Welcome to mid-June! Summer is here. You know what that means: not only is the weather about to heat up, but so are the 2022 midterms! (And more importantly for all of us, at the end of this week, my two-month break from school begins. I wish all professions knew the blissful feeling of recharging depleted batteries.)
Fewer than 150 days remain between us and the November 8 midterm elections, where the entire House and one-third of the Senate are up for re-election. I’m still convinced, as I was in January and May (to say nothing of last August), that a red wave will drench the House of Representatives. The Senate, too, is likely to go Republican, although we’ll see if the dramatic overturning of Roe, or some bad Republican nominees, help the Democrats hold the chamber.
Unless it’s a presidential year, summers are typically lazy for electoral politics, but perhaps hyperpartisanship keeps people’s attention between now and the fall. If you are one such mindful American, I thought a political calendar for the next three months might be useful.
Most of today’s post addresses the more competitive battle for the Senate. If, however, you’re holding out hope that the Democrats can somehow hold on to their small House majority, or at least make it competitive, there are three main indicators to monitor this summer:
- President Biden’s approval — Real Clear Politics currently has Biden’s average approval rating at 38.9. FiveThirtyEight has it at 39.7. Both numbers have steadily been falling. History shows presidents need to get into at least the high 40s just to minimize midterm damage — and well over 50 to have a shot at not losing their party’s House seats. This summer, watch Biden’s approval rating to see if it climbs.
- The generic ballot — Real Clear Politics has Americans’ preference for Republicans at +3.5, and FiveThirtyEight has it at +2.4. These are competitive numbers, but as I’ve discussed in the past, Democratic polling is currently propped up by “Registered Voter” surveys, which is favorable to their party. As we approach the midterms, the “Likely Voter” surveys become more frequent, and those typically bump up Republican polling performances. Democrats will want to erase their deficit while that transition occurs, which will be tough. Not impossible — but tough. Watch the generic ballot this summer.
- Congressional district developments — Since the House election isn’t one election but 435 different elections across all our Congressional districts, monitor “swing districts” across the country. As always, my recommendation here is the Cook Report, which currently projects the following:
In a 435-seat chamber, 218 seats are needed for a majority. The Cook Report feels like Republicans are solid or likely in 199 of the races, while Democrats are only solid or likely in 175 of them. Of the remaining 61 seats, Republicans only need to win 19 of them for the majority — 10 of which are already leaning in their direction. Getting the majority is a virtual certainty in this current political climate. In fact, it’s more likely that they win well over half of those 61 to take a commanding House lead. This summer, watch to see if these Cook projections turn more favorable toward the Dems. (My current guess is about a 240-195 split in favor of the GOP.)
All right, so that’s a vague House calendar. For that chamber, just monitor the President’s approval, the generic ballot, and district breakdowns. Any other indicators — like the inflation rate, gas prices, the January 6 Committee’s report, or anything else — are only important insofar as they impact the three indicators I highlighted. If inflation improves but the numbers for Biden and the Democrats don’t budge, it’d be as if a tree fell in the woods and no one heard it.
A calendar for the Senate can be more a bit more precise. In addition to Biden’s approval and the generic ballot being useful indicators, the Senate has more seat-specific developments to monitor.
Thanks to my May post on the race for the Senate, most of the work has already been done. As a quick refresher, once again using the Cook Report, here was our starting equation in the race for a Senate majority:
- Democrats: 36 not up for election + 10 solid/likely = 46
- Republicans: 29 not up for election + 16 solid = 45
- Senate races neither solid nor likely for either side: 9
Here are the nine races in question:
These are the nine races to monitor this summer and fall. Democrats want to win at least four (which gets them to 50 + the Vice President Harris’s tiebreaking vote) while the GOP wants to win at least six (getting them to a true majority of 51+).
That said, I haven’t backed away from my May prediction that all three of those Republican “lean” states will stay in Republican hands. Florida, North Carolina, and Ohio have recently voted red even in Democrat-favorable presidential years, whereas midterms — particularly with a Democrat in the White House — favor Republicans.
