As election season winds down, we enter a new chapter in politics. Joe Biden will be inaugurated on January 20th, 2021. Except for special elections and candidacy declarations, there won’t be much going on that will impact elections. I’ll post for the elections that do happen, such as the Georgia runoffs. I will also post about congressional re-districting, which will happen in most states next year, and more posts reflecting on what we learned from the 2020 election. Nonetheless, expect a drop in the frequency of posts for the next half year starting next year
One of two things I wish to produce before my semi-hiatus is my 2022 Senate Ratings. I understand if you are still recovering from the 2020 election, or if you just want a break from politics. But many of my fellow election nerds are also looking ahead. I want to set my expectations for this upcoming election cycle.
The other resource I wish to provide is 2021-2022 Governor Ratings. Expect those to drop in early December.
Without further ado…
|Safe D||Likely D||Lean D||Toss-Up|
|Lean R||Likely R||Safe R|
I predict Republicans are at least favored in 49 seats, while Democrats are favored in 47. With Kamala Harris (or Nancy Pelosi if Biden is unable to serve) breaking ties, Democrats need a net gain of two Senate seats throughout 2021 and 2022 to gain control of the Senate. If the four Toss-Ups on the map were evenly split between the parties, Republicans would escape with the narrowest possible margin, 51-49.
The battle for the Senate in 2022 starts without one party holding a clear advantage, but both parties have reasons to hope that they might come to be heavier favorites.
The good news for Republicans is that, unless the sitting President is particularly popular, the incumbent party, which is in this case the Democrats, typically loses congressional seats. Biden won, but not by very much. He won by less than 25,000 votes in each of Wisconsin, Georgia, Arizona, and Nebraska’s 2nd congressional district. If those had gone to Trump, he would’ve had exactly 270 Electoral Votes. In 2020, we saw a resurgence in split-ticket voting, and in the most crucial Senate races, it benefited Republicans.
For Democrats, the good news is that Republicans have to defend four Senate seats in states Biden won, while no Democrat will have to face re-election in a Trump state. Joe Biden will hopefully preside over a gradual return to normalcy in America, as COVID-19 vaccines become widely available in 2021. If America begins to heal economically and socially under Biden, it could give Democrats everywhere a boost. If House Democrats pass legislation that Americans approve of, only to have that legislation blocked or filibustered by the GOP, negative sentiments could turn towards Senate Republicans.
Maryland – 2020 Result: Biden+32 – Last Senate Result: Van Hollen(D)+25
Maryland is a safe blue state, and on the surface, incumbent Democrat Chris Van Hollen appears a lock for re-election. In all likelihood, he’ll win easily, but there’s one Republican who can give Van Hollen a run for his money. That would be Governor Larry Hogan. Hogan, a moderate Trump-critic is one of the nation’s most popular governors. He’s floated the idea of running for federal office before, and he won re-election in 2018 by a dozen points, impressive for a Republican in a blue, suburban state. Split-ticket voting has only increased since then, and it probably benefits Republicans, especially considering Van Hollen isn’t one of the more exciting Senators in the Democratic caucus.
That said, even if Hogan runs, I’d still rather be Van Hollen, as Hogan would have to provide actual policy positions on divisive national issues, and I’m not sure even he would be able to defy Maryland’s blueness in a federal race. I’d rate Maryland Lean Democratic if he runs, and Safe Democratic if he doesn’t. Even if Hogan were to fall short, he’d force Democrats to push hard to hold a seat in a state that’s basically a Republican desert, which would be a victory,
Arizona – Biden+<1 – Mark Kelly(D)+2
It’s important to note that unlike most other Senators seeking re-election that last faced election in 2016, Mark Kelly won election in 2020, due to a special election caused by the death of John McCain. He was one of the few non-incumbent Democrats to out-perform Biden in their jurisdiction. The Arizona Republican party is becoming increasingly right-wing, nominating the most conservative candidate that may not have wide appeal among swing voters. Depending on how moderate or progressive of a Senator Mark Kelly ends up being, he starts the cycle uphill in his battle for re-election.
Nevada – Biden+2 – Catherine Cortez Masto(D)+3
Blue-leaning Nevada used to be much bluer than neighboring Arizona. However, Nevadans average lower income and lower academic achievement than Arizonans, as well as a pro-Trump swing among Latinos, have made Arizona and Nevada more even. Catherine Cortez Masto, the incumbent Democrat, might fit the description of “generic Democrat” the best. She’s not a poor campaigner, but not an exceptional one either. She’s liberal, but not usually progressive. In Nevada, a lot depends on what the national environment looks like for Democrats, and on who Republicans nominate against her. A “grand slam” recruit for Republicans would be former governor Brian Sandoval, an extremely popular, moderate, Hispanic, easygoing guy who won re-election in 2014 by 46 points. Former Senator Dean Heller could seek redemption.
New Hampshire – Biden+7 – Maggie Hassan(D)+<1
Joe Biden seriously outperformed expectations in New England, and particularly in New Hampshire. A peculiarity in New Hampshire was that Democrats comfortably won every race for federal office in the state, but Republicans held the governorship and flipped the Executive Council and both houses of the State Legislature. That governor, Chris Sununu, who won re-election in a landslide, has the intention of running for Senate against popular Senator Maggie Hassan. It would be an epic battle not just between two of the state’s political heavyweights, but also a battle that will decide what New Hampshire really is. Is it a blue state like the Presidential and Congressional results suggest, or is it actually becoming more red, as the state results would indicate?
North Carolina – Trump+1 – Richard Burr(R)+6
Some might wonder why I have North Carolina in Toss-Up, even after endangered Republican Senator Thom Tillis won re-election in 2020. Scandal-tainted incumbent Senator Richard Burr is retiring. His shadow will loom large in the race. This will be an open seat with no incumbent running, and, hopefully, the Democratic candidate won’t be involved in an adultery scandal. Trump won North Carolina by less than a point, it’s definitely still a swing state.
