Bold or bluster? Both parties predict 2022 wins in both chambers

But wild cards include redistricting, recruitment and overall climate

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said he'd be willing to bet his house that Republicans take over the House in 2022. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said he'd be willing to bet his house that Republicans take over the House in 2022. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted March 2, 2021 at 1:55pm

ANALYSIS — Twenty months from the 2022 midterm elections, you’re not going to hear me making any bold predictions. That vast expanse of time, however, is not stopping leaders in each party from making their own election projections. 

Considering how narrow the majorities are in the Senate and the House, we can boldly predict that control of Congress will be on the ballot in 2022. Beyond that, however, there’s still a lot of game left to be played. Redistricting, recruitment and the overall political environment will go a long way in determining which party ends up on top. 

But since Republicans and Democrats are already jumping into the election projection mix, let’s take a look at how plausible their predictions are at this point.

“We're gonna get the majority back ... I would bet my house.”

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy on Saturday, at the Conservative Political Action Conference panel

While it might have sounded like a bold prediction from the California Republican at the recent CPAC conference, it really isn’t at all. And, at this stage, with historical midterm trends and a redistricting advantage in key states, Republicans should be disappointed if they don’t win the House majority in 2022.

The president’s party has lost House seats in 19 of the last 21 midterm elections, and the average seat loss in those 19 cycles was 33 seats. Republicans need to gain five seats in 2022 to get the majority. Republicans know the history and that’s what makes them so confident, and so unwilling to give ground on legislation in this Congress. They can smell the majority. 

Add in the extra advantage of redistricting, and Republicans could potentially be given the early advantage in the fight for the House. According an initial redistricting analysis from The Cook Political Report’s David Wasserman, Republicans could gain up to 10 seats through reappointment and redistricting alone.

“Clearly, we're going to pick up Georgia. We're going to pick up Arizona. We're going to pick up New Hampshire. We're going to pick up Nevada.”

National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman Rick Scott on Friday, in interview at CPAC

Clearly? I’d say it’s closer to maybe. Declaring victory in all of the GOP’s initial takeover targets is a pretty bold step for the senator from Florida, but Republicans have defeated an impressive list of Democratic incumbents in the last two midterm elections. 

Republicans defeated four Democratic senators in 2018 (including Scott’s defeat of incumbent Bill Nelson) and five Democratic senators in 2014. But the GOP presidential nominee won all but one of those nine states in the preceding election. Republican Cory Gardner’s victory in Colorado in 2014 was the outlier. 

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That’s a contrast to projected victories Scott rattled off for 2022 in four states that Joe Biden carried in the 2020 presidential election. And Republicans don’t have clear, top-tier contenders in three of those states.

The good news for Republicans is that they probably don’t even need to win all of the states Scott mentioned. If the GOP can limit losses in their own four battleground states, that takes the pressure off defeating more incumbents. Remember Republicans need a net gain of just one seat to get a majority.

“I do believe we are in a strong position to retain and grow this majority.”

Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Sean Patrick Maloney on Feb. 24, Politico Playbook interview

With the trend of midterm elections and the challenges of redistricting, this seems a bit optimistic from the New York congressman. But the chairpersons of the campaign committees are needed more as cheerleaders and fundraisers than nonpartisan political analysts.

The midterm trend of House seats is not lost on Democrats either. But it’s obviously too early to throw in the towel. "I don't give a damn about the past. I'm not a historian. My job is not to whine about it, my job is to win,” Maloney told CQ Roll Call’s Bridget Bowman in the fall, before he got the position. “[W]e're going to pick up seats. Write it down." 

In a recent interview with Politico’s Playbook, Maloney laid out the scenario in which Democrats could fulfill his projection. Typically, midterm voters become dissatisfied with the direction of the country, can’t vote against the president because he’s not on the ballot, so they take it out on candidates from his party. A healthier America (physically, economically and mentally) could produce a more satisfied and less agitated electorate.

Even this scenario is complicated though. “Biden’s team ought to be able to hold Trump responsible for many of the nation’s problems through the spring and summer, possibly even to the end of the year,” wrote Stuart Rothenberg in Roll Call. “But when the calendar turns to 2022, history suggests Biden and his party will have been in ‘control’ long enough that voters will start assigning credit/blame to them for the nation’s condition.”

“We have a great opportunity in 2022 to defend and expand our Democratic majority.”

Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Gary Peters on Jan. 28, DSCC press release

Republicans love to criticize the recently reelected senator from Michigan for being forgettable, but this is a decent piece of unexciting early analysis. I could quibble with the adjective “great,” but it avoids the definitive declarations that characterize most of these predictions. 

While history tends to work against the president’s party in midterm elections, particularly in the House, Senate results are more dependent on the class that is up for election that cycle.

For example, in 2018, Republicans lost 40 seats in the House but gained two seats in the Senate, thanks to a favorable map. If the same thing happens but in reverse this cycle, Democrats would have a clear majority and would not need Vice President Kamala Harris to break tie votes.

With Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, Democrats have at least two of the best initial takeover opportunities in 2022, considering Biden won both of those states last cycle. They are also playing offense in North Carolina and Florida. And Democrats are boosted by not having to play defense in any states Trump carried in 2020.