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Election 2022 Preview

Election 2022 Preview

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?

Map of Senate Races in 2022. Open races in bold.

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:

Movement Labs

Text Out the Vote

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.

18 Comments

  1. I don’t see the Democrats, both rank and file and base voters, doing enough or standing up enough against the obvious and clear voter suppression crushing down on them nation wide, to believe they’re taking 2022 as seriously as needed. That current chart you show is within “margin of error” or more explicitly is how many popular votes the Dems typically win while the GOP magically gains more seats.

    The two variables for me is if Dem voter turnout matches the high levels of before, and if the red team really does accidentally kill their own margins with COVID. Either way I doubt numbers will be strong enough to determine what exactly tips left or right, as always.

    Trump dying won’t save us, it’ll just kick the ball to whomever tells the most entertaining “The Deep State assassinated him” story. We have to basically presume we’ll either have him or a roughly equal lunatic, so it’s not worth pursuing that line of thought.

    I will cop to curiosity about whether COVID receding to endemic rather than prevalent and the Dems passing or not passing the two big bills they’re self-destructing over will matter. However it’s both too many variables over too much time and presumes the “average voter” pays attention to the details.

      1. Democracy died in the u.s. sometime between 2017 and Jan 2021. But the dem’s are just too obtuse to recognize it. The only way to get some semblance of it back is intensive and extensive use of government violence against the death cult, starting now.

        Of course, that in and of itself is a nightmare scenario, though far better than the alternative. However, we are talking about a group of clowns that could not even convene a commission to investigate Jan 6th until many months after the fact. Plus, when bannon and other conspirators simply tell the House to “fuck off”, the commission just sits there, as opposed to the House finding these people in contempt and dragging them in chains before the commission within days.

        If the roles had been reversed, the death cult would have had the commission operating by Jan 27th, subpoenas issued the next day, and anyone refusing to appear arrested by Feb 1st.

    1. Sununu’s definitely the strongest candidate Republicans could put up, and he looks like he’s been gearing up for it for a while.

      Hassan won’t be easy to topple though, and abortion is already starting to play and outsized role in the race. Wait and see what SCOTUS decides to do next year.

  2. This is one of the more optimistic politics articles I’ve read recently. I agree 1000% that we need this hat trick and this is the heaviest lift. A few comments and a question.

    Push had come to shove with the Jan 6 commission. Trump has openly ordered his lackeys to defy the subpoenas. It’s nut up or shut up time for the Dems. Susan McDougal spent 18 months in prison for refusing to testify over some piddling real estate deal in Arkansas. There needs to be the same treatment for the toadies who interfered with the peaceful transfer of power, and that festering pustule Bannon should be the first one to be made an example of. Rick Wilson freaked out Twitter last Friday with an accusation that the committee would end up doing essentially nothing in terms of real consequences, and the clock is ticking for the committee to prove him wrong. Ya’ll need a whole lot more than rebuttal Tweets here. Use the power or lose it.

    The findings of the 1/6 Committee, released at opportunistic times next year, could be a godsend. This leads into my question- it was obvious that a consequential number of GOP voters split their ballots. They voted for Biden, but also for the R candidates for House/ Senate. I would guess they thought that with Trump gone, those Rs would go back to normal and keep Biden from going too far left. Well 1/6 and the GOP attempt to whitewash it put another big lie to that. With few exceptions, those Rs have knuckled under to MAGA autocracy. So Chris, the question is, what to those voters do next year not that it is obvious that the Ra they elected are not sober rational conservatives who respect precedent, the will of the people, and the rule of law? I think that the only true issue on the ballot next year is democracy vs autocracy, and everything else is a very distant 2nd. Every House swing district R needs to be tarred with the sedition caucus brush if they are an incumbent who voted against certification, or if they are a challenger, the voters need to demand a straight answer about what they would do concerning the 2024 results.

  3. Nothing about Wisconsin? It squeaked to Biden in 2020, and honestly, celebrity politics combined with the recent Milwaukee Bucks win could give Lasry a leg-up (though he might end up being a Manchin for Wall St. issues). Plus, having a Milwaukee Bucks owner in the Senate is already prior art (Herb Kohl).

  4. A point in agreement with Blitz, Democrats have to deliver the goods. Despite the mess Biden inherited from team T that we can see, the mess within democratic circles is not engendering confidence nor enthusiasm for the GOTV necessary in 2022. Personally, though I understand the logic behind the Infrastructure and Build Back Better bills, if Democrats can’t checkmate Republicans voting changes, these other accomplishments won’t matter.

    Tho I despise the ever-despicable lows to which Republicans grovel, I am keenly aware of their political shrewdness and fearless tactics. Democrats just keep using the same, tired playbook. Even T as the opposing candidate may be insufficient to convince reluctant Independents and lukewarm Republican deniers to turn out…and Democrats are always a roll of the dice.

    Finally, I am interested in Governor’s races. Any thoughts there?

  5. This was an intriguing read, and I really hope that you’re on the money with this one. Dems will need every advantage possible going into this election, as I agree it’s going to be one of the most consequential. I really, truly hope that the positive signs you’re picking up on pan out.

