Dark Days for Democrats (Federal Version)
After vanquishing their Public Enemy #1 Donald Trump in 2020 and taking full control of the federal government with President Joe Biden’s inauguration a few months later, Democrats faced critical choices for the party’s immediate and mid-term future. One option was to adhere to the middle, govern via centrist policies, and hope to hold small majorities in Congress even after the 2022 midterms. The other option was to pursue a significantly further left agenda with substantial public spending (even after emergency Covid expenditures were exhausted), a continued focus on Donald Trump, and a commitment to the social agenda of the progressive left.
Despite the 2020 Biden campaign’s emphasis on a return to normalcy, Democrats determined that option left was the proper way in the first two years of the Biden Presidency. Next week that bill comes due, and it is exceedingly likely that they will pay a heavy price for their spending, Trump obsession, and leftist culture war focus.
As some of you know, the writer does his fair share of elections handicapping, with rather accurate predictions of the electoral environment and individual races in 2014, 2018, and 2020. The Presidential race of 2016 proved an exception to that record, but also remains the biggest surprise in modern US politics. So let’s cut to the chase on what is at stake on Tuesday, November 8 in the 2022 midterm elections.
While the US House is more reflective of the national environment, the Senate – currently sitting at 50/50 – offers the more interesting races. This is primarily because, as 2018 was for Republicans, the current seat matrix is fairly favorable to Democrats (unlike 2024, which will be discussed in future articles). Despite the unpopularity of Joe Biden, there is no obvious loss for Democrats in Senate races. And with several GOP retirements, the Senate map presents some possibilities for Dems to go on offense. All in all, there are potentially competitive races in Florida, Ohio, North Carolina, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Nevada, Arizona, New Hampshire, Colorado, and Washington. Each of these races will be categorized and discussed.
GOP Favored Races
Florida – Perpetual overperformer “Little Marco” Rubio is a general election monster. While Val Demings is a solid recruit for Democrats, the pairing of Rubio with “Keep Florida Free” Governor Ron DeSantis is generating an electoral juggernaut. Based on early voting returns – which show a Florida in which GOP strength is at “The Hulk” levels – the only question is whether Rubio (and DeSantis) can hit double figures. The pick here is that he does, Rubio by 11%.
Ohio – Democrat Tim Ryan may have run the best Dem campaign of the cycle, Republican JD Vance has probably run the worst. Vance, whose “Hillbilly Elegy” autobiography is one of the most enlightening works on the impact of group culture on the lives of people experiencing it, appears to view politics as something he’d prefer to avoid. He’s also shed what appear to have been rather establishment conservative views for a Trumpier veneer, almost certainly out of primary electoral necessity rather than a sincere ideological revision (the best guess here is that Vance’s true beliefs reflect those of Marco Rubio pretty well). And yet, none of this matters. Vance is a Republican, Trump likes him, and Ohio likes Republicans and Trump more than it liked other Republicans a decade ago. Vance by 9%.
North Carolina – In sharp contrast to JD Vance, Republican Ted Budd is one of the best GOP recruits of the cycle. He’s facing Democrat Cheri Beasley, who like Val Demings is a solid candidate facing a nasty environment. Both campaigns have been pretty quiet the whole cycle. But there’s no reason to believe North Carolina is moving left from 2020 (Trump and GOP Senator Thom Tillis won it in a much tougher environment for the party two years ago), and Budd is headed to the Senate. Budd by 6-7%.
Wisconsin – Earlier this year, Democratic partisans were quite confident they could beat two-term incumbent Ron Johnson for the Senate seat in Wisconsin. Democratic partisans are delusional, and they were even more delusional when anointing far leftist Mandela Barnes to take on this task. Barnes has predictably immolated in the flames of his far left history, and Johnson remains a Republican that is acceptable to the key swing voters of Wisconsin. Johnson by 7%.
GOP Leaning Races
Nevada – Adam Laxalt (grandson of Nevada GOP titan Paul Laxalt, known as Ronald Reagan’s best friend in DC, and illegitimate son of New Mexico GOP Senator Pete Domenici) may view the Senate as his birthright. He’s also a candidate that has managed to unite both pro-Trump and Trump skeptical right of center factions in Nevada. Based on the early voting returns in the state (which may offer the best guide into the final results of early voting anywhere), Laxalt is on the precipice of claiming this birthright with a win over non-descript but electorally competent Democrat incumbent Catherine Cortez Masto. Laxalt by 3-4%.
Georgia – The source of more discussion than any state in American politics since November 2020, Georgia once again takes center stage. 2021 special election winner Democrat Raphael Warnock takes on “Dawg legend” and former NFL star Herschel Walker. Analyzing both this race and the next one (Pennsylvania) could each merit its own article. Moreover, the funky Georgia runoff (if no candidate gets 50%, the state of GA gets a second election between the top two candidates in early December) looms over this race. And the candidates themselves, both prominent before politics (Warnock was lead minister at MLK’s church prior to politics) have colorful histories that have provided much fodder for attack ads. The pick here is Walker penetrating the end line (not his only penetrations that have been a focus in this race) for a GOP TD (whether Tuesday or in a runoff) and joining the burgeoning “SEC caucus” (the Alabama Senate delegation will soon contain a former Auburn coach and the wife of a former ‘Bama player).
