May 29, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Midterm special: Key House, Senate and governor races to watch

Data: Cook Political Report. (In new districts with no incumbent, Cook lists the "incumbent party" based on the district's estimated Partisan Voter Index score.) Table: Simran Parwani/Axios

The midterm outlook for House Democrats is so bleak that even members in districts President Biden won by 10 to 15 points are in danger of losing their seats, according to election experts.

Driving the news: The Cook Political Report just revised its fall House forecast to a net Republican gain of 20 to 35 seats. Cook shifted 10 races in Republicans' direction and two toward Democrats, with 35 D-held seats now labeled "tossup" or worse.

Zoom out: This year was always going to be difficult for Democrats — historical trends suggest the president's party typically loses seats.

  • 23 House Democrats have announced they won't seek re-election, compared to just 11 Republicans.
  • President Biden's approval has been hovering in the low 40s for several months, with inflation driving down his popularity.
  • Polling shows Republicans are winning the generic congressional ballot (Would you rather vote for a Democrat or a Republican?) by an average of 1.9 points — and they have still room to grow.

What to watch: "The most competitive states this cycle are those where a court or commission drew a congressional map as opposed to a partisan one," Cook's U.S. House editor Dave Wasserman tells Axios.

  • He points to races in New York, Michigan, Arizona and California: "That's where you’re going to see a lot of money spent."

Between the lines: Wasserman says the situation is especially perilous for House Democrats facing tight races in "orphan states," where there's no competitive statewide election driving turnout.

  • Those orphan states include California, Indiana, Iowa, New Jersey, Ohio, Texas, Virginia, Washington — and arguably New York, Wasserman tells Axios.
  • The only path to survival for those Democrats may be to go "scorched earth" against still-undefined Republican challengers — which, at this point in the race, includes essentially all first-time candidates.

The bottom line: Some of the most competitive House races are playing out across several battleground states with huge impacts on the 2024 presidential election, like Michigan, Pennsylvania and Nevada.

Senate: All eyes on Georgia

Data: Cook Political Report. Table: Simran Parwani/Axios

Democrats won control of the Senate last year with a pair of stunning runoff victories in Georgia, allowing President Biden to pass his $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package with a needle-thin majority.

  • All eyes will again be on Georgia this fall, as two Black candidates — Democratic incumbent Raphael Warnock and Republican challenger Herschel Walker — face off for the first time in the state's history.

Walker is a unicorn: The college-football great is one of two non-incumbent candidates nationwide who has been endorsed by both former President Trump and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

  • He's also completely untested, dominating the GOP primary without showing up to any of the debates.

That will change. Walker has agreed to debate Warnock, and Democrats are expected to turn up the heat with massive ad buys scrutinizing his troubled past and lack of experience.

  • A McConnell-aligned "dark money" group is set to pour $17 million into Georgia ads this summer — about 40% of its nationwide spending, and a substantial sum to drop on one race before Labor Day.

Governors: Abortion on the ballot

Data: Cook Political Report. Table: Simran Parwani/Axios

Democrats see the leaked Supreme Court draft opinion overturning Roe v. Wade as a huge opportunity to boost enthusiasm for their candidates — especially those running for governor in states with Republican-controlled legislatures:

  • Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers has promised to veto any bill preventing access to health care and reproductive rights.
  • Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has pledged not to enforce the state's 1931 abortion ban if Roe is overturned.
  • Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly sustained a veto over an abortion-related bill in 2019, despite Republicans holding a supermajority in the state legislature.

All three of those governor's races are toss-ups.

  • Republican candidates for governor in battleground states universally support severe abortion restrictions, including complete bans with no exceptions for rape and incest.

Every female governor — nine in total, including six Democrats — is up for re-election this year.

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