Democrats can win the Senate in 2022 -- and make it Manchin-proof
Joe Manchin on Facebook.

The Democratic Party enters the 2022 midterm elections in far better position than conventional wisdom suggests for maintaining -- and even increasing -- their slim control of the U.S. Senate.

The reason is simple: Math may mean more than history in the upcoming cycle.

History is clear: The American political party in power routinely gets crushed in Congressional midterm elections. In the past 21 election cycles dating back to 1938, the incumbent lost seats in both the chambers 15 times. (Only once, in the first post-911 election of 2002 under President George W. Bush, did it gain in both the House and Senate).

The pattern is especially pronounced in the House, where 19 of those 21 elections saw losses for the party in power. The Democrats hopes of holding their slim control of the House in 2022 therefore seem dim. That would be true even if Republicans didn’t hold their monstrous gerrymandering advantage as the party controlling most statehouses after a Census.

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But the Senate is an entirely different matter. Overlooked in most analyses is that the Democrats enter the election in a far stronger position than Republicans based upon the specific seats that are in play.

Two-thirds of the Senate is not up for election in each two-year cycle. So, it is the nitty gritty of the contested third that provides the lens through which election prospects should be viewed.

In the case of 2022, the Democrats enter the race with a significant advantage among the seats not being contested. And of the ones in play, Democrats are defending incumbents while all the vulnerable open seats are currently held by Republicans.

It’s far too early to draw conclusions about next November -- in any direction. But much political talk today focuses upon assumptions of midterm electoral history or even President Biden’s weak poll numbers. Those numbers, too, can change -- just as Donald Trump’s future status in the criminal-justice system might.

When viewed seat by seat in the Senate, the Democrats’ prospects are brighter than their present “woe is me” tenor would suggest.

Here’s an overview:

For starters, there are 66 seats not up in 2022. Of those, Democrats (and independents who caucus with them) hold 36 seats. Republicans hold just 30.

There are 24 seats which appear solid for the party holding them. Of those, 10 are held by Democrats, 14 by Republicans. That brings the total of likely safe seats to 46 Democrats, 44 Republicans.

That leaves 10 seats more realistically in play. CNN labeled them as “most likely to be flipped” in a November analysis. It tracks with projections by the Cook Political Report except for Missouri, which Republicans now fear is in jeopardy, as reported recently at Raw Story.

What’s notable -- and underestimated -- is that of those 10 seats, only four are held by Democrats and six by Republicans. Even more significant, all four Democratic seats are held by incumbents seeking reelection, while four of the six Republican seats are open seats in which the incumbent is retiring.

Incumbency remains an advantage for both sides. According to data at opensecrets.org, in the past 40 years the reelection rate of Senate incumbents has dropped below 82% only three times (75% being the lowest). And it has been as high as 96.3%.

Barring a dramatic upset on either side in the “safe” seats, the Democrats could maintain their perilous 50-50 “majority” in the Senate by defending their incumbents. That presumes no flips among the six Republican seats in play.

If they can hold their current seats, Democrats then would need just one pickup among the six Republican seats in play to “Joe Manchin-proof” their caucus at 51 members. They’d need a second pickup to get to 52 for a cushion that might diminish the influence of the likes of moderate Sen. Kirsten Sinema of Arizona.

Nothing is certain nearly 11 months before any election. But here’s a snapshot of the 34 seats up for election in 2022, beginning with the 10 most likely in play:

FLIPPABLE SEATS--DEMOCRAT (4)

Arizona: Sen. Mark Kelly. He unseated Sen. Martha McSally in a 2020 special election by 88,000 votes, or 2.4%. That was tight, but more than eight times Biden’s 10,467 win in that cycle. Kelly raised $8 million in the last quarter alone, CNN reports. And there’s this on the other side: “The primary in Arizona is still a free-for-all that's causing some concern for the GOP. As the major statewide elected official in the race, Attorney General Mark Brnovich would seem to start with an advantage, but he raised only $564,000 in the third quarter, which would be mediocre money for a candidate in a competitive House district, let alone a top-tier Senate race. He's also taking incoming fire from his GOP rivals. A super PAC backing Blake Masters, the president of the Thiel Foundation, is attacking Brnovich on the air on immigration.” All that said, Arizona is the least blue of the incumbent seats Democrats are defending.

