With Democratic control of the US House and Senate on the line in this fall’s midterm elections, the races for those chambers have drawn plenty of attention. Republicans appear to be in good position to make gains in November, buoyed, in part, by historic midterm headwinds facing the party in power, economic concerns and President Joe Biden’s low approval ratings.
But races at the state and local level will also have consequences that extend far beyond this year. New state laws targeting abortion, guns and voting rights, among other issues, have put a spotlight on the state and local officials responsible for signing or enforcing those measures.
Democratic candidates for governor, secretary of state and attorney general are presenting themselves as bulwarks against full GOP control of their states. Republicans, meanwhile, are eyeing opportunities to either maintain or win control of key state offices, though former President Donald Trump’s involvement in several of those races, and the possibility of nominating candidates who have questioned the 2020 election results, has complicated the calculus.
Looming over most of these races is 2024, with implications for who will control the election infrastructure in key swing states and who will emerge as viable presidential contenders.
Meanwhile, local-level races will have consequences for the future direction of the Democratic Party, while contests for certain state Supreme Court seats will be pivotal to the fight over redistricting, which is expected to continue into this decade.
Here are 20 state and local races to watch in 2022:
The anticipated rematch of the fierce 2018 election between now-incumbent Republican Gov. Brian Kemp and Democrat Stacey Abrams is finally set after Kemp defeated a Trump-backed primary challenge from former US Sen. David Perdue and Abrams ran unopposed for her party’s nomination.
That result was a notable mark against Trump’s influence, especially among Georgia Republicans who aren’t ready to trade in their longtime leaders at the former President’s behest. But it was also a show of force for Kemp, who remains very popular with his party – enthusiasm that he’ll need in a race with Abrams.
The bigger question now is whether Abrams, whose near-miss in 2018 made her a national Democratic star, can close the narrow gap with Kemp in a potentially high-turnout general election despite new Republican-enacted restrictions on voting.
There are few Democratic politicians better equipped to strategize around those restrictions than Abrams, a longtime voting rights advocate, but the field will almost certainly be tilted against her given Biden’s poor approval numbers. 2018 was a good election year for many Democrats amid a backlash to Trump. But this time around, Abrams is swimming against the national political tide.
The race to succeed term-limited Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf will see Democratic Attorney General Josh Shapiro face off against Trump-backed state Sen. Doug Mastriano, a fervent promoter of the former President’s 2020 election lies.
A win for Mastriano would give someone who attempted to overturn voters’ will in 2020 power over the election machinery in one of the nation’s most important battlegrounds during the 2024 presidential race. In Pennsylvania, the governor appoints the secretary of state – the person in charge of running the commonwealth’s elections and signing off on its electors.
Shapiro, who was unopposed in the Democratic primary, has defended Pennsylvania’s 2020 presidential election result and is emphasizing voting and abortion rights in his campaign.
The leak of the draft US Supreme Court opinion that would overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion nationwide has roiled elections across the country, including in Pennsylvania. Democratic groups have launched a multimillion-dollar campaign attacking Mastriano for his opposition to abortion rights. Shapiro has argued that should Roe fall, the governor’s role would be crucial in a state where the GOP-controlled legislature has already passed bills that would impose abortion restrictions, which were vetoed by Wolf.
Democratic control of the Silver State is on the line in 2022.
The party has dominated Nevada in recent years – albeit by narrow margins, a still remarkable turnaround for the once-red state. That could change this fall. Republicans across the country and in Nevada have made inroads with Latino voters, and the GOP hopes that lingering anger over pandemic restrictions and the national antipathy toward full Democratic control of Washington will help them break through in Nevada.
Gov. Steve Sisolak, who ended a two-decade Democratic drought in the executive office with his 2018 victory, faces a difficult race likely no matter whom Republicans nominate. GOP hopefuls include Clark County Sheriff Joe Clark, who has Trump’s endorsement, and former US Sen. Dean Heller. But with competitive races for US Senate and House and other statewide offices as well, the results out of Nevada will speak volumes about the political future of the western state.
