In the November midterms, Republicans are widely expected to win control of the House — possibly by a landslide. However, the Senate is much more highly contested, and a GOP victory is by no means a guarantee.
Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight gives Democrats a 57% chance of keeping control of the Senate, but gives the GOP an 80% chance of winning the House.
This discrepancy is due to the weakness of swing-state Republican Senate candidates, whose extreme positions, lack of experience or personal vulnerabilities make them far more susceptible to defeat in a statewide race than a more mainstream and experienced Republican would be.
That being said, if 2022 ends up being a red-wave election like 1994 or 2010 — as most predict it will be — the weakness of individual GOP candidates will be less important than the overall pro-Republican tide.
In Arizona, Donald Trump-backed venture capitalist Blake Masters just won the Republican nomination for Senate and will face incumbent Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly, who FiveThirtyEight gives a 67% chance of winning in its forecast. Kelly also leads in all public polls conducted this summer by at least 5-points.
As one of the most extreme Republican swing-state Senate candidates, Masters champions far-right conspiracy theories, including Trump’s “Big Lie” about the 2020 election and the anti-immigrant Great Replacement Theory. He is also well outside the mainstream on key issues, as he is anti-gay marriage, anti-abortion, and anti-American aid to Ukraine.
In Georgia, former NFL star Herschel Walker, Trump’s handpicked nominee, is a highly problematic general election candidate. He openly echoes conspiracy theories surrounding the 2020 election, COVID-19 and evolution, and has been embattled in a number of personal scandals — including lying about working in law enforcement.
As a result, even though Georgia is one of the redder swing states, both FiveThirtyEight and The Cook Political Report rate Walker’s race against incumbent Sen. Raphael Warnock as a toss-up — yet, comparatively, FiveThirtyEight gives Republican Gov. Brian Kemp an 85% chance of winning his statewide race in Georgia.
In addition, though the Senate race in Ohio is likely to break for Trump-endorsed Republican J.D. Vance, recent polling shows Vance’s opponent, Congressman Tim Ryan, trailing by just three points, or in some polls, slightly leading.
The closeness of this statewide race — in a state that Trump won by eight points in 2016 and 2020 — is indicative of Vance’s weaknesses as a candidate.
Not only is Vance inexperienced, but he has also made a number of extreme remarks. He has called law enforcement “corrupt,” said that rape was “inconvenient” and suggested that abortion is as morally reprehensible as slavery. Recently, he has come under fire for suggesting that “violent” marriages should not end in divorce.
To be sure, Ryan is also a comparatively strong candidate — as he is running to the center of his party on issues such as the economy and crime, and is making explicit appeals to Republicans by running ads on Fox News.
In the race for Pennsylvania’s open Senate seat, which is being vacated by Republican Pat Toomey, the progressive Democrat John Fetterman leads television doctor Mehmet Oz by approximately 10 points, and FiveThirtyEight’s forecast Fetterman a 57% chance of winning.
As a progressive running in a swing state during a favorable year for Republicans, Fetterman’s relative strength in the race is noteworthy. However, Oz endured a bruising primary election — during which opponent David McCormick attacked him for his inexperience and lack of ties to Pennsylvania.
Lastly, in Nevada, Republican Adam Laxalt, former state attorney general, is running against Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto. Notwithstanding Laxalt’s embrace of Trump’s 2020 election lies, he is one of the more mainstream candidates mentioned here and is an experienced politician.
The result of this toss-up Senate race — between an establishment Democratic incumbent and an experienced Republican – will arguably be more indicative of Democrats’ overall midterm performance than the races in Pennsylvania, Georgia and Arizona, and to a lesser extent, in Ohio.
While Democrats are by no means a shoe-in to win any of these races, or control of the Senate, the GOP’s failure to nominate more moderate candidates in these races is giving Democrats a reasonable chance of retaining their slim Senate majority.
At the same time, the fact that these Senate races are rated as toss-ups — even though Republicans are running fringe candidates — is indicative of how favorable the national political climate is for the GOP.
Clearly, Republicans still have an overall advantage this year: President Joe Biden’s approval rating just hit a record low, and voters widely trust Republicans over Democrats to handle the key issues facing the country — including inflation, border security and crime. Historical trends also work in the GOP’s favor, as the president’s party has lost House seats in every midterm election except for two since 1946 and has only gained Senate seats in four.
If Democratic candidates in these Senate races, and national Democrats as a whole, aren’t able to sell themselves as a reasonable alternative to extreme Republicans — and just as importantly, aren’t able to create distance from the failures of the Biden administration — Republicans could very-well win back the Senate and retain control for years to come.
Douglas Schoen is a longtime political consultant.