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.