Arizona emerged as a critical battleground in 2020 when Biden became the first Democratic presidential nominee to win the state in almost a quarter-century.
The GOP race to succeed term-limited Republican Gov. Doug Ducey will be a test of Trump’s influence on the party. The primary features, among others, TV reporter-turned-politician Kari Lake, who has the former President’s endorsement; former US Rep. Matt Salmon, who unsuccessfully ran for governor in 2002; and businesswoman Karrin Taylor Robin, a onetime member of the state Board of Regents.
The front-runner for the Democratic nomination is Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, who has come under fire over a racial discrimination case stemming from her time as Democratic leader in the state Senate. Former Nogales Mayor Marco Lopez is also seeking the Democratic nod.
At stake: full control of Arizona government, where the GOP has held both the governor’s office and the state legislature since 2009.
With the US Supreme Court expected to throw the debate over abortion to the states, Wisconsin could be central to that fight.
The state is not only hosting a marquee Senate race this year, but Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, who has vetoed several bills aimed at curtailing legal abortion, is running for reelection in a state where Republicans control both chambers of the state legislature.
Evers has also used his veto pen to block GOP-led legislation aimed at changing state election laws and expanding gun rights. His positioning as the lone Democrat standing between full GOP control of the state will likely define his campaign. The national mood was behind Evers in 2018, when he unseated Republican Gov. Scott Walker. This year looks very different.
The GOP field remains largely unsettled ahead of the August 9 primary. Trump has endorsed businessman and Army veteran Tim Michels. Other candidates include former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, Marine veteran Kevin Nicholson and state Rep. Timothy Ramthun, one of the state’s leading promoters of false election conspiracy theories.
This race also has national implication. Biden won Wisconsin by just over 20,000 votes, and the possibility of an equally close race in 2024 could loom over the gubernatorial contest.
Rather, DeSantis has risen to the top echelon of potential 2024 GOP contenders by attacking Disney, creating a new election police force, pushing through a partisan congressional map, banning abortion after 15 weeks without exemptions for rape and incest, promising to lift gun restrictions and signing legislation to restrict how schools teach about racism and sexual orientation and gender identify.
Republican donors have responded, contributing $117 million to his reelection fight and making him the first gubernatorial candidate in US history to break the nine-figure mark without self-funding. Heading into November, Republicans are looking to dispel any doubt that the state has turned a deeper shade of red.
Democrats vying to take on DeSantis include US Rep. Charlie Crist, a onetime GOP governor, and state Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried. But the incumbent is the favorite, and a blowout victory would further boost his resume as he weighs his political future.
The high-profile race to lead the Lone Star State pits two-term Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, a potential 2024 presidential contender, against Democrat Beto O’Rourke, a former congressman who drew national attention with a near-miss 2018 Senate campaign and an unsuccessful 2020 bid for president.
The issue of gun rights could play a role in the campaign following the tragic mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in the South Texas town of Uvalde that left 19 students and two teachers dead. O’Rourke confronted Abbott and other Texas officials during a news conference in Uvalde in May after the massacre, saying the governor was “doing nothing” to prevent more gun violence.
Abbott, who has signed legislation loosening gun restrictions, argued that tougher gun laws aren’t “a real solution.”
The governor has leaned further into hot-button GOP priorities over the past year, signing into law new election and voting restrictions and a ban on abortions after six weeks. That positioning helped him beat out a crowded field of primary challengers in March. Abbott has also been a top critic of the Biden administration, especially on its push to roll back Title 42 – the pandemic-era public health order that has allowed immigration officials to turn back migrants at the border.
While O’Rourke gives Democrats their strongest candidate possible, he faces an uphill battle for the governorship in a state where his party has not won a statewide election since 1994 – its longest statewide drought in the country.
Alaska is debuting a new voting sytem this year that was approved by state voters in 2020 in an attempt to make elections less partisan.
