Six potential bright spots for Democrats in a gloomy election year

2022 is shaping up to be a tough year for Democrats: President Biden’s approval rating is underwater, inflation is at its highest level in decades and the party in power almost always tends to lose ground in Congress in the midterm elections.

But there are some potential bright spots for the party, even in an otherwise unfavorable political environment. Democrats have notched a series of recruiting successes and stand to gain at least a few advantages from the decennial redistricting process. At the same time, chaotic Republican primaries in some states have helped fuel Democratic hopes.

Here are six potential bright spots for Democrats in 2022. 

Georgia Senate race

Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.) eked out a narrow, 2-point win over former Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.) in a January 2021 runoff election. That victory immediately put him on the GOP’s target list and earned him a spot as one of the most vulnerable Senate incumbents to face voters in 2022. 

But despite Republicans’ efforts to weaken Warnock, he appears to be faring particularly well, even in the face of brutal political headwinds. 

Recent polling shows him leading his Republican opponent, former NFL player Herschel Walker. What’s more, a recent survey from Quinnipiac University found that roughly half of Georgia voters — 49 percent — have a favorable opinion of Warnock, while 37 percent said the same about Walker.

Of course, Election Day is still four months away — an eternity in politics — and the campaign is still ramping up. But for now, the Georgia Senate race is a relative bright spot for Democrats in an otherwise tough election year.

Pennsylvania Senate race

In the lead-up to Pennsylvania’s May primaries, some Democrats expressed concern that Lt. Gov. John Fetterman may be too progressive to win over the kind of moderate and independent voters he would need to flip the state’s Senate seat in November.

Making matters worse, Fetterman suffered a stroke just days before the primary, raising questions about his health. 

But virtually every public poll conducted since he won the Democratic nomination shows Fetterman besting celebrity physician Mehmet Oz, the GOP nominee, in a head-to-head match-up. 

Oz, whom former President Trump endorsed ahead of the primary, has also faced criticism from Democrats and even some Republicans over his relatively loose ties to Pennsylvania; he was a longtime New Jersey resident and moved to the Keystone State not long before launching his Senate campaign.

Michigan governor’s race

Republicans have been gunning for the chance to oust Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer since losing the governor’s mansion in 2018. Her handling of the COVID-19 pandemic only added more urgency to their efforts. 

But at least for now, Whitmer appears to be in a solid position ahead of the November general election. Her approval rating is above water and the field of Republicans challenging her has been mired in chaos and controversy. 

Five GOP hopefuls were removed from the ballot after election officials discovered fraudulent petition signatures. That included former Detroit Police Chief James Craig, the front-runner at the time. Last month, another GOP front-runner, Ryan Kelley, was arrested on charges related to his presence at the Jan. 6, 2021 Capitol riot. 

While Republicans say they’re confident that their voters will coalesce after the Aug. 2 primary, the governor’s race in Michigan isn’t looking like the kind of nightmare scenario that Democrats once feared.

Pennsylvania governor’s race

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro got a break this year by not facing any opposition in his primary to succeed outgoing Gov. Tom Wolf (D). Democrats believe they got even luckier when Republicans nominated state Sen. Doug Mastriano for the job.

Despite carrying Trump’s endorsement, Mastriano’s general election campaign has some Republicans worried that he won’t be able to broaden his support beyond the GOP’s conservative base. 

He has repeatedly promoted Trump’s false claim that the 2020 election was stolen, was subpoenaed by the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol and hasn’t yet attracted the support of his main primary challengers.

Shapiro, meanwhile, has maintained a steady — though relatively narrow — lead over Mastriano in early general election polling. And unlike many other battleground state contests, The Cook Political Report currently rates the governor’s race as “lean” Democratic.

California’s 27th District race

Rep. Mike Garcia (R-Calif.) defeated Democratic former state Assemblywoman Christie Smith in 2020 by a scant 333 votes. Now, the two are set to face off once again this November. 

This time, however, the picture is a little brighter for Smith. 

The race is still seen as a toss-up, with both Garcia and Smith having an equal shot at winning California’s new 27th District. But thanks to the redistricting process, the district no longer contains Simi Valley, the home of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and a bastion of conservatism, giving Democrats a bit more of an edge.

Of course, Garcia still bested Smith in the primary, taking 47.1 percent of the vote to Smith’s 37.4 percent. Nevertheless, Smith could still feasibly pick up the support of two other Democrats who failed to advance beyond the primary, pushing her closer to Garcia.

Flipping the district won’t be easy for Democrats. Still, Smith has name recognition from her previous campaign, as well as the advantage of a somewhat more favorable electorate.

California’s 41st District race

Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Calif.) has spent nearly 30 years in the House and has won reelection easily for more than a decade. But if the results from his June 7 primary say anything, it’s that he may be at least somewhat more vulnerable this time around.

Calvert won just 48.2 percent of the vote in his primary, coming in well below the 59 percent he took in the 2020 primary. He’s now set to face Democrat Will Rollins in November. And while Rollins finished nearly 18 points behind Calvert, there are signs that Democrats just might be able to pull off a win. 

To be sure, California’s newly drawn 41st District still leans Republican. But the redistricting process moves it closer to competitive territory. 

Rollins will have to have a good showing if he hopes to oust Calvert in November, but the race isn’t a foregone conclusion. And given Democrats’ tough prospects in the House overall, it offers at least a glimmer of hope.

Tags Donald Trump Georgia Senate race Gretchen Whitmer Herschel Walker Herschel Walker James Craig Joe Biden John Fetterman John Fetterman Josh Shapiro Kelly Loeffler Mehmet Oz Pennsylvania Senate race Raphael Warnock Raphael Warnock Trump
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