If ever there was the perfect example of the competition cliché “snatching defeat from the jaws of victory,” then the Republican Party’s strategy and performance leading up to the 2022 midterm Senate elections is it. And those of us who treasure democracy can thank our lucky stars for their political incompetence.
Since the day Joe Biden became the duly elected, legitimate, Electoral College-certified, honest-to-goodness President, the American media — from the mainstream to the EXtreme — has relentlessly reminded the masses how it’s near-to-impossible for the sitting President’s party to gain House or Senate seats in the midterms. And that may have held true again this cycle — until June 24, 2022.
That is the already legendary date when the Federalist Society and Mitch McConnell-manipulated right-wing Supreme Court massively miscalculated and attempted to massacre the freedom of American women to control their own bodies. Less than six weeks later, the women of ultra-conservative Kansas — including a fair number of Republicans — told SCOTUS that they could take their overturning of Roe v. Wade and shove it, voting down a state amendment that would have removed constitutional protections for those seeking abortions and the medical professionals performing them. The implications for the upcoming midterms nationwide became clear. I wonder if the conservative members of SCOTUS will get royalties on all the ads Democrats will run the next five weeks reminding voters of their draconian folly.
While the abortion issue alone might have been enough to energize the Democratic and Progressive base to vote in unprecedented numbers this November, the summer of 2022 has added more delicious (albeit disturbing) icing to that midterm motivational layer cake. President Biden’s groundbreaking legislative accomplishments (that have raised his approval numbers and offset some of the public’s grousing about inflation and gas prices), the January 6th House Committee’s riveting televised hearings (ironically, the real reality show that could help take Donald Trump down), and Trump’s potential indictment for espionage and/or obstruction of justice (what again?), will no doubt bring independents and disaffected moderate Republicans to the Dems column in November. When “the threat to democracy” polls higher than concern about the economy, the “Red Wave” the R’s were counting on this year is just not gonna happen.
Current Senate Map
Under the banner of “If We Had Any Brains, We’d Be [Truly] Dangerous,” the Republican Insurrectionist Party has sabotaged itself not only by hitching their electoral wagon to the pathological-lying, sociopathic, criminal, and traitorous former President, but by anointing candidates for the Senate that constitute the largest collection of appalling racists, misogynists, liars, grifters, and election-deniers since Trump dined on junk food alone. Even self-described “Grim Reaper” Mitch McConnell became grim, with Melancholy Mitch publicly admitting Republicans could lose the Senate due to “the poor quality of the candidates.” Talk about understatement. If the Republicans don’t gain the majority in the Senate, the legislative obstructionist — who will turn 81 next February — will likely retire and then we can all watch Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley attack each other over who becomes Minority Leader. Hey Mitch, you reap what you sow, right?
Before we sink our teeth into predictions on the baker’s dozen of contested races and which seats could possibly flip, let’s cover some of the basics going into this beyond-crucial Senate election year:
Fourteen seats held by Democrats and 21 seats held by Republicans are up for election in 2022. Republicans are defending two Senate seats in states Joe Biden won in the 2020 presidential election: Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Democrats are not defending any Senate seats in states Donald Trump won in 2020. Thirty-two of the 34 seats up for regular election in 2022 were last up for election in 2016. Arizona and Georgia have seats up for election in 2022 that were up for special election in 2020.
There are also two special elections scheduled for November 8. One in Oklahoma to fill the final four years of Republican Sen. Jim Inhofe’s (who is retiring) six-year term that began in 2021. The other special election is in California to fill the final weeks of the six-year term that Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) was elected to in 2016. That Senate seat, currently held by Alex Padilla, is also up for regular election in November.
Which provides a nifty segue into listing the Democratic and Republican Senate seats that the pollsters and pundits (and yours truly) consider safe and likely to be won by incumbents. On the Democratic side, those 10 seats are the aforementioned Padilla in CA, along with: Richard Blumenthal (Connecticut); Michael Bennett (Colorado); Brian Schatz (Hawaii); Tammy Duckworth (Illinois); Chris Van Hollen (Maryland); Chuck Schumer (New York); Ron Wyden (Oregon); Peter Welch (who is replacing retiring Patrick Leahy in Vermont); and Patty Murray (Washington).
The 12 Senate seats seen as safe for Republican incumbents in their deep red states are (and I’ll refrain from labeling them with nasty nicknames): Lisa Murkowski (Alaska); Katie Britt (replacing retiring Richard Shelby in Alabama); John Boozman (Arkansas); Chuck Grassley (Iowa); Mike Crapo (Idaho); Todd Young (Indiana); Jerry Moran (Kansas); John Kennedy (Louisiana); John Hoeven (North Dakota); James Lankford (Oklahoma); Tim Scott (South Carolina); and John Thune (South Dakota).
