Key Primary Races to Watch in August 2022 (8/2/2022) 

The long 2022 primary season isn’t over yet.  Starting today, 15 states will hold primary elections over the next 30 days, and the results of some races will be more impactful than others.  By the beginning of September, American voters are sure to have a clearer idea of the importance of political dynasties, and more importantly, how much influence former President Donald Trump wields over the GOP electorate.   

Michigan Democrats: Levin v. Stevens (August 2) 

Michigan lost a congressional seat in the 2020 Census.  The state’s new congressional map is the product of an independent commission, and while the commission has been successful in avoiding partisan gerrymandering, it wasn’t enough to stop a race between two incumbents.  Both Rep. Andy Levin (D-MI) and Rep. Haley Stevens (D-MI) could have opted to run in the new 10th Congressional District, which leans slightly Republican and contains suburban communities northeast of Detroit.  But instead, both Democratic incumbents chose to seek reelection in the 11th Congressional District, which features a more Democratic-leaning electorate in the suburb’s northwest of Detroit.   While Levin resides in the new district, Stevens’ current district includes much of the new one she’s running in. 

Both Levin and Stevens first entered Congress at the start of 2019, meaning they have been incumbents for the same length of time.  However, Levin has one possible advantage in the form of name recognition.  His father, Sander Levin, served in the House before retiring in 2019, and his uncle, Carl Levin, served in the Senate from 1979 to 2015.   

Missouri Republicans: Greitens v. Schmitt (August 2) 

Eric Greitens was elected Governor of Missouri in 2016, but he resigned in 2018 following allegations of sexual misconduct and violations of campaign finance laws.  Having secured Trump’s endorsement back in 2016, Greitens threw his hat in the ring as a Trump-friendly candidate in the 2022 Republican primary to replace the retiring Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) amid a crowded field consisting of Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt, Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-MO), and Rep. Billy Long (R-MO).  While Trump has yet to formally endorse a candidate in the race, he has positively commented on Greitens as recently as July 8.  However, Greitens’ initial lead in the polls seems to have has fallen after allegations of domestic abuse became public and the release of a controversial ad about hunting “Republicans-in-name-only,” or RINOs.  

Currently, one poll has Greitens in third place behind Schmitt and Hartzler, while another has all three candidates tied for first.  As voters in Missouri head to the polls, many Republicans including members of the former president’s inner-circle are currently divided over whether to support Greitens or Schmitt.  However, given Trump’s 15-point victory margin in Missouri two years ago, whichever GOP Senate candidate prevails on Tuesday is all but certain to win in November. 

Arizona Republicans:  Brnovich v. Masters (August 2) 

Arizona State Attorney General Mark Brnovich led the polls for months as the Republican candidate in the primary race for the Senate.  However, Brnovich began to lose ground after former President Trump criticized the attorney general for not supporting him during the 2020 election audit of Maricopa County.  In June, Trump endorsed Blake Masters, bringing the 35-year-old venture capitalist to first place in the polls.  A critic of the validity of the 2020 presidential election, Masters has been also questioning whether the results of the 2022 midterm election will be legitimate, which some Republicans worry could backfire and dissuade some GOP voters from showing up at the polls this November.  Whoever secures the Republican Primary will take on freshman Sen. Mark Kelly (D-AZ) this fall in a race that the Cook Political Report currently rates as a “toss-up.”  But the nomination of a hardcore Trump loyalist and election skeptic like Masters to the GOP ticket could turn off moderate and independent voters, leaving Kelly with a slight edge in November. 

Wyoming: Cheney v. Hageman (August 16) 

Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) was a rising star in the Republican Party, having been elected House GOP Conference Chair in August 2019.  However, Cheney lost her leadership position in May 2021 after drawing the ire of House Republicans for her criticism of former President Donald Trump.  Since then, Cheney has only doubled down on her criticism of Trump by serving as the Vice Chair of the January 6th Committee.   

