Prepare for the White Dude Summer

White men are set up to win a majority of key Senate contests this year

Former Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt, shown testifying at a 2015 House Judiciary Committee hearing, is a leading Republican candidate to take on Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Former Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt, shown testifying at a 2015 House Judiciary Committee hearing, is a leading Republican candidate to take on Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted April 22, 2022 at 2:05pm

Corrected April 27 | ANALYSIS — After historically diverse classes of House Democrats in 2018 and House Republicans in 2020, one group of candidates is poised to do well in the fight for the U.S. Senate this year: white men. 

Fast-approaching Senate primaries could set the foundation of a less diverse Senate next year compared with the makeup of the current chamber.

Earlier in the cycle, the outlook was different. There was the potential to double the number of Black senators to a record high of six with the election of Rep. Val B. Demings in Florida, former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley in North Carolina and Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes in Wisconsin. Republican women, including Jane Timken in Ohio, Katie Britt in Alabama and Rep. Vicky Hartzler in Missouri, had viable paths to the nomination in key primaries.

Yet, because of a combination of the national political environment favoring Republicans and unique circumstances surrounding individual races, white dudes could be set up nicely for the fall.

In Nevada, former state Attorney General Adam Laxalt is the GOP front-runner to challenge Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto in a state Joe Biden won by just 2 points in 2020. 

In Arizona, it’s white men galore with state Attorney General Mark Brnovich, venture capitalist Blake Masters, solar energy executive Jim Lamon, retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Mick McGuire and state Corporation Commissioner Justin Olson battling for the Republican nomination against Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly

Lt. Gov. John Fetterman is the front-runner for the Democratic nomination in Pennsylvania, while Rep. Conor Lamb and Malcolm Kenyatta, a Black state senator, are playing catch-up after Montgomery County Commission Chair Val Arkoosh dropped out. On the Republican side, celebrity doctor Mehmet Oz and former hedge fund CEO Dave McCormick are leading the GOP field, followed by Jeff Bartos; Carla Sands, a former U.S. ambassador to Denmark; and former Trump campaign advocate Kathy Barnette, who is Black. 

Beasley is the likely Democratic nominee in North Carolina, but she faces a difficult path in the general election in a state President Donald Trump carried in 2020 and with Biden’s mediocre job approval rating weighing down the ticket. The GOP nominee, whether it’s Rep. Ted Budd or former governor/former Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory, will more likely than not replace Sen. Richard M. Burr

Demings is one of the most celebrated Democratic candidates. But her election is unlikely in this challenging midterm election, and she’d be replacing a Hispanic senator, Republican Marco Rubio.

In a good GOP year, state Senate President Chuck Morse or former Londonderry Town Manager Kevin Smith could knock off Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan in New Hampshire. Republican retired Army Brig. Gen. Don Bolduc is also running.

In Ohio, a handful of white men could get elected to replace GOP Sen. Rob Portman. Rep. Tim Ryan is the likely Democratic nominee (although attorney Morgan Harper is also running), while author J.D. Vance, wealthy investment banker Mike Gibbons, former state Treasurer Josh Mandel and state Sen. Matt Dolan are battling in the GOP primary. Former state Republican Chairwoman Timken hasn’t gained enough traction in the race. 

The best chance for some diversity might be in Oklahoma, where Rep. Markwayne Mullin, a member of the Cherokee Nation, and former state Speaker T.W. Shannon, who is Black and an enrolled citizen of the Chickasaw Nation, are both credible candidates to replace Sen. James M. Inhofe in a fall special election. But they both face a competitive primary against each other as well as Inhofe’s former chief of staff, Luke Holland, former National Security Council chief of staff Alex Gray, former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, state Sen. Nathan Dahm and others. 

In Missouri, Hartzler has been playing catch-up against former Gov. Eric Greitens and state Attorney General Eric Schmitt in the Republican race, and fellow Rep. Bill Long is making her effort more complicated, according to GOP sources. Democrats are going to have a tough time winning Missouri in the general election, particularly with these political headwinds, but their front-runner has been attorney/war veteran Lucas Kunce. 

Barnes is the front-runner in Wisconsin’s Democratic primary, although Milwaukee Bucks Senior Vice President Alex Lasry could win the nomination, with state Treasurer Sarah Godlewski and Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson in a lower tier. Any of them probably starts as the underdog against GOP Sen. Ron Johnson in this political environment. 

And in Alabama, Britt is a top contender to replace her old boss, Sen. Richard C. Shelby, although it’s not hard to see veteran Mike Durant winning the GOP nomination and effectively winning the seat. Rep. Mo Brooks’ campaign stalled early, and Trump rescinded his endorsement. 

But losses by Cortez Masto and even Hassan could mute the overall impact on the diversity of the Senate.

If a GOP tidal wave develops, wealthy construction company owner Joe O’Dea or state Sen. Ron Hanks could defeat Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet in Colorado and former triage nurse Tiffany Smiley could knock off Democratic Sen. Patty Murray in Washington, but neither result would alter the diversity of the chamber. 

Former Heisman Trophy-winning running back Herschel Walker could defeat Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock in Georgia, and Rep. Peter Welch is the front-runner to replace retiring Democratic Sen. Patrick J. Leahy in Vermont. But neither of those results would alter the diversity of the chamber either.

With the chance for dramatic GOP gains and 48 members not seeking reelection, the House could feature a fresh class of women, minorities and LGBTQ members. But that diversity is just not likely to materialize in the next Senate.

Nathan L. Gonzales is an elections analyst with CQ Roll Call.

Alex Gray's name has been corrected in this report.