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.   

Can Democrats Scrap the Filibuster?

The filibuster is a time-honored tradition in the Senate that allows any Senator to prolong debate and delay or prevent a vote on a bill.  Currently, 60 votes are needed in the Senate to end debate and pass most pieces of legislation, a threshold that requires Democrats to have the support of at least 10 Republicans to advance bills through the 50-50 Senate.  It has been difficult thus far for Senate Democrats to win over enough Republicans which is severely limiting what Democrats can accomplish legislatively.  This begs the question: why don’t Democrats simply scrap the filibuster?

Changing the Rules

Rules are made to broken, right?  Well, it’s not that simple.

There are 2 options to end the filibuster rule.  One option is to move forward to change Senate Rule 22, the rule that requires 60 votes to end debate.  BUT, Senate Democrats need a super-majority – 67 votes – to change the rule.  The other option is to create a new precedent in the Senate.  Changing the precedent, also known as the “nuclear option,” would require only a simple majority.

Not Enough Democratic Support

While Senate Democrats only need 50 votes to create a new precedent on the filibuster, the biggest hurdle is that not all 50 Senate Democrats are on board.  The most vocal supporters of the filibuster are Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), who have repeatedly voiced their opposition to removing the filibuster since Democrats narrowly regained control of the Senate in January 2021. 

Manchin most recently affirmed his filibuster support on June 6 when he wrote, “I will not vote to weaken or eliminate the filibuster” in an op-ed in the Charleston Gazette-Mail.  In his op-ed, Manchin pointed out that Senate Democrats were quick to defend the filibuster when then-President Donald Trump called for the tactic to be thrown out in 2017 when the GOP controlled both chambers of Congress and the White House.  Similarly, Sinema declared on June 2 that the filibuster “protects the democracy of our nation rather than allowing our country to ricochet wildly every two to four years.”  More so, Sinema has expressed support for restoring the 60-vote threshold to advance nominations. 

Other Senate Democrats have conveyed some hesitancy to remove the filibuster.  When asked in January 2021 if he supported keeping the filibuster, Sen. Mark Kelly (D-AZ) declined to answer specifically and instead stated that he supports bipartisanship.  Additionally, Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) also said in January that “it would take an awful, awful lot for me to end the filibuster.”

What About Reforming the Filibuster?

Between keeping or throwing away the filibuster, reforming the filibuster as we know it could be a third option and a compromise for Manchin and Sinema to consider.  On March 7, Manchin did state that he supports making the filibuster more “painful” if senators want to use it.  The scenario Manchin referred to is the “talking filibuster,” whereby members of the minority party can filibuster only as long as they are on the floor.  Once a senator relents, there would be a simple majority threshold.  The talking filibuster used to be the norm in the Senate until it was scrapped in 1975 because senators thought it was too time-consuming.

There is more recent precedent for reforming the filibuster.  In 2013, then-Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) led the way to allow all nominees except for Supreme Court justices to advance in the Senate with a simple majority.  It should be noted that Reid accomplished this following a strong 2012 midterm election that saw the number of Democratic Senators grow from 53 to 55, while then-President Barack Obama publicly admonished Senate Republicans for consistently blocking his agenda.  In 2017, Republicans expanded on this when then-Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) permitted Supreme Court nominees to also be approved with a simple majority.  McConnell proceeded to strike the filibuster in this scenario after Senate Democrats blocked the confirmation of Supreme Court nominee Judge Neil Gorsuch.

However, it’s unclear to what extent Manchin and Sinema would be open to even reforming the filibuster.  Manchin’s June 6 op-ed clearly states an opposition to “weakening” the filibuster, while Sinema’s comments on restoring the 60-vote requirement to advance all nominees suggests an unwillingness to change.

What Does Biden Say?

Over the course of his long career in Washington, President Joe Biden has evolved from being a staunch supporter of the filibuster to embracing calls for reform.  In the wake of the Sandy Hook mass shooting, then-Vice President Biden referred to the filibuster as a “perverted” rule after the Senate failed to advance gun violence legislation in 2013.  More recently, Biden expressed support for restoring the talking filibuster in an April 2021 interview.    

On June 2, Biden took a rare move to say “two members of the Senate who voted more with my Republican friends” when asked why progress on a voting rights bill has stalled.  Biden was of course referring to Manchin and Sinema, who still technically vote with Democrats more often than not.  Biden’s move to publicly call out the two suggests a willingness to use the power of the bully pulpit to condemn Democrats opposed to changing the filibuster, especially if his agenda continues to face staunch GOP opposition.

What Happens Next?

So far, the filibuster hasn’t totally derailed the Biden Administration’s agenda.  The Administration and congressional Democrats have already scored a policy victory by advancing the American Rescue Plan Act, and most of the Senate’s business has focused on nominations.  However, if Senate Republicans continue to oppose key Democratic proposals on voting rights, infrastructure, and other issues, Biden and other top Democrats could turn up the pressure on Manchin, Sinema, and other Senate Democrats to support changes to the filibuster.  Whether the President or Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) are willing to do that remains to be seen.