Wyoming voters picked Trump over then-candidate Joe Biden in 2020 by a 40-point margin, so it’s no surprise that Cheney is trailing the Trump-endorsed attorney Harriet Hagemen by nearly 20 points in the GOP primary.  Cheney’s current situation is a sharp contrast from 2020, when she won reelection with 70% of the vote.  Cheney could theoretically find a narrow pathway to victory if she secures the votes of independents and Democrats over the coming days, but a landslide loss would mean the former president is still capable of commanding influence in states that strongly lean red.   

The Rest of Primary Season 

After August 31, only four states have primaries left: Massachusetts’ primary is scheduled for September 6, while Delaware, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island have their primary elections on September 13.  Given the number of consequential primaries in August, however, voters won’t have to wait until the end of the month to get a sense of what the midterm election in November will look like – and how much of an influence the former president has on the GOP. 

What Texas Could Tell Us About the 2022 Midterm Primaries

Welcome to primary season.  The 2022 midterm primaries officially kicks off today in Texas, where polls are open until 10pm local time this evening.  For those curious about how the primary season will unfold, Texas is the state to watch.  That’s because the results of these races could provide some clues on how some major trends could play out in the upcoming midterms and provide insight on how voters view the political parties.

How Much Influence Does Trump Have Over the GOP?

Ever since Donald Trump’s defeat in the 2020 presidential election, pundits have wondered how much loyalty to Donald Trump will matter to Republican candidates and voters going forward.  Polls have indicated that the former president’s hold on GOP voters is waning – a January 2021 poll found Republican voters were evenly split on whether they considered themselves supporters of Trump or the Republican Party, while a January 2022 found a majority of Republicans said they support the party and not Trump.

In Republican primary races across the nation, pro-Trump candidates are facing off against candidates who signal a stronger loyalty to the GOP, and one Texas race could preview which camp might fare better in the 2022 Republican primaries

Back in 2020, Rep. Van Taylor (R-TX) won his district comprising the norther suburbs of Dallas by a comfortable margin.  At the same time, Trump only narrowly won against Biden in what is officially the 3rd Congressional District of Texas.  But a lot has changed since November 2020.  A few months later, Taylor became one of 35 House Republicans to vote for an independent commission to investigate the January 6th riot at the US Capitol.  Since then, supporters of the former president have criticized this group of Republicans for their lack of loyalty to Trump.  

While Taylor did not go as far as to vote to impeach the former president last year, his vote in support of the January 6th commission still leaves him vulnerable to GOP challengers in the March 1 primary.  While Trump has not endorsed any of Taylor’s challengers, the Texas congressman still faces a few tough opponents, including former Collin County Judge Keith Self and Suzanne Harp, the mother of Rep. Madison Cawthorn’s (R-NC) chief of staff.  How Taylor fares in the March 1 primary could portent the fate of other Republican incumbents who’ve drawn the ire of the party’s pro-Trump faction.

How Will Progressives Fare against Centrists in the Democratic Primaries?

In Democratic primaries across the country, voters are deciding over with whether to support centrist incumbents   or support progressives who are more aligned with the party’s liberal policies.    This battle will be played out on March 1 in the Democratic primary for the 28th Congressional District, which runs from San Antonio to the Rio Grande River.  In 2020, incumbent Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-TX) defeated progressive primary challenger Jessica Cisneros by just four points.

Since the last election, congressional districts in Texas have been redrawn, and the 28th District is now more left leaning than in the previous decade.  In 2022, Cisneros is once again challenging Cuellar for his seat, and this time, she’s secured endorsements from fellow progressives Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT).  Adding interest to the race is the fact that Cuellar’s residence and campaign office were raided by the FBI a few weeks ago

Since the redrawn 28th District is more favorable to Democrats this time around, Cisneros could, in theory, have an advantage on ideological grounds.  However, Mexican-American voters who dominate the Democratic electorate there aren’t particularly warm to progressive ideas, the 2022 Democratic primary for the 28th District is looking just as competitive as it was in 2020.   

How Will New Voting Laws Affect Turnout?