If I’m right about those three states, that means Republicans actually start at 48 seats and need to win just three of the remaining six races, whereas Democrats still need to win four of those six, an uphill climb that partially explains why I think Republicans are the favorite to win the Senate majority.
Since that early May post, two of the six toss-up states held their primary. On May 17, Pennsylvania Democrats and Republicans got to pick their nominees. (The Republican incumbent, Pat Toomey, is retiring.) The results were as I expected: the Democrats nominated a guy with heart problems (Lt. Gov. John Fetterman) and the Republicans nominated an untested talk show host doctor (Dr. Mehmet Oz). Perfect.
One week later, in Georgia, retired running back Herschel Walker was nominated by the state’s Republicans in their effort to unseat Democratic incumbent Rafael Warnock. The theme of this campaign will be Walker feasting on his own foot while Warnock tries to win swing voters who didn’t watch football in the Eighties and Nineties.
These two states’ primaries provide us two of the six races that will determine the Senate majority:
- Pennsylvania: John Fetterman (D) vs. Dr. Oz (R)
- Georgia: Sen. Rafael Warnock (D) vs. Herschel Walker (R)
Neither Republican has held elected office, so we’ll spend this summer seeing if they can avoid first-time candidate gaffes to take advantage of the GOP’s favorable year.
That leaves four nomination battles to watch before they, too, pivot to a heated general election: Arizona, Nevada, New Hampshire, and Wisconsin.
The earliest primary from this group is Nevada‘s, which is scheduled for June 14, AKA today. We already know the Democrats’ nominee — incumbent Senator Catherine Cortez Masto hopes to keep the seat for her party.
Who will the Republicans nominate to be her opponent? The two main candidates are Adam Laxalt (former Nevada Attorney General and owner of a name I can’t consistently pronounce, as evidenced by today’s podcast episode) and Sam Brown (Army veteran with a mercifully generic name).
Brown might have the state party endorsement, but Laxalt has all the big national ones, including former President Donald Trump, future President Ron DeSantis, eight US Senators, and interest groups like the NRA and Club For Growth. Brown is attempting to use Laxalt’s experiences and ties to elites to his own advantage; his website claims “Career politicians can’t fix Washington. It’s time for new conservative leadership.“
Polling suggests it’s not working:
Tonight should make it official. This summer, we will follow: 3. Nevada: Sen. Cortez Masto (D) vs. Adam Laxalt(?) (R)
After tonight, we’ll have to wait seven weeks for another big primary, but then two will happen in rapid succession. On August 2, Republicans in Arizona will go to the polls to nominate a challenger to Democratic Senator Mark Kelly. The chief candidates are Mark Brnovich (Arizona Attorney General), Jim Lamon (chair of the solar power company Depcom), and Blake Masters (venture capitalist and chair of the Thiel Foundation).
Like in most Republican primaries, all three men are trying to out-conservative each other, particularly on immigration. The greatest fault line exists between AG Brnovich, who drew Donald Trump’s ire after certifying Arizona’s election results, and Blake Masters, who seems to agree with Trump’s claims that 2020 was a stolen election, and further that January 6 was spearheaded by the FBI, which comprised, in his estimation, one-third of the crowd. The wealthy and mostly self-funded Lamon, meanwhile, has been spending by far the most money.
Unlike Nevada, this race is close. Here are polls dating back three months:
All three contenders lead at least two of these ten polls. Even in recent polling, after undecideds fell from a majority of voters to about a third, the three men find themselves within the polls’ margins of error.
Endorsements mirror the polling confusion. The Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC) prefers Lamon, but President Trump and Fox News host Tucker Carlson like Masters, while others Fox News hosts Sean Hannity and Mark Levin endorsed Brnovich. What is an Arizona voter to do?
