The likeliest scenarios after the election dust settles
Intrigue surrounds Senate control, but there's more certainty about the House
ANALYSIS — Everything but the voting and vote counting, and even more vote counting, has come to a close. So what’s going to happen in the 2022 midterm elections?
The past few cycles offer ample reasons to be open-minded about multiple potential outcomes. Zeroing in on a single scenario not only risks missing the actual outcome, it conveys a level of precision that does not exist in political handicapping. The better approach is to consider multiple scenarios and their levels of probability.
Despite a Democratic surge for a few weeks in the late summer and early fall after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in the Dobbs case, 2022 is poised to be a fairly typical midterm election.
For more than a year before the abortion rights ruling, there was a clear most-likely outcome: a Republican sweep of Congress. Now, a second scenario, in which Republicans take the House and Democrats maintain narrow control of the Senate, is just as likely to happen as the first.
Due to Democrats narrowing the enthusiasm gap and a collection of underwhelming campaigns by GOP Senate nominees, the ceiling was lowered on Republican gains and the GOP was forced to spend more money on defense than it expected.
Ohio and North Carolina remained stubbornly competitive to the end and required resources to make sure those states stayed in the Republican column. If GOP Gov. Chris Sununu had challenged Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan in New Hampshire, or if Republicans could have teleported strong challengers like Joe O’Dea from Colorado or Tiffany Smiley from Washington to one of the half-dozen more competitive states, Republicans would be in the driver’s seat for the Senate majority.
Range narrow in Senate, not in House
But under the current circumstances, the fight for the Senate is operating in a relatively narrow range of likely outcomes, with significant ramifications on either side of the spectrum. Anything from a Republican gain of two seats to a Democratic gain of one seat is most likely. Within that range, each party has two scenarios for Senate control, so it’s difficult to identify which of the two overall outcomes (split control or GOP sweep) is most likely to take place.
There’s far more certainty in the House, where the unanswered question isn’t whether Republicans win the majority, but by what margin. The most likely projection is a GOP gain of 13 to 30 seats, which would entirely surpass the net gain of five seats the party needs for control. That’s nearly identical to the initial post-redistricting range before Democrats had their boomlet.
If Republicans do well, it will be yet another cycle in which the most likely outcome could be identified well in advance. A look back at political analysis over the past couple of decades shows that, even a year out from the election, it’s possible to accurately identify the direction of an election cycle, even if the magnitude or specifics are unclear. That could hold true once again this cycle.
House Democratic expansion unlikely
The third, and least likely, scenario is Democratic expansion. It’s actually not hard to see how Democrats expand their majority in the Senate. They’d just need to reelect their vulnerable incumbents and take over the GOP open seat in Pennsylvania. But the path to expanding their House majority is exponentially more difficult.
Democrats would need to win all of the races where they currently have an advantage (the Solid, Likely, Lean, and Tilt Democratic seats) and win all of the races rated as a Toss-up to gain a single seat. Again, it’s possible, but nowhere near likely. If Democrats expanded their House majority, it would be just the fourth time a president’s party gained House seats in the past century.
Regardless of the outcome, expect a delay in final results. It will take at least a few days to know the final margin in the House as votes are tallied in a half-dozen competitive races in California as well as close contests around the country. It also is likely the fight for the Senate comes down to a Dec. 6 runoff in Georgia. It also may not be immediately clear whether control of the Senate will come down to Georgia if votes are still being counted in close races in Nevada, Arizona and Pennsylvania.
The bottom line is to expect some delays in knowing full and final results, even if Republicans sweep Congress.
Nathan L. Gonzales is an elections analyst with CQ Roll Call.