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Battle for the Senate – On a Knife’s Edge

Even the most sophisticated pundits are saying it’s too close to call.

by | Sep 12, 2022 | Articles, Good Reads, Opinion, Politics

Much attention in the run-up to midterm elections has rightly been focused on the likelihood of Republicans seizing control of the House of Representatives. And ordinarily, when significant gains are made by the out-of-power party in the lower chamber of Congress, the upper chamber follows suit. But this year could become a notable break from historical trends – for the second midterm in a row. Few remember that Republicans gained two seats in the Senate in 2018, despite losing 40 in the House.

But that was the exception to prove the rule, as they say. The historical likelihood of the president’s party gaining seats in the House is minimal – it has happened just three times in the last 22 midterm elections dating back to 1934. However, it has occurred twice as often in the Senate – six times in that same span. Overall, the party holding the White House has averaged a loss of 28 House seats and four Senate seats in midterm elections.

The Senate in Play

Luck of the draw is always in play when it comes to the Senate. Whereas all 435 House seats are up every two years, providing a true outcome from across the country, the results in the Senate depend on which one-third of its 100 seats happen to be up during a given year’s midterm elections. Also, there are some years when national issues or crises – like inflation, illegal immigration, and abortion in 2022 – dominate the discussion in Senate campaigns, and others when statewide issues not necessarily connected to the national narrative become predominant.

This year, Republicans are defending 21 seats, the Democrats 14. Less than one-third of those races are considered truly competitive, and it is those contests that will effectively decide which party holds the majority. Democrats need only maintain the current 50-50 composition – with VP Kamala Harris serving as tiebreaker – to keep their majority status, while the GOP must gain at least one seat to take control. So where can the GOP pick up that precious single seat they need?

Well, first they must maintain the seats they already hold in a trio of states with retiring GOP senators and another with an increasingly unpopular incumbent. And that has become anything but routine. In Ohio, author JD Vance is running solidly ahead of Democrat Tim Ryan, but in Pennsylvania, while polls have tightened, the controversial GOP nominee Dr. Mehmet Oz is still trailing John Fetterman in the race to hold a Republican seat. In North Carolina, Trumpist Ted Budd is narrowly trailing Democrat Cheri Beasley. And in Wisconsin, Ron Johnson is fighting for his political life as he seeks a third term, heavily targeted by Democrats and down more than four points on average, though he has gained ground in the two most recent polls.

GettyImages-1241786774 Adam Laxalt

Adam Laxalt (Photo by Bridget Bennett/Getty Images)

But even assuming Republicans hold serve in all four states, hardly a sure bet, they still need to flip one of several seats. In Georgia, Herschel Walker is recovering from early rookie mistakes, and has finally overtaken Democratic incumbent Raphael Warnock, whose election sealed the GOP’s fate in 2020. The former football superstar has turned a ten-point deficit in the Real Clear Politics average of polls (RCP) in June into a very slight lead. In Nevada, Republican Adam Laxalt is considered a strong candidate to unseat incumbent Catherine Cortez Masto, but still trails by almost two points. In Arizona, another winner during the GOP nightmare in that state in 2020, Democrat Mark Kelly, is holding a four-point lead on average over controversial (i.e. Trump-backed) Republican Blake Masters.

A couple of the remaining races are also thought to be competitive. In New Hampshire, retired Army Brig. Gen. Don Bolduc, who unsuccessfully sought the state’s other Senate seat in 2020, is likely to win Tuesday’s GOP primary to take on Democratic incumbent Maggie Hassan. And the GOP is planning to pour in huge amounts to back Bolduc. In Florida, Republican veteran Marco Rubio is favored to win, but is clinging to a narrow lead over Democrat Val Demings, ahead by just over two points in his bid for a third term.

New Banner Political Power PlaysAdd it all up, and what is the most realistic scenario in which Republicans can take the majority in the Senate? Well, it appears unlikely they will sweep all four close contests in which they are defending seats. So, they most likely will need to hold three out of those four seats – and flip two Democratic seats, with the most likely candidates being Georgia and Nevada.

It should be pointed out that Senate polls are far more scattered than those in presidential races, with larger margins of error, and thus should not be considered definitive. However, no less than The Economist, hardly a liberal rag, put it simply in the headline of its latest assessment of the state of play: “The Democrats are likely to lose the House but keep the Senate.” Still, there are miles to go before they sleep, as Robert Frost once famously wrote. And in the seeming perpetual tribal turbulence of politics circa 2022, perhaps the most sophisticated analysis of the battle for control of the Senate might be at the same time entirely unsophisticated: Anything can happen.

Read More From Tim Donner

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