Three Senate races to watch

An overview of the Ohio, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania Senate elections. Photo courtesy of Clipart Library.


With the Indiana Senate election getting closer, Senate elections in the nearby states of Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin are heating up. These races will help determine which party takes control of the Senate, which for Democrats would mean passing major legislation like a permanent child tax credit and protections for abortion and voting rights. For Republicans, control of the Senate would mean blocking much of President Biden’s proposed legislation.


Ohio’s Senate election is between Democratic Representative Tim Ryan and Republican J.D. Vance, author of New York Times bestseller “Hillbilly Elegy.” Both are running to replace former Republican Senator Rob Portman, who announced his retirement early last year.

Michael Herald, a junior political science and strategic communication double major, has taken a special interest in Ohio’s competitive Senate race. Herald said this race reminds him of the 2016 presidential election, because of the contrast between Ryan, a seasoned politician, and Vance, who has no political experience.

“It’s really interesting just because of the dynamic of it,” Herald said. “J.D. Vance is kind of reminiscent of a Trump-type candidate because he hasn’t had political experience before, and he’s trying to get into the race. It’s a really close race I would say, and there’s a lot of attention on it … It’ll definitely be interesting to see how it turns out.”

Ryan has served as representative for a district in northeast Ohio since 2003. His strategy in this race is to target moderates, or Republicans that may not agree with Vance’s recent endorsement by Trump.

Vance’s 2016 memoir “Hillbilly Elegy” described Vance’s life growing up in Middletown, Ohio, where he dealt with poverty and abuse. He later graduated from Yale Law School and recently worked in the tech industry.

Ryan Daugherty is a political science lecturer at Butler. He said Ohio’s recent political trends favor Republicans.

“[Ohio] you could argue is no longer a swing state, it’s a Republican state now,” Daugherty said. “It has a Republican governor, at least for the past decade, but it’s consistently voted for Republicans … Whereas in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, they do seem to be pretty fairly evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats.”

Despite this Republican trend, current polls show Ryan and Vance neck in neck, tied at 47%, among those who will definitely vote, according to a recent Marist poll. Notably, polls have found that Ryan leads among women, garnering 54% of their support, while Vance leads among men. This points to abortion as a key issue — Vance is pro-life, and has said he will support a nationwide 15-week abortion ban if it is proposed in the Senate. Ryan is pro-choice.

Ohioans can request an absentee ballot, or can vote early in-person, depending on their county.


Wisconsin’s former Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes is fighting to make up a four point deficit against incumbent Republican Senator Ron Johnson. Polls showed Barnes leading until late September, but Johnson’s support has risen with only a few weeks to go.

Junior elementary education major Eleni Tzougrous, who lives 30 minutes south of Milwaukee, said she is hopeful Barnes can make up the difference.

“Ron Johnson has been our senator [forever] and everything he believes in I don’t believe in,” Tzougrous said. “The person running against him would be the first Black senator for Wisconsin, Mandela Barnes, and there’s a big push for him to win this election. We’ll see what happens.”

Barnes’ election would be historic — he has already made history as Wisconsin’s first Black lieutenant governor. Johnson has been serving as Wisconsin’s senator since 2010. He has been a supporter of Donald Trump, and was endorsed by him early last year.

Like in Ohio and Pennslyvania, inflation, abortion and voting rights are the issues Wisconsin voters seem to care about the most. Among those who name the economy as their top issue, Johnson leads 78% over Barnes. But among those naming abortion, Barnes leads with 83% support. Barnes is projected to attract more voters in cities like Milwaukee and Madison, while most of Johnson’s support comes from rural areas.

Tzougrous said the difference between rural voters and urban voters is significant in Wisconsin.

“It’s kind of hard because I don’t live in the city … it’s a little more rural, and like my neighbors are super one way, and we’re super the other way, and so my family of seven, our vote is super important because it’s in a very red area,” Tzougros said.

Wisconsinites can register to vote and apply for an absentee ballot online.


Pennsylvania’s open Senate race to replace Republican Pat Toomey is between non-traditional candidates Democrat John Fetterman, former lieutenant governor of the state, and Republican Mehmet Oz, host of “The Dr. Oz Show.”

Polls show Fetterman leading Oz 47% to 45%. Fetterman has been favored by pollsters since July, but the gap has shrunk significantly since early October.

The lieutenant governor’s unique style has drawn attention across the country. He is almost always seen wearing a hoodie and shorts, and has used social media heavily throughout his campaign to “troll” his opponent, criticizing him for being out of touch with Pennsylvania voters. Daugherty said Fetterman’s image may help him sway some Republican voters.

“[Fetterman] might be the type of Democrat that could actually win over [voters] in some of these red counties, because what you want to do when running, is cut into the deficit in these counties that say, went 60%, 70%, 80% for Trump,” Daugherty said. “You want to cut into that … and make sure you run up your margin in Democrat-heavy Philadelphia, Philadelphia suburbs, Pittsburgh and the suburbs.”

Republicans are hopeful that Fetterman’s performance in a debate with Oz earlier this week will sway undecided voters. After a major stroke earlier this year, Fetterman struggled with auditory processing issues that left Pennsylvanians questioning if he is qualified for office. Oz’s campaign has taken advantage of this, hoping it helps make up for Fetterman’s lead in the polls.

Democrats have attacked some of Oz’s answers at the debate — attack ads have gone out across the state criticizing Oz for saying that decisions about abortion should be made by “women, doctors, local political leaders.” Oz, who recently downplayed his endorsement by Donald Trump, has been aided by millions of dollars of donations from the GOP.

Pennsylvanians can fill out an absentee ballot application online.


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