With just days to go before the 2022 midterm elections, and control of both houses of Congress and many important state-level offices on the line, momentum appears to be swinging in favor of the Republican Party.
For several months in the middle of 2022, Democrats had allowed themselves to hope that this year they might escape the usual fate of the president’s party during midterms — an almost inevitable loss of seats in Congress.
A Supreme Court ruling that did away with a constitutional right to abortion, and a series of high-profile hearings illuminating the role former President Trump played in the January 6, 2021, assault on the U.S. Capitol seemed to invigorate Democratic voters, who showed up in record numbers for a number of state-level elections over the summer.
However, with the nation struggling under levels of inflation not seen in a generation and Democratic President Joe Biden’s approval rating well below 50%, late polling shows Republicans making gains across a variety of races.
Fundamentals ‘assert themselves’
While conceding that 2022 had been a “topsy-turvy year,” Kyle Kondik, the managing editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, told VOA the late change “aligns with what usually happens in [the] midterms.”
He said, “Particularly when you’ve got a president with poor numbers, sometimes the fundamentals just assert themselves.”
William A. Galston, a senior fellow in the Brookings Institution’s Governance Studies Program, told VOA that he agrees that Republicans appear to be enjoying a late surge, but said that shouldn’t be seen as a surprise.
“It’s important to understand that there is nothing unusual about this,” he said. “Indeed, it would be unusual if it weren’t happening. What also seems clear is that the themes that Republicans have emphasized increasingly during this campaign have turned out to be the issues that are top of mind for voters.”
Galston added, “By contrast, the Democratic Party’s agenda has appealed more to core Democrats than to anyone else. Core Democrats care a lot about abortion. They care a lot about threats to democracy, as they understand those threats. But the Republican focus on inflation and crime and to a lesser extent immigration, particularly in border states, has proved more effective.”
Limited competition in House races
In the House of Representatives, control goes to the party that holds a majority of the 435 seats. Currently, the Democrats hold 220 seats, only two more than the 218 required for a bare majority.
Because of the already tight margin of control in the House, even a small pickup by Republicans would be enough to give them control of the chamber, a result that most election observers have been confidently predicting for months.
In the elections for the 435 seats that make up the House of Representatives, the vast majority of races are not considered competitive at all. Over the course of many years, through a process known as “gerrymandering,” House districts have been drawn in such a way that most heavily favor members of one party or another.
Bad numbers for Democrats
For example, in its most recent analysis of the races, the Cook Political Report rates a total of 347 House seats as “solid” for one party or the other, with Republicans maintaining an advantage of 188 to 159.
Among the remainder, Cook Political rates 13 as “likely” Democratic wins and 11 as likely Republican wins, while another 16 seats “lean” Democratic and another 13 lean Republican.
Assuming all those races go as expected, that leaves Republicans with 212 seats and Democrats with 188.
This leaves a total of 35 races where the outcome remains in doubt. The GOP would need only win six out of that total to take control, but they are expected to pick up significantly more than that.
Close contest for Senate
The 100 seats in the Senate are currently split evenly between Republicans on one side and Democrats and Independents who caucus with them on the other. The Democrats hold control of the chamber only because Vice President Kamala Harris has the authority to cast tie-breaking votes when the body is deadlocked.
In the Senate, only about one-third of the seats are contested in any given federal election, because Senators serve six-year terms. This year there are 35 seats on the ballot, 14 currently held by Democrats and 21 by Republicans.
The distribution of seats up for election would appear to favor Democrats, who are defending fewer seats, but most analysts believe that the balance of power in the Senate will be decided by just four close races. Three of those involve seats currently held by Democrats, while the fourth is an open seat being vacated by retiring Pennsylvania Republican Pat Toomey.
In Georgia, Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock, who took office in 2021 after winning a special election to fill a seat left vacant by an incumbent’s resignation, is running to win a full term. He is being challenged by Herschel Walker, a former football star and political neophyte. Polling in the final week before the election showed a race with a result too close to call.
Sen. Mark Kelly, a first-term Arizona Democrat, is locked in a battle with Republican Blake Masters, a former venture capitalist. Kelly has led in polling throughout the race, but Masters has steadily eroded the incumbent’s advantage. While Kelly appears to remain ahead, the race is still considered extremely close.
In New Mexico, incumbent Democrat Catherine Cortez Masto is being challenged by State Attorney General Adam Laxalt, a Republican. Polling in the race has been relatively sparse, making it difficult to assess any late movement among voters, but Laxalt appears to hold a small lead.
Controversy in Pennsylvania
Possibly the most controversial Senate race in the nation is taking place in Pennsylvania, over Toomey’s empty seat. Lieutenant Gov. John Fetterman is contesting with former television personality Dr. Mehmet Oz. In the early stages of the races, the discussion was dominated by the fact that Oz is a relative newcomer to the state, having lived primarily in neighboring New Jersey until shortly before the election.
However, in May, Fetterman suffered a stroke, leaving him with what the campaign describes as an “auditory processing disorder” that makes it difficult for him to quickly respond to spoken questions. The disorder was evident in a late debate between the two candidates, in which Fetterman plainly struggled to answer some questions.
The Oz campaign and its surrogates have raised questions about Fetterman’s ability to perform the duties of a senator, and in the final weeks of the campaign, polls that had consistently shown Fetterman in the lead have tightened considerably, with some showing Oz in the lead.