Since the 2020 election, 19 mostly GOP-controlled states like Georgia and Kansas enacted new laws to restrict voting.  States were able to do this thanks to the Supreme Court’s 2013 ruling in Shelby County v. Holder, which struck down an important provision of the Voting Rights Act.  In Texas, new voting laws include ID requirements and limit voting hours from 6am to 10pm local time. 

These new laws might suppress turnout, but the impact is likely to be minimal.  That’s because historically, voter turnout in Texas primary elections is low, as less than 20% of registered voters participate in midterm primaries most years.  Early voting for 2022 in Texas started already on February 14, and results show lower than average turnout so far, although early voting numbers the counties report to the state do not include mail-in ballots.   And traditionally, early voting has not been a good indicator of overall turnout in Texas.   This means we may not know the full impact of new voting laws in Texas until this November’s midterm election.

All the Members of Congress Who Aren’t Running for Reelection in 2022

All the Members of Congress Who Aren’t Running for Reelection in 2022 (1/19/2022)

Get ready for action in November.  Ahead of what’s certain to be a historic midterm election in Congress, 45 current incumbents – six Senators and 38 Representative – have declared they won’t be seeking reelection for the 118th Congress.  While all Senators have cited retirement as a reason, which typically entailsspending more time with family or an account for health issues, the reasons House members are not running again vary a bit more. While 18 Democrats and 6 Republicans in the House have cited retirement, 15 Representatives – eight Democrats and seven Republicans – are stepping aside to run for other offices.  The following charts list all the current incumbents in Congress who’ve said they aren’t running for reelection in 2022, and their reasons for doing so. 


NamePartyStateDate AnnouncedReason
Bass, KarenDemocratCalifornia9/27/2021Running for Mayor (Los Angeles)
Brady, Kevin, Chairman of the Ways and Means CommitteeRepublicanTexas4/14/2021Retirement
Brooks, MoRepublicanAlabama3/22/2021Running for Senate
Brown, AnthonyDemocratMaryland10/25/2021Running for Attorney General (MD)
Budd, TedRepublicanNorth Carolina4/28/2021Running for Senate
Bustos, Cheri, Member of the Appropriations CommitteeDemocratIllinois4/30/2021Retirement
Butterfield, G.K., Member of the Energy and Commerce CommitteeDemocratNorth Carolina11/19/2021Retirement
Crist, Charlie, Member of the Appropriations CommitteeDemocratFlorida5/4/2021Running for Governor
DeFazio, PeterDemocratOregon12/1/2021Retirement
Demings, ValDemocratFlorida6/9/2021Running for Senate
Doyle, MichaelDemocratPennsylvania10/18/2021Retirement
Gohmert, LouisRepublicanTexas11/22/2021Running for Attorney General (TX)
Gonzalez, AnthonyRepublicanOhio9/16/2021Retirement
Hartzler, VickyRepublicanMissouri6/10/2021Running for Senate
Hice, JodyRepublicanGeorgia3/22/2021Running for Secretary of State (GA)
Hollingsworth, TreyRepublicanIndiana1/12/2022Retirement
Johnson, Eddie BerniceDemocratTexas10/9/2019Retirement
Katko, JohnRepublicanNew York1/14/2022Retirement
Kind, Ron, Member of the Ways and Means CommitteeDemocratWisconsin8/10/2021Retirement
Kinzinger, Adam, Member of the Energy and Commerce CommitteeRepublicanIllinois10/29/2021Retirement
Kirkpatrick, Ann, Member of the Appropriations CommitteeDemocratArizona3/12/2021Retirement
Lamb, ConorDemocratPennsylvania8/6/2021Running for Senate
Lawrence, Brenda, Member of the Appropriations CommitteeDemocratMichigan1/4/2022Retirement
Long, Billy, Member of the Energy and Commerce CommitteeRepublicanMissouri8/3/2021Running for Senate
Lowenthal, AlanDemocratCalifornia12/16/2021Retirement
Murphy, Stephanie, Member of the Ways and Means CommitteeDemocratFlorida12/20/2021Retirement
Perlmutter, EdDemocratColorado1/10/2022Retirement
Reed, TomRepublicanNew York3/21/2021Retirement
Roybal-Allard, Lucille, Member of the Appropriations CommitteeDemocratCalifornia12/21/2021Retirement
Rush, Bobby, Member of the Energy and Commerce CommitteeDemocratIllinois1/3/2022Retirement
Ryan, TimDemocratOhio4/26/2021Running for Senate
Sires, AlbioDemocratNew Jersey12/21/2021Retirement
Speier, JackieDemocratCalifornia11/16/2021Retirement
Suozzi, Tom, Member of the Ways and Means CommitteeDemocratNew York11/29/2021Running for Governor
Vela, FilemonDemocratTexas3/22/2021Retirement
Welch, Peter, Member of the Energy and Commerce CommitteeDemocratVermont11/22/2021Running for Senate
Yarmuth, John, Chairman of the Budget CommitteeDemocratKentucky10/12/2021Retirement
Zeldin, LeeRepublicanNew York4/8/2021Running for Governor


