The Three Big Questions of the 2022 Midterm Elections

As a fairly general rule, midterm elections go poorly for the President’s Party. 1994, 2006, 2010, 2014, and 2018 all went badly. There’s still a strong possibility that 2022 will too. There’s at least some “counter-wisdom” now saying it won’t though. I’m asking three basic questions that should tell us the score in the end.

  • 1. Has the GOP simply disqualified themselves with a Majority of voters? Doug Mastriano, Herschel Walker, Kari Lake, J.D. Vance- these are just some of the names the GOP put up in major swing states for big statewide races. With the exception of Colorado, virtually every competitive swing state GOP primary electorate (and some non-swing) chose the most “ultra MAGA” Republican option, or his endorsed choice in the race. Even with inflation and crime being at or near the top of almost every internal poll I’ve seen this year, did the Republicans simply pick people time and again who are unacceptable to *most* of the electorate? Did they let Democrats off the hook against a real headwind by picking people who quite frankly just sound angry?
  • 2. Is Dobbs as big to 2022 as Impeachment was to 1998 or 9/11 was to 2002? Midterms are bad for the President’s party unless there is an event that simply shakes the ground we walk on. In 1998, Republican overreach lead to the Democrats picking up House seats in Bill Clinton’s second midterm. It turns out the public didn’t want him impeached for an affair, or whatever other reasoning the GOP gave. In 2002, the 9/11 attacks and subsequent drumbeat to war in Iraq broke down history for Democrats and gave Bush’s GOP big wins. So the question for 2022 is, does the Dobbs ruling overturning Roe v. Wade meet that threshold? Does Dobbs plus some combination of January 6th and lingering Trump investigations meet it? Internal polling I’ve read is not as conclusive as one might think. Simply being pro-choice does not move an electorate your way. The opponent being a certified extremist has to be a part of it. Can Democrats broad brush the whole GOP with this? They had some success this Summer. It’s not clear yet if it will work on a mass scale.
  • 3. Is the Democratic brand toxic? Joe Biden won the 2020 Election. His party lost seats in the House though. Going back as far as 2014 there have been questions as to whether the Democratic brand is simply too weak when not running an individually compelling candidate. Sure, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, and Joe Biden can win, but the party as a whole has largely been a minority party at every level of governance since 1994. The 2020 election saw deterioration of Democratic numbers with Latinos, Asians, and Black men. Republicans have been chipping away at Jewish voters as well. Democrats built their house on a mountain of demographic hopes, and there are signs that destiny will be a dark one for them. If 2022 continues those 2020 trends, the GOP is going to make nice gains. Another midterm beating for a Democratic President may suggest that actually governing the first two years of each Presidency ends up making us quite unpopular.

Once we know the answers to these questions, we should know who will wake up happy on November 9th.

The Fall of Liberal Democracy?

Italy elected a far right-wing government on Sunday, pretty easily too. If this doesn’t alarm you, let me remind you of Italy’s history with fascism. It would be outrageous to compare Giorgia Meloni with Benito Mussolini at this point. Again though, given Italy’s history with fascism, it’s worth keeping your eye on how things unfold.

It would be fair to point out that left and center-left political parties have struggled in recent elections in Europe, the U.S., and around the world. The U.S. just went through Trump obviously, and the GOP is favored to take back Congress this year. While the new Labour Leadership in the United Kingdom is cleaning up the mess Corbyn left them, they’ve been out of power almost a decade. The post-Brexit Prime Ministerships of May and Johnson both struggled with how to handle right populism. French Socialists have been relatively uncompetitive against President Macron, while the hard-right has been his chief rival. Even as Netanyahu struggled against an indictment, the Israeli left has been unable to win a stable majority government. South Korea elected a certifiable “meninist.” And of course, there’s Brazil. Liberal politics, and even just democracy in general is struggling. It would be easy to simply question if liberal democracy in the west simply can’t meet the needs and wants of the people it governs. There’s evidence it’s not.

On the other hand, let’s not pretend we haven’t seen large scale protests against the governments of Russia and Iran this week. Or in Hong Kong and Mainland China in the past year. Or mass starvation in Somalia, right now. One could argue that government in general, regardless of its form, isn’t satisfying the public right now.