Before you all start placing bets on the election handicapping that follows, I’ll admit that I’m not a staffer from the Cook Report or FiveThirtyEight.com (which as of this date gives the Dems a 68 in 100 chance to keep the Senate). I’m not even an NFL College Draftnik. But I am a lifelong elections junkie who is pretty good at analyzing polls, data, and political momentum. Truth be told, I am a died-in-the-wool Democrat and there definitely is a bit of cautious optimism and wishful thinking in these assessments. There has to be or I’d basically be writing about how we’re kissing our democracy goodbye.
Interactive Senate Map
THE 13 CONTESTED SENATE RACES THAT COULD DETERMINE AMERICA’S FUTURE (ALPHABETICAL BY STATE)
Arizona: Democrat Mark Kelly (Incumbent) vs. Republican Blake Masters
It’s fitting that this race is first on my list as I moved last year from very blue New York City to half-blue, half-radical red Arizona, which I guess makes it closer to mauve than purple. But you can paint this state black if election-denying, anti-abortion zealot Blake Masters wins this race and — heaven forbid — carries Kari Lake as Governor and Mark Finchem as Secretary of State along with him. This insurrectionist “Murderer’s Row” must be stopped and, at least on the Senate side, former Astronaut Mark Kelly looks like he’ll win his own six-year team (he won a special election in 2020 to take over John McCain’s seat). Kelly’s polling lead has gone from two in early September to 12. When Masters scrubbed his anti-abortion views from his campaign website, he should have kept going and redacted his entire life history because after this election his political career should be over. FORECAST: DEMOCRATIC HOLD
Florida: Republican Marco Rubio (Incumbent) vs Democrat Val Demings
Hurricane Ian may not have swept up shameless Trump sycophant Marco Rubio into the Atlantic Ocean, but perhaps a 2022 “Blue Wave” will. Rubio has definitely outlived his usefulness?—?if he ever had any?—?and even Florida’s Cuban population should be getting tired of him at this point. Unfortunately, Republicans still outnumber Dems in this state and Rubio isn’t as hateful as Governor Ron DeSantis so Congresswoman and former Orlando Police Chief Val Demings has a heavy electoral lift. Various polls have shown “Little Marco” with leads of two to four points, so Our Gal Val has a shot, especially since Rubio was a no-show on a Senate vote to send hurricane disaster relief TO HIS OWN STATE. For now, I’m going to hold my nose and predict Rubio sticks around for six more years to highlight his hypocrisies. FORECAST: REPUBLICAN HOLD
Georgia: Democrat Raphael Warnock (Incumbent) vs. Republican Herschel Walker
On the evening of January 5, 2021, after spending a 16-hour day as a poll watcher at a voting precinct in Smyrna, Georgia, I was snuggled in my Atlanta motel room bed nervously watching election results. Just before midnight, with my eyes barely open, Democrat Raphael Warnock was declared the winner of the special Senate election over the insider-trading Republican Senator Kelly Loeffler. While I was fast asleep, Democrat Jon Ossoff beat the other insider-trading Georgia Senator David Perdue and the Republic was saved from at least another two years of Mitch McConnell as Majority Leader. Of course, after I woke up late that morning, I watched in horror as Donald Trump-led insurrectionists attempted to overthrow our government. Now I’m again horrified, this time at the thought that a former football star — who is even less competent or qualified than Loeffler or Perdue — actually has a chance of becoming a U.S. Senator. The latest poll of this race from FOX News had Warnock up by four points, which is like the New York Jets only being down by a field goal against the Buffalo Bills in the fourth quarter. It should be impossible. Thankfully, the two are debating on October 14 when Walker will fumble away the election once he opens his mouth and displays his massive ignorance. How Walker will explain his blatent hypocrisy in being pro-life but having allegedly once paid for a lover to have an abortion should be fascinating. Even the most fervent Trump-loving Christian Nationalists have to be appalled, right? RIGHT? Reverend Warnock, thank God, will win this by a touchdown. FORECAST: DEMOCRATIC HOLD
Kentucky: Republican Rand Paul (Incumbent) vs. Democrat Charles Booker