NamePartyStateDate Announced
Blunt, Roy, Member of the Appropriations CommitteeRepublicanMissouri3/8/2021
Burr, Richard, Chairman of the HELP CommitteeRepublicanNorth Carolina7/20/2021
Leahy, Patrick, Chairman of the Appropriations CommitteeDemocraticVermont11/15/2021
Portman, Rob, Member of the Finance CommitteeRepublicanOhio1/25/2021
Shelby, Richard, Ranking Member of the Appropriations CommitteeRepublicanAlabama2/8/2021
Toomey, Pat, Member of the Budget CommitteeRepublicanPennsylvania10/5/2021

What does “retirement” really mean?  While some members are legitimately retiring from public service either due to health issues or to spend time with family, some House Democrats with competitive seats, like Cheri Bustos and Ron Kind, may be preemptively stepping down to avoid the possibility of losing their seat in what’s sure to be a difficult midterm election cycle for Democrats.  The president’s party almost always loses seats in Congress during the  midterm election. And this year is no exception, especially with President Joe Biden’s current low approval rating simply makes “retirement” from Congress a more palpable option than a difficult reelection battle. 

And it’s not just Democrats worried about tough reelection fights.  Three retiring GOP congressmen, – John Katko, Adam Kinzinger, and Anthony Gonzalez, all voted to impeach former President Donald Trump in February 2021 following the riot at the US Capitol.  Trump is still popular among a large number of Republican voters, and this trio may have just decided to end their career in Congress on their own terms rather than face a tough primary race against an opponent who strongly supports the former president.

2022 Midterm Primaries Feature Incumbents versus Incumbents

Redistricting has made for strange bedfellows. Thanks to population losses reported in the 2020 Census, seven states lost one seat apiece in the US House of Representatives.  Individual states redraw their district boundaries to create a new map of congressional districts, and the states that lost a congressional seat have their own set of unique challenges.  On top of that, several states where one party has a supermajority are using their leverage to redraw district lines to bump out House members from another major party.  Therefore, the results of these newly drawn district lines have made for five strange matchups that involves two incumbents from the same party. 

Lucy McBath (D-GA) versus Carolyn Bourdeaux (D-GA)

Both congresswomen are new to Washington – McBath was elected in 2018, and Bourdeaux in 2020.  On December 30, 2021, Georgia’s Republican Governor Brian Kemp, signed into law a Republican-drawn congressional map that shifts most of McBath’s 6th Congressional District to the exurbs west of Atlanta where Republicans dominate the electorate.  As a result, McBath is now running in the 7th Congressional District, which is currently held by Bourdeaux.  Each congresswoman has her own advantages, so the race is likely to be close.  While McBath has gained national recognition for her story as a gun control advocate and cancer survivor, Bourdeaux’s old district represents most of the new district, and she has repeatedly touted her ties to the district on the campaign trail.

