Op/Ed

Eric Davis: Democrats’ prospects are mixed

Political party organizations are already starting to focus on the 2022 elections for the U.S. Senate and House, even though some contests from the 2020 cycle are still unresolved.
The final partisan breakdown of the 117th Congress, to convene in January, has yet to be determined. Two senators from Georgia will be elected in Jan. 5 run-offs. As of early this week, winners of nine House seats had yet to be determined, either because absentee ballots were still being counted, or because results were so close that recounts will be conducted. 
After the Georgia runoffs, the Senate will have a 52-48 or 51-49 Republican majority, or a 50-50 tie, with Vice President-Elect Harris casting the deciding vote once she takes office on Jan. 20. 
In 2022, there will be 33 Senate seats up for election: 20 held by Republicans, 12 held by Democrats, and one seat in Georgia. Most of these seats are in states with a history of being solidly Republican or solidly Democratic. However, both parties see targets of opportunity that could shift the balance in a closely divided Senate.
Democrats believe Pennsylvania and Wisconsin are their best opportunities for gaining Senate seats in 2022. Both states, after having voted for Donald Trump in 2016, voted for Joe Biden in 2020, and Democratic candidates for governor won in both states in 2018. 
In Wisconsin, Sen. Ron Johnson, a strong supporter of Trump, will be running for re-election to a third term. The Pennsylvania seat will be open because Republican Sen. Pat Toomey has already announced that he will not be running for re-election in 2022. The challenge for Democrats in these states will be recruiting strong candidates who can appeal to many types of voters in a diverse electorate.
Republicans see New Hampshire, where Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan will be running for re-election to a second term, as their best opportunity for flipping a Senate seat in 2022. Although Clinton and Biden both won the presidential election in New Hampshire, Republicans have had success in state politics. 
Earlier this month, while Biden was winning the state’s electoral votes and while Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen and two Democratic House members were re-elected, Republican Gov. Chris Sununu was comfortably returned for a third term. The GOP also regained control of both houses of the New Hampshire Legislature. New Hampshire and national Republicans believe that Sununu would be the GOP candidate best-positioned to win back the Senate seat from Democrat Hassan.
Democrats will have between 220 and 225 seats in the incoming House, down between 8 and 13 seats from their current numbers. Democrats have two main concerns with the 2022 House elections. First, the President’s party tends to lose House seats in the second year of his first term. Second, 2022 will be the first House election cycle after reapportionment and redistricting following the 2020 Census.
Preliminary estimates are that 10 House seats will shift among the states as a result of population changes since the 2010 Census. Notable shifts include Texas gaining three seats, Florida gaining two, California losing two, and Rhode Island losing one — going from two seats to one for the first time since 1790.
Texas, Florida and North Carolina are estimated to have 82 House seats for the 2022 elections. In all three states, Republicans will be in complete control of the redistricting process. Partisan gerrymanders in these three states could easily result in a net gain to the GOP of five seats. With the Supreme Court having ruled last year that partisan gerrymandering is not a violation of the Constitution, Democrats will have little recourse against such manipulation of House district lines.
Democrats’ prospects of retaining the House majority in 2022 look bleak, unless Joe Biden can preside over a rapid rollout and distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine and a consequent strong economic recovery in late 2021 and early 2022.
Eric L. Davis is professor emeritus of political science at Middlebury College. 

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