As we continue to inch ever closer to November, more attention will be paid to our Midterm elections. The environment continues to look set towards some sort of Republican tilt. President Biden is unpopular, and Republicans have continued to gain on the general ballot.
Putting that to the side though, I believe there are three key areas to watch these midterms, all in different parts of the nation.
Key Area 1: The Rio Grande Valley/Texas Border Counties
The first one should be no surprise to most politicos. The Rio Grande Valley in Texas, mainly the counties on the border with Mexico, all had swings to the right in 2020. Compared to 2016, Donald Trump and Republicans across the board gained massively in this area. It was one of the shocks of the night and nearly caused Vicente Gonzalez to get upset by Monica Le La Cruz in Texas’s 15th district.
2021 hasn’t been much better for Democrats in this part of the nation, either. Democrats saw State Representative Ryan Guillen switch parties, already putting them down a seat in this part of the nation. Party switches also signal to me a deeper issue when they occur. It usually shows a rapid change is occurring in those areas politically.
It’s possible that this is only a one-time thing. Boosted by Trump’s 2020 messaging, these areas saw a swing heavily to the right. But, there are underlying factors that make this look like more than a one-time swing. Republicans are active on the ground in this part of the country. They are openly courting the heavily-Hispanic population in these counties, urging them to register to vote and vote Republican.
If it is a trend, not only with it likely see the aforementioned De La Cruz elected to Congress in a newly-drawn Trump-won seat, but other far reaching items too. Hildago and Cameron County may be within 10 points statewide. Starr and Maverick counties may flip. And Republicans may even end up winning the redrawn 28th district and be competitive in the redrawn 34th. And if we do see this trend continue, it means Democrats math for flipping Texas this decade gets just a bit tougher.
Area Number Two: Upstate New York
Another key area to watch, specifically for Congressional races, is Upstate New York. Upstate has been very swingy politically since 2016. It swung nicely for Donald Trump in 2016, swung back for everyone but Andrew Cuomo in 2018, and held relatively firm for Joe Biden in 2020.
However, Upstate has a history of being volatile, especially in midterm elections. This volatility is what saw John Katko win an Obama+16 seat in 2014 by almost 20 points – over an incumbent. It’s also what saw Republicans nearly win the Obama+20, Rochester-based NY-25 that very same year.
Even with what is now a very effective gerrymander, there is still room for Republicans in two seats upstate. The new 18th and 19th districts, held by Sean Patrick Maloney and Antonio Delgado, respectively, did go to Joe Biden by solid margins; he won the 18th by 8.5 points, and won the 19th by 10. However, it’s key to remember that Hillary Clinton only won the 18th by 1.1 points and the 19th by 2.2 points. If these seats had been around under a theoretical Clinton midterm, no one would consider them safe.
If Republicans can nominate good candidates (and almost everyone would admit that has been an issue in these seats) and we see strong GOP performances Upstate, there’s room for upsets in both districts. And a Republican swing in 2022 similar to the one in 2016 may point to something of a slight trend in some of these areas Upstate to the right. This will be a fascinating part of the nation to see come in on election night, and it may be a harbinger of what’s to come across the nation.
Area Number 3: The Pacific Northwest
Now I want to state something very quickly here. When I say Pacific Northwest, I’m not talking about the entire states of Oregon and Washington.
Oregon’s gubernatorial race seems likely, as usual, to be competitive, Washington as a state will not be, no matter what anyone tells you. However, certain parts of these states will be interesting to watch. In both Washington and Oregon, Trump’s 2016 run saw improvement in the whiter and more working class areas of these states.
Of course, the suburban swings around Portland, Seattle, Bend, Vancouver and other sizable cities canceled out those working class swings. But 2022 offers a chance to see if the GOP gains in those working class counties, or if there’s a slight swung back in the suburbs.
In Oregon particularly, that could have effects at the top of the ballot and down it as well. Oregon’s gubernatorial race is likely to be one of the more competitive in the nation, as has been the standard whether under a Republican president or a Democratic president for the last three decades. It may also end up impacting congressional races, too. While Democrats effectively gerrymandered the state, shoring up the 4th and 5th districts considerably from their old form.
However, mainly in the 5th, a working class backlash and even a slight suburban swing back towards Republicans could spell doom for Kurt Schrader and would have an outsized effect on the Governors race. Even under the new lines, it still is a fascinating district to watch. And in Washington, the 8th congressional district remains highly competitive. A Republican jolt in these counties in both states would tell of a nationwide working class backlash.