Of all the Republican incumbents running for re-election this year, I don’t think I want to see anyone banished from the Senate more than the noxious, Putin-loving Rand Paul. I include this as one of my “wishful-thinking” races because based on the polling, Charles Booker has as much of a chance of winning this election as Donald Trump has of telling the truth. It’s a damn shame. Kentucky is the 6th least-educated state in the country (because their two Republican Senators don’t believe in funding it), so it’s easy to understand why they would elect perhaps the most willfully ignorant man in the Senate. Booker has fought gamely, but this race is so over that the polling site FiveThirtyEight.com hasn’t posted any Kentucky numbers since January. The only good news is that at least Rancid Rand won’t be part of a majority. FORECAST (GULP): REPUBLICAN HOLD
Missouri (Open/Currently R Seat): Republican Eric Schmitt vs. Democrat Trudy Busch Valentine
Missouri has been hopeless since they booted Democrat Claire McCaskill out of the Senate in 2018. In a state as red as the St. Louis Cardinals’ uniform, Democrat and Anheuser-Busch heiress Trudy Busch Valentine didn’t have a chance once the state’s Republican Attorney General Eric Schmitt defeated the toxic former Missouri Governor Eric Greitens in the August primary. Schmitt has been ahead by double-digits in every poll. Ms. Busch, this Bud — or this race — isn’t for you. FORECAST: REPUBLICAN HOLD
According to the Hanks Forecast, of these 12 Democrats running for the U.S. Senate in 2022, five seats will be retained (Kelly-AZ, Cortez Masto-NV, Hassen-NH, Bennet-CO, and Warnock-GA), three will fall short (Demings-FL, Franken-IA, and Busch Valentine-MO), and four will flip seats from Republican to Democratic (Beasley-NC, Ryan-OH, Fetterman-PA, and Barnes-WI). Photo credit: Charles Gaba
Nevada: Democrat Catherine Cortez Masto (Incumbent) vs. Republican Paul Laxalt
I must admit this one is making me nervous. You’d like to think this race would be a slam-dunk for the Democratic incumbent Cortez Masto — the first Latina elected Senator — against the former Nevada Attorney General Laxalt, who filed several lawsuits seeking to overturn the 2020 election and made baseless claims of widespread voter fraud. But some pollsters and pundits are unsure about which direction the Latino and Asian vote is going in this state. Cortez Masto led the August polls but Laxalt has inched ahead in a couple of September polls, making this race too close for comfort for Democrats. The overturning of Roe V. Wade could be the difference-maker here. Laxalt penned a column in the Reno paper trying to dodge his support of draconian State abortion laws by ridiculously claiming Cortez Masto favors late-term abortion. This issue will give the Democrat a second Senate term. FORECAST: DEMOCRATIC HOLD
New Hampshire: Democrat Maggie Hassan (Incumbent) vs. Republican Don Bolduc
Back in April, a University of New Hampshire poll showed Hassan with a one-point lead in a potential matchup with retired U.S. Army General Don Bolduc, then one of a number of Republicans running to face her. Once he became the nominee for the general election, the former General tried to run from his support of Trump’s “Big Lie” like a yellow-bellied coward bolting the front lines. He recently went on a QAnon-aligned podcast and tried to again embrace election-denial. This man is an embarrassment and the voters of New Hampshire get it. The incumbent Democratic Senator’s polling lead is now close to double-digits. FORECAST: DEMOCRATIC HOLD
North Carolina (Open/Currently R Seat): Republican Ted Budd vs. Democrat Cheri Beasley
This is one of the most interesting Senate races that the media hasn’t focused on. It’s also a race where independent voters could make the difference. The Rs candidate is the Trump-endorsed Congressman Ted Budd, while the Ds have the first Black Chief Justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court Cheri Beasley, who as of July had raised more than double the money in Budd’s campaign coffers. The polls have been tight all year, with each candidate going up by a couple of points through the summer. Two polls released on Sept. 29 had the race tied, with slight momentum for Beasley. But the “other” or “undecided” numbers ranged from 12 to 18 percent so those are the voters to watch on election day. Another state where the passion of Democrats and Independents on abortion rights could give this to the Dems. FORECAST: DEMOCRATIC FLIP
Ohio (Open/Currently R Seat): Republican J.D. Vance vs. Democrat Tim Ryan
Going into this year’s Senate campaign, Ohio was a state that no pundit or pollster gave the Democrats a chance to win. Joe Biden lost here in 2020 by eight points. But two fortuitous things happened for the Dems: A strong candidate with a moderate message in Congressman Tim Ryan decided to run, and Donald Trump anointed J.D. Vance, who has proven to be an absolutely horrendous candidate. Vance’s campaign has been so dismal that FiveThirtyEight.com showed his polling lead going from 11 points on June 1 to three points by late September, and two specific late September polls had Ryan leading by three. The Republicans are so terrified of losing a red state Senate seat that in late August they were planning to pour in $28 million. Trump must really be pissed that money isn’t going into his legal defense fund. FORECAST: DEMOCRATIC FLIP
