It’s election season. Candidates are gathering signatures to qualify for the primary ballot. Precinct leaders are checking their lists. Donors are vetting their options. Legislators are drawing district lines to pick their favorite voters.
As I wrote before the 2018 Election, this is the big one. Election 2022 is likely our last chance at a peaceful transition from a nation organized around a white supremacist mythology toward something better. As the third election in this necessary trifecta, this will be the toughest to win. How does it look so far?
The accepted wisdom is that the President’s party does poorly in the next Congressional Election, especially in the President’s first term. Americans love change as a slogan, but they tend to resent any force from any place on the political spectrum that actually produces change. Once voters place a new party in power they immediately move to blunt that party’s capacity to accomplish anything.
Our best early predictor of Congressional results has been the generic party preference poll. With this change-of-power dynamic in place one might expect Republicans would begin with a lead. That hasn’t yet materialized. Look at the difference from 2017 to 2021:
For an incumbent party, these numbers are quite good.
At this point in 2009, Rasmussen had Republicans leading their generic Congressional ballot poll by 4-5 points. This time they show Democrats leading by 2. That’s an odd position for a party in control of all three branches of government at this point in the cycle. At this point in the 2018 Election cycle Republicans were sitting at 39% in 538’s average. This time with all the historic force of incumbency working in their favor they’ve only jumped to 41%, still trailing the Democrats.
In the Senate, control likely turns on the outcome of
Georgia – Warnock (Dem)
Arizona – Kelly (Dem)
Nevada – Cortez-Masto (Dem)
North Carolina – Open (held by Burr, Rep)
Pennsylvania – Open (held by Toomey, Rep)
Florida – Rubio (Rep)
Ohio – Open (held by Portman, Rep)
Conventional wisdom would have Warnock losing in Georgia and Republicans losing Pennsylvania while the rest of these seats remain in their current party camps, leaving the 50-50 tie in the Senate. However, the trend that turned Georgia from a solid Republican state to a Democratic trifecta is only continuing. With Trump backing Herschel Walker in the Georgia Senate race, a man whose incompetence is so severe and so likely injury-related as to be more sad than funny, Warnock has a solid shot at winning. That dynamic points out the problem Republicans face going into ’22.
Voters who show up to a Republican primary these days are people you wouldn’t trust to change a lightbulb. Take Nevada.
Republican donors have picked their candidate in Nevada, Adam Laxalt. His dad was Senator Pete Domenici and his grandfather was Senator Paul Laxalt. Laxalt the younger went to Tulane and Georgetown before serving as a JAG in Iraq. He knows which deeply held opinions he’s supposed to pretend to hold, but can he convince Nevada Republicans that he’s crazy enough to represent them? Don’t rule out the pageant queen and all-around nitwit Sharelle Mendenhall who is challenging Laxalt. Laxalt has a name and money. Mendenhall has 75,000 Instagram followers and the hollow gaze of an authentic cultist. She could win this year’s “I’m not a witch” award, handed out by Christine O’Donnell.
Democrats have their challenges in the upcoming Senate race, but at least they don’t have to deal with Republicans’ primary nightmares. In Texas, before Governor Greg Abbott can beat Beto he has to head off a challenge from every racist’s favorite black man, Allen West. North Dakota and Alaska shouldn’t be competitive, but established Republicans are facing dangerous challenges there from committed nutjobs. Republican Senator Grassley is facing a challenge from a state senator in Iowa. At 88, he hasn’t been entirely on the ball for a decade. Even with deep pockets and strong name recognition he could struggle to explain to his frothing base why he didn’t single-handedly place Trump in office for life. Similar base dynamics threaten Republicans in Ohio, Missouri and North Carolina.
Weird things happen in an election season. Republicans are rich in weird things. Odds of late surprises turning against them are very strong.
If you think Biden’s approval ratings are concerning, take a look at Reagan’s first couple of years. No modern President has enjoyed higher average approval ratings than Bush 1. How did that turn out? And Biden remains ahead of Trump’s abysmal numbers.
All this talk of “rigged elections” is creating unintended consequences for Republicans. Their slackjawed faithful stayed home in protest during the Georgia Senate runoff election, handing those races to Democrats. Fifteen minutes ago we were hearing that California Republicans were about to shock the world in a recall election. The outcome wasn’t close.
Beneath the 2020 results was the leading edge of a generational wave. Millennials are starting to reach the real voting age: 40. That’s when voters begin settling into a steady pattern of engagement, participation and turnout. This is the least religious, least white and most financially troubled generation we’ve raised. Up to now they’ve been solidly Democratic. They are also our largest demographic cohort ever and they are just beginning to impact our political system.
Lots of things can happen in a year, but Democrats couldn’t have asked for a better position to be in at this point. What can you do to help?
Find your Democratic precinct chairman. Offer to help at the most local level.
Be wise about your donation budget. Avoid showy challenges in nearly impossible races in favor of races you understand, preferably close to home.
Your local Democratic leadership can help you find call banking and text banking opportunities around the country. A couple of good ones:
Get started with volunteer opportunities now. That gives you time to get used to the methods and platforms before the crunch hits at the end of next summer.
We’ve gone 2 for 2 in these critical elections since the Trump disaster. One more delivers an almost insurmountable advantage, placing Democrats in control of the military and security services going into the ’24 Election. This is the election of our lives.