Georgia: Sen. Raphael Warnock. He unseated Sen Kelly Loeffler in a 2020 special election runoff by 93,000 votes or 2%. Stacey Abrams’ announcement this month that she will make another run for governor ensured that Georgia will likely be the most-watched state in the 2022 elections. It also is a good sign for Warnock, according to strategist Donna Brazile, according to the New York Times: “What he’ll get from Stacey is somebody who can stir up the electorate to get the results he needs to win in 2022,” Ms. Brazile said.” The Times added, “Herschel Walker, the Georgia college football legend backed by Mr. Trump, is the favorite among seven Republicans who have filed to run so far. He has faced repeated accusations of threatening his ex-wife.” Warnock smashed Georgia fundraising records in the third quarter to emerge with $17.2 million in hand. He will undoubtedly be running against a well-funded opponent, but his own numbers show Warnock is ready to battle.

Nevada: Sen. Cortez Masto. A two-term incumbent, she won reelection in 2016 by the same 2.4% margin that Trump lost the state in that year and 2020. But unlike the other Democrats on this list, Masto -- the Senate’s lone Latina -- seems certain to face a well-known candidate with unified Republican support in former state Atty. Gen. Adam Laxalt. The grandson of former Nevada senator and governor Paul Laxalt, he was among the most vocal advocates of Trump’s Big Lie in the 2020 election. Laxalt lost a 2018 bid for governor, but he is supported by both Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. The Nevada Independent reports that Masto starts the race with better approval ratings than Laxalt and a 4-point lead.


New Hampshire: Sen. Maggie Hassan. She unseated Sen. Kelly Ayotte in 2016 by just 1,017 votes. But the moderate Hassan received good news last month when her most formidable Republican challenger -- Gov. Chris Sununu -- ruled out a race for her Senate seat, as has Ayotte. Reports the Times: “Sununu's announcement that he would forgo the race disappointed national Republicans, who had been salivating over taking out Hassan. Had he run, this seat would have shot near the top of the list of seats likely to flip. Republicans have long maintained that Hassan would be among the most vulnerable incumbents even without the governor running, but as of now they don't have an A-list candidate.” Biden won the state by seven points in 2020.

FLIPPABLE SEATS--REPUBLICAN (6)

Florida: Sen. Marco Rubio. A two-term incumbent, Rubio won both of his elections by large margins: 28.7% in 2010 and 7.7% in 2016. But Rubio will face his toughest opposition next year from a House Democrat who earned national fame during the first Trump impeachment: Rep. Val Demings. Even as an underdog, Demings had outraised Rubio through September, $13 million to $11.6 million. Politico reported on the race in October under the headline: “Dems Find Their Anti-Rubio Warrior in Val Demings: The Florida congresswoman is amassing an army of small donors.” Still, the Cook Political Report rates the race as “Leans Red,” and it would be quite an upset were Demings to defeat Rubio.



Missouri: Open seat. The retirement of Sen. Roy Blunt has set off perhaps the most explosive Republican primary in the nation -- an all-Trumper free-for-all in which the leading contender is the one candidate who party regulars fear could give Democrats a real chance to win the Senate seat in 2022. He is ex-Gov. Eric Greitens, who resigned in disgrace in 2018 (at the behest of the Republican state legislature) amid sex and fundraising scandals. The Democrats do not presently have a candidate with statewide name recognition, but former Marine Lucas Kunce has drawn attention with a forceful populist campaign and strong fundraising numbers. Blunt narrowly won reelection in 2016 by just 2.8% against former Secretary of State Jason Kander in the same election in which Trump enjoyed a landslide 18.5% margin in the state.

North Carolina: Open. Sen. Richard Burr is retiring in 2022 after voting to convict Trump in his second impeachment trial. Burr had a 5.7% win in 2016 against former State. Rep. Deborah Ross, but Trump just carried the state by a 1.3% margin in 2020. Cook rates North Carolina as a tossup state. Both parties have spirited primaries. Leading the Democratic said is Cheri Beasley, a former state Supreme Court chief justice. Reports CNN: “Democrats supporting her are enthusiastic about the prospect of an African American woman who's a former statewide elected official driving out rural and minority voters, whom the party has had trouble turning out in the past. But whether that would be enough in a midterm election in a state Biden lost in 2020 remains uncertain.” The Republican side is all about Trump, CNN reports: “Trump's early endorsement of GOP Rep. Ted Budd hasn't quieted this GOP primary, with former Gov. Pat McCrory and former Rep. Mark Walker still running -- and a new candidate, Marjorie Eastman, entering the race last month, saying, "I am the only political outsider, veteran and woman in this race." The March primary will be the first real test of the power of Trump's endorsement in 2022.”