Pennsylvania – Biden+1 – Pat Toomey(R)+2
In Pennsylvania, Republican incumbent Pat Toomey has decided to retire. The nominations are wide open for both parties, but Democrats appear to have the stronger bench of candidates, such as congresspeople Conor Lamb or Chrissy Houlahan, Governor Tom Wolf, Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman, or Attorney General Josh Shapiro. Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick would be a good recruit for Republicans. Pennsylvania was just as competitive down ballot as it was on the Presidential level in 2020, so unless the political environment overwhelmingly favors one party, expect this race to be a nail-biter.
Wisconsin – Biden+1 – Ron Johnson(R)+3
Few in Wisconsin politics don’t remember Ron Johnson’s Lazarus-style comeback in 2016. Johnson ramped up his campaign with people like Paul Ryan and Scott Walker in a way Democrat Russ Feingold was incapable of responding to. Now, both Ryan and Walker are out of office, and Ron Johnson himself made a pledge that this would be his last term, but has since given indication that he may go back on that pledge. Democrats have a wide bench full of potential candidates, such as congressmen Mark Pocan or Ron Kind, that could do a better job than Feingold. A lot depends on the political environment, will Wisconsinites view Ron Johnson as a self-serving career politician past his prime, or an important line of defense against the Democratic party’s more radical policies?
Georgia – Biden+>1 – David Perdue(R)+2/Raphael Warnock(D)+7
I talked about the two Georgia runoff elections in detail in my last article.
Alaska – Trump+10 – Lisa Murkowski(R)+15
Alaska, in it’s isolation, is arguably the state with the largest third-party presence in America. Independent/third-party candidates routinely get double-digits. Complicating things further is the passing of a ballot measure in the state that abolishes primaries. Instead, every candidate runs on the same primary ballot, and the 4 candidates with the most votes advance to a general election with ranked-choice voting. Biden quietly did pretty well in Alaska for a Democrat, and Lisa Murkowski, one of the few pro-choice Republicans in Congress, has never gotten a majority of the vote in a Senate race. Alaska’s a strange state, and Murkowski a strange politician, so I’ll put this race in Likely Republican despite the state’s solid red hue.
Iowa – Trump+7 – Chuck Grassley(R)+25
7-term Senator Chuck Grassley would have little trouble getting re-elected, unless 2022 becomes a blue wave year. Grassley is 87 years old, so he may opt to retire. If he did, it still wouldn’t hurt Republican chances too severely. Democrats thought they had a good shot at flipping Iowa in 2020 with Theresa Greenfield who raised buckets of cash. She lost by 7 points. Democrats haven’t won a Governor or Senate race in Iowa since 2008. The only Democrat that flipped a Republican statewide office since then is Auditor Rob Sand. Democrats would need a particularly outstanding candidate to come out of the woodwork to flip Iowa.
Missouri – Trump+16 – Roy Blunt(R)+3
Incumbent Republican Roy Blunt was caught sleeping in 2016. He probably would’ve lost to spirited challenger Jason Kander had it not been for the Trump upset up ballot. Blunt hasn’t improved his approval ratings much since that election. An even worse scenario for Republicans would be if sex-scandal plagued former Governor Eric Greitens ends up the Republican candidate if Blunt retires or is defeated for re-nomination. The consensus on both sides is that the era where Democrats can compete in Missouri has likely passed. This seat may be the last one Democrats can make interesting. A combination of a savvy Democratic candidate who can appeal to suburban Trump voters and a toxic political environment for Republicans could push this seat into play.
Ohio – Trump+8 – Rob Portman(R)+21
On the surface, one might expect Democrats to make big gains in the Senate in 2022 because Republicans are defending more seats. The problem is that most of the Republican-held seats are in states that lean red or are becoming redder. Take Ohio, a former swing state. Trump won Ohio in 2016 and 2020 by 8 points. although that disguises pro-Republican trends around Cleveland and pro-Democrat trends around Columbus and Dayton. Incumbent Republican Rob Portman has built his own brand and has won significant cross-over support in both of his Senate elections. Like in almost every election since 2012, Democrats could try to make Ohio competitive, only to watch it swing Republican on Election Night. Portman probably will only lose if there is a blue wave in 2022.
Utah – Trump+20 – Mike Lee(R)+41
Utah and its heavily Mormon population usually votes red, but the state has demonstrated recently that it’s not afraid to go Democrat or third-party if the Republican is too right-wing and the Democrat/third party guy is moderate, civil, and Mormon. Biden improved on Hillary Clinton by 10 points in Utah. Mike Lee is one of the Senate’s most conservative members and a Trump ally, so it wouldn’t be too surprising if he faces some adversity in his re-election campaign.
P.S. While most of the “Safe” races for either party are boring affairs that I won’t get into much, I do want to address Colorado and Florida. Colorado and Florida are former swing states. The days of these two states being razor-close on Election Night are over. Colorado voted for Joe Biden by over a dozen points. Florida voted for Trump by 3 and a half points. That sounds like a narrow margin, but Floridians are a stubborn people, not many can be convinced to vote a different party. In 2018, the best year for Democrats this decade, Florida still voted Republican. I’m doubtful Democrats can reach 2016 levels of Latino support against Marco Rubio, and older voters will swing back towards Republicans in the mid-term elections after shifting a bit towards Biden. In Colorado, Michael Bennet performs well with college-educated white voters, and the major Republican politicians in Colorado are mostly right-wing ideologues who won’t be able to make major gains among those voters. Colorado is Safe Democratic, while Florida is Safe Republican.
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