Oklahoma: (Open/Currently R Seat): Republican Markwayne Mullin vs. Democrat Kendra Horn
Like Missouri, this deep red state features a race for an open seat that is pretty impossible for Democrats to win. Democrat Kendra Horn was a solid enough candidate in 2018 to beat a Republican for a Congressional seat, but winning statewide in Oklahoma is another story. Congressman Markwayne Mullin, a Trump-supporting, election-denying, LGBTQ-hater, has been holding a double-digit lead in the Okie polls all year. Horn definitely has a future in Democratic politics but not in this race, and in this state the abortion issue can’t save the Dems. FORECAST: REPUBLICAN HOLD
Pennsylvania (Open/Currently R Seat): Republican Mehmet Oz vs. Democrat John Fetterman
Seriously . . . the great state of Pennsylvania couldn’t come up with better candidates for the U.S. Senate than these two? But while Fetterman may be flawed because of his recent stroke, Mehmet Oz is as serious as a heart attack. Once this campaign began in earnest, the curtain was peeled back to reveal a Dr. Oz who nobody should want to pay attention to, let alone vote for. With the Wicked Warlock of Mar-a-Lago’s blessing, the New Jersey resident took a political balloon trip to PA where he thinks he can be the state’s wizard of the Senate. Given that Oz doesn’t appear to possess a political brain, an empathetic heart, or the courage to repudiate the “Big Lie,” PA voters will throw water on his candidacy and watch the Republican Senate seat melt away to the Dems. “We’re off to flip the Senate . . .” FORECAST: DEMOCRATIC FLIP
Utah: Republican Mike Lee (Incumbent) vs. Independent Evan McMullin
This is the race that made my original list of 12 contested Senate races a baker’s dozen. What seemed a few months ago like a solid Republican hold now has a longshot chance of flipping. Insurrection-supporting Republican Senator Mike Lee is being challenged not by a Democratic, but by Independent and 2016 Presidential candidate Evan McMullin. The former CIA Intelligence officer is so viable that Utah’s other Senator Mitt Romney has stayed neutral in this race. McMullin’s deficit in the polls has gone from as high as 11 to recently in the 2–5 pt. range. Given he might be just single digits behind, McMullin has a chance if a “Blue Wave” reaches landlocked and ruby red Utah. But for now, we have to be sensible and say this seat is safe for the Rs. FORECAST: REPUBLICAN HOLD
Wisconsin: Republican Ron Johnson (Incumbent) vs. Democrat Mandela Barnes
Wisconsin may be even more schizophrenic politically than Arizona. Democrats hold the state executive offices and one U.S. Senate seat (Tammy Baldwin), but Republicans have big advantages in the state houses brought to you by the unconstitutional partisan gerrymandering championed by former Republican Governor Scott Walker. The state’s senior Senator is the two-term, Trump-supporting, election-denying, Russia-friendly, climate-change rejecting, Ron Johnson, who could battle Rubio, Ted Cruz, and Josh Hawley for the squirmiest Senator title. Democratic Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes has been behind by two to five points in some recent polls, but two polls had the race tied or Barnes up by one. This is yet another Senate race that could be decided by the abortion issue, January 6th Committee revelations, and Democratic turnout. Johnson is so sleazy I can’t bring myself to predict he’ll win so this is one of my wishful-thinking upsets. FORECAST: DEMOCRATIC FLIP
2022 SENATE ELECTIONS FORECAST BOTTOM LINE: Before the 2020 elections, I predicted the Dems would end up with 54 Senate seats. Okay, so I was overly optimistic. I’m also stubborn so I’m going to again predict that the best-case scenario for the Democrats is holding 54 Senate seats on November 9 (unless there are contested races, which you can almost count on from Republican election-deniers). This forecast predicts the Dems will flip North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, and hold seats in Arizona and Georgia that they might have lost had the insurrectionist former President not been supporting such pathetic candidates. The Dems could even win 55 seats if Demings can pull off an upset against Rubio in Florida, but they could also be at 52 or 53 if one or two of those predicted flips don’t happen. But whether the Democrats end up with 52 Senate seats or 55, it means that the “Grim Reaper” Mitch McConnell’s Senate career will finally, thankfully, be over.
Maps courtesy of the 270 to Win website
Top photo and Wisconsin ballot from Bigstock