Under the new system, all candidates, regardless of party, run on the same ballot in the primary, with the top four advancing to the general election. Voters in the fall can rank their choices in order of preference. If no one receives a majority, the candidate in fourth place is eliminated and those votes go to whomever was ranked second on those ballots. The process continues until a candidate reaches a majority.
Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy, who has Trump’s support, is facing a challenge from his predecessor, independent Bill Walker, who ended his bid for a second term in 2018 less than three weeks before the election – throwing his support to the Democratic nominee – over concerns that he could not win in a three-way race.
Walker faced backlash while in office for reducing the amount of the Permanent Fund dividend that is given annually to each Alaska resident as he dealt with a budget deficit deepened by a collapse in the price of oil. And that could hamper his comeback attempt. Others in the race include Democratic former state Rep. Les Gara and Republicans Christopher Kurka, a state representative, and Charlie Pierce, the Kenai Peninsula Borough mayor.
Democratic Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson is looking to win another four-year term.
Benson rose to national prominence amid the 2020 election fallout – as she defended the election process and results, in the face of efforts to overturn Biden’s victory in the state. At one point, she said, armed protesters showed up outside her home to demand she reverse the outcome.
This fall, she is expected to face Kristina Karamo, a political newcomer and community college professor who was endorsed at the Michigan GOP state convention in April. Karamo’s nomination is expected to be reaffirmed at an official party vote in August.
Karamo, who has Trump’s endorsement, gained attention after the 2020 election when she alleged witnessing fraud as a poll challenger during the counting of absentee ballots. She also signed on to an unsuccessful US Supreme Court challenge to Biden’s win.
Two hundred and fifty post-election audits by Michigan’s secretary of state confirmed the accuracy of the 2020 election in the state, which Biden won by more than 150,000 votes. In addition, a GOP-led state Senate investigation found no evidence of widespread fraud in the election.
Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger is coming off a big primary win over fellow Republican Jody Hice, a four-term congressman endorsed by Trump.
The incumbent famously rejected Trump’s demand to “find” the votes he needed to overturn his 2020 loss in Georgia. And while Raffensperger has defended that election as “honest and fair,” he also has embraced much of a controversial law enacted last year in the Peach State that imposes an array of new voting restrictions.
Hice, meanwhile, was one of 147 GOP members of Congress who objected to certifying Biden’s victory.
Raffensperger will need to wait a while to learn who his fall opponent will be. State Rep. Bee Nguyen, who helped lead the charge against voting restrictions passed by the legislature, and former state Rep. Dee Dawkins-Haigler will meet in a June 21 runoff for the Democratic nomination after neither cleared 50% of the vote in the primary. Nguyen, who has scored endorsements from EMILY’s List and the Democratic Association of Secretaries of State, won about 44% of the vote in the May primary to Dawkins-Haigler’s roughly 19%.
The secretary of state holds special prominence in Arizona as the officeholder is the first in line to succeed the state’s governor in the event of illness or death. The state does not have a lieutenant governor.
Republican state Rep. Mark Finchem has promoted the falsehood that the 2020 election was rigged against Trump, earning an early endorsement from the former President in his bid for secretary of state.
Other GOP contenders include advertising executive Beau Lane, state Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita and state Rep. Shawnna Bolick.
Democrats will be looking to hold the office Katie Hobbs won in 2018 after more than two decades of uninterrupted GOP control. Vying for the party nod are state House Minority Leader Reginald Bolding and Adrian Fontes, the former top election official in the state’s most populous county of Maricopa, home to Phoenix.
Democratic Secretary of State Jena Griswold is seeking a second term as Colorado’s top election official in a state Biden won by double digits in 2020.
But the battle for the Republican nomination has seized the spotlight. Tina Peters, the clerk of Mesa County who was indicted by a county grand jury earlier this year as part of a local investigation into a security breach of voting systems, is running to face Griswold this fall.