One could very well argue that we’re living on a knife’s edge right now. There’s a world where Putin is gone, Ukraine remains free, Iran liberalizes it’s social policies, western center-left parties clear out the antisemite crowd, and our global institutions survive the populist push against them. There’s also a world where Trump and Putin are shaking hands at the White House in 2025 (or someone worse than Trump) on a deal to effectively stop aiding Ukraine, while fascists and dictators world wide work to consolidate power in a world we thought was changing for the better, just a few years ago. The likely reality is somewhere between the two, but let’s not pretend that’s a given.

The (Many) Years Since 9/11

There are many things I remember crystal clear about Tuesday, September 11th, 2001. I was a senior at Easton Area High School. Gas was $.88 a gallon at the bottom of the hill by my house. The sky was a perfect blue, no clouds in sight, perfect for my cross-country meet that was scheduled that day. I remember I was in Latin 1, sitting next to Tarin as we watched the carnage happen on TV, and I remember telling her it was Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda, as I had read about their actions in the newspapers. I remember being sent back to home room, finally getting in touch with my mom, and how the Principal spent some time at our lunch table discussing the events. I remember the rumors of more planes and more targets. I remember getting home that day, and really realizing what happened. I remember seeing all three crash sites within a month after. I remember the anthrax scare when I was at the Capitol, and being quarantined and tested.

I remember everything, but it was a long time ago now. I’ve graduated high school, college, worked for two Presidents and scores of other politicians since then in a 20 year career in politics. Two wars were fought and ended over those events, since then. I’ve seen the unthinkable since then, my Phillies and my Eagles won championships. Many of my best friends then grew up, got married, and have children now. My dog that we bought but a few months later has now been gone six years, her now 15 year old sister is in her final days, and their younger brother is approaching ten years old. Many of my closest friends in life now, I didn’t meet until several years after those events. I’m approaching 40 now, and the political activism the aftermath of 9/11 inspired in me is history to me now, almost a spark of a different person that long since was buried on some beautiful morning not unlike that one. People change. The world changes. None of us are where we were then.

New York did what only New York could do, getting back up and rebuilding even better than ever. The Pentagon was rebuilt as it had to be, and Washington went on with life. Shanksville today has a beautiful monument in the place where a flight full of people went to their final rest. If you go to Ground Zero today you see a monument to healing and hope, not wreckage and carnage from a soul-shaking attack on us. The world has moved on. It’s moved on many times over.

Of course that’s for the rest of us, and I say that as someone that could get in the car and drive to Ground Zero in under 90 minutes right now. For a lot of people, time never quite did move on. Three-thousand families and friends lost people that day. In the years since the cops and firefighters who ran into those crash sites have suffered agonizingly, some with PTSD, others literally developing cancer from the events. We all still deal with enhanced security in airports and other transit systems that became normal after that. Of course I’d be remiss if I didn’t bring up the two wars that traced their origins to that day, in Afghanistan and Iraq (even if dubiously). I have friends who gave limbs and their mental health to our country fighting for our cause. Again, thousands of families and friends here in America have someone who gave their life. That’s not even getting into the cost for Iraqi and Afghani families who paid prices. For all of the people I mention here, I wonder if time has passed even closely similar to the rest of us, or if 9/11 is torturously still near, not so distantly gone.

Time passes. That’s inevitable. People do too. That’s also inevitable. Memories don’t. may god bless those for whom this past Sunday wasn’t just a day in the past.

2022 Election Overview- the Senate

The 2022 midterm is supposed to be bad for Democrats. History tells us that. Inflation tells us that. The President’s approval tells us that. Of course, unlike the House, the entire Senate isn’t up together. Only a third of it is, and that third can have a clearly partisan tilt. In other words, things aren’t clear.

When the House defies historical trends, there is usually a reason, a cross-current even that cancels out the “fundamentals” of the race, like 9/11 or Bill Clinton’s impeachment. In the Senate there are other reasons for surprising results. Sometimes, like 2018, it’s just the map- Trump’s party defied what was happening in House and Governor races because Senate Democrats had to defend Missouri, Indiana, North Dakota, West Virginia, and Montana. Other times, like 2010, the party out of power nominates crackpot candidates and blows it. And yes, there are also times when events change the direction of the race, like 2002.

Is this year a red wave, or a year of surprise? Let’s start by just looking at the 2022 playing field:

Democratic Difficult Defenses:

In order of difficulty: Georgia (Warnock), Arizona (Kelly), Nevada (Cortez-Masto), New Hampshire (Hassan), Colorado (Bennet), and Washington (Murray).

