The Senate battleground isn’t friendly to Republicans this cycle, even in what looks like a potential wave election. Nevertheless, Larry Sabato’s left-leaning Crystal Ball says that the GOP is now the favorite to wrest control away from the Democrats.
Before we get into the analysis from UVA’s Kyle Kondik and J. Miles Coleman, here’s a quick word on my view of the map: My heart tells me the GOP can do it, my brain thinks it won’t happen until 2024, and my spleen says just be thankful Presidentish Joe Biden hasn’t gotten us into a nuclear war (yet).
Spleens can be so cantankerous.
On the House side, the question isn’t whether the Democrats lose. It’s a question of whether their slender majority gives way to a slender GOP majority, a comfortable GOP majority, or a big GOP majority.
The closer we get to November without some kind of economic turnaround, the more likely the GOP gets to “big.”
The Senate is trickier this year. Unlike House seats, most of which are predetermined by districting, Senate races are statewide and each candidate matters more — and the tossup seats are all in tossup states. Even if the House goes big for Republicans, it’s a slender path to 51 Senate seats.
Republicans also face three other headwinds, according to the Crystal Ball:
— National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman Rick Scott’s (R-FL) rollout of his own political agenda, which includes some items (like suggesting that poorer Americans who don’t currently pay income tax pay it) that other national party leaders don’t want to deal with in the midterm.
— Fundraising dominance displayed by the 3 most vulnerable Senate Democratic incumbents: Sens. Mark Kelly (D-AZ), Raphael Warnock (D-GA), and Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV).
— Donald Trump wading into primaries and endorsing candidates who may not be the party’s best choice for the general election, such as television doctor Mehmet Oz (R) in Pennsylvania.
I’ll tackle these point by point.
Let’s be blunt: Rick Scott is doing his best to become a real problem for the GOP, and whatever his own problem is, he’d better be quietly encouraged to keep it to himself until after the election.
Fundraising is overrated in wave elections. GOP party leaders assured us all throughout 2006 that their money advantage would be enough to counter George W. Bush’s massive disapproval ratings. The Democrats won big. Turnabout being fair play, in 2010 Dems said there was no way Republicans could climb over their massive wall of money. But Republicans did. So while I’m not exactly sanguine about Kelly, Warnock, and Masto’s war chests, I’m not overestimating how much good Dems can wring out them.
Donald Trump remains a wildcard, doesn’t he? I’m sure he has his reasons for endorsing Dr. Oz, but Oz strikes me as a RINO — at best. Zero campaign experience, either. We’ll see.
With all that in mind, here’s how Kondik and Coleman see the map, and I can’t find anything to fault:
Everything I’ve read from the Nevada races indicates a GOP blowout: Governor, Senate, and three out of four House seats.
A Nevada win brings the GOP up to 50 seats, one less than they need. They still need to pick off one from Arizona, Georgia, or Pennsylvania.
My colleague and dear friend Stephen Kruiser — an Arizona native and Tucson resident — just doesn’t see any Republican knocking off Mark Kelly. Kelly has stayed under the radar and his election consists of “I was an astronaut!” Retiring governor Doug Ducey could win, Kruiser tells me, but he refuses to run.
Let’s chalk that one up for the Dems for now, bringing them up to 48.
Pennsylvania went for Trump in 2016, but election shenanigans (I’m being gentle with my word choice) turned it blue again in 2020 and make it a tough nut to crack in 2022.
The brings everything down — once again — to Georgia.
Dispirited Democrats, energized Republicans, pissed off moms, and Georgia’s election reform law make this one winnable … if Republicans have a strong candidate.
Former football great Herschel Walker leads the GOP primary pack, and (at least for now) leads in most polls against Warnock.
We’re left with just two questions.
First: Unlike the previous debacle, will Republicans have the guts and the good sense to run smart and win in Georgia?
Second: If Republicans do take the Senate, what will they do with it?
How about we don’t worry about the second question until we get the first one answered?