Ohio: Open. Sen. Rob Portman won both of his Senate elections by landslide margins in 2010 and 2016 and Trump coasted to an 8-point win in 2020. So, Ohio leans red, according to Cook, and is a longshot for the Democrats at best. But there’s a well-known consensus Democratic candidate in Rep. Tim Ryan and a Republican field giving new meaning to “crazy.” Here’s CNN’s take: “Ryan received the endorsement last month of the man whose success he's trying to replicate -- Sen. Sherrod Brown is the rare Democrat to win Ohio at the federal level in recent years. It'll be a difficult path to follow, but Ryan raised $2.5 million in the third quarter while the Republicans continue to fight among themselves over loyalty to the former President. The political arm of the conservative Club for Growth and USA Freedom Fund, for example, have been hitting "Hillbilly Elegy" author JD Vance over his past criticism of Trump. Both groups have backed former state Treasurer Josh Mandel, who has run and lost against Brown. Also running are former state party Chair Jane Timken, businessmen Mike Gibbons and Bernie Moreno, and state Sen. Matt Dolan -- the rare GOP candidate backing the infrastructure deal negotiated by Portman.”

Pennsylvania: Open seat. Senator Pat Toomey is retiring in 2022 in a state Biden won, providing the Democrats with their best hope for a flip. This hasn’t been a safe seat for Republicans: Toomey won in 2010 by just 2 percent and was reelected in 2016 by an even narrower 1.5%. Biden won the state by 80,000 votes. And this time around, Republicans could self-implode with one of the more bizarre primary circuses on record. Here’s the Times’ take: “An open-seat race in Pennsylvania generated even more of a buzz when the celebrity physician Dr. Mehmet Oz recently jumped into fray. He joined a large group of candidates trying to succeed Senator Patrick J. Toomey, a Republican critic of Mr. Trump who is retiring. Dr. Oz’s entrance came just days after Sean Parnell, a leading Republican endorsed by Mr. Trump, suspended his campaign amid allegations of spousal and child abuse. Kathy Barnette, a former financial executive, and Jeff Bartos, a real estate developer, are also running as Republicans, and David McCormick, a hedge fund executive, has been exploring getting into the race as well. Democrats have several seasoned candidates that include Lt. Gov. John Fetterman and Representative Conor Lamb. Also running are Dr. Val Arkoosh, a top elected official from the Philadelphia suburbs, and Malcolm Kenyatta, a state representative from Philadelphia.”

Wisconsin: Sen. Ron Johnson. RonAnon unseated Sen. Russ Feingold in the Democrats’ terrible 2010 cycle and won a rematch by 3.4% in 2016. But Johnson’s prospects are cloudy enough that he hasn’t announced if he’ll seek reelection in a state Biden won narrowly in 2020. Here’s CNN’s take: “Democrats increasingly believe that (Johnson’s) penchant for peddling conspiracy theories makes him a better opponent for them than if this were an open seat. Johnson's approval rating was 36% (42% disapproval) among registered voters in a Marquette Law School Poll conducted in late October. Notably, more than half of voters (54%) said they don't trust the senator much or at all for information on the pandemic. On the Democratic side, Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes raised about $1.1 million and has racked up some big endorsements, with the Congressional Black Caucus PAC and End Citizens United//Let America Vote backing him last month. Milwaukee Bucks executive Alex Lasry, who loaned his campaign $750,000 in the third quarter, is running TV ads showing himself in a hard hat while touting the commitments that he "helped build Fiserv Forum on progressive values."

SAFE DEMOCRATIC SEATS (10)

California: Sen. Alex Padilla

Colorado: Sen. Michael Bennet

Connecticut: Sen. Richard Blumenthal

Hawaii: Sen. Brian Schatz

Illinois: Sen. Tammy Duckworth

Maryland: Sen. Chris Van Hollen

New York: Sen. Chuck Schumer

Oregon: Sen. Ron Wyden

Vermont: Open

Washington: Sen. Patty Murray

SAFE REPUBLICAN SEATS (14)

Alaska: Sen. Lisa Murkowski

Alabama: Open

Arkansas: Sen. John Boozman

Idaho: Sen. Mike Crapo

Indiana: Sen. Todd Young

Iowa: Sen. Chuck Grassley

Kansas: Sen. Jerry Moran

Kentucky: Sen. Rand Paul

Louisiana: Sen. John Kennedy

North Dakota: Sen. John Hoeven

Oklahoma: Sen. James Lankford

South Carolina: Sen. Tim Scott

South Dakota: Sen. John Thune

Utah: Sen. Mike Lee

(Note: Cook also rated Missouri’s open seat as “Solid R”)