Marie Newman (D-IL) versus Sean Casten (D-IL)

Democrats currently control 13 of Illinois’ 18 congressional seats, and Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed into law in November 2021 a new congressional map that aims to give Democrats a total of 14 seats out of 17 seats since the state will lose one due to a drop in population.  To accomplish this, however, state legislators had to put Rep. Newman and Rep. Chuy Garcia (D-IL) in the same district.  Rather than run against a fellow progressive, Newman has opted to run in the neighboring 6th Congressional District, currently held by Rep. Casten.  While Casten has been touting his work on climate an infrastructure, much of Newman’s old district lies in the new one, and she has been emphasizing her longtime Chicagoland roots to contrast herself with her opponent, who moved to the area as an adult.

Mary Miller (R-IL) versus Rodney Davis (R-IL)

Illinois Democrats’ “sacrifice” of Newman was intended to thin the herd of GOP-held seats.  For instance, the new map puts Rep. Miller’s hometown in a new seat held by Rep. Mike Bost (R-IL) that covers the southern third of the state.  Rather than fight against Bost, Miller opted to seek run against Rep. Davis in the primary, whose central Illinois district contains portions of Miller’s old district.  While Davis has represented his district in Washington for five terms, Miller brings to the table an endorsement from former President Donald Trump, although she recently faced controversy for quoting Hitler.

Andy Levin (D-MI) and Haley Stevens (D-MI)

Michigan lost a congressional seat in 2020 Census.  The state’s new congressional map is the product of an independent commission, and while the commission has been successful in avoiding partisan gerrymandering, it wasn’t enough to stop a race between two incumbents.  Both Rep. Levin and Rep. Stevens could have opted to run in the new 10th Congressional District, which leans slightly Republican and contains suburban communities northeast of Detroit.  But instead, both Democratic incumbents chose to seek reelection in the 11th Congressional District, which features a more Democratic-leaning electorate in the suburbs northwest of Detroit.   While Levin resides in the new district, Stevens’ current district includes much of the new one she’s running in.

David McKinley (R-WV) versus Alex Mooney (R-WV)

West Virginia’s House delegation will shrink from three to two members in the next Congress.  A new congressional map signed into law by Republican Gov. Jim Justice last fall means Rep. McKinley and Rep. Mooney will have to square off to see who will represent the state’s northern 2nd Congressional District next year.  While two-thirds of McKinley’s old district is included in the newly formed district, Mooney is a staunch supporter of former President Trump, meaning whoever wins the May 10th primary is anyone’s guess.

Lay of the Land for 2022 Senate Elections

The 2022 midterm election for the US Senate is a tale of two conflicting narratives.  On the one hand, the map favors Democrats, who only must defend 14 seats compared to Republicans’ 20 seats.  On the other hand, midterm elections typically do not bode well for the party that occupies the White House, giving Republicans an advantage.  Given the current 50-50 split in the Senate, the stakes for either party couldn’t be higher.

To illustrate the current lay of the land, the map below shows all the seats up for the 2022 election along with the party of the incumbent.

The 2022 Outlook

Below is a chart of all the states with a 2022 Senate election, their likely outcome according to the Cook Political Report with Amy Walter, and a comparison with 2020 presidential election results.

