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Democrats shouldn’t celebrate for long

Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.) and Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.)
Greg Nash
Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.) and Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) are seen outside the Capitol in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, December 7, 2022 as Warnock returns from winning the Georgia Senate runoff defeating Republican candidate Herschel Walker.

Senator Raphael Warnock’s (D-Ga.) victory over Republican challenger Herschel Walker has Democrats celebrating and Republicans gingerly pointing fingers.

For the Democrats, a 51-49 Senate majority slightly reduces the influence of swing Senators Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and Joe Manchin (D-WV), facilitating the advancement of presidential judicial preferences and other nominations. And if Congress can somehow push through bipartisan legislation these next two years, the extra Democratic senators should give the party a bit more leverage when collaborating with the GOP House majority.

Perhaps more importantly, Democrats now have a little more room for error heading into the 2024 elections, when they’ll try to defend seven relatively vulnerable Senate seats: Sinema’s, Manchin’s, Sen. Debbie Stabenow’s (D-Mich.), Sen. Jon Tester’s (D-Mont.), Sen. Jacky Rosen’s (D-Nev.), Sen. Sherrod Brown’s (D-Ohio), and Sen. Bob Casey’s (D-Pa.).

Meanwhile, the most vulnerable Senate Republicans will be . . . well, there probably aren’t any. Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.), and Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) won less than 52 percent of the vote in 2018, yet based on political demographics, all three seats seem safe — especially if term-limited Indiana GOP Gov. Eric Holcomb runs to replace Braun, who’s opted to run for governor instead. Holcomb has a net-positive approval rating of 14 percent in the state. It’s tough to envision a Democrat beating him.

So Warnock’s win means national Democrats can be a bit more strategic in two years. For example, if Sinema, Rosen, Casey, and Stabenow are polling comfortably ahead of their challengers by September 2024, then the party could size up the other three races, knowing that they don’t have to win all three — particularly if their presidential odds are favorable. Because the presidency and a 50-50 Senate would be a near best-case scenario in 2024. If Walker had won, it would have been improbable, if not a near impossibility.

But for Democrats, this is not a time to celebrate.

Express relief? Sure. They avoided a worst-case scenario of a roughly 50-House-seat GOP advantage and 54-46 GOP Senate. What’s more, Republicans are bickering while Democrats appear mostly united with new House leadership and an expanded political map, as well as key state victories in the Rust Belt only six years after losses in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania cost them the White House.

The story of 2022 is not America’s repudiation of Trumpism or embrace of Democratic policies. Democrats secured four Senate seats with less than 52 percent of the vote. One of those wins was against Walker, who’s been credibly accused of threatening to kill his wife while enjoying a litany of extramarital affairs and fathering an unknown assortment of children. He’s also a self-proclaimed Texas resident, which apparently didn’t play well in Georgia.

In Nevada, Republican Adam Laxalt nearly beat Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, despite opposition from his family, a history of illicit financial dealings, and repeatedly insisting that Joe Biden illegally won the 2020 presidential election.

In Arizona, Republican Blake Masters went toe-to-toe with Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly, despite Masters claiming with certainty that “Trump won in 2020.”

And in Pennsylvania, Democrat John Fetterman barely secured 51 percent of the vote against anti-science Republican Mehmet Oz, a recent New Jersey transplant who apparently still lives in New Jersey, and whose campaign staff reportedly included “Big-Lie” advocates who traipsed to the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.

Warnock, Cortez Masto, Kelly, and Fetterman are not “left-wingers.” The latest GovTrack’s ideological ratings ranked Cortez Masto as the 18th most conservative Democratic senator in the 116th Congress, which ended on Jan. 3, 2021. Kelly was the fifth most conservative Democrat in the 116th.

Democrats lost the U.S. House and barely won the Senate, despite running a large swath of moderate, pro-democracy candidates against a shockingly large swath of extraordinarily conservative, “Big-Lie”-endorsing candidates. In 2024, based on GovTrack’s ideological ratings, Democrats’ seven most vulnerable incumbents include five of their 16 most conservative members.

So, Democrats must sober up.

Republicans nearly won the Senate with one of the least-qualified and most offensive collection of candidates in modern American history.

Assuming the GOP will be better prepared in 2024, Democrats will have their work cut out for them to stave off a redux of 2016.

B.J. Rudell is a longtime political strategist, former associate director for Duke University’s Center for Politics, and recent North Carolina Democratic Party operative. In a career encompassing stints on Capitol Hill, on presidential campaigns, in a newsroom, in classrooms, and for a consulting firm, he has authored three books and has shared political insights across all media platforms, including for CNN and Fox News.

Tags 2024 elections Adam Laxalt Blake Masters Bob Casey Catherine Cortez Masto Debbie Stabenow Democratic control of US Senate Democratic majority Democratic Party Democrats Eric Holcomb georgia runoff Georgia runoff election Georgia Senate race Georgia Senate runoff Herschel Walker Jacky Rosen Joe Manchin John Fetterman Jon Tester Josh Hawley Kyrsten Sinema Mark Kelly Mehmet Oz Mike Braun Raphael Warnock Rick Scott Sherrod Brown

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