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  • Writer's pictureVeritium Political Insights

2022 Senate Guide

The Veritas Political Research team handicaps 14 races as solidly Republican, 11 races as competitive, and 9 races as solidly Democratic. Democrats need to win 5 of 11 competitive races and all 9 solidly Democratic races to maintain control of the senate. The model projects the Democrats will win 49.5 seats and predicts Georgia as the median seat deciding Senate control.

The 11 Competitive Seats:

1. Georgia (47.5 flip% (49% PredictIt), Incumbent: Raphael Warnock (D))

2. Arizona (46.5 flip% (44%), Incumbent: Mark Kelly (D))

3. New Hampshire (45.3 flip% (50%), Incumbent: Maggie Hassan (D))

New Hampshire’s race odds are more in flux than any other state. If sitting governor Chris Sununu (R) runs against Hassan and wins the Republican Primary, our model shifts from 45.3% to 54.6% win% for Republicans, similar to the PredictIt average. If Sununu is not the Republican nominee Republican win% drops substantially from 45.3% to 25.5%.

4. Pennsylvania (39.6 flip% (46%), Incumbent: OPEN (R))

5. Nevada (35.5 flip% (42%), Incumbent: Catherine Cortez Masto (D))

Before the 2020 election cycle, most analysts expected that Senate seats in Nevada would be held easily by Democrats in the near future. However, Republicans were thrilled by their performance both in Nevada and among Hispanics as a larger group. If Warnock, Hassan, and Kelly go down, Cortez Masto could very well come with them.

6. North Carolina (33.4 flip% (33%), Incumbent: OPEN (R))

7. Wisconsin (21.6 flip% (42%), Incumbent: Ron Johnson (R))

The public disagrees with the model’s view of the Wisconsin race. It is admittedly hard to see Democrats winning this race. The Republicans are likely to hold an advantage in the national political environment and Wisconsin is considerably farther right than the nation as a whole. Johnson is also a solid incumbent and Democrats do not have any outstanding challengers. The only way Democrats upset Johnson is if the national environment takes a hard left in the next 12 months.

8. Ohio (19.4 flip% (20%), Incumbent: OPEN (R))

9. Florida (13.4 flip% (20%), Incumbent: Marco Rubio (R))

10. Colorado (12.7 flip% (No PI Market), Incumbent: Michael Bennet (D))

11. Missouri (9.9 flip% (11%), Incumbent: OPEN (R))

Some outlets have already stocked this race as in the Republican column, but it is a bit early for that. Republicans still need to elect a competent nominee. After all, this is the state where Todd Akin crashed and burned only a decade ago.

2022 Senate Map:

2022 Senate Preview:

I. Introduction

As we near the midway point of Joe Biden’s first term, Democrats (especially progressives) are generally disappointed in the accomplishments of the Democratic trifecta government. Moderate senators Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) and Joe Manchin (D-WV) have enjoyed a notable amount of attention recently for being thorns in the side of liberals looking to enact a progressive agenda. Although the Senate is slowly slipping away from Democrats, they are currently clinging to power through Kamala Harris’ vice-presidential tie-breaker vote. The Senate is becoming more conducive to Republicans for two primary reasons. First, as education polarization increases, the median Senate seat is moving further and further right relative to the nation as a whole. In the 2020 presidential election, for example, Joe Biden won the national popular vote by 4.4 points but lost the median state by 0.8 points. Second, Senate Elections are becoming more nationalized. In the past, Democrats were able to occasionally win Senate seats in deeply red states by nominating high-quality relatively moderate candidates. In the post-Trump era, however, voters are much more likely to vote entirely red/blue up and down their ballot. 2018 was a turning point for the Senate. Republicans ousted Democratic incumbents in 4 red states by convincing margins (ND, MO, IN, FL), while Democrats flipped seats in Nevada and Arizona. Joe Manchin, who is extremely popular in West Virginia despite the state’s affinity for Republicans (Trump won West Virginia by 42 points in 2016), won re-election by 23.1 points in 2012. However, in 2018, even he struggled and his margin shrunk to only 3.4 points.

II. 2022 National Political Climate

Historically, the opposition party has a successful midterm election season after the election of a new president. The pattern has been especially apparent recently, as Republicans gained 63 seats in the house in 2010 and Democrats gained 41 seats in 2018. The 2020 congressional races were nearly an extreme disappointment for Democrats, saved only by a pair of wins in Georgia senate runoffs in early 2021. Democrats led FiveThirtyEight’s generic ballot polling by 7.8% on the eve of the 2020 general election, but only won the House popular vote by 3.1% in 2020 and Republicans only need to flip 5 seats to win the house in 2022. Despite the recent insurrection, the national political environment has just swung in favor of Republicans for three main reasons (Democrats only lead generic ballot polling by 2.8% at the time of the blogpost). First, the political environment naturally swings in favor of the opposition party, perfect for Republicans who want to break up the national Democratic trifecta. Second, the situation in Afghanistan led to plenty of negative press for the Biden Administration. Third, as crime has continued to rise astronomically in 2020 and 2021, Democrats’ social rhetoric has become less and less popular, especially among lower educated voters. Although Democrats would certainly be the favorites to keep the Senate if they win the House popular vote by 2.8%, there is plenty of reason to expect that Republicans will beat their current generic ballot polling. Republicans have outperformed their average generic-ballot polling margin in the final house popular vote result in 17 out of the last 20 midterm elections, by an average of 2.5 points. Our team has been confused recently why everyone is so shocked that Republicans have outperformed polling by a sizable margin in 2016 and 2020; this has been happening since 1980. And I’m not sure why we shouldn’t expect this to happen again in 2022. Polls really haven’t been as bad as people say… they have missed pretty consistently in favor of the Republicans. It's time to admit there is a systemic issue with polling that pollsters cannot seem to fix.

