12 dates that define the 2022 midterm elections

Looking back on a long, strange trip five weeks before it ends

The August special election victory by New York Rep. Pat Ryan, pictured at his Sept. 13 ceremonial swearing-in with Speaker Nancy Pelosi, was a sign that Democrats could still win districts that President Joe Biden narrowly won in 2020. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
The August special election victory by New York Rep. Pat Ryan, pictured at his Sept. 13 ceremonial swearing-in with Speaker Nancy Pelosi, was a sign that Democrats could still win districts that President Joe Biden narrowly won in 2020. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted October 5, 2022 at 6:01am

There are still five weeks before Election Day, but it’s not too early to take a look back at the key dates that have defined the 2022 midterm cycle. 

Some historic moments, such as the confirmation of the first Black woman to the Supreme Court, aren’t included because they didn’t have a measurable impact on the campaign. Other issues, such as crime and immigration, are part of the political conversation but tougher to pin to a specific date.

Jan. 6, 2021. President Donald Trump’s supporters storm the Capitol in an attempt to prevent the counting of the certified presidential election results. Twenty-one months later, the insurrection is still a part of the national conversation with a consistent stream of legal and political headlines. It created a sense of urgency for measures to secure the voting process and has increased focus on races for election administration officials. The public hearings by the select House committee kept Jan. 6 in the spotlight throughout the summer of 2022 and complicated GOP efforts to keep voters focused on Democrats in power.

Aug. 26, 2021. A suicide bomber kills 183 people, including 13 U.S. military servicemembers, at the Kabul airport. The country’s exit from Afghanistan was the point when President Joe Biden’s job approval rating inverted, and he has never recovered. A month before the airport bombing, Biden’s job rating was 53 percent approve and 43 percent disapprove, according to the FiveThirtyEight average. A month after the bombing, Biden was at 45 percent approve and 49 percent disapprove. Other factors, including economic issues, have kept the president underwater, but it’s clear that Biden lost the benefit of the doubt after Afghanistan.

Nov. 2, 2021. Republican Glenn Youngkin is elected governor of Virginia. Youngkin’s victory in a state that Biden carried by 10 points just a year earlier provided a blueprint for GOP candidates trying to keep Trump involved while also being able to project a more mainstream general election message. It also emboldened Republicans to reach deep into Democratic territory when searching for takeover targets. Combined with the closer-than-expected result in New Jersey on the same day, anything Biden won with 55 percent or less in 2020 now looked within reach.

Nov. 9, 2021. Gov. Chris Sununu decides to run for reelection in New Hampshire rather than challenge Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan. Republicans ended up nominating retired Brigadier Gen. Don Bolduc, who is two or three tiers less of a challenger than Sununu. Thus, Sununu’s decision put more pressure on Republicans to defeat Sens. Mark Kelly of Arizona, Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada and Raphael Warnock of Georgia.  

March 10, 2022. The average cost for a gallon of regular gas spikes 75 cents per gallon, from $3.55 to $4.30, in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, according to GasBuddy. While it reached as high as $5 per gallon in June, drops since then contributed to the modest improvement in Biden’s job rating, but the overall cost of living remains a drag on the president’s popularity. 

April 15, 2022. Trump endorses author J.D. Vance in the Ohio Senate primary. Vance was on track to finish third in a crowded contest until Trump stepped in about two weeks before the election. Vance’s victory was an example of Trump’s lasting influence among base GOP voters, but it also made it more difficult for Republicans to hold the open seat, considering Vance’s sleepy post-primary effort. Republicans have had to spend millions of dollars defending the Buckeye State instead of using that money on offense in Washington, Colorado or Arizona. The other GOP candidates — businessman Mike Gibbons, former state Treasurer Josh Mandel, former state GOP Chair Jane Timken and state Sen. Matt Dolan — had flaws but would have run at least the minimal campaign necessary for a Republican to win easily in Ohio.

April 27, 2022. The New York Court of Appeals affirms a lower court’s decision to throw out the Democratic-drawn congressional map. Democrats had hoped their map would net them three more seats, offsetting losses elsewhere around the country and improving their odds of retaining the House majority. But the remedial map, drawn by a special master, created several more competitive districts and pitted Democrats against each other in contentious primaries. If the Democratic map had survived the legal challenge, it would have blown a hole in the GOP’s initial redistricting advantage. With Democratic chances improving slightly in the last couple of months, the New York court decision could end up deciding which party is in the majority next year. 

May 24, 2022. A gunman shoots and kills 19 students and two teachers at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. Tragically, school shootings are commonplace, but the size, scope and circumstances of what happened in Uvalde accelerated a national conversation about guns, school safety and law enforcement tactics. Subsequent legislation was modest, but it was bipartisan and the most significant gun legislation in years. 

June 14, 2022. GOP Rep. Tom Rice loses renomination in South Carolina. Rice wasn’t the only Republican to vote to impeach Trump, but his primary loss was notable because he was the first to lose, and he didn’t go out of his way like colleagues Liz Cheney of Wyoming or Adam Kinzinger of Illinois to needle or provoke the former president. Yet, Rice received a mere 25 percent of the vote, a troubling sign for the other pro-impeachment Republicans. In the end, Washington Rep. Dan Newhouse might be the only House Republican who voted to impeach Trump to serve in Congress next year.

June 24, 2022. The Supreme Court reverses Roe v. Wade and eliminates the federal right to an abortion. The Dobbs decision fundamentally altered the 2022 midterm elections. It galvanized the previously apathetic Democratic base and helped the party close the enthusiasm gap with the GOP. Subsequent actions by Republicans in certain states to restrict access to all legal abortions also caused some independent voters to broaden their midterm perspective from a strict referendum on Biden’s job performance to consider what Republicans might do if they gain power. By energizing Democrats to vote for Democratic candidates, it put a ceiling on GOP opportunities in some Democratic districts and states. 

Aug. 8, 2022. The FBI executes a search warrant at Mar-a-Lago to obtain classified documents from Trump’s residence. Setting the obvious legal implications aside, the story kept the former president in the headlines. Trump in the spotlight complicates the GOP’s effort to take back Congress because it distracts from the issues Republicans want voters to focus on, including the economy, crime and immigration. While some voters might trust Trump and the Republicans to handle the economy better than Biden and the Democrats, Trump’s handling of classified documents reminds them of the parts of his presidency they can do without. 

Aug. 23, 2022. Democrat Pat Ryan wins the special election in New York’s 19th District. In a pro-GOP midterm environment, Democrats were supposed to have a tough time holding a seat Biden carried narrowly in 2020. But Ryan’s victory, along with Democratic overperformances in Nebraska’s 1st, Minnesota’s 1st, New York’s 23rd and Alaska’s at-large district pointed to a significantly different midterm environment after the Dobbs decision. Ryan’s victory helped shift the narrative away from impending doom for Democrats. A day later, Biden announced his student debt relief program, which helped him improve his job rating by a few points by bringing some Democrats back into the fold.