2022 U.S. Midterm Elections: An Early Look
Features Editor Ishaan Rahman takes an early look at how the 2022 Midterm Elections are shaping up two months into Joe Biden’s Presidency
Believe it or not, many politically-engaged Americans are already taking a look at the 2022 U.S. Midterm Elections just two months after President Joe Biden was sworn into office. With pollsters already making early predictions, candidates announcing their campaigns and eyes glued to Biden’s approval ratings, it’s time to take a premature look at some possibilities.
The 2022 Elections will take place exactly halfway through President Biden’s term in office. There will be elections in all 435 districts of the House of Representatives and roughly one-third of Senate seats. Governors in 36 states and most state legislatures will also be holding elections. Currently, Democrats control both the House and the Senate. Republicans have 27 governors while Democrats have 23.
The House elections will be the first to take place after the 2021 census, which will be used to redraw house districts. There are concerns about partisan gerrymandering and voting restrictions taking place that will rig the election in one party’s favour. Though, since 2010, several measures have been put in place to mediate the effects of gerrymandering. In addition, a pending Senate bill, the ‘For the People’ Act would fully ban gerrymandering ahead of the redistricting process.
Midterm Elections are historically tough on the incumbent party. In 2018, halfway through President Donald Trump’s term, his party lost over 40 seats in the House of Representatives and seven Governor’s races. Former Presidents also saw their respective parties suffer similar defeats. So what are the prospects for 2022? Will this year buck the trend or not? Let’s take a look.
The House of Representatives
Congress’ lower house seems to change hands most frequently in U.S. Elections. The President’s party has almost always lost the House in its first term. The only Presidents who bucked the trend are Ronald Reagan, whose party never controlled the House in the first place, and George W. Bush, who enjoyed high approval ratings after his handling of the 9/11 terror attacks. However, Republicans later lost control of the House in 2006 after Bush’s approval ratings sank.
So, this time, history appears to be on the Republicans’ side. Moreover, despite Joe Biden’s victory last year, Democrats lost seats in the House leaving them with a razor-thin majority. Republicans would only need to gain six seats to take control of the chamber; for perspective, they gained ten in the last election and over 60 in 2010.
There is another possibility though. Former President Trump has said he will campaign for GOP candidates in 2022. While this will likely drive his supporters to the polls, it will also energize Democrats in opposition, possibly resulting in a stalemate. Trump is polarizing and could alienate moderate, suburban voters that the GOP needs to win back.
Control of the House is easily within reach for the Republican Party, as evidenced by their leader’s confidence. However, if Biden’s approval ratings remain solid, Democrats deliver on their campaign promises and Trump divides the electorate, they may be able to hold the line.
Unlike the House, the Senate’s history during midterm elections has been less straightforward. In 2018, despite resounding victories elsewhere, Democrats actually lost seats in the Senate. Republicans managed to defeat several Democratic Senators who were in states that then-President Trump had won in 2016. The situation is reversed in 2022 with Republicans on the defensive despite a Democrat occupying the White House.
Thus far, five GOP senators are retiring before the election, giving Democrats a better shot. The most obvious target for Democrats is Pennsylvania, a state Biden won in 2020. Several candidates on both sides have announced their bids, with the most prominent being the state’s Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman, a Democrat. Democrats are also eyeing Wisconsin, where incumbent GOP Senator Ron Johnson is pondering retirement though has not announced his plans yet. Open seats in North Carolina, Ohio and Missouri are also potential targets though are more of a long-shot.
Despite being on the defensive, there are pickup opportunities for Republicans too. Georgia and Arizona have been shifting blue lately but the GOP could try and reverse that trend by defeating Senators Raphael Warnock and Mark Kelly. Although, the Republican Party in both states is bitterly divided and dysfunctional. Nevada and New Hampshire are two other targets but the former has a large Hispanic population which leans Democratic and the latter voted for Biden by seven percentage points. It is worth noting that New Hampshire’s popular, anti-Trump Republican governor Chris Sununu is considering a Senate run, which could make the race more competitive. GOP pickups will be tough but with the right strategy and candidates it could work.
Large changes in the Senate’s composition are unlikely. Democrats’ slim majority means that the GOP only need to gain one seat in order to take control. However, even that could prove challenging. At the moment, the Democrats seem to have more pickup opportunities.
The Governors’ races also appear to be more static this time around with only a handful of pickup opportunities on each side. First up, America’s four largest states will all be electing governors though these are unlikely to be competitive. New York and California will almost certainly re-elect Democratic governors, though perhaps not the incumbents. Texas will likely also re-elect its Republican governor, despite trending blue. Florida is a battleground state that has continually frustrated Democrats; the current GOP governor Ron DeSantis has solid approval ratings and will likely be re-elected. So no probable changes here.
On the Democratic side, the pickup opportunities lie in Maryland, Arizona and Georgia. Maryland, a solid Democratic state, is an almost guaranteed gain as Republican Governor Larry Hogan, an anti-Trump conservative, is retiring. Hogan had a strong personal appeal in the state which is unlikely to be replicated by another GOP candidate. Sabato’s Crystal Ball, a political newsletter that predicts US elections, currently rates Maryland as the only state likely to change hands as of now.
In Arizona, the incumbent Governor is term-limited, giving Democrats a solid opportunity to field their candidate. As mentioned, Arizona is a former deep-red state that now has two Democratic Senators and voted for President Biden last year. Democrats will be looking to replicate that success. Georgia is a slightly different story; Republican Governor Brian Kemp is running for re-election though he has angered Trump by certifying Joe Biden’s election victory in the state last year. Trump promised to campaign against Kemp, severely damaging his re-election prospects. Trump supporters’ dislike of Kemp gives Democrats an opportunity. Stacey Abrams is the Democrats’ likely candidate.
Republican targets are primarily in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Kansas. In Pennsylvania, the popular Democratic governor is retiring, presenting an opportunity for GOP candidates. Wisconsin is another target though the incumbent Democrat is eligible for re-election and is reasonably approved of. Kansas, a deep-red state, is the Democrats’ most vulnerable seat. Governor Laura Kelly had the benefit of running against a highly controversial candidate in 2018. She may not get that advantage again though is still a strong candidate in her own right.
Overall, there are two competing narratives on the midterm elections. History suggests that Republicans will make inroads as there is inevitable backlash to President Biden’s agenda. Though, incumbent parties have bucked this trend before and with several GOP Senators and Governors retiring in battleground states as well as an energied electorate on both sides, there is no decisive favorite to win yet.
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