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Race ratings change after polling in Arizona, indictment in Texas

Unlike Gallego, Lake’s unpopularity gives her little room to grow in Senate race

Kari Lake, Republican Senate candidate from Arizona, is seen in the Capitol after a meeting with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., on March 6.
Kari Lake, Republican Senate candidate from Arizona, is seen in the Capitol after a meeting with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., on March 6. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

President Joe Biden’s mediocre polling numbers and a difficult Senate map contribute to a somber mood for Democrats less than six months before Election Day. But there’s reason for Democratic optimism in one key Senate race, even as legal issues make one House member look more vulnerable while a GOP member’s status is in flux. 

With the complexities of a potential independent run for reelection by Sen. Kyrsten Sinema and Arizona emerging as one of the country’s top battlegrounds, the Arizona Senate race had been rated as a Toss-up for months. But Inside Elections has now changed the rating of the Arizona Senate race from Toss-Up to Tilt Democratic. 

While the latest New York Times/Siena poll, conducted April 28 to May 9, showed former President Donald Trump with a 49 percent to 42 percent advantage over Biden in Arizona, it also showed Democratic Rep. Ruben Gallego led former news anchor Kari Lake 45 percent to 41 percent in the Senate race. 

That’s troubling news for Republicans, considering Lake has high, unfavorable statewide name ID from her 2022 run for governor and subsequent false claims that the election was stolen. As a result, it will be harder for her to change how voters see her. Gallego, meanwhile, is a sitting member of the House with lower name ID and has room to grow his standing.

The good news for Republicans is that they don’t need to win Arizona in order to control the Senate. If Trump maintains his overall advantage in the presidential race, Republicans have cleared the minimum threshold for control of the Senate by taking over West Virginia because the new vice president could break tie votes.

If Biden wins reelection, Republicans need to gain a second seat for a Senate majority. And there are a half-dozen takeover opportunities in Ohio, Montana, Michigan, Nevada, Wisconsin and Maryland that will or could get more resources than Arizona because the GOP nominee looks like a better investment than Lake. 

Texas’ 28th District

Inside Elections also made a rating change in Texas’ 28th District after Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar was indicted on bribery charges. He’s a longtime Democrat who has locked down the district in the past, but his legal status has created some uncertainty in the race. Cuellar says he’s innocent and looks focused on running for reelection. 

The race actually began the cycle on the outskirts of the House battleground at Likely Democratic but moved to Solid Democratic when it became clear that GOP strategists were not focused on winning this seat. It’s now been changed back to Likely Democratic.

That rating could change again under the new circumstances. The Texas primaries are already past, so there’s no risk of Cuellar losing renomination. Retired Navy officer Jay Furman finished ahead of rancher Lazaro Garza 45 to 27 percent in the GOP primary, but the nomination won’t be decided until the May 28 runoff. Neither candidate has raised serious money, but Republicans would likely boost their nominee based on Cuellar’s issues, and the district has become much more competitive in recent election cycles.

Louisiana’s 6th District

There could be a rating change in Louisiana’s 6th District, currently represented by Republican Garret Graves, after the Pelican State lands on a congressional map. 

The race for Graves’ seat is currently rated Likely Democratic under the map drawn to comply with the Voting Rights Act and give Black voters a second opportunity in the state. A three-judge panel subsequently threw out that map, but plaintiffs and the state of Louisiana have appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. A decision could come within the next couple of days. 

It’s possible for the rating of this seat to swing all the way back to Solid Republican, depending on which map will be used for the 2024 elections. There’s a little bit more time in Louisiana compared with most states to make adjustments because the filing deadline isn’t until July 19 and the jungle primary is on Nov. 5. But the rating remains Likely Democratic for now. 

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

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