III. Senate Map Summary — 2022 and Beyond

Despite the fact that all signs point to a favorable national political environment for Republicans in 2022, the Senate map looks reasonable for Democrats. After all, the Republicans had a wildly successful senatorial election in 2016 (only losing two seats despite a horrific map), so it will be difficult for Republicans to gain even seats back. While Republicans have to defend two seats in states that Joe Biden won in 2020, Democrats do not have to defend a single seat in a state that Trump won. Furthermore, two Republican incumbents retired in battleground states (Pat Toomey (R-PA) and Thom Tillis (R-NC)), while Democrats will enjoy the incumbency advantage in all battleground states they need to defend. The map is truly bad for Democrats in 2024, however. Sherrod Brown, Jon Tester, and Joe Manchin all face re-election in dark red states. Democrats should expect to take considerable losses in the Senate in 2024; they will need to gain seats in 2022 if they want any chance of holding the Senate from 2024–2028.

IV. Challenger Report

Below are the top five potential challengers to keep an eye on that have the potential to vastly change the partisan lean of their senate races through their electoral strength (for better or for worse). That being said, the pool of possible challengers for Senate seats in 2022 is extremely uninteresting. Governor Sununu is the only one of these fivecandidates that would have made a similar list in 2020.

1. Chris Sununu (R-NH)

Chris Sununu is the only potential challenger that is a complete slam dunk candidate. Sununu is the incumbent governor of New Hampshire, and would likely overwhelm Hassan’s incumbency advantage and outperform expectations for a Republican in New Hampshire in 2022’s political environment. Sununu has not announced a run yet, but has repeatedly hinted at it and is listed at 69% on PredictIt to win the Republican nomination. Sununu would change New Hampshire for “Lean D” to a “Tossup” by winning the Republican nomination.

2. John Fetterman (D-PA)

Fetterman is an intriguing Democratic candidate, the antithesis of “politics like usual.” Fetterman is the frontrunner to win the Democratic Primary in Pennsylvania (66c on PredictIt) and the sitting Lieutenant Governor of the state. He is 6–7, muscular, and tattooed, not to mention an unapologetic progressive from the western part of the state. Fetterman has the potential to be a high-quality candidate, something Democrats may need to flip Pennsylvania in a good national environment for the Republicans. His main opponent in the Pennsylvania primary is Conor Lamb (33c on PredictIt), who has carved out a more moderate line.

3. Tim Ryan (D-OH)

Democrats certainly aren’t likely to flip Ohio, but a solid candidate like Tim Ryan will give them the best chance to do so. With Rob Portman retiring, there is at least a slimmer of hope for Democrats. The public often underestimates Democrats’ chances to flip Republican seats in open races, even in red states. Ryan doesn’t have the electoral allure of Steve Bullock (D-MT), John Hickenlooper (D-CO), Sununu, or even John James (R-MI), but very well could win over some Obama-Trump- rust belt voters if the national political environment turns slightly South for Republicans.

4. Herschel Walker (R-GA)

Herschel Walker is the first candidate listed that we believe will negatively impact their party’s chances of flipping their seat. Many of his political views are unknown, but much more worrisome for Republicans is his history of mental illness and domestic abuse. Walker does not deny his ex-wife’s claims that he threatened to kill her on multiple occasions. It’s possible he still wins, but it’s hard to see him performing even with a more typical nominee.

5. Val Demmings (D-FL)

Marco Rubio appears to be in a pretty solid position to hold his seat, but we think that Val Demmings could outperform expectations. We expect crime/police reform to be one of the top issues of this midterm cycle, as astronomical increases in violent crime have occurred against a backdrop of a national reckoning about a broken policing and criminal justice system. In Florida, this is certainly a losing issue for the Dems as law-and-order Republicans will experience success in times of high crime. Demmings’ moderate profile and 27-year career as an Orlando Police Officer will at least help her neutralize one issue that may sink many Democrats.

Postscript: Methodology

The model is trained off of hundreds of Senate races over the past 12 years. It is completely empirically based and considers factors such as the national political environment, state partisan lead, incumbency status, state size, past electoral strength of the incumbent, and elected positions held by the challenger. In 2020, our model (released at this time in the election cycle) predicted the outcome of 34 of 35 races correctly on election day and finished with 91.4% accuracy. FiveThirtyEight’s model, the election prediction industry’s gold standard, finished with an identical 91.4% accuracy. However, their predictions were released the night before election day, with an extra year’s worth of information. Of course, we don’t believe our predictions, released a year in advance, are as accurate as FiveThirtyEight’s election day eve predictions. But we have a track record of admirable accuracy.

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