American politics is very cyclical. One cycle that is replayed over and over again: the president’s party always loses seats in his first midterm. It’s been repeated over and over again. Only twice since 1934 has a party bucked this trend. Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Democrats gained seats in the ‘34 elections in the midst of the Great Depression spurred under a Republican president. And in 2002 George W. Bush’s Republicans gained seats in the aftermath of September 11th, which catapulted Bush’s approval rating. (Source) About a year ago, most election analysts were sure 2022 would be more of the same. Democrats losing seats in the House and likely the Senate. At the time, President Biden had just a 43 percent approval rating and Democrats had just lost all three statewide offices in Virginia, with Republicans flipping Virginia’s House of Delegates. Even in solid blue New Jersey, Republicans made the gubernatorial race closer than expected.
But a year hence, a lot has changed. Redistricting has been completed, gas prices have begun to fall, the Democratic congress has passed multiple high profile bills, and President Biden’s approval rating is recovering from its depths over the summer. (Source1 Source2) But perhaps nothing changed the landscape of the 2022 elections more than the decision of six people on the supreme court. The Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision, which overturned Roe v. Wade, sparked an electoral backlash against Republicans. In the two special congressional elections held prior to the Dobbs decision, Republicans outperformed Donald Trump’s 2020 margins in California’s 22nd District and Texas’s 34th, with the latter being a flip. But after Dobbs Republicans have underperformed in every special election since including Minnesota’s 1st, Nebraska’s, 1st, and New York’s 23rd. (Source) No district sent a clearer message to national republicans than New York’s 19th district. In late August, a special election was held in the district to replace Congressman Antonio Delgado, who resigned to become Lieutenant Governor. Republicans put up Marc Molinaro, the Dutchess County Executive and the GOP’s gubernatorial candidate in 2018. Molinaro was a grade A candidate. He was a county-wide elected official in a crucial swing county, and he’d won the district when he ran for Governor in 2018. Combine this with polling showing Molinaro leading by 8 and few believed Democrat Pat Ryan, the Ulster county executive, would pull this out. (Source) But low-and-behold Ryan defeated Molinaro, actually slightly outperforming Biden in the district (Biden won the seat by around 2 points). Finally, Alaska became an unexpected flip for the Democrats when Mary Peltola beat Republicans Nick Begich and Sarah Palin in the Ranked-Choice Special Election. There was clearly an electoral shift after the Dobbs decision towards the Democrats.
Now, none of this is to say Dems are assured a victory, or that Republicans won’t retake the house and potentially the senate. They definitely could, and are in fact favored in the House.(Source) But this has definitely shown that the American people are upset with the supreme court and the Republicans who appointed its members. Americans are mostly pro-choice, with residents of plenty of “red states” opposing anti-abortion measures (Source). All of this gives Democrats a fighting chance to retain control of the House of Representative, and the Senate. But Democrats still have a lot working against them. They have an incredibly narrow majority in the House and though Biden did win a majority of house seats in 2020, many of them were marginal and well within striking distance of a competent Republican campaign.
However, the Senate is where Democrats are feeling the most bullish. Because of the staggered election system in the senate, it’s not as uncommon for Presidents to gain seats in the upper house during their midterms. In fact, it happened in 2018 when Republicans net gained two seats in the Senate. This year ,there were 8 senate seats in swing states. 4 are held by Republicans and 4 by Democrats. Democrats are defending seats in New Hampshire, Arizona, Nevada and Georgia. Republicans meanwhile have to defend Florida, North Carolina, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. There are also races with an outside chance of being competitive like Ohio, Washington and Colorado.
The first issue Republicans ran into was candidate recruitment. Popular republican governors in New Hampshire, Nevada and Arizona refused to mount campaigns leaving flawed candidates like Don Bolduc in New Hampshire, Blake Masters in Arizona and Adam Laxalt in Nevada. Ohio senate candidate J.D. Vance has also run into hiccups underperforming in polling out of the red trending state. And this is without even mentioning Dr. Oz’s campaign in Pennsylvania where he’s consistently walked into rakes, such as the viral crudite video where he combined the names of Wegman’s and Redner’s (two supermarket chains common in Pennsylvania) to form “Wegner’s” and talked about how inflation is making crudite more expensive (crudite is a fancy and french word for a vegetable plate). He’s also mocked the fact his opponent Liuetenant Governor John Fetterman suffered a stroke, claimed to only own two homes when actually owns 10, and said in a resurfaced 2014 interview it’s (medically) okay to have sex with your cousin (as long as it’s more than a 1st cousin anyway). (Source)
Finally, Republicans found another impediment in Rick Scott, a Florida Senator and the head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. His sole job is to help Republicans retake the majority, but that didn’t stop him from emptying out the committee’s once packed coffers on unsuccessful fundraising campaigns (Source). Scott also put out his own “Rescue America” plan for a Republican congress that included a proposal that would sunset Social Security and Medicare every five years, giving it the opportunity to be gutted or completely eliminated. If you don’t understand how crazy that is, an AARP poll found that 96 percent of Americans support Social Security (Source).
The Senate was always going to be competitive, but Republicans have shot themselves in the foot over-and-over again whether it’s in the form of candidate recruitment, fundraising or just keeping their foot out of their mouths. But this doesn’t mean they can be counted out. Republicans hold a good shot at flipping Nevada and Georgia where former Football star Herschel Walker is looking to unseat Raphael Warnock. Not that Walker is any all star recruit himself.
2022 is shaping up to be one of the most exciting and potentially historic elections in recent memory. It’s rare in politics to have a true jump ball, but that might be what 2022 is.
George Christopher is a senior Journalism major who you can always depend on to know the current political state of our country. They can be reached at [email protected].