Republicans set to rebound big in 2022 midterms, unless…
We are just 600 short days away from the 2022 midterm elections, which means it is the perfect time to handicap the Republicans’ chances to win back the House, Senate and prepare a serious challenge to President Biden’s reelection. Six “R’s” will determine how successful the R’s will be in two years: retirements, redistricting, reforms, raised funds, recruitment, and finally, the Federal Reserve.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has a real challenge on his hands when it comes to the sheer number of retirements from his caucus, and there is growing evidence that he is also considering stepping down before his term ends in 2026. If McConnell does announce his retirement before the midterms, he’ll join five colleagues who have already done so — the most GOP Senate retirements in 12 years.
Last week, Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) surprised many by announcing his second term would be his last in the upper chamber. Trump carried the Show Me State by over 15 points last November, furthering a rightward voting trend that we have seen in recent years, so the Democrats will have an uphill battle for that open seat next year. Three of Blunt’s GOP colleagues who have announced their early retirements, Sens. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), Rob Portman (R-Ohio), and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) already have Democrats scrambling to flip those seats in much easier electoral terrain.
As I noted in The Hill last month, “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.” Since March is a perfect month for sports analogies, a good defense provides for a strong offense when the status quo is Democrats retaining control of the upper chamber. While there is clearly a power in incumbency, FiveThirtyEight suggests that senate vacancies are actually more of a mixed bag. “In election cycles since 1974, the party with the most Senate retirements has actually gained seats just as often as it has lost them. For every year like 2008, when more Republicans (five) than Democrats (zero) retired and Republicans lost seats accordingly, there’s a year like 2012, when a whopping seven Democrats retired yet the party picked up two Senate seats.”
Every ten years, Members of Congress often face an existential threat to their reelection that is mostly out of their hands: redistricting. From intra-party primary fights, that sometimes get very ugly, to running in radically different districts, redistricting in a handful of key states could easily flip control of Congress on its own. As the AP points out, southern states in particular will be a key focus in terms of redistricting in advance of the 118th Congress in 2023. “The states from North Carolina to Texas are set to be premier battlegrounds for the once-a-decade fight over redrawing political boundaries. That’s thanks to a population boom, mostly one-party rule and a new legal landscape that removes federal oversight and delays civil rights challenges.”
That “population boom” has been centered in the south, with North Carolina set to gain an additional congressional district, Florida likely to have two additional seats with as many as three in Texas. “Republicans control the legislatures in those states, leaving them with near total say over what those new districts will look like — a sharp contrast to other parts of the country where state governments are either divided or where nonpartisan commissions are tasked with redrawing Congressional and state legislative lines.” Currently, Democrats have just a one seat majority with five vacant seats, so those six new districts could be a majority-maker for Team Red.
In the five months that have passed since the election, GOP state legislators have introduced at least 253 bills restricting various voting rights in 43 states, according to the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU. These lawmakers are taking advantage of the perception held by a large majority of Republican voters who believe that 2020 was not a legitimate election. According to polling from Quinnipiac in the weeks following the election, 77 percent of Republicans believe that there was widespread voter fraud, due in large part to Trump’s “big lie.”
In Texas alone, “more than two dozen GOP-sponsored elections bills are under consideration in the legislature as lawmakers seek to tighten ID requirements and voter rolls, limit early voting and up the penalties for errors.” Many of those bills would limit early voting, particularly in urban, Democrat-rich vote areas. With all of these potential roadblocks for voting in 2022, Democrats have focused their attention on HR 1 – the “For the People Act” that recently passed the House of Representatives. The legislation would mandate two weeks of early voting, no excuse absentee mail voting and automatic voter registration in every state, but it faces an uphill battle in the Senate with committee hearings slated to begin on March 24. If Democrats fail in their attempts to pass HR1 or similar voting rights legislation, GOP-backed efforts on the state level will certainly have an outsized effect on midterm election turnout.
Included in the “For the People Act” are efforts to also curtail the outsized role of “dark money” groups by requiring them to “disclose political donations over a certain amount.” Outside spending will always have an effect on campaigns and races, but more troubling for the GOP is the decision by many leading corporate PACs to either suspend or scale back their political giving in the wake of the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol. Over the past two cycles, Corporate PACs have fueled House and Senate candidates’ coffers, with the majority of funds going to GOP members. Over the past decade, Democrats have built an impressive grassroots donation program that has powered both the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and its counterpart in the senate, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. Republicans have built similarly strong operations, but still rely more on corporate campaign donations and PACs, which have seen a drop of 98 percent in political giving in January 2021 as compared to January 2020.
It’s a collision of factors likely to tilt the scales in the GOP’s favor with dramatic impact: Experts note the new maps in the South alone could knock Democrats out of power in the U.S. House next year — and perhaps well beyond.
Despite losing the White House, the Senate and the House of Representatives in 2020, Team Red had a banner year in terms of recruitment, nearly toppling Team Blue’s majority in the lower chamber. Last cycle, the House GOP conference saw the number of women members in their ranks more than double in a single election. As Politico noted the day after the election, “female GOP candidates won in some of the toughest races in the country and have been responsible for flipping six of seven Democratic seats thus far.” The authors go on to note that, “Republicans say the success of GOP women in key swing districts should serve as a roadmap for how to win back the House in 2022. Under President Donald Trump, the party’s standing has suffered in the suburbs. But the GOP now sees a recipe for success in these areas, although those same Republican women could face competitive reelection races in the next midterms.”
Lastly, more than any other variable, the state of the economy will likely have the most outsized impact on GOP hopes for the midterms. In the latest CBS News/YouGov poll, “60 percent of U.S. adults support President Joe Biden’s handling of the economy and the coronavirus.” Two years is an eternity in the life of a country, especially when it came to the totality of COVID-19’s effect on every aspect of our economy. This past week, the Federal Reserve released the following positive forecast for the economy: “The Federal Reserve expects the U.S. economy to grow at its fastest pace in four decades this year as the unemployment rate falls to 4.5 percent … and then ticks down closer to pre-pandemic levels — 3.9 percent in 2022 and 3.5 percent in 2023. GDP growth [will] reach 6.5 percent this year, up from its previous projection of 4.2 percent.” If the Federal Reserve’s rosy predictions pan out over the next few months and years, Democrats will be in a strong position to campaign on the state of the economy.
At this point, nearly 600 days out from the 2022 elections, historic midterm trends, redistricting opportunities and recruitment efforts that mirror 2020, could all power a very strong election for Team Red.
There are, however, a number of countervailing issues, including the number of GOP Senate retirements, HR1 and the potential of a booming economy that could thwart Republicans’ attempts to increase their ranks. One other “R” factor that could have an outsized effect on GOP efforts is “revenge” — namely the degree to which former President Donald Trump supports primary challenges against perceived enemies within his own party in addition to diverting GOP resources to his own PAC.
How these various “R’s” play out in the next few months will determine if the “R’s” are successful in 2022.
Kevin Walling (@kevinpwalling) is a 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.