Most observers during this election season have been fixated on the near certainty that Republicans will seize control of the House in the upcoming midterm elections, the only question being the size of their final margin. But despite the GOP’s superior position nationally, based largely on the weakness of Joe Biden and the Democrats, there is far more doubt about the outcome in the Senate.
Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) strongly implied such misgivings with his recent assertion that, in the upper chamber more so than the lower, “candidate quality has a lot to do with the outcome.” This was a double play for ol’ Mitch, a thinly veiled swipe at Donald Trump, his bitter intra-party foe – and at Trump supporters who pushed the former president’s hand-picked candidates over the finish line in primaries across the nation. Enough of these Senate candidates are so intensely MAGA-friendly as to make them vulnerable or even unelectable in November, according to the narrative advanced by McConnell and the GOP establishment. Democrats apparently agree, based on their mischievous support for the “less electable” Trump-endorsed candidates in various House and Senate primaries.
GOP Senate Candidates Underperforming
McConnell blames Trump – and vice-versa – for losing a very winnable Senate in the aftermath of the 2020 election, when two races the GOP should have won in Georgia turned into losses, just one day before the January 6 Capitol riot. And as a remembrance of those two days still sends a chill up the spine of Republicans, they could well be on the precipice of a recurrence of the same nightmare. Why? Because the three states most closely associated with Trump’s demise in 2020 now stand in the way of Republicans once more in 2022.
Indeed, it is in Pennsylvania, Georgia, and Arizona where America First nominees are in serious danger according to recent polls. That trio of states accounted for 47 electoral votes, which swung the election to Joe Biden, and their GOP nominees for the Senate two years later are all running well behind.
Celebrity Dr. Mehmet Oz – of Crudité fame – is running to replace retiring Republican neoconservative Pat Toomey in Pennsylvania, and as a longtime resident of New Jersey, has been tagged as both a carpetbagger and out-of-touch elitist. Plus, after turning from a Trump critic into a born-again MAGA supporter, Trumpists remain skeptical of his core beliefs. Thus, despite facing a progressive candidate, John Fetterman, who suffered a stroke right before winning the Democratic primary and has remained mostly out of public view since, Dr. Oz is trailing by a whopping nine points in the RealClearPolitics (RCP) average of polls.
In Georgia, former football superstar and Peach State legend Herschel Walker has experienced more trouble as a Senate nominee than he ever did bursting through one defensive line after another on his way to the Heisman Trophy and stardom in the NFL. As a first-time candidate, Walker has been described as a “walking gaffe machine” by his enemies in elite media – and has provided plenty of fodder, including false claims that he had worked in law enforcement, careless remarks about guns after the Uvalde massacre, and revelations of him fathering three previously undisclosed, out-of-wedlock children. He is losing by double digits to Raphael Warnock, surprise winner on 1/5/21 who was thought to be among the most vulnerable Democratic incumbents.
Arizona represented the beginning of the end for Trump on Election Night 2020, and another Democrat who was elected to a partial term that year, Mark Kelly, is leading Republican challenger Blake Masters by eight points – in what was supposed to be a tightly contested race for the position once held by John McCain.
Then there are two additional open seats vacated by retiring GOP senators. In North Carolina, won narrowly by Trump in 2020, Republican Ted Budd leads within the margin of error over Democrat Cheri Beasley. In Ohio, erstwhile author J.D. Vance similarly holds a narrow lead over Democrat Tim Ryan. Republicans must hold those seats if they expect to take control of the Senate. Races in Nevada and New Hampshire, held by Democrats, and Wisconsin, held by the GOP, are also too close to call.
What Difference Will the Senate Make?
So, if Republicans manage to win control of both chambers of Congress, or just the House but not the Senate, how would the next two years differ from the last two? At the most basic level, in either case, further left-wing legislation such as what the right claims to be the hilariously misnamed Inflation Reduction Act will cease, and the GOP will have a clear path to turn the tables on Trump-deranged Democrats with rigorous investigations of the Biden administration – and perhaps impeachment of the president on any number of grounds. If the GOP captures both the House and Senate, they will also be able to block Biden’s judicial nominees. Like Obama in the final years of his administration, this aging and far more powerless chief executive would be left with only his pen and his phone.
As we approach the stretch drive of the 2022 election season, it appears likely that each party will wind up with control of 46 senate seats, according to RCP, with eight toss-up races left to determine whether Mitch McConnell or Chuck Schumer (D-NY) gets to serve as Senate majority leader come 2023. And to make it even more compelling, four of those eight toss-ups are held by Republicans, and four by Democrats. But the reality is that, were it not for the troubles of a trio of struggling candidates in states which brought them low two years ago, and where they should be thriving, the GOP might be sitting in the catbird seat with midterms approaching. Will Republicans experience a recurring nightmare on November 8?