From the onset of this U.S. Senate election cycle, it was clear that Republicans held a significant numerical advantage, with 23 incumbent Democrats on the ballot and only 11 Republicans. This advantage is magnified by the nature of the races in question, and the general assessment that 8 or 9 incumbent Democrat seats are potentially vulnerable, and only one GOP seat is likely competitive.
But the 2022 U.S. Senate elections remind all of us that theoretical advantages are not always realized when voters actually go to the polls.
This cycle also includes a presidential election that is already one of the most controversial in memory, and which might remain so until Election Day.
If former President Donald Trump is nominated next year, the volatility surrounding his candidacy might have an even greater impact than usual, especially in light of his involvement in 2022 Senate campaigns.
Until very recently, the Republican Senate Campaign Committee (RSCC) had not been successful in recruiting strong challengers for several potentially competitive seats held by Democrats. GOP fundraising also trailed that of their opponents.
It was beginning to appear that 2024 would be a year when GOP advantages on paper might again, as in 2022, not be realized — and that Democrats might even keep control of the Senate.
But the NRSC efforts under its chairman, Montana Senator Steve Daines, have recently recruited impressive candidates in Pennsylvania (David McCormick), Nevada (Sam Burns), Montana (Tim Sheehey), and Michigan (Mike Rogers). GOP Governor Jim Justice is already a heavy favorite to pick up a Democratic seat in West Virginia. More than one Republican running in the Ohio senate primary would likely make a strong challenge to the Democrat incumbent in that state. (Conservative prospects in battleground senate races in Wisconsin and Arizona remain unsettled.)
Several recent events have also appeared to boost Republican ambitions to retake control of the Senate, including the mayor of Dallas, a Democrat, becoming a Republican, the most prominent of several recent party switches to the GOP; the retirements of incumbent Democrats in Delaware and Maryland; the retirement of Mitt Romney (a Republican who often broke with his own party) who will almost certainly replaced by someone more reliably conservative; and the indictment for bribery of Democrat Robert Menendez of New Jersey. The latter has caused several Democrat senators to call for Menendez to resign, which he refuses to do — thus providing an ongoing embarrassment for the liberal party until the case is resolved in court.
Several recent polls show Mr. Trump either ahead or tied with Mr. Biden in a 2024 match-up, as the incumbent president’s popularity reaches new lows.
Some 2024 third parties are now organizing, and polls indicate that, if on the ballot, they would take more votes from Democrats than Republicans in most cases, particularly if there are No Labels and Green Party candidates in states which have competitive races.
There are, however, difficulties which remain for GOP hopes in 2024. A failed effort in Texas to impeach its Republican attorney general has divided the state party and might put a cloud over the re-election of GOP Senator Ted Cruz, who faces a serious challenge. Although he continues to be a clear frontrunner, Donald Trump faces four criminal trials following his indictments — trials which likely will take place during the presidential campaign. No GOP challenger to Mr. Trump has so far taken off following the first debate, but a hotly contested Republican primary cycle could still emerge and have unpredictable effects on voter turnout patterns in individual states with Senate races.
Republican Party fundraising also continues to trail the more successful efforts of their opponents.
The momentum that was moving against the GOP in the 2024 Senate races has now mainly reversed, and is seemingly going in their favor. But the components of the whole effort to retake control, and particularly to do so with a few seats to spare, are many and tentative — and could reverse again more than once between now and Election Day.
Events to watch for include GOP recruitment in Wisconsin and Arizona, any further unexpected retirements of incumbents, a surge or lack of a surge in Republican fundraising, and the ability of Republican challengers to come up with defining issues that bring out voters to the polls (as the Democrats did with the abortion issue in 2022). The presidential race will have impact, too, but U.S. Senate races are usually decided mostly by issues in their states.
Republicans retaking control of the U.S. House of Representatives in 2022, albeit by less a margin than expected, has made a very big difference in the political environment in Washington, D.C. Retaking the U.S. Senate would more than amplify this — it would dramatically reverse the radical course now being pursued by Democrats.