I think Masters takes it (President Trump’s endorsement came on June 2, which occurred during the most recent survey), but we’ll find out on August 2. Then we will be able to replace the following blank: 4. Sen. Mark Kelly (D) vs. ______________ (R)
One week later, on August 9, Wisconsin Democrats will hope to nominate a candidate who can flip a red seat blue. Ron Johnson, among the least popular senators in the country, is without question the most vulnerable Republican running for re-election. (The only other realistic pickup for the Democrats is Pennsylvania, where the incumbent Republican is retiring.) Who will be his opponent?
The filing deadline for the primary passed on June 1, so Democratic Wisconsinites will mostly be picking from Mandela Barnes (Lieutenant Governor), Sarah Godlewski (State Treasurer), and Alex Lasry (co-owner and Senior Vice President of the Milwaukee Bucks). Polls suggested Barnes was a heavy favorite early on, but as undecided voters started picking favorites, Lasry, much in thanks to spending by far the most money, has made a big push:
Although all the Lasryholics out there might love that last poll, I think it’s safe to wonder about the house effects of the hitherto unheard of “Normington Petts,” a pollster who makes me want to have a third son just so I can him Normington Petts. In both of Normington Petts’s adorable polls, Lasry pops. In the other surveys, he’s in the teens.
Meanwhile, the national apparatus seems to be with Barnes. He has by far the most endorsements, including from heavyweight senators Elizabeth Warren and Cory Booker and kingmaker Congressman Jim Clyburn. Meanwhile, one take on the campaign is that he hasn’t even gotten his campaign going yet. In other words, Lasry’s push up the polls might be explained merely by a head start.
The primary is eight weeks away, so anything can happen. We’ll all have to wait until August 9 so we can then complete: 5. Sen. Ron Johnson (R) vs. ___________________ (D)
That leaves just one of our six competitive states: New Hampshire and its weirdly late September 13 primary. In the old days of electoral politics, campaigns wouldn’t heat up until Labor Day. It looks like New Hampshire tries to honor that tradition.
The Granite State has Democratic Senator Maggie Hassan hoping to keep her seat in the blue column. Republicans still have 13 weeks — a full season! — before they settle on her challenger.
The filing deadline just passed on Friday, so without any new big names it’s looking like the top candidates are Don Bolduc (retired brigadier general, 2020 Senate candidate), Corky Messner (Army Captain and attorney), Chuck Morse (state senator), and Kevin Smith (former state representative and town manager).
With the contest still so far away, it’s no surprise we have little data. Only one legitimate poll has been conducted; in a mid-April UNH survey, General Bolduc had a support from a third of respondents with no other candidate getting more than 4%. That said, it’s super early, it’s just the one poll, and in that one early poll only Bolduc and Messner even had name-recognition among a majority of respondents, so the race should be considered volatile. Plus, as I noted in May, Bolduc is a bit out there, so he’s vulnerable to a push from another candidate who clicks with Republican voters while also seeming electable in November.
Regardless, we’ll have to wait a quarter of a year to complete: 6. Sen. Maggie Hassan (D) vs. ________________ (R)
So there’s a basic summer calendar. In the House, watch President Biden’s approval, the generic ballot, and the toss-up House districts. In the Senate, be mindful of those indicators and these six toss-up races. (The party listed first currently has the seat, and primary dates are italicized in parentheses):
- Pennsylvania: Dr. Mehmet Oz (R) vs. John Fetterman (D)
- Georgia: Sen. Rafael Warnock (D) vs. Herschel Walker (R)
- Nevada: Sen. Cortez Masto (D) vs. Adam Laxalt? (R) (6/14)
- Arizona: Sen. Mark Kelly (D) vs. ??? (R) (8/2)
- Wisconsin: Sen. Ron Johnson (R) vs. ??? (D) (8/9)
- New Hampshire: Sen. Maggie Hassan (D) vs. ??? (R) (9/13)
Again, barring any surprises elsewhere, Democrats will need to win four of those races to retain the majority, whereas Republicans have to win just three. My predictions for each race haven’t budged since May, but let’s see how post-primary politics affect them.
Okay, that’s it. Enjoy your summers, everyone. As for me, I think I speak for all teachers when I say…
4 thoughts on “The 2022 Midterms Summer Calendar”
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