StateIncumbentPartyProjection2020 Presidential Margin
AlabamaRichard Shelby*RSolid RTrump (+25.5)
AlaskaLisa MurkowskiRSolid RTrump (+10.1)
ArizonaMark KellyDLean DBiden (+0.3)
ArkansasJohn BoozmanRSolid RTrump (+27.6)
CaliforniaAlex PadillaDSolid DBiden (+29.5)
ColoradoMichael BennetDSolid DBiden (+13.5)
ConnecticutRichard BlumenthalDSolid DBiden (+20)
FloridaMarco RubioRLean RTrump (+3.4)
GeorgiaRaphael WarnockDLean DBiden (+0.2)
HawaiiBrian SchatzDSolid DBiden (+29.5)
IdahoMike CrapoRSolid RTrump (+30.7)
IllinoisTammy DuckworthDSolid DBiden (+16.9)
IndianaTodd YoungRSolid RTrump (+16)
IowaChuck GrassleyRSolid RTrump (+8.2)
KansasJerry MoranRSolid RTrump (+14.6)
KentuckyRand PaulRSolid RTrump (+26)
LouisianaJohn N. KennedyRSolid RTrump (19.6)
MarylandChris Van HollenDSolid DBiden (+33.5)
MissouriRoy Blunt*RSolid RTrump (+15.4)
NevadaCatherine Cortez MastoDLean DBiden (+2.4)
New HampshireMaggie HassanDLean DBiden (+7.4)
New YorkChuck SchumerDSolid DBiden (+23.1)
North CarolinaRichard Burr*RToss-upTrump (+1.3)
North DakotaJohn HoevenRSolid RTrump (+33.3)
OhioRob Portman*RLean RTrump (+8)
OklahomaJames LankfordRSolid RTrump (+33.1)
OregonRon WydenDSolid DBiden (+16.1)
PennsylvaniaPat Toomey*RToss-upBiden (+1.2)
South CarolinaTim ScottRSolid RTrump (+11.7)
UtahMike LeeRSolid RTrump (+20.3)
VermontPatrick LeahyDSolid DBiden (+35.4)
WashingtonPatty MurrayDSolid DBiden (+19.2)
WisconsinRon JohnsonRToss-upBiden (+0.6)

*not seeking reelection

Democrats May Have an Advantage…

Five Republican incumbent Senators, Shelby, Blunt, Burr, Portman, and Toomey, are not seeking reelection, and three of them represent states that are currently rated as “toss-up.”  This leaves the GOP without the advantage of an incumbent candidate on the ballot for three key races.  Furthermore, the number of “toss-up” states without an incumbent GOP Senator on the ballot could grow from three to four if Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) decides not to seek reelection.  In contrast, none of the 14 Democratic Senators in the mix for 2022 have announced retirement plans.

Democrats are also heading into the 2022 Senate races with an impressive war chest.  During the second quarter of 2021, several Democratic candidates in competitive states announced sizable fundraising totals, including Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-GA) with $7 million and Sen. Mike Kelly (D-AZ) with nearly $6 million.  The strong fundraising shown thus far is reminiscent of the 2018 and 2020 cycles, where Democrats translated money raised into electoral victories. 

…Or Not

However, there are many other factors to consider, namely the popularity of President Joe Biden.  As mentioned before, midterm elections tend to not favor the party that controls the presidency, and an unpopular president has the potential to hurt Democrats even more.  Recent polling shows that President Biden’s approval rating has dipped below 50% as the Delta variant, inflation, and the evacuation of Afghanistan take a toll on Biden’s agenda.  If these trends persist into 2022, Democrats might find themselves in a tough position to win any “toss-up” seats.

Trump: the X Factor

A major unknown factor heading into the 2022 Senate races is the role of former President Donald Trump.  Since leaving office, Trump has continued to hold rallies with his supporters and endorsed candidates who he perceives as loyal to him.  In June, for instance, Trump endorsed Rep. Ted Budd (R-NC) in the GOP primary to succeed the retiring Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) in the race for North Carolina’s open Senate seat.  This endorsement conflicts with Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL), Chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, who has expressed a desire for the former president to refrain from endorsing candidates until the primaries have wrapped up.  

While it remains uncertain how much influence Trump will have over Senate races, the former president’s influence over recent House special elections offers clues.  In a July 27 special election for the 6th Congressional District of Texas, Republican State Rep. Jake Ellzey defeated the Trump-backed candidate Susan Wright in a runoff race to succeed Wright’s late husband, Rep. Ron Wright (R-TX).  However, a Trump endorsement may have been helpful to Republican Mike Carey, who won the Republican primary for a special election on August 3 to fill a seat representing the 15th Congressional District of Ohio.  The seat, which was vacated with the retirement of Rep. Steve Stivers (R-OH), leans Republican, meaning Carey is highly favored to win the general election on November 2, 2021.  Trump’s mixed record on special elections in 2021 further indicates the continued uncertainty on his sway over the Senate races next year.

