Democrats’ stunning sweep of the two Georgia Senate runoffs earlier this week installed Chuck Schumer as the incoming Senate majority leader.
The 2022 map of Senate races looks likely to keep him there.
While Democrats’ takeover of the Senate majority – albeit with a 50-50 seat tie and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris breaking ties – has been totally overshadowed by the storming of the US Capitol by violent pro-Trump protesters, it’s hard to overstate the importance of the switch in control.
The last four years are proof. President Donald Trump – with a massive assist from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell – remade the federal judiciary, most notably installing a 6-3 conservative majority in the Supreme Court thanks to three appointments to the nation’s highest court by Trump, each of which was confirmed by McConnell’s Senate.
Which brings me back to the 2022 map – and why Schumer, at least at the start of the new cycle, has reason for optimism about the party’s prospects of holding the Senate majority for the entirety of President-elect Joe Biden’s first term in office.
Now that the Georgia races are over, we have a full picture of what the 2022 map will look like. Republicans will have to defend 20 of their seats while Democrats will have 14 seats of their own on the ballot – after special election takeover wins by incoming Sens. Mark Kelly (Arizona) and Raphael Warnock (Georgia).
So, the raw numbers favor Democrats. But so, too, does a deeper dive into which actual states are holding Senate races in November 2022. (Yes, we are only a year away from an election year!)
Of Republicans’ 20 seats, there are five obvious targets: Florida, Iowa, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Biden won those last two states in 2020 and the other three are widely regarded as swing states.
That, in and of itself, isn’t terrible for Republicans. But the party’s outlook gets much worse when you consider that:
* Sen. Pat Toomey (Pennsylvania) has already announced he won’t run again in 2022.
* North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr said way back in 2016 he would be done when his current term expires.
* Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson said during his 2016 campaign that he would not seek a third term – although he had hedged on that promise and could still run for Senate, or leave and run for governor in 2022.
* Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, who will be 89 years old on Election Day 2022, and 95 years old if he served a full term, has refused to offer any definitive promise that he will run again. “I have no news on that,” he told reporters in November 2020.
The general rule of thumb in politics is that open seats are easier to win than toppling an incumbent. Which should concern Republicans, given that their most vulnerable seats could all be open seats come November 2022.
Those seats will be competitive no matter what. But then there’s another set of seats that could fall into competitive territory if outgoing President Donald Trump makes good on his rhetoric to primary any senator who voted against the objections to the Electoral College earlier this week.
That group would include, among others, Sens. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Jerry Moran (Kansas), Roy Blunt (Missouri) and Rob Portman (Ohio) – all of whom are up for reelection in 2022 and represent states that have shown some level of competitiveness in recent general elections.
To be clear: All of those incumbents would be favored – some heavily – in a general election if they wound up as the Republican nominee. But for the sake of argument, what if Rep. Jim Jordan, a Trump favorite, beat Portman in a primary? Jordan as the general election nominee for Republicans would present a major opportunity for Democrats that simply would not exist if Portman was the GOP standard-bearer.
(Side note: We’ve seen Republicans lose entirely winnable seats in just such scenarios in places like Missouri, Indiana and Delaware over the last decade.)
It’s not clear, of course, whether Trump will go through with his threats or, even if he does, whether he would be able to push his preferred candidate over a victory over someone like Portman, who is a very skilled politician with solid approval ratings among Republicans.
But if Trump does make good on his threats, he could well endanger several more GOP seats.
Turning to Democrats, it’s clear that the successes of the 2020 election have made their 2022 map slightly more complicated. Both Warnock in Georgia and Kelly in Arizona won special elections for unexpired terms, terms that come due in 2022. So both men will be on the ballot next November and, given the competitive nature of both states at the presidential level (Biden won both very narrowly), will likely be major GOP targets.
Beyond those two seats, however, there’s not a ton of vulnerability for Democrats. Republicans are likely to talk about challengers to Sens. Michael Bennet (Colorado) and Catherine Cortez Masto, given the perceived swing nature of both states. While Nevada was close – Biden won it by 2 points over Trump – Colorado was not (Biden +13).
That’s about it when it comes to potentially vulnerable Democratic seats. And, unlike Republicans, there are very few announced or potential retirements on the Democratic side. The only one that Democrats need to keep an eye on is Sen. Pat Leahy (Vermont), who will be 82 in 2022. Leahy has yet to say whether he will run for a ninth(!) term, but if he steps aside, Republicans would likely lean on popular Gov. Phil Scott (R) to run.
A step back from individual races would seem to help Republicans, since the first midterm election for a president has long presaged losses for his party in Congress.
But as Kyle Kondik of Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia has written:
“Senate midterm history is not quite as bleak for the presidential party as the House history is. Yes, the president’s party often loses ground in the Senate in midterm elections, but the losses are not as consistent: Since the Civil War, the president’s party has only lost ground in the Senate in 24 of 40 elections, with an average seat loss of roughly 2.5 per cycle.”
Plus, Trump’s breaking of all political rules – and the likely damage he has done to his party with incitement of rioters who stormed the Capitol earlier this week – are also an X-factor in how much history tells us about what’s to come.
In short: Democrats start off the 2022 election with a solid chance of holding onto the majority they won on Tuesday in Georgia. Which would be a massive boost for the Biden presidency.