    That said, I do have a concern regarding that Rasmussen generic ballot average. In 2016 and 2020, we saw the polls at least slightly overstate Democratic margins compared to the actual outcome, and some observers claim that there is evidence that the “shy Trump voter” is real. Trump’s base is less likely to trust pollsters, and therefore less likely to respond to polls. Is it possible that the disparity between the 2009 and 2021 numbers could at least be partially explained by conservative base voters dropping off in poll participation?

    Polling numbers aside, I can only hope that Democrats learned their lesson from the nationwide swing a few points more Republican by Latino voters. The GOP’s long-term survival outside of stacking elections in their favor will be as you said: convincing Latinos to become white. They’re making inroads to accomplishing this, and we saw this shift continue by a few points among non-college Latino voters in SoCal during the recall election.

    Bottom line is that Dems need to have a permanent, year-round operation in Latino majority districts like the Repubs do, with lots of spending on Spanish-language advertising. It wouldn’t hurt to do that in Asian-American communities too.

    Lastly, Sinema and Manchin need to stop screwing around and let the reconciliation and infrastructure bills through. Biden NEEDS those accomplishments to get the best shot at a favorable midterm outcome. I don’t care how much Charlie Cook wants to bay about how the already pared-down bills are “overreach,” because the contents of both are extremely popular and needed.

  6. We are definitely on the same page. Winning the 2022 election solidly will be key. Solid majorities in both the House and Senate will be required. Additionally, gaining control of several of the red state governorships will be helpful. Perhaps winning control of some of the state legislatures will be possible, but with the gerrymandering and voter suppression that are being implemented that will be difficult. Regardless, if the Democrats have solid control at the federal level, they will be in a very strong position to deal with the states. Furthermore, SCOTUS will hopefully be reluctant to intervene, against solid opposition from the other two branches of government.

    Win in 2024 and the entire political spectrum will be totally different. As you say it will be a “different country.” Future political scientists will refer to the 2022 and 2024 elections as the transition to the Seventh US Party System. The transition is due historically, since IMO the Sixth System began with the victory of Reagan in 1980 or perhaps earlier and US party systems seem to have a life of 40-60 years..

  7. I basically concur with Chris comments. I went back and reread his column from 2018, to which he linked. Most of the discussion there continues to be relevant.

    However, I do believe that the failure of the Democrats to obtain a clear majority in 2020 combined with the loss of seats in the House, has delayed the transition and has given the Republicans an opportunity to delay things and to upset the cart and has made this and the 2024 elections far more important. Trump’s continued appeal to the Republican Party and his apparent determination to run again in 2024 and to influence the 2022 elections has introduced major disruptions.

    The 2022 election will provide an opportunity for the Democrats to obtain solid majorities again and perhaps accomplish the reforms that should be accomplished this Congress, but will not be. That factor makes this election all the more important.

    Perhaps if the Ds do obtain solid majorities and Trump by some miracle is no longer on the scene, 2024 will be essentially a straight forward election. Nevertheless, I feel that any Democratic victory in 2022 will not be really decisive, and we will face another crucial election in 2024. I believe there will be several electoral college delegations that are challenged and the presidential election could well be thrown to the House. The Republicans will likely control a majority of the House delegations. Each state has only one vote when the House selects the President. The question then becomes will the individual state delegations decide to respect the vote of the people or will they obey the dictates of their leader, DJT? I have no doubt that the people will overwhelmingly support the likely Democratic ticket of Biden-Harris. There is also the possibility the SCOTUS will interfere and prevent the election from even reaching the House. With the present composition of the Court, the justices could well make a decision in favor of the Republicans, and ignore the will of the people. Either scenario could well precipitate the most serious constitutional crisis the U.S. has seen since 1861.

    Accordingly, I believe the 2024 election will be the most important of our lives.

    1. That outcome you describe for ’24 is pretty much baked in. And unless Trump dies in the next two years he’ll probably be the candidate. Key to winning that conflict is a congressional victory in ’22 that leaves Democrats in control of the reins of power in December ’24. The way things have been going, there’s no way Trump does even as well as his pathetic ’20 showing. Efforts to subvert the election end up looking sufficiently desperate that no major figures in power back it. The military holds. The effort delegitimizes the GOP completely this time, as in ’25 no one will be playing games anymore. Lots of people will go to jail and deaths will probably total at least in the hundreds, maybe more.

      Small scale outbreaks of violence and resistance break out across super red areas. A few janky, low-rent terror attacks are attempted in cities. Public opinion solidifies against the right. A wave of arrests follow. A wave of purges of right wing nuts from their remaining perches in corporate and political life follow that. This is the best outcome we can hope for. Trump supporters by the second half of the 20’s live in mom’s basement, a cabin in the woods, some remote farm, or jail. A new party emerges to paint a new face on the GOP, but it’s quickly coopted by weirdoes and fails to gain traction.

      Win in ’22, and Democrats have an almost unbeatable hand going into the ’24 conflict. Win that conflict and we’re living in a different country.

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