GOP Difficult Defenses:

Also in order of difficulty: Pennsylvania (Toomey, retirement), Wisconsin (Johnson), Ohio (Portman, retirement), North Carolina (Burr, retirement), Florida (Rubio), and Iowa (Grassley).

Weird Wild Cards:

Both GOP Seats- Utah (Lee) and Alaska (Murkowski).

Ok, so the most notable thing here to me is the playing field. NONE of the Democrats tough defenses are in states Donald Trump won in 2020. The GOP has two difficult defenses in Biden states at the top of this list. With that said, this isn’t quite a 2018 situation for the GOP. Trump won a few of the Democratic seats in 2016, and those two difficult defense seats at the top in 2016. Nearly every state above (except Washington and the wild card races) is historically a swing state. The map may lean Democratic, but not to an extreme.

So then let’s consider candidate quality, and if the GOP is repeating 2010. Dr. Oz? Herschel Walker? Is this a joke? Blake Masters? Ron Johnson? Crazier than a shit house rat. It’s something that I’m sitting here looking at these races and haven’t remarked on what a terrible candidate J.D. Vance is yet. The GOP may have four recruits in the races in play that qualify as something between “good enough” and almost normal. This is a terrible group, maybe the worst I’ve seen. The question is, are the Democrats candidates that much better? My though right now is that most of them rate out as decent, but really only a couple would rate out as great. The incumbents are particularly strong, and probably accentuate the candidate advantage. I mean honestly, who can wait to watch Warnock debate a man who says this? In the challenge races though, I’m not as sure. I think Tim Ryan rates out as a great candidate in Ohio, but it’s still uphill there. Dr. Oz will say stupid things, but Fetterman has some issues on both policy and his health. Demings and Beasley are very good candidates, but in tough states. Same could be said for Franken (no, not who you think). Mandela Barnes doesn’t look bad, but is he that much stronger than Feingold was? I feel like the Dems advantage is clear here, but not by the 2010 margin when accounting for the states in play.

So I guess that leaves us with did anything happen to change the races? Yeah, that Dobbs thing. Is it 9/11? I’m not sure we have evidence of that. However it feels big. Also with a good number of Democratic candidates in these races being women, it feels like it has a chance to really stick. But more than inflation? We’ll find out.

All in all, I think the Senate Democrats have a slightly better playing field than the GOP, which is saying a lot in this cycle. My feeling right now is the most likely outcome is a 50-50 Democratic Senate, with their range being 49-52 seats at the end of the cycle. We may be sweating out the results for a while though.

A 20 Year Odyssey

20 years ago in August I moved into my dorm at Moravian College. It’s now Moravian University in Bethlehem, PA, which underscores the point I’m making. I was 19, kind of a mess, and basically had a very unsophisticated world view. I was totally unaware of the changes that were going to take place in my life in just those coming weeks. I would get mono at the end of my first week of cross-country practice, and would never participate in an organized sporting event again, after winning seven varsity letters as a high school athlete. One day I would come home from practice and find a flier on my building door to intern on the Ed Rendell for Governor/Ed O’Brien for Congress/PA Dems coordinated campaign. The phone call I made to the number on that sheet of paper would begin the 20 year career I’m still working on today. Within those last two weeks of August, my childhood and previous obsessions would end, and my adult life would begin with lots of bumps and bruises along the way.

Two weeks ago, as I stood in MetLife Stadium watching the Red Hot Chili Peppers rock out like it was 1998 again, I was reminded- all that was, will be again. You don’t know how things will end ahead of time, but you can bet all things run in a loop. I mean hell, the biggest rock band in the country in 2022 was also the biggest in 1998. When I moved in at Moravian I was 6’1” and 175 pounds- and despite eventually ballooning up as high as 265 pounds in 2009, today I’m 6’1” and 175 pounds. Like I said, all that was, will be again, even if it makes no sense how.

So those last 20 years, a lot happened. I did go to college and graduate. I worked for two U.S. Presidents, Barack Obama and Joe Biden. I went to three inauguration celebrations and served as a delegate to the 2020 national convention. I got to meet, shake hands with, and talk to the President of my formative years, Bill Clinton, and to go see another President of my childhood, George H.W. Bush, lay in state at our Capitol. I worked for the first Black woman in Congress from New Jersey. I got to work for a Bosnian war refugee. There are ten current and former U.S. Senators on my resume. I served a term on the Democratic State Committee, and as a township auditor. Politics has taken me to the South, the Midwest, the West, and all across the MidAtlantic. My life choice twenty years ago has been really good to me. I can’t complain very much about it.

