The Ruthless Midterm, August 2022 – Pundits Say Dems Will Lose House, but Polling Shows Them Gaining Ground


Election Day 2022 is November 8th and I’m worried about the fate of the Democrats in the House of Representatives. Two major national political analysis organizations, the Cook Political Report and FiveThirtyEight.com, are predicting the Republicans will win the House. I’ll put those miserable prognostications right up front before talking about how the Democrats are inching back into competitiveness. Before wrapping up, I’ll take a look at the situation in New York and contrast it with Florida.

The Cook Political Report, in a June 28th Overview of the Midterms, forecast the Republicans would achieve a net gain of between 20 and 35 seats in the House of Representatives  and win a majority. The forecast came days after the June 24th, 2022 Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade (the Dobbs case) and Cook reporters acknowledged the impact of the decision could affect the outcome of the election.

FiveThirtyEight.com has forecast the Republicans have an 83 in 100 chance of winning the House of Representatives as of August 1st, 2022. A few weeks ago their forecast was 87 of 100. Fortunately, FiveThirtyEight is forecasting the Democrats have a 56 out of 100 chance of winning the Senate.

Despite the gloomy forecasts, the Democrats have actually made headway on the Generic Congressional Ballot, a question asked by pollsters of voters across the nation, “Are you voting Democrat or Republican for the House of Representatives this November?” Before the Dobbs decision, the Republican margin on this question among thousands of nationally sampled voters in dozens of polls, was 2.6 points. On August 1st, 2022 the margin stood at 0.3 points:

FiveThirtyEight columnists have acknowledged the modest movement to the Democrats through the month of July, but still see the national mood as deeply sour toward the incumbent party . Many polls, but far from all of them, are now showing leads for the Democrats in the Generic Congressional Ballot.

The Generic Congressional Ballot (GCB) is a question asked not within individual districts, but of samples of voters across the nation. Election outcomes have a relationship to the GCB because the GCB  reflects the general national mood. The problems for the Democrats involve their competitiveness in individual districts across the country. The number of Democratic seats in toss-up, or highly competitive districts, vastly exceeds the number of Republican-held seats that are competitive. Those toss-up seats don’t count seats where one political party in a state simply wiped out the other, like in Florida, where the courts upheld a gerrymander by the Florida legislature that wiped out Democratic seats. Overall, FivethirtyEight’s analysis of redistricting nationwide says the Republicans gained three to four seats from redistricting alone .

One can see the problem for the Democrats in this table taken from the House Ratings section of the Cook Political Report:

The Cook Political Report has rated 26 Democratic-held seats as Toss-Ups (only 20 are pictured above) while only 8 Republican seats are rated as Toss-Ups. For the Democrats to hold the House they need to win nearly all their own Toss-Up seats, and win practically all the Republican Toss-Up seats too. In the Lean Republican column there are another seven Democratic seats and four Republican seats. The Democrats need to hold several of these seats and pick off one or two of the Republican seats,  be sure to take the two Republican seats in the Lean Democratic column, and take a seat or two in the column of Likely Republican seats. Many of the Toss-Up Republican seats are within reach, like the two Republican-held seats in this column in California, where Joe Biden won them by 12 and 13 points, or the Open Seat in New York and the New Seat in Colorado.

                               CAN THE DEMOCRATS HOLD ?

The answer is yes, of course, although it would be far better if a few dynamic situations went their way as well as winning a lot of close elections. Donald Trump could help them by announcing his 2024 candidacy, bringing his Toxic, Grievance-Laden Personality into the mix for the midterms and motivating Democratic voters. The Republicans could help by continuously reminding voters they want to restrict abortion and/or make it illegal. The Democrats have a chance if they can win a strong majority of the womens’ vote, which they have done many times in the past.

Gas prices have been coming down, from a national Triple-A average high of $ 5.01 in June to $4.19 as of August 2nd, 2022. How much further do they have to fall to make a political difference? Nobody knows the answer to that question. Can gas prices fall below $4.00 a gallon after Labor Day and stay there? I know President Biden is saying a prayer for that (How about $3.75?). He has not been very successful in articulating to the American public that gas prices are outside the political and economic power of the United States government to control. His luck needs to change. 

                              NEW YORK AND FLORIDA  

Redistricting in New York and Florida was a disaster for the Democrats; the Dems may still be able to salvage some critical wins in New York, but probably not in Florida at the House level. Governor DeSantis and the Republican-controlled legislature added one Republican seat due to the reapportionment, and wiped out three Democratic seats to go to a 20-8 seat advantage in Florida. Although Florida’s highest court had rejected a similar partisan redistricting by the Republicans after the 2010 reapportionment, several judges retired and were replaced by DeSantis appointees. They upheld the gerrymandering despite fair district provisions in Florida law. Dems are still modestly competitive in two South Florida seats now held by Republicans, but those will be tough elections to win.

The New York story is a shocking disappointment. The State’s Independent Redistricting Commission failed to agree on any maps at all and the Legislature took over the process. The Legislature and the Governor adopted a redistricting that eliminated four Republican seats ( New York was bound to lose one seat after the Census). The Republicans then sued and the New York Court of Appeals ruled 4-3 not only that the Legislature’s maps were partisan and had to be thrown out, but that the Legislature should be removed from the redistricting process altogether. Instead, a Special Master approved by the Courts drew the lines despite strong arguments by the three dissenters and many others that the Court should have ordered the Legislature to redo the lines.

The district New York was required to lose from the Census was removed from Upstate New York for clear population reasons. It had been Republican-held. Another seat in Central New York held by a Republican who is retiring looks good for the Democrats, but Governor Hochul’s choice for Lieutenant Governor has put a Democratic seat in the Hudson Valley at risk. She chose a charismatic young Black Congressman, Anthony Delgado, to be her Lieutenant-Governor running mate following the political scandal that forced her first choice, Brian Benjamin, to resign. Delgado’s departure from the 19th Congressional district has put that district squarely in the Republicans’ sights. If they win there, the Democratic gain in New York would be limited to one seat. The Democrats have potential in other districts, the First Congressional District on Eastern Long Island, and the Staten Island-Brooklyn 11th Congressional district, but these are tough races.

                                THE WRAP-UP

In the end, the candidates and their campaigns determine the win, as long as the district is in any way competitive between the parties. The Democrats’ political failures last fall with Build Back Better, and an inflation driven by economic factors beyond the government’s control, seemed initially to sour the Democrats’ chances this year. They are far more competitive now than a few months ago, are moving incrementally forward and may still hold on in the House and win the Senate.

Jim Brennan was a member of the New York State Assembly for 32 years and retired at the end of 2016. He chaired four committees, including the Assembly Committee on Corporations, Authorities, and Commissions for six years, the Committee on Cities for five years, and the Committee on Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities for six years. There are 96 Brennan laws on the books of the State of New York and Jim won three national awards for his legislative work during his career.

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