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Fox News Power Rankings: Washington state Dem on shakier ground as Massachusetts, Florida races gain clarity

As the dust settles from the Texas primary and the nation inches closer to the general election in November, the midterms map is taking shape. In this edition of the Fox News Power Rankings, the Democrats lose “solid” status in Washington’s Senate race, while gubernatorial elections in Massachusetts and Florida firm up for the Democrats and Republicans, respectively.

President Biden continues to poll poorly, so the national map remains mediocre for Democrats. The president’s approval rating stands at 41.4% in an average of gold standard polls over the last three weeks.

In the same period, the national conversation has swung away from domestic issues and toward the Russian invasion of Ukraine, raising questions about whether Biden can reset his relationship with voters. The average includes two polls conducted after the invasion and the SCOTUS nomination of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson and polls related to the president’s State of the Union speech. 

Biden posted an 8-point improvement to his rating in the first, and two points in the other. Translation? It’s too early to tell whether the global focus on Ukraine will translate into a meaningful shift in support, so be wary of “Ukraine bump” talk until we see more polling.

The Democrats are also steady on the generic ballot average.

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While the national picture hasn’t changed significantly, the picture in several individual races looks clearer than ever. In Washington, GOP challenger Tiffany Smiley is running a confident campaign even as she faces a steep uphill battle against incumbent Sen. Patty Murray, the Democrat. 

On the governor’s side, Gov. Ron DeSantis looks more likely to secure his second term in office, while Massachusetts is now likely a flip from Republican to Democrat.

Senate: Washington moves from ‘Solid D’ to ‘Likely D’

Sen. Patty Murray is the five-term incumbent in a state that favored Biden by 19 points in 2020. But there are pockets of overwhelming Republican support in rural areas of Washington, such as Lincoln County in the state’s northeast. Collectively, these counties can make a dent in the Democrats’ vote.

Sen. Patty Murray's race is no longer "solid" for Democrats.

Enter Tiffany Smiley, the leading GOP candidate in the race. Smiley is a mom and former nurse who now looks after husband Scott, a veteran who was blinded during a tour in Iraq. She has raised $2.5 million so far, according to OpenSecrets, which is well short of Murray’s $9.8-million haul, but that is a strong number for a campaign in a deep blue state. 

Smiley is running on jobs and education and has avoided being drawn too heavily into a debate about former President Trump. As Washington’s Aug. 2 primary approaches, she has no convincing challenger on her right. 

Washington last elected a Republican senator in 1994, so Murray remains the likely winner of this race. But “likely” is the operative word here. Washington’s Senate race moves from “Solid D” to “Likely D.”

Senate: a second Oklahoma seat goes on the board

Republican Sen. Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma announced his retirement Feb. 25, and the state has scheduled a special election to coincide with election night in November. That means Republicans will defend 21 seats this year, including both Oklahoma U.S. Senate seats. In the other, Republican Sen. James Lankford is running for a second term. Oklahoma is a deep red state, and Inhofe won his 2020 Senate race by a 30-point margin. The GOP can expect to retain it. This race has been added to the “Solid R” column on the Power Rankings chart.

Governor: Florida moves from ‘Lean R’ to ‘Likely R’

The first round of Power Rankings noted that Florida’s gubernatorial race squeaked into the “Lean R” column, largely because Gov. Ron DeSantis won the state by a 0.4-point margin in 2018. That remains a relevant data point when assessing the 2022 race, but a closer inspection of the Democrats’ primary puts DeSantis in the driver’s seat as November approaches.

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U.S. House Rep. Charlie Crist leads in fundraising against all of his Democratic opponents, but two of those competitors continue to offer a legitimate challenge to the former governor. Nikki Fried, Florida’s agriculture commissioner, has enjoyed mentioning she’s the only statewide elected Democrat, and reinforcing that message has helped her stay relevant in the race. 

State Sen. Annette Taddeo, the leading Hispanic candidate, picked up an endorsement from the left-leaning Latino Victory Fund just last month. Crist’s inability to clear the primary field will keep draining time and money from his campaign.

Amid all this, DeSantis is cruising through to November. As previously noted, DeSantis has a formidable $87 million war chest, and the state shifted to the right in 2020. This race moves from “Lean R” to “Likely R.”

Governor: Massachusetts moves from ‘Lean D’ to ‘Likely D’ 

Voters in Massachusetts will decide who replaces two-term incumbent Gov. Charlie Baker this year. The pro-business Republican who eschewed party politics in favor of across-the-aisle solutions made the “extremely difficult decision” to move on from office in December, and with that, the Democrats picked up their best opportunity to flip the state.

As much as Massachusetts voters liked Baker, they have soured on his party. The GOP’s support in presidential contests has shrunk by 5.38 points over the last eight years, hitting a two-decade low of 32.14% in 2020. The data indicate that in order for the Republicans to retain this seat, they would need to run a candidate who looks more like Gov. Baker or fellow Gov. Larry Hogan in Maryland than Trump. 

So far, the GOP primary has not delivered that candidate. The frontrunner is former state Rep. Geoff Diehl, a bright-red Republican and CPAC star who has been endorsed by Trump and Trump’s former campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski. Endorsements like those will likely help him win his primary but hurt him in November.

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker in 2020.

Meanwhile, state Attorney General Maura Healey is the clear front-runner for the Democratic nomination and has a convincing edge in the general too. Massachusetts moves from “Lean D” to “Likely D.”

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The months ahead

Primary voters in Indiana and Ohio are scheduled to head to the polls next. Elections in both states are due to take place May 3, though the Buckeye State’s election date is anything but certain. The fate of Ohio’s new congressional map is in the hands of the state Supreme Court, and the court’s decision — or the lack of one — could result in a primary delay. On May 10, Nebraska and West Virginia voters will decide who their major party nominees will be. Expect further updates to the Power Rankings as those dates approach.

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