Pennsylvania – In all fairness, this is my favorite race of the cycle. Democrats nominated very liberal but prominent John Fetterman, who suffered a serious stroke right before the primary he won. The Republicans, somewhat confusingly, nominated former TV talk show host Dr. Mehmet Oz (hell, Republicans apparently love TV show hosts). It is a bit odd that Dr. Oz is running for Senate in a newly-adopted state; it is also strange Fetterman didn’t withdraw from the race considering his inability to complete a full thought following his stroke (and what looks to be other serious/related health issues). This race has gone to form, with Fetterman mocking Dr. Oz’s love of crudites (for the rest of us normal folks, this is a vegetable tray), and Oz firing back that Fetterman should have “eaten his vegetables.” But truth be told, the mud slinging of the campaigns is a sidelight. Over the last ten years, Pennsylvania has barreled to the right, and it’s the partisan lean in a GOP year that matters most. Oz by 3%, making him the first Muslim Senator in US history.
Arizona – Dem incumbent former astronaut Mark Kelly is up for re-election two years after his special election win. Libertarian Blake Masters – masquerading as a Trump loving Republican ala his actual co-worker JD Vance – rode a wave of controversial positions and Peter Thiel cash to the GOP nomination in this race. He celebrated his primary win by completely forgetting everything he said in that primary and focusing his campaign on stock establishment conservative themes ala being favorable to economic growth, against illegal immigration, and a reasonable social conservative. This author is almost certain that general election Masters is the actual candidate, but primary Masters has made a win much more difficult for the “Blake” version of “Blake and Lake” (Lake being the Arizona GOP Governor nominee). But here’s the real rub on this race. Arizona, without Trump on the ballot, remains a somewhat Republican state, and at least some experts expect a R plus 4 electorate by partisan turnout. That is a whole lot for Kelly to overcome when most Republicans and independents think Democrats have really failed the country over the past two years. The bet is that general election Masters is just enough. Masters by 1-2%.
Dem Leaning Race
New Hampshire – Democratic incumbent Maggie Hassan is not particularly strong. However, the refusal of NH Governor Chris Sununu and former Senator Kelly Ayotte to challenge her was a huge boon for Hassan, who had only beaten Ayotte by hundreds of votes in 2016. Republican primary voters – as they are unfortunately wont to do – then gave her an additional boost by narrowing bypassing more centrist Chuck Morse for Trumpier candidate Don Bolduc. To be frank, Hassan would have lost badly to Sununu, comfortably to Ayotte, and been in real trouble against Morse. But Bolduc has just enough of a candidate penalty that he comes up a few points short, with Hassan winning by 3-4%.
As a side note, a GOP win in this race is where things go from “really bad” to “utterly catastrophic” for Dems. Losing 4 seats in this cycle was probably the worst Democrats could do under any reasonable viewing of the Senate elections.
Dem Favored Races
Colorado – Democratic incumbent Michael Bennet is the kind of anodyne political candidate that shouldn’t ever truly underperform. Which is probably good for Dems in the current environment. Trump skeptical GOPer Joe O’Dea likely will get more independent support than any R in the state since Cory Gardner in 2014, but it’s unlikely to be enough. Bennet by 5%.
Washington – Incumbent Dem Patty Murray may or may not be a weak candidate, opinions vary, but Washington is probably too Democratic for her to lose in all but a national environment that is favorable to the GOP by double digits. We aren’t there. Murray by 8-9%.
All in all, the pick is Republicans taking a 53-47 majority in the Senate (after whatever GA does finishes), and Cocaine Mitch McConnell returning to this rightful throne atop the Senate.
With so many words spilled on the Senate, the House will get short shrift here, with individual races being picked on my Twitter account @douglaslukasik. That said, from a handicapping standpoint, the House may be more telling. Since the Dobbs decision, this author has been very clear that the national environment is probably GOP plus 7-8%, but Dobbs enacts a 2-3% penalty, leaving a Republican advantage of 5-6%. There have been many who have questioned this assessment, especially after Democratic favorable polling in late summer. But no wavering by this pundit has occurred, and as expected here much of the polling points to a far more GOP environment than it did a few months back (not because things have changed, but because that earlier polling was garbage).
The pick is the GOP by 5.8% and a final GOP seat total of around 245, a gain of 32 seats from Democrats. The narrow seat range pick is the GOP winning 235-250 seats, and the broad seat range pick is the GOP winning between 227-258. But my best guess is roughly 245, an extremely big Republican night that puts the party just under its 100 year high … from the 1920s.
Bottom line, this author expects a dark day for Democrats. And frankly, if they don’t change their general ideological outlook at the federal level, these dark days won’t end in 2022.