Written By: Herald Boas
With the U.S. Senate currently divided 50-50 between the two major parties and Vice President Kamala Harris casting the tie-breaking vote, Republicans already have their eyes on next year’s elections–and many believe they are well on their way to retaking the U.S. Senate.
During the first few months of 2021, Democrats have set an ambitious but controversial agenda, including the highly partisan H.R. 1 election bill already passed in the U.S. House, a proposed $3.1 trillion infrastructure spending bill (only payable by even more new taxes), student loan forgiveness, mass amnesty and other divisive immigration policies, and many other programs that could be a bridge too far for many voters, and even some in the Democrat base.
This kind of overreach, like the left-wing healthcare policies put forward by new Democratic administrations in 1993 and 2009, could easily preclude the party from winning any additional seats in 2022–and even more likely, it could endanger the party’s own vulnerable incumbents.
This is the first in a series of reports that will look ahead at the political terrain that will define the House, Senate, statehouse and governors’ elections coming up over the next two years. AMAC will be bringing you critical information and analysis on the candidates, races, and issues that will determine whether Republicans take back control of Congress or Democrats maintain their hold on power in Washington.
A total of 34 Senate races will be on the ballot in 2022, including 20 seats currently held by Republicans and 14 held by Democrats. Most incumbents running for re-election are likely to win, but conservative strategists have hopes to oust liberal senators in five contests that are likely to be competitive.
The two most vulnerable Democrats, Mark Kelly of Arizona and Raphael Warnock of Georgia, won narrow first-time special elections in normally Republican states in 2020 during a volatile presidential campaign. Both Kelly and Warnock have been supporting legislation that many voters in their states might find too radical. Former football star Herschel Walker, a leader in the African American community and a friend of former President Trump, is a top GOP prospect in Georgia. Arizona has several prominent potential candidates.
In recent election cycles, national midterm voting patterns in years following the election of a new president have been difficult for the party in power. New administrations have often struggled to establish their agenda — frequently in an environment of negative economic news. This was especially true for Presidents Clinton and Obama, respectively in 1994 and 2010, when their parties suffered major Congressional losses.
Although the economic mood is currently upbeat in response to hopes that the pandemic is ending, and the stock market is reaching new highs, many economists warn that the full impact of the past year is still unknown. Stock speculation might be overly optimistic. The latest $1.9 trillion stimulus legislation, now popular with Democrats, will require higher taxes which will dampen economic growth, and could lead to a recession by the summer of 2022.
Three other incumbent Democratic senators are potentially vulnerable next year, including Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada, Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire, and Michael Bennet of Colorado.
Senator Cortez Masto, a protege of Harry Reid, won narrowly in 2016, and has not been very visible so far in Nevada. The Mexican-U.S. border crisis could easily have a political impact in nearby states beyond Texas, including Nevada which has seen its huge hospitality industry hit hard by the pandemic. The state’s many union members could react negatively to an influx of low-wage economic migrant workers made possible by the Biden border policies.
Senator Hassan is another low profile first termer who could face a major challenge from GOP Governor Chris Sununu, scion of a household family name in New Hampshire politics. Former GOP Senator Kelly Ayotte could also run against Hassan, (who narrowly defeated her in 2016). New Hampshire, like Arizona, is a battleground state with current statewide elected Republicans.
Colorado has recently voted Democratic, but an economic downturn or Biden administration failures could endanger Senator Bennet’s re-election. Former GOP Senator Cory Gardner could be his opponent. Gardner lost in 2020 in a very bad year for Republicans in Colorado, but is a personable figure with an independent reputation who could make a comeback in a non-presidential election year, just as he was first elected in 2014.
A major factor in Republican Senate challenges, especially in their nominating process, will be the support or non-support of former President Donald Trump. Although he has made no decision about running himself in 2024, he has said he will remain active in the Republican Party, where he continues to have a large voter base, and plans to campaign for GOP Senate candidates in 2022. Exactly what role he chooses to play could be decisive in the months and years ahead.