I must admit though that I had reached the point of feeling kind of burnt. The 2020 campaign left me extremely jaded, not with the guy I had worked for, but with my career and my life. Going home for Covid, and staying home after inaugurating the guy, definitely had a negative impact on me. I’m old enough to be at peace with who I am, but I guess I thought at some point there’d be a different ending. I decided over the last 20 years to forego so many of the “real life” experiences of my friends- buying a house, building a family, being a “respectable adult.” It has begun to dawn on me that doing that hadn’t really made enough people appreciate me, least of all myself.

I finally kind of “got it” earlier this year, and started putting some work into myself. I’m happy with where it’s put me. I formed a couple of LLC’s, learned to write direct mail, and spent a lot of time just trying to plot some sort of future course, because I have not had anything resembling a plan in 15 years. I now can say I have a pretty decent idea of what kind of work I want to do moving forward, and it’s not whatever pays. I feel much better. And the last boss who disrespected me? She got fired this Summer. I’m not taking credit, but I’m not apologizing either. I guess for me, stepping back was stepping forward.

In all seriousness though, the most important thing I’ve learned in 20 years is choose who you surround yourself with wisely. I spent a chunk of my last trip to DC two weeks ago getting drinks with the guy who gave me my first serious, paying campaign job, planning out future collaboration. I’m writing mail for a long-time friend who I first worked with 15 years ago. I’m setting up companies with accomplished people that come from the same school of thought as me, top quality people. I’m excited again, like I was 20 years ago. There’s a little more uncertainty in me, and that’s a worry, but I’ll survive it. I think the future has a chance to be bright again. I wasn’t sure of that six months ago. But all that was, will be again.

Forecasting the Doom in 2022

It should be pretty simple. Inflation is up on everything from gas to milk, everyone is feeling. Interest rates are creeping up. The President isn’t very popular. The Democrats won control of the whole Congress and the White House two years ago. trend lines on Democratic performance among non-white voters aren’t great. Republicans should take back both narrowly divided houses of Congress in the 2022 midterm, as well as win back governors mansions and everything else. This should not be very close.

For all the bad things one could write here about the Democratic Party, it’s worth noting the obvious- the GOP is an incompetent, dangerous political party right now. They nominated Mehmet Oz and Herschel Walker for Senate seats, celebrities with very little clue what they are talking about or where they are at. They nominated Doug Mastriano and Kari Lake for Governor of their states, people pledging to overturn elections if they don’t like the results. House members like Liz Cheney have been excommunicated from the party for saying attempting a coup is bad. Ron DeSantis is either fighting Disney World or removing elected office holders, depending on the week. Their former President was removing nuclear secrets from his office on the way out the door, as he tried to overturn his own defeat. Ron Johnson and Rick Scott want to get rid of Social Security and Medicare. And yes, their five judges are overturning freedoms women have had for 50 years. It would be no wonder that people are having second thoughts about giving the weak and feckless Kevin McCarthy the Speakership.

To be clear, I still believe the Republican Party is more likely to have a good midterm than the Democrats. I just don’t think it will go as well as it could have if they had shut up. Just how much have they hurt themselves? They need just 4 House seats and 1 Senate seats. Should they succeed?

The House

The answer here is yes, but probably not as well as they would have. Without deaths and resignations, the House was 221-214, with one seat potentially switching hands tomorrow night. According to the Cook Political Report, Democrats have 58 seats currently in danger or that could be and Republicans have 27. Digging deeper, they have ten Democratic seats as “likely” or “lean” Republican. There are just three seats from the GOP “leaning” Democratic. 26 Democratic seats are considered toss-ups, while just 8 GOP seats are in the same category. In other words the Republicans are +25 if all the endangered members lose. They need 4 seats.

