ANALYSIS — With the vast majority of primaries behind us and the unofficial Labor Day kickoff just ahead, the fight for the House is coming into focus. At least it’s supposed to be.
For close to a year, since last August, President Joe Biden’s job approval rating and Democratic electoral prospects were on a steady decline toward a typical midterm election in which the party in power suffers significant losses.
There’s mounting evidence, however, that this won’t be a typical midterm. The painting of the 2022 election is less clear even though we’re closer to Election Day than ever. That doesn’t mean Democrats can’t or won’t lose both their House and Senate majorities. But Democratic prospects in the fight for both chambers have improved.
A combination of factors has given Democrats a boost, including the Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe v. Wade, subsequent GOP efforts to eliminate access to legal abortion at the state level, flawed GOP candidates in key races, revelations from the Jan. 6 House select committee, continuing investigations into former President Donald Trump and even some improvement in gas prices.
Special elections have unique circumstances that warrant caution when extrapolating results. But it’s impossible to ignore the latest special elections in Nebraska, Minnesota and New York, where Democrats overperformed across the board. And Democrats have undeniably improved on the national generic ballot in the wake of the Supreme Court’s abortion decision in June.
For most of the cycle, I’ve thought Biden would have to improve his political standing in order for Democratic prospects to improve. But apparently that’s not the case. The president’s job rating remains mediocre, but voters aren’t yet holding Democratic candidates responsible for his performance. Or maybe voters primed for change are uncomfortable with putting Republicans in charge.
For months I’ve been telling people, readers and groups that the question is whether Republicans would have a good election or a great election in 2022. An enthusiastic and consolidated Democratic base would limit Democratic losses and push the cycle into the “good” category for the GOP. Republicans still have an advantage with independent voters, which should be enough to give them control of the House but maybe not the Senate.
It’s important to remember that Republicans don’t need a wave for the House majority. They don’t need to win districts that Biden won by double digits. They need a net gain of just five seats and are still likely to cross that threshold this fall.
Even though this particular batch of individual rating changes includes more shifts toward Republicans, that shouldn’t be taken as a sign that momentum is on the GOP’s side.
Democrats appear to have the momentum, but they started that trajectory from a weak political position. It’s possible that polling in individual House races is a lagging indicator and that the dynamic from the special elections will start to show up over the next few weeks. If that happens, we could see a significant number of races shift toward Democrats and the overall projections for Republican gains decrease in size and magnitude.
I’m still not convinced we’ll end up having an entirely “good” cycle for Democrats, where they expand their majorities in both chambers. But we should always be open-minded about various possible outcomes. Even though a set of elections might look to be headed in one direction for most of the cycle, it doesn't mean that a cycle can’t change course.
13 races shift toward Republicans
- California’s 13th District (Open; Josh Harder, D), from Likely Democratic to Lean Democratic.
- California’s 41st (Ken Calvert, R), Likely Republican to Solid Republican.
- California’s 45th (Michelle Steel, R), Tilt Republican to Lean Republican.
- Indiana’s 1st (Frank J. Mrvan, D), Likely Democratic to Lean Democratic.
- Michigan’s 10th (Open; Andy Levin, D) Tilt Republican to Lean Republican.
- Minnesota’s 2nd (Angie Craig, D), Tilt Democratic to Toss-up.
- Nevada’s 1st (Dina Titus, D), Lean Democratic to Tilt Democratic.
- Oregon’s 5th (Open; Kurt Schrader, D), Lean Democratic to Tilt Democratic.
- Oregon’s 6th (Open; new), Likely Democratic to Lean Democratic.
- Pennsylvania’s 1st (Brian Fitzpatrick, R), Likely Republican to Solid Republican.
- Pennsylvania’s 17th (Open; Conor Lamb, D), Tilt Democratic to Toss-up.
- Texas’ 15th (Open; Vicente Gonzalez, D), Tilt Republican to Lean Republican.
- Texas’ 34th (Mayra Flores, R; Vicente Gonzalez, D), Likely Democratic to Lean Democratic.
Nine races shift toward Democrats
- Alaska's At Large District (Mary Peltola, D), from Solid Republican to Tilt Republican
- Iowa’s 1st District (Mariannette Miller-Meeks, R), from Likely Republican to Lean Republican.
- Iowa’s 2nd (Ashley Hinson, R), Likely Republican to Lean Republican.
- Michigan’s 3rd (Open; Peter Meijer, R) Toss-up to Tilt Democratic.
- New Mexico’s 3rd (Teresa Leger Fernandez, D), Likely Democratic to Solid Democratic.
- Nebraska’s 2nd (Don Bacon, R), Lean Republican to Toss-up.
- North Carolina’s 6th (Kathy Manning, D), Likely Democratic to Solid Democratic.
- North Carolina’s 14th (Open; New), Likely Democratic to Solid Democratic.
- Ohio’s 13th (Open; Tim Ryan, D), Tilt Republican to Toss-up.
Note: Lawmaker names in parentheses designate incumbents, winner of the seat in 2020 or, in the case of Texas’ 34th District, the presence of two incumbents on the ballot, one of whom won in a different district in 2020.
Nathan L. Gonzales is an elections analyst for CQ Roll Call.