AMAC Exclusive by Barry Casselman
The 2022 U.S. Senate midterm election campaign season is about to begin in full force, with the Biden administration at its lowest point so far in public opinion polls, its domestic agenda stalled, and facing numerous crises at home and abroad.
This has caused many Republicans to wish the elections could be held now, fearing a Democratic resurgence by November, and a lost opportunity to take back control of Congress.
Such a resurgence could happen, but given the more radical ambitions of the Democratic leadership, such a scenario is less likely than a further deterioration of the Biden administration and Congressional Democrats’ prospects.
A few Democrats have broken with their own leadership, but only a very few so far, and none of these few are in the 2022 Senate midterms.
As filing dates loom and pass, the shape of the competitive Senate races is now coming into focus. Under current conditions, Democrats are finding it difficult to recruit challengers in some races that were expected to be hotly contested. However, many more GOP incumbents have retired so far, including in North Carolina, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. Potential GOP retirements could still happen in Wisconsin and South Dakota.
The Democrats begin the 2021 midterm Senate campaign with a distinct numerical advantage thanks to having fewer incumbent seats at stake. But Senate elections, unlike House elections, are usually much more affected by national issues and presidential approval ratings.
Most observers have noted that there are 4-5 vulnerable incumbent Senate seats for each party in play at the outset of the 2022 campaign, including those with retiring members. An additional 2-3 GOP seats seemed potentially vulnerable, depending on who the eventual nominees would be. But if President Biden’s poll numbers remain at current levels, or deteriorate further, most of these now competitive races will cease to be close, and Republicans could gain a net of 3-6 senate seats — and win back clear control of the chamber. If that happens, 1 or 2 sitting Democrats might switch parties and join the new GOP majority.
Even if Mr. Biden improves 4-6 points from current his approval rating that is hovering somewhere between 38 and 42% (as now reported by most credible pollsters), it would likely barely help his party’s 2022 senate candidates because he would still be underwater. The president and his administration probably need a dramatic gain of about 10 points or more to be able to assist his Democratic Senate nominees.
President Biden’s current low numbers are occurring at the same time the stock market is near all-time highs and unemployment is relatively low. With inflation fears being aggravated with each new economic report, supply chain shortages mounting, and energy prices increasing, how likely is it that economic conditions will be favorable in the summer and autumn of 2022 when voters decide how they will vote in November?
A case in point is the Senate race in New Hampshire. Democrats breathed a sigh of relief recently when popular GOP Governor Chris Sununu announced he would not run against vulnerable incumbent Democratic Senator Maggie Hassan. Their sense of relief, however, might have been premature. New polls have Senator Hassan leading her now likely GOP opponent, a retired Army brigadier general (Don Bolduc), by several points, but she is at only 46%, a very low number for an incumbent. Remember that in 2021, the incumbent Democratic governor of New Jersey led his GOP opponent by several points right up to election day, but was only at 50% (which is what he received) and almost lost. Senator Hassan is still very vulnerable, and new polls have New Hampshire voters feeling negative about Joe Biden.
The same is true in Arizona and Nevada, where Democratic incumbents are in competitive races, but were early clear favorites for re-election. If President Biden and the Democratic agenda are in trouble next year, they are, too.
At the same time, vulnerable Republican incumbent senators or Republicans running for open seats facing potentially serious Democratic opponents might coast to easier-than-expected wins in 2022 with an anti-Biden tide.
Yes, the election is still a little over ten months away, and economic and political changes could occur, but a refusal by the Democratic White House leadership to change course in dealing with current economic and political challenges could lead to Republicans retaking control of the Senate — thus forcing Mr. Biden’s hand in what remains of his term.