Next weekend is Labor Day weekend and the unofficial opening of the 2022 “regular season” for politics. A lot has changed on the political landscape since the last time I took a look at the prospects for the 2022 Senate races and I thought it merited another look.
Technically, and unsurprisingly, the Republicans are already up one. Going into the cycle there were 34 seats in play. 20 currently occupied by Republicans and the remaining 14 by Democrats. Oklahoma Republican Jim Inhofe announced he would retire at the end of the year and to comply with Oklahoma law a special election to select someone to serve out the remainder of his term (to 2026) was held on Oklahoma’s Primary Day. No surprise, the seat went to a Republican, Markwayne Mullins. Net result is no change from the current 50-50 upper chamber which the Democrats control by virtue of holding the vice presidency in the person of Kamala Harris.
I see 23 of the remaining 34 seats staying in their current party’s control. There are 4 seats currently held by Democrats that I think are less than locks and 7 currently held by Republicans fall into that same category.
In the cases of the four Democratic seats in question the incumbent is running for reelection. They are Catherine Cortez Mastro in Nevada, Maggie Hassan in New Hampshire, Mark Kelly in Arizona and Raphael Warnock in Georgia. New Hampshire has a late primary so Hassan’s opponent is not yet set but it is looking like an extremist has the best shot. New Hampshire is a purplish state but moderates are usually the choice of the Granite State voters. In the other three the Republican is a Trump endorsed radical and all are currently behind in the polls. It’s early but at this point it looks like the Democrats can hold all 14 seats they are defending.
To varying degrees, I see 7 question marks that Republicans are defending: Alaska, Florida, Iowa, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
Alaska is the most interesting case and the least likely for the Democrats to flip. Lisa Murkowski is running for reelection and in Alaska’s unusual setup has a Trump backed Republican opponent. While several outcomes are possible, I see money coming into the race on Murkowski’s side and her holding her seat.
I have Iowa in play only because Chuck Grassley is old and often doesn’t seem to have the elevator going all the way to the penthouse anymore. Despite the fact that Iowa is purple (with a significant red overtone) I still like Grassley chances at this point.
Next, we come to what Democratic fundraisers are calling the Flipable Five. Hold the 14 and flip one you take the Senate “clean”. Flip two and you negate the “Manchin-Sinema problem”. For my money the best chance of a flip is Pennsylvania where a Trump endorsed candidate from Pennsyljersey is sinking further every time he opens his mouth. Because I still have faith in the American voter my next most likely flip is in Wisconsin where incumbent Ron Johnson (the Senator from Moscow) is running for reelection. If the Democrat can simply go 2 for 5 it makes for a much better Senate!
Ohio has become a tough (but not impossible) nut to crack for Democrats in recent years. Current Representative Tim Ryan is the Democrat taking on Republican J.D. Vance for the open seat. Vance while very intelligent is far from authentic. This one will be very interesting!
I’m putting the remaining two into a similar category. North Carolina is an open seat with Democrat Cheri Beasley facing Trump endorsed Republican and current Representative Ted Budd. There has already been a ton of money spent in this race and much more to come as well as right wing disinformation aimed at Beasley. In Florida Democrat and current Representative Val Demings is trying to unseat Republican Marco Rubio. If voters will only take the time to research the records of the four Beasley and Demings will win by large margins; alas the voters won’t. However, even if these two do lose – and I’m not predicting that at this point – by keeping it close – and they will do at least that – they help the “team” win in that the Republicans will have to spend money in those races; money which can’t be spent elsewhere. (Don’t forget there are governors’ and House races going on.)
Before we close let’s take a look at money. The biggest problem the Republicans are having with money is that Trump is sucking up the lion’s share of small donations. He is largely keeping that money for himself and his own purposes. While his endorsement is huge in Republican primaries it may actually hurt in general elections and he certainly doesn’t back up his endorsement with big donations.
Enter Mitch McConnell, in my opinion one of the smartest politicians in Washington today. Mitch controls his caucus much the same way that LBJ did when he was in the Senate – via money. Mitch has a considerable war chest and will spend it late in the campaign to be the financial white knight. In return he demands loyalty. Mitch will gamble a bit, but he won’t waste money on losers and he doesn’t want a nutcase who won’t be loyal.
Last, and certainly not to be discounted, we have extreme right dark money. Some is already in the races and more may come but like Mitch they want to be white knights backing winners. You don’t invest in moral victories because there is no return on investment.
This is like writing a preseason prediction article in sports. With that said I like the Democrats’ chances of not only holding the Senate but picking up a few seats. If I had to bet a number at this point it would be 52-48 but I’m smart enough not to bet. In any event here we go. “Opening Day” is only about a week away.
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