Democrats have had a relatively decent recent run in the press and are still in a tough spot here. If the goal here is just to mitigate the losses and keep the House competitive, Democrats need to keep within 20 seats of the majority for next term. In other words they need to keep the GOP to gains of 24 or less. Considering that midterms usually turn against the President’s party in the Fall, they’re probably in trouble there. With that said, they have a shot. If we assume both sides lose the seats leaning and likely going the other way right now, and lose half of their toss-up seats in play, Democrats would lose 23 and pick up 7, for a -16 seats. Right now, I’ll buy a 230-205 GOP House. However I still think it more likely gets worse than that, not better.

The Senate

The Senate is evenly divided right now, but Democrats win the tiebreaker. Right now they have tough defenses in Georgia, Arizona, and Nevada, with people watching New Hampshire, Colorado, and Washington. Right now, Democrats lead the average of the polls in every one of these races that has polling. If anything, Nevada and New Hampshire are polling the scariest. On the other side, the GOP has a different story. The hold a slim lead in the averages of North Carolina, while they’re trailing in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Ohio (depending who you ask). There are even signs Florida *could* be competitive and grumbling about Iowa. In short, the fundamentals still lean Republican, but the map doesn’t. If we just stick to the RealClearPolitics numbers I linked to above, the Democrats pick up two seats and go up 52-48. That leaves Ohio in limbo a bit and doesn’t address the weird race in Utah.

Of course I’m going to cite again that things change in the Fall. Republicans will spend serious money, especially in their tough defenses. Even so, I don’t see Democrats losing the doomsday four seats they could have earlier this year. I’d put their current floor at losing two, their ceiling at winning three. in other words, right now they win two and go up 52-48, but I’m thinking it stays 50-50.

Governors

In general I don’t like forecasting governor races nationally. People don’t vote that way. With that said, you can generally see how the playing field is shaping up. Republicans have a very weak chance of holding open seats in Maryland and Massachusetts. Holding the open seat in Arizona is going to be tough now too. On the other hand, races in Iowa, Florida, Texas, Georgia, Ohio, New Hampshire, and Vermont that looked like they could be tough all lean their way to some degree. Democratic defenses in Maine, Nevada, Oregon, Wisconsin, Connecticut, and Kansas look to be very competitive races. On the other hand, great opportunities in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Minnesota, and Illinois appear injured by crazy nominees. California and New York now look safe.

The real question here is what matters- inflation and Democrat fatigue or Republican insanity and Dobbs? Reality tells us it may not neatly be either. Local matters can be important in these races. If I had to gamble right now I’d say there’s no change in the partisan composition of the nation’s governors- and that’s good for Democrats.

In other words, I’m calling a very competitive Fall.

On Liz Cheney

Liz Cheney lost last night. Very badly too. She lost her primary by 37%, again proving to us that Donald Trump owns the GOP. He’s still the overwhelming favorite to win their 2024 nomination. It probably is true that no person can beat him for it.

I’m not crying for Liz Cheney. I began my political career literally *hating* her father. This woman once basically disowned her sister’s marriage and family. She cheered the Dobbs decision. She voted for Paul Ryan and Kevin McCarthy to be the Speaker of the House. There’s not much we politically agree on. Sure, her opponent yesterday was a moon howling nut job. Sure, Wyoming and America are worse off to have this person instead of a smart, principled conservative. I don’t much care for most of those principles though, and so there’s nothing for me to be upset over.

I think to a large extent Beltway media and Democratic activists cheering Cheney on is why we’re here. Did Wyoming Republicans want to hear that? Did it help Cheney to receive such “advocacy” on her behalf from us? No. Wyoming Republicans alone had the final say on her, and for them it was clear she had betrayed them. Her disloyalty to their party, in their eyes, was unacceptable. It is perfectly fine for the rest of us to judge this and have opinions on it, in fact we should. It won’t change it though.

It’s perfectly fine for the rest of to be afraid of what is going on today. We have just two serious political parties and one is a mentally unstable cult. They kicked out the daughter of a former Republican Vice-President, just months after the nephew of a former Republican President got trounced in Texas, but this was worse. She was removed for telling the truth- Donald Trump lust the 2020 election clearly, fairly, and in every way. That gets you beat in the 2022 GOP. Loyalty is to but one man.

While I’m not crying for Cheney, we’re all worse off today. This woman chose principle over expediency, truth over lies, and facts over fiction. Her service on the January 6th Committee was exemplary. She was willing to give away a promising political career because she knew lying about our elections and encouraging domestic terrorism were wrong. That should be a low bar to clear. She was rare in doing it though. I don’t like her at all. I completely respect her all the more for it.