Peters has denied the charges, saying the investigation is partisan and politically motivated. A district judge, however, recently barred her from overseeing this year’s elections in the county.
Despite her legal woes, Peters received some 60% of the vote at a gathering of Colorado Republicans in April. Former Jefferson County Clerk Pam Anderson, who has pushed back on false claims of 2020 election fraud, is also in the race.
Colorado Republicans officially pick their nominee in the June 28 primary. Griswold is unopposed for the Democratic nomination.
While races for state attorney general often receive less attention, the contest in Michigan is emblematic of how significant they could be in 2022, especially if the US Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade.
Democratic incumbent Dana Nessel will face Trump-endorsed Matt DePerno, a Kalamazoo lawyer who has promoted the former President’s false claims of electoral fraud in the 2020 election. DePerno received the state GOP’s endorsement during its April convention and is expected to be formally nominated by the party in August.
Nessel, the state’s first openly gay statewide elected official, has prioritized consumer protection and civil rights during her tenure. She has more recently honed in on abortion rights, detailing her past experience with an abortion and declaring she would neither defend nor enforce the state’s 1931 abortion ban, should Roe v. Wade fall.
DePerno has said that he does not support abortion rights under any circumstances and that an overturning of Roe “will be such a great win for the unborn and for states’ rights.”
The race for Kansas attorney general may provide a clear test of whether, even in a deep-red state, the type of Republican nominee still matters.
Democrats believe the contest could be competitive if Republicans nominate Kris Kobach, the former Kansas secretary of state and anti-immigration firebrand.
Kobach, who has repeatedly made baseless claims about voter fraud and served on Trump’s much-derided commission on election integrity, has a complicated relationship with Kansas voters. After winning races for secretary of state in 2010 and 2014, he lost back-to-back bids for governor, in 2018, and US Senate, in 2020.
In multiple instances, GOP groups have spent money against Kobach, worried that his name on the ballot could make it easier for Democrats to win. Republicans blame Kobach for losing a winnable gubernatorial race in 2018 to Democrat Laura Kelly, who is up for reelection in November.
Kobach, however, has long been closely associated with Trump, something that has already propelled other Republicans to victory in 2022 primaries. Also competing for the GOP nomination are state Sen. Kellie Warren and former federal prosecutor Tony Mattivi. Former police officer and prosecutor Chris Mann is running for the Democratic nod.
Democrat Tom Miller, the longest-serving state attorney general in the country, has won reelection in tough years for his party, including the GOP waves of 1994 and 2010. In that latter election, he defeated Republican Brenna Bird – then Brenna Findley – by double digits.
Bird, now the Guthrie County attorney, is back for a rematch, and Miller could be in for a different race this year. The once swing state of Iowa has trended red in recent elections – after voting twice for Barack Obama, the state twice backed Trump by comfortable margins. And while Miller has built a brand in Iowa since his first election in 1978, political headwinds facing Democrats this year complicate his bid for an 11th term.
Bird, who is running unopposed for the GOP nomination, is campaigning in part on standing up to the Biden administration and against federal overreach. She also outraised Miller during the first four and half months of the year.
There is very little power invested in the New York lieutenant governor’s office. Until, as has become typical in the state, the governor resigns in a cloud of scandal and his deputy takes over the big office.
Gov. Kathy Hochul is the latest to make the jump, ascending after her predecessor, Andrew Cuomo, resigned in disgrace last summer. Hochul seems like a safe bet to win the Democratic gubernatorial nomination and a full term in November, and has no (known) legal issues. But her first choice as lieutenant governor did – Brian Benjamin resigned as her second-in-command in April after being arrested on campaign finance fraud charges.
His departure opened up the field ahead of the Democratic primary. Hochul’s pick to replace him, now-former Rep. Antonio Delgado, has a good reputation in New York political circles and will be a formidable candidate in the primary. (In New York, candidates for governor and lieutenant governor run in separate primaries but the winners then run on the same ticket in the general election.)
