten about, Democrat Maggie Hassan is looking increasingly in danger of losing her seat. Hassan’s messaging suggests she sees vulnerability: She’s recently focused on creating distance between herself and President Biden.
Ohio: This one boils down to how you define “surprise.” The race has polled competitively throughout, with the Democratic nominee, Rep. Tim Ryan, running tough against Republican J.D. Vance. But the conventional wisdom has coalesced around Vance as the favorite, in large part thanks to Ohio’s increasingly red lean and Senate polling’s overall rightward shift as voters who were skeptical about candidates such as Vance come home. But the most recent high-quality polls from Siena College and Marist College show this race tied and Vance up a point. If Democrats beat expectations Tuesday night, this one would seem to be in play.
Oregon: Biden traveled to this blue state last month in hopes of shoring up Democratic nominee Tina Kotek as she faces a spirited challenge from Republican Christine Drazan. Just about every recent poll shows this is a margin-of-error race, with Drazan holding a statistically insignificant lead. Complicating matters for Kotek is the presence of a moderate former Democrat who is now running as an independent, Betsy Johnson. Johnson polls in the double digits and is sometimes competitive with the two major-party candidates. Democrats have lost before when their votes were split like this. (See: Maine last decade.) And if Republicans can pull it out, it would be the first time Oregon has elected a GOP governor since 1982.
Michigan: This has striking parallels to the Senate race in New Hampshire: A flawed GOP candidate, running in a swing state, could still manage to get across the line in a good GOP year — despite some observers writing off the Republican. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) has often polled as popular, but some recent polls have Republican Tudor Dixon within single digits (and closer in GOP-aligned polls), and both sides say the race has narrowed. An upset here would be particularly shocking given Dixon’s rise from relative anonymity as a commentator for fringe conservative media.
New York: Republicans might be the most keen on this one — this is New York we’re talking about. And Rep. Lee Zeldin (R) has a much better chance of defeating Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) than almost anyone thought possible. In recent days, the race has drawn visits from Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) and former president Bill Clinton, along with an ad from former president Barack Obama. Even as Hochul remains the favorite, Democrats are scrambling to avoid what would be a pretty big embarrassment.
Oklahoma: This appears to be the one potential major upset going in the Democrats’ direction. Multiple recent surveys show Democrat Joy Hofmeister running competitively with the Republican incumbent, Gov. Kevin Stitt, in this deep-red state. But polling in this state has proved difficult in recent years. This race also carries some unusual dynamics. Hofmeister won election as state schools superintendent in 2014 and 2018 as a Republican, but she switched parties last year in advance of a challenge to Stitt. She clashed with Stitt on the state’s coronavirus response but says her policies haven’t changed. She still calls herself “pro-life,” for instance — but she has criticized Stitt for taking the state party to the right and aligning with Donald Trump. She also recently received an endorsement from Republican former congressman J.C. Watts.
Texas 34th District: Republican Mayra Flores flipped a seat in a special election this year. But her time in Congress was expected to be short-lived, and Democrats didn’t invest much in that race — redistricting put the winner of that race in a matchup another incumbent, Democrat Vicente Gonzalez, in a district Biden carried in 2020 by more than 15 points. Though South Texas has been trending red, Flores sticking around is something that wasn’t expected even when things were looking so good for Republicans some months ago (before the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade). Now multiple handicappers are calling this a toss-up.
New York’s 17th District: This race is on here for one reason: It involves the leader of House Democrats’ campaign effort, Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney. After defeating a state senator in a contested primary, Maloney was considered a favorite to win in a Biden plus-10 district, but a Republican Michael Lawler represents much of Maloney’s new district in the state legislature and has a good shot. Republicans have also suddenly invested heavily in the race. A Maloney loss would surely come with Democrats also losing the House — and possibly the governor’s race — and would be the icing on the cake for the GOP.
California’s 47th District: Rep. Katie Porter is a Democratic hero to many on the left for holding powerful people’s feet to the fire in viral exchanges at congressional hearings. But she’s suddenly in trouble in her race against Republican Scott Baugh, a former state legislator, despite coming from a newly redrawn district that favored Biden by 11 points. It would be particularly shocking given that Porter has proved to be a fundraising powerhouse, pulling in $23 million so far — the third-most in the House, behind only House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.). The Cook Political Report just moved this one to toss-up status.
Montana’s 1st District: This is the lone GOP-leaning district we’re including in this category. (Texas-34 is held by the GOP but is a blue-leaning district.) It’s an open seat, created after Montana gained enough population to get a second seat. Voters in the new district, like the state, lean Republican, going for Trump by seven points two years ago. That said, former Trump interior secretary Ryan Zinke is putting it in play thanks to his baggage. He struggled in his primary, even with Trump’s endorsement — a trend for some of the GOP’s weakest candidates this year — before winning narrowly. And Montana has proved it will vote for the right kind of Democrat, with this area in particular swinging significantly depending upon the election. In this case, Democrats hope that right kind of candidate is attorney Monica Tranel. Polling has shown this race is competitive and that Libertarian John Lamb could be an X-factor.