Uncertain Impact of 2018 Midterm Elections

With the 2022 midterm elections on the horizon, it remains unclear whether the trends from the 2018 midterm elections will carry over into next year, especially for the Senate.  While the 2018 midterm elections saw the highest turnout in over half a century, the results were split between both parties.  While Democrats gained a total of 39 seats in the House, Republicans were able to gain two Senate seats, partially defying a trend that typically sees the party which occupies the White House lose seats in Congress.  However, the 2018 Senate map was historically bad for Democrats, and Republicans face a similar situation heading into 2022.  That said, with a new president and new issues currently dominating the public discourse, 2022 presents a different landscape from 2018, making it difficult to draw any hard conclusions from the previous midterm elections.   

How Restricting Could Determine Control of the House

With each new decade comes a new Census, and with every new Census comes a redrawing of the map of congressional districts for the House of Representatives.   Known as redistricting, the stakes of this process couldn’t be higher, with Democrats clinging to a narrow majority in the House and the electorate bitterly divided among voters of either party.  However, thanks to the pandemic and controversies from the redistricting process 10 years ago, the process to determine congressional district boundaries ahead of the 2022 midterm elections will look more complicated than usual.

How States Determine Congressional Districts

The lines for congressional districts are redrawn at the state-level every 10 years.  Notably, each congressional district is required to be as equal to the population in all other congressional districts in a state as practicable.  Using new census data, states typically determine district boundaries through one of three ways:

  1. State legislature.  The state legislature has ultimate authority to draft and implement maps for congressional districts.  While some states may have advisory commissions who assist with the redrawing process, state legislatures are not bound to follow the commissions’ recommendations.
  2. Commission.  An independent commission is tasked with drawing the boundaries of congressional districts.  Some commissions bar individuals that hold elective office from serving on them, while others may include elected officials.
  3. Hybrid.  Both a state legislature and a commission share redistricting authority.

Below is a map that shows each state’s redistricting process as of 2020.  Notably, states with only one member serving in the House of Representatives do not participate in the redistricting process.

States are tasked every decade with redrawing their congressional districts based on new census data.  With Democrats holding a five-seat majority in the House, how congressional maps are re-drawn could have a huge impact on which seats change hands and what party assumes the majority in the next Congress.  This blog post provides an overview of what the redistricting process will look like and what it means for the 2022 midterm elections in the House.

Since most states have their respective legislatures draw congressional boundaries, some state lawmakers feel an incentive to engage in partisan gerrymandering, which is when districts are drawn in a way that benefits their own party.  Related to this is racial gerrymandering, which refers to when districts are drawn to reduce the electoral power of one racial group in favor of another.  Notably, racial gerrymandering is prohibited under the Voting Rights Act of 1965.  While the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in June 2019 that federal courts cannot weigh in on partisan gerrymandering cases, several lawsuits on the state level have been successful in changing maps.  In 2019, a three-judge panel in North Carolina threw out the Tar Heel state’s new congressional map for unconstitutional partisan gerrymandering, prompting a redrawing of the map that gave Democrats an edge.  One year earlier, Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court declared the commonwealth’s 2011 congressional districting map to be in violation of the Pennsylvania Constitution, leading the way to a new map that also left Republicans disadvantaged. 

Delayed Census Data, Delayed Maps

Normally, the US Census Bureau releases its apportionment data in December of the year it is collected, with more in-depth demographic data that states use to determine district boundaries released throughout February and March of the following year.   However, COVID-19 delayed the Census Bureau’s ability to gather and process data, and therefore the apportionment data wasn’t posted until April 26, 2021, and the more in-depth data states use to draw district boundaries won’t be available until August 12.  The apportionment data refers to the number of seats in the House of Representatives allotted for a state based on the state’s population, while the more in-depth data includes demographic information such as age, sex, and race as well as geographic boundaries like jurisdictional limits, school districts, property lines, roads, and other features that states will use to redraw maps.

