In 2022 Democrats will lose control of the House of Representatives. No ifs, ands, or buts. Barring a 9/11-style event, and probably even with it, Democrats will lose the chamber. The fact that Republicans control redistricting in Texas, Florida, and Ohio alone will seal the deal. With only a five-seat majority currently, just those three states are enough to sink a Democratic Speaker. That doesn’t even account for Republican control in Kentucky, Indiana, Missouri, and North Carolina. The House majority is dead, and it isn’t worth trying to save.
What isn’t dead for Democrats is Senate control. The 2022 Senate map is bad for the GOP. It’s not as bad as 2018 was for Democrats, but Republicans have no Trump seats to target, two Biden seats to defend (Pennsylvania and Wisconsin), and a plethora of open seats. Worse for the GOP, their redistricting edge means nothing here. Just one awful GOP candidate could potentially sink McConnell’s hopes of returning to the Majority Leader’s office.
While losing the House would surly be a blow to the Biden agenda, it is less of a hinderance than one might think. The Senate holds the greatest power of all; that of appointment and the judiciary. Lose the House, and yes you can’t pass legislation. You can however, appoint as many judges as humanly possibly, including Supreme Court vacancies (with an aging Bryer and Thomas). In addition, you can retool Cabinet and executive appointments with whomever you choose with no GOP input whatsoever. Holding the Senate means maintaining true government control for Democrats, and the only way to make that happen starts with the man at the top.
As of today, President Biden has a 52.8% approval rating according to aggregator RealClearPolitics. While Biden is still in his honeymoon period, this isn’t a number to scoff at, and it has even grown, rather than shrink in recent weeks. If Biden’s approval rating can be held to above 50%, then Democrats have a strong chance of holding their Senate majority.
Sean Trende recently discussed Democratic chances in his article “A Senate Majority, if You Can Keep It“. In it, he notes that history shows a traditional drubbing for the party in power during the midterm. Yet that’s not always the case for the Senate; just three years ago in 2018, Republicans managed to gain seats with a favorable map and solid candidate recruitment. This was despite being slaughtered in the House. Can Democrats replicate that success?
Trende uses his approval based model to estimate Senate elections. Biden with a 55% approval rating roughly equals a gain of three Senate seats for Democrats. Of course Biden will likely not have that high number on election day in 2022. Yet many Republicans underestimate just how much the economic boom already happening, and the end of the pandemic will help President Biden. Just as Trump nearly won reelection due to his strong economic numbers, Biden’s are just as strong. His COVID-19 approval number is near atmospheric, breaking 60% in near every poll, and the American Rescue Package is polling strongly as well.
The COVID-19 pandemic that began under the Trump administration will die under the Biden administration. Republicans can argue all day about how that’s not fair, and how Trump did his best and so on, but will the public care? Will they care as we break records on job reports and hundreds of millions of vaccines are administered. Will they care as hundreds of millions of Covid relief checks hit their accounts? Will the public care when we return to normal? They didn’t in 2020, when many voted for Trump simply because they got his check in the mail, and believed he was good for jobs.
Candidate Recruitment Woes
Furthermore, the GOP has often had a pattern of awful candidate recruitment. In 2017 they nominated an accused child molestor and pedophile for an Alabama senate seat. In 2018, they nominated a staunch defender of Confederate monuments in blue-trending Virginia, who possibly dragged even more Republicans in the state to defeat. In 2020, they again nominated 2018 loser Martha McSally in Arizona, who proceeded to run well behind Trump. They might do the same in 2022, and Democrats only need a seat or two. The rise of potential MAGA third-parties also throws a wrench in the mix, especially in states such as Wisconsin that could be decided by mere thousands of votes.
So here’s a piece of advice to Democratic strategists everywhere. Focus relentlessly on keeping Biden popular, and maybe, just maybe, you can hold the Senate. Hope to God that Republicans nominate an awful candidate somewhere or a MAGA hardliner runs a third-party campaign. Remember that the 2022 Senate elections are being played on your turf. Let the Republicans come and fight you without their redistricting power, running against a President who is overseeing a booming nation enjoying the end of the pandemic that began under the previous administration. History tells us you probably won’t succeed in this mission. But if you keep Biden above 50%, and you’ve got a fighting chance.