Delgado’s main primary challenger is Ana María Archila, who would be the first Latina and LGBTQ candidate elected to statewide office and is running in tandem with gubernatorial hopeful Jumaane Williams, the New York City public advocate. Archila, a supporter of progressive politicians for years, has a strong following on the left.
Also in the Democratic race is former New York City Council Member Diana Reyna, the running mate of moderate US Rep. Tom Suozzi.
Former New York City police officer Alison Esposito is unopposed in the Republican primary.
Democratic Rep. Karen Bass entered this year’s Los Angeles mayoral race as the candidate to beat as she vies to become the first woman and the first Black woman to lead America’s second-largest city. The former social worker and community organizer became known as a dealmaker during her years in the California State Assembly and was on Biden’s short list for his running mate.
But she is now locked in a tight race with shopping mall developer Rick Caruso, a Republican-turned-Democrat who had spent nearly $34 million on his campaign as of May 21 (most of which he loaned to his effort). With many voters angry about the city’s continuing crises with homelessness and worried about the rise in crime, Caruso, a former city police commissioner, has argued that career politicians have failed to solve the city’s problems and that now is the moment when Angelenos should elect an outsider.
If no one wins a majority of the vote in the June 7 all-party primary, the top two vote-getters – favored to be Bass and Caruso – would advance to the fall general election.
San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin, a former public defender elected in 2019, faces a recall vote in June over criticism that his progressive prosecutor model has made the city less safe.
The recall effort and subsequent campaign to remove Boudin has been spearheaded largely by outside groups led by Neighbors for a Better San Francisco, which also spent big in a recent school board recall election.
Whether crime has, in fact, gotten worse in San Francisco during Boudin’s time in office is less certain. The available statistics show a mixed bag, but no apparent overall surge, and little to distinguish San Francisco from other major cities around the country.
But a number of high-profile, viral shoplifting incidents, rancor in Boudin’s office and a broader, national pushback against his style of law enforcement – which prioritizes rehabilitation over the “tough on crime” approach – have put Boudin’s fate in doubt.
Home to Houston, Harris County is the third-largest county in the country, with a population of more than 4.7 million. Democrat Lina Hidalgo is running for a second term as county judge, a position akin to a county executive in other states.
Hildalgo, who was born in Colombia and emigrated with her family to the US as a teenager, emerged as a Democratic star four years ago when she unseated a three-term Republican at the age of 27 to become the first woman and first Latina to lead Harris County.
Army veteran Alexandra del Moral Mealer won the Republican nomination in a runoff to take on Hidalgo at a time when the incumbent’s campaign is reeling from several controversies. Three current or former Hildago aides were indicted in a vaccine contract scandal. Meanwhile, the Harris County election administrator, who was appointed by a board Hildalgo serves on, is resigning following a vote count mishap in the March primary.
Many Democrats view Hidalgo as a future candidate for statewide office, but, first, she will need to overcome what is expected to be a strong GOP effort to unseat her this fall.
North Carolina is among several states that hold partisan elections for their highest court. And fall races for two state Supreme Court seats could shape North Carolina politics for years.
Democrats currently hold a 4-3 edge on the bench, with two Democratic-held seats on the ballot this year.
In the legal battle over redistricting, the court’s Democratic majority blocked what it viewed as a Republican gerrymander of the state’s congressional map. A map approved by a state trial court offers more electoral opportunities for Democrats, but it’s only expected to be in place for this year’s elections.
If Republicans win control of the state Supreme Court and retain their majorities in the state legislature, the GOP will have the power to draw the 2024 map – Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, cannot veto redistricting bills under state law.
Democratic Justice Sam Ervin IV is seeking a second eight-year term against Republican Trey Allen, general counsel for the North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts. Two state appellate judges – Democrat Lucy Inman and Republican Richard Dietz – are facing off for the seat of retiring Democratic Justice Robin Hudson.
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