Due to the delay in receiving census data, states are facing tight deadlines on drawing their 2022 congressional maps.  Currently, 12 states are required either constitutionally or statutorily to have their 2022 congressional district boundaries enacted before the end of 2021.  As a result, many states are expected to hold special legislative sessions this fall to focus on redistricting.  Other states are using non-census data to draw new district boundaries.  For example, the state legislatures of Illinois and Oklahoma are both using data from the American Community Survey (ACS) to come up with new maps.  However, some dispute that ACS data can serve as a stand-in for census data, and the Illinois Republican Party has already filed a lawsuit to challenge the forthcoming new map.  By summer 2022, at least half of states are expected to have their new congressional districts finalized.

What to Watch for in 2022

Apportionment data released in April saw a dozen states either gain or lose House seats based on changes in total population.  Below is an overview of the states that will see changes in their delegation, with the current number of seats in the 117th Congress noted in parentheses.

  • States that will lose one seat: California (53), Illinois (18), Michigan (14), New York (27), Ohio (16), Pennsylvania (18), West Virginia (3).
  • States that will gain one seat: Colorado (7), Montana (1), North Carolina (1), Oregon (5).
  • States that will gain two seats: Florida (27), Texas (36).

Going into the 2022 redistricting process, Republicans have the upper hand.  A major reason for this is Democrats currently have a slim five-seat majority in the House, which means Republicans only have to flip a few seats to retake the majority.  Heading into 2022, two factors give the GOP an advantage when it comes to winning new seats.

  • Apportionment data.  Many of the states that are set to lose one seat are Democratic-leaning, while Republican-leaning Florida and Texas gain two seats apiece.  A minor shift in seats away from blue states toward red states could be especially impactful in the House.
  • Control of state legislatures.  The Republican Party holds a supermajority in the legislatures of 30 state governments, meaning party members control both the upper chamber and the lower chamber of a state’s legislative branch.  In contrast, Democrats hold a supermajority in 18 states, while control is split between the parties in two states’ legislature.  This translates to Republicans having direct control over the boundaries of 187 districts, while Democrats only control 75.  Out of the remaining districts, independent commissions will decide 96, both parties will decide 71, and six seats represent at-large districts.  By holding supermajorities in most state legislatures, the GOP is better positioned to engage in gerrymandering and redraw congressional lines in their favor.  Notably, the Republican Party controls the state legislatures of Texas and Florida, both of which will be gaining two seats for 2022. 

However, Democrats have a few tricks up their sleeve to counter Republicans’ advantage in redrawing the congressional map.

  • Lawsuits. Litigation brought about changes in the congressional maps in Pennsylvania and North Carolina in recent years, and new legal challenges could open the door for more changes as redistricting for 2022 heats up.  The National Democratic Redistricting Committee, an advocacy organization founded by former US Attorney General Eric Holder, filed lawsuits in Louisiana, Minnesota, and Pennsylvania in April 2021, immediately following the release of the apportionment data.  As a worst-case-scenario for Republicans, some lawsuits could potentially overturn newly drawn maps, meaning some 2022 congressional races could be decided using the 2020 map.  It should be noted that Democrats are not the only party with a redistricting advocacy group, as the National Republican Redistricting Trust has pledged to challenge any maps that it sees as unfairly skewing to the left. 
  • Democratic supermajorities.  State legislatures with Democratic supermajorities may attempt to redraw their lines through gerrymandering to squeeze out Republican members of the state’s congressional delegation, potentially providing a cushion for Democrats in anticipation of any 2022 losses in the House.  States to watch include Illinois and Maryland, where Democratic state lawmakers may redraw lines to make reelection a tough prospect for Reps. Rodney Davis (R-IL) and Andy Harris (R-MD).

Redistricting has massive ramification for US politics and this year is no exception.  Between delayed census data, tight redistricting deadlines, strong Republican advantages, and the specter of Democratic lawsuits, intense fights over the 2022 congressional map could be on the horizon.