But with less than 11 weeks to go, both parties are increasingly shifting their focus to the general election fight. Here is what the elections that took place in August can tell us about the broader political landscape heading into November.
1) Democrats are gaining momentum. The red wave that was brewing for much of the election cycle now seems to be receding. In two special House elections in New York and one in Minnesota this month, Democrats outperformed Joe Biden’s vote share in those districts during the 2020 election. That suggests 2022 may be shaping up to be a more neutral political environment compared to recent wave elections in 2018 and 2010.
The major reason for this shift appears to be the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. Democrats have campaigned heavily on the issue since then, and abortion rights advocates scored an overwhelming victory on a constitutional amendment in conservative Kansas at the start of the month.
The caveats: a general election is much different from a summer special election or ballot measure. Democrats are still confronting historical midterm trends for the party in power, Biden’s low approval ratings and voters’ negative views of the economy. And the majorities they are defending in the House and Senate are very narrow. But their overall fortunes have still undoubtedly improved from a month ago.
2) Democratic Senate candidates are emerging unscathed. In the two most significant open Democratic primaries for Senate this month, the winners were largely able to avoid intraparty squabbles. In Wisconsin, Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes’ main opponents dropped out in the final stretch of the race, and in Florida, Rep. Val Demings’ path to the nomination remained clear until the end.
That continues a trend for the party, as many of their eventual nominees in key Senate races this year (North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania) were able to cruise through their primaries, putting them on solid footing for the fall. And it stands in contrast to the open Republican Senate primaries on the battleground map this year, many of which resulted in protracted battles.
3) The GOP is still Donald Trump’s party. A reason many Republican Senate (and gubernatorial) primaries were drawn out – and at times nasty – was because the candidates were fighting among each other for one man’s endorsement. And in August, Trump found success with his picks across the board, with his preferred candidates winning primaries in critical races in battleground states including Arizona, Michigan and Wisconsin (more on that below).
But perhaps more importantly to the former President, he also managed this month to help oust three more House Republicans who voted to impeach him in the aftermath of the January 6, 2021, attack at the US Capitol. Reps. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, Jaime Herrera Beutler of Washington state and Peter Meijer of Michigan all failed to advance to the general election after facing Trump-backed challengers. Even as he dealt with the fallout of the FBI search of Mar-a-Lago, Trump further cemented his grip on the party.
4) Trump’s election falsehoods are on the march. One consequential result of Trump’s endorsed candidates emerging from primaries is that Republicans who embrace his unfounded election fraud claims are one step closer to holding powerful offices.
Arizona was the most notable example this month, with Trump-backed election deniers winning a full slate of GOP primaries for US Senate, governor, secretary of state, and attorney general. The Republican gubernatorial candidates in Michigan and Wisconsin have also questioned the legitimacy of Biden’s 2020 election win. They will join a whole host of candidates who have raised doubts about the last election on the ballot this fall, most critically in races for governor and secretary of state, positions that will oversee the 2024 presidential election.
5) Congress is changing. There are, of course, major shifts to the makeup of Congress every two years. But even before control of the House and Senate have been decided, there are a few symbolic changes that are more or less set in stone.
No more than two of the 10 impeachment-supporting Republicans will be back in the House next year, ensuring the conference will become even more Trump-aligned. Democrats will lose a committee chair and longtime member after Rep. Carolyn Maloney was defeated in an incumbent-versus-incumbent primary in New York Tuesday.
The August primaries also paved the way for some notable firsts. After winning the Democratic primary in Florida’s solidly blue 10th District, Maxwell Frost could be the first member of Generation Z to be elected to Congress. And Democrat Becca Balint is on track to become the first woman to represent Vermont in Congress following her primary win.