Democrats will expand their Senate majority in 2022
With the announcement last week that Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) will forgo seeking a third term representing the Buckeye State, Democrats are increasingly bullish about expanding their slim majority in the midterm elections. Portman won big in 2016, and as Punchbowl DC reports, “this was a shock to the Senate … and Portman had said publicly as recently as December that he was running, so this is a real surprise.”
Sen. Portman joins a growing list of incumbent GOP members eyeing the exit in 2022, including Sens. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.). As the Punchbowl writers note, “Ohio has gone red in the last two presidential elections by substantial margins, but Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown won reelection here handily in 2018. So a Democrat with the right message can win, as long as the national political environment isn’t too bad in 2022.”
Back in 2006, then-Rep. Sherrod Brown defeated the GOP incumbent, Sen. Mike DeWine, by more than 12 points and won a third term in 2018, easily dispatching GOP challenger Jim Renacci by nearly 7 points. At the time, Vox declared Brown’s victory as “old-time labor liberalism triumphing over Ohio’s rightward drift.” Despite that “rightward drift” and President Trump carrying Ohio by 8 points, Democrats in the mold of Brown have a real shot at taking back Portman’s seat in two years.
Buckeye Democrats are also bullish about their chances given the budding ideological civil war happening on the ground between Trump loyalists like Reps. Jim Jordan, Steve Stivers and Mike Turner and more establishment choices like Lt. Gov. Jon Husted and Secretary of State Frank LaRose. As CNN notes, “The most significant divide in Republicans seeking the job will be between the state’s congressional delegation and the statewide elected officials.” Depending on who eventually wins the GOP primary, it will be an uphill battle to unite all elements of the Ohio GOP.
In 2010, both Sens. Portman and Toomey were elected during President Obama’s first midterm election as part of GOP wave that flipped six seats in the upper chamber. Over the past 12 years, Toomey has struck a fairly moderate profile and currently serves as the only non-judiciary member of the GOP to hold statewide office. With Toomey’s announcement that he will forgo seeking a third term, Republicans in the Keystone State are likely to struggle in terms of competing against more well-known Democrats serving on the state level, including Lt. Gov. John Fetterman and Attorney General Josh Shapiro. Pennsylvania and its 20 Electoral College votes delivered the presidency to Joe Biden this past November and — considering the deep blue bench as well as voting trends in the commonwealth — give Democrats great hope of flipping the Toomey seat.
North Carolina was certainly a disappointment for Team Biden on election night, but 2020 saw one of the slimmest margins for the state’s presidential victor, with Trump capturing the state by just 1.4 points. On the same ballot, however, Democrats were able to flip two congressional seats after the district lines had been redrawn following a court order. Back in 2016, even before his reelection that year, incumbent Sen. Richard Burr announced that his third term would be his last. This week saw the announcement from North Carolina Democratic state Sen. Jeff Jackson that he would seek Burr’s seat, joining former state Sen. Erica Smith in the race. As The Hill notes, Jackson is serving his fourth term in the state Senate and serves as a captain in the Army National Guard, and he will be a formidable candidate against any of the Republicans currently considering a run, including Lara Trump.
While midterm elections are usually more difficult for the president’s party, as FiveThirtyEight notes, “the 2022 Senate map doesn’t force Democrats to compete on red turf nearly as much as the 2020 map or killer 2018 map did. In fact, no Democratic senators are running for reelection in states won by former President Donald Trump in 2020, while Republicans are defending two seats in states won by President Biden: the open seat in Pennsylvania and Sen. Ron Johnson’s seat in Wisconsin.”
Interestingly enough, Johnson has dodged recent questions about whether he would seek a third term representing the Badger State. Johnson is not the only leading Republican undecided about running again, as CNN notes, with Sens. John Thune (R-S.D.), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) also sidestepping questions about their future plans.
Republicans are on the hook to defend 20 of their seats in 2022, while Team Blue has just 14 seats to hold, all in states won by Joe Biden in 2020. With this map and all of these GOP senate retirements, Democrats are in a strong position to expand their majority and buck recent midterm trends with the president’s party in control.
Kevin Walling (@kevinpwalling) is a Truman National Security Project Partner, Democratic strategist, Vice President at HGCreative, co-founder of Celtic Strategies, and a regular guest on Fox News, Fox Business and Bloomberg TV and Radio.