Democracy in Action « 2022 Midterm Elections
U.S. Faces Major Challenges at Home and Abroad
Much at Stake in Federal, State and Local Elections
(ema revised Sept. 29, 2022)
American democracy faces severe challenges, internal and external, as we look to the Nov. 8, 2022 midterm elections.  The country is divided into two camps that seem to find little to agree on.  Republicans remain the party of former President Donald Trump (+) who has built a formidable operation heading into the midterms (+) even as he continues to claim that the 2020 election was stolen.  Meanwhile Democrats advanced a wide-ranging agenda, despite their narrow majorities in Congress. 

The key point to note about this cycle is that the political terrain shifted markedly as 2022 progressed.  A president's party typically suffers setbacks in the midterm elections (>), and early on there was talk of a massive red wave, with Republicans looking to take back the House and the Senate.  However, by the end of summer 2022 Republican hopes were tempered due to several significant factors. 

  • Possibly the most significant factor was the U.S. Supreme Court's June 24 ruling overturning Roe v. Wade, which put abortion front and center in the election-year debate (1, 2, 3).  More than half the states have adopted or are on track to adopt abortion bans (>) and some Republicans in Congress advocate legislation that would establish a national abortion ban at 15 weeks (1, 2).

  • Another very significant factor was Trump's continued high profile.  The former president retains his base support but is seen in an increasingly unfavorable light as a result of the January 6 committee hearings, revelations following the the FBI raid of his home in Mar-a-Lago, and the New York attorney general's financial fraud lawsuit.  Additionally, some of Trump's endorsements in the primaries have resulted in what analyst Charlie Cook describes as "exotic" GOP nominees in a number of key races.  Democrats would like to make the midterms all about Donald Trump (+). 

  • The economy is always a central factor in voters' minds.   Inflation has been the major concern for many Americans in 2022, reaching its highest levels since 1981 and hitting people at their wallets every day, whether at the grocery store or the gas pump.  Driven primarily by energy costs, the annual inflation rate peaked at 9.1 percent in June.  Inflation has cooled somewhat, but remains high (1, 2). 

  • President Joe Biden has not been a particularly dynamic president, but he has restored a degree of order after the chaos of the Trump era, and under his leadership Democrats have achieved major legislative objectives, passing many elements of the signature Build Back Better agenda (1, 2, 3, 4).  Biden's approval ratings have been "underwater" since Aug. 2021 and it was thought his low approval could drag down Democrats in races around the country.  However, after sagging to a low point in July 2022, his approval ratings have rebounded (1, 2, 3).

Many other issues are at play in the midterms.  While the COVID pandemic appears to be less of a worry after two difficult years, there are still thousands of new cases reported each day (>) and vaccine and mask mandates, lockdowns and other restrictions have been hotly debated in campaigns around the country.  Crime rose during the pandemic, and is a significant issue (1, 2), as is the related issue of gun violence and mass shootings, exemplified by the shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde on May 24 (>). Illegal immigration at the Southern border continues unabated (>).  Homelessness (>) and affordable housing are obvious problems in many communities.  The national debt exceeds $30 trillion (1, 2). 

While Americans have been preoccupied with domestic matters, the threats from abroad have deepened.  The U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan was poorly handled. The apparent growing partnership between the authoritarian regimes of Russia and China is concerning (1, 2).  Putin's war on Ukraine (>), launched on Feb. 24, has cast a dark shadow, causing senseless suffering and destruction, forcing millions to flee, spreading ripples through the world economy just as it seemed to be emerging from the pandemic, and raising the specter of a nuclear confrontation.  China's provocative actions in the South China Sea and aggressive stance toward Taiwan likewise could escalate into confrontation, and the FBI warns that "counterintelligence and economic espionage efforts emanating from the government of China and the Chinese Communist Party are a grave threat to the economic well-being and democratic values of the United States (1, 2)."  There are also global challenges such as climate change, which appears to be causing or contributing to increasing and costly extreme weather events.  The growing number of refugees and displaced persons (1, 2), illegal immigration, environmental degradation, and traffic are not unique to the United States, and as the world's population increases toward eight billion and beyond (>) such problems will worsen.


Former President Trump looms over the midterms; the outcome of the midterms will determine Trump's political future, the future of Trumpism, and, some argue, the survival of America's democratic system.  Trump has raked in money, made endorsements in races around the country (>), and held numerous rallies.  On the campaign trail, many Republican candidates are echoing Trump and advocating an "America First" agenda.  At the same time, one cannot ignore the fact that Trump is facing multiple investigations.  The Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol conducted public hearings starting on June 9, 2022 and running into September (1, 2).  On Aug. 8 the FBI raided Trump's home in Mar-a-Lago, revealing that he had kept some highly classified documents (+).  There was considerable speculation as 2022 progressed that Trump might make an early announcement of a 2024 campaign for the White House, perhaps in Fall 2022, but this talk faded following the raid.  On Sept. 21, New York Attorney General Letitia James filed a lawsuit against Trump and his associates charging "years of financial fraud (>)."   

Through the primaries, the GOP message seemed to be a mix of "America First" Trumpism and traditional themes of tax cuts, limited government, and support for pro-gun and pro-life positions.  Candidates focused on issues such as election integrity and critical race theory, inflation ("Bidenflation") and immigration, and many raised questions about Biden's fitness if not his election.  Republicans were unrelenting in their criticisms of the "radical left," "socialism," and "wokeism." 
In terms of national Republican agendas, on Feb. 22, 2022 Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL), chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, announced an "11 Point Plan To Rescue America (>)."  The document prompted considerable discussion, but not many Republicans backed the entire plan.  On Sept. 23, House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy rolled out a "Commitment to America" which focused on four broad themes: an economy that is strong, a nation that is safe, a future that is free, and a government that is accountable (1, 2, 3, 4).

Shortcomings aside, Biden and the Democrats could point to significant accomplishments.  On Mar. 11, 2021 Biden signed the American Rescue Plan, on Nov. 15, 2021 he signed the bipartisan infrastructure bill, and on Aug. 16, 2022 he signed the "Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 (1, 2)."  This piece of legislation gave Biden a major win just months before Election Day.  Beyond legislative successes, Biden appointed Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the U.S. Supreme Court, and, according to the Pew Research Center, he has "appointed more judges to the federal courts at this stage in his tenure than any president since John F. Kennedy, and his appointees include a record number of women and racial and ethnic minorities (>)."
History shows the party holding the White House faces an uphill climb in midterm elections.  Most dramatically in 2010 (+), following Obama's election in 2008, Republicans achieved gains at all levels, gaining 63 House seats and six Senate seats.  In 1994, Republicans gained 54 seats in the House and eight seats in the Senate.  
Redistricting following the 2020 Census affects U.S. House and state legislative races to varying degrees depending on the state (>, +).  Conventional wisdom suggests that Republicans will almost certainly gain control of the U.S. House.  If this happens they will be in a position to block Democrats' initiatives, and one can expect significant oversight activity and investigations.  Following the primaries, Democrats seem to have a fair chance of holding the U.S. Senate.
At the same time as 2022 mid-term campaigns are being fought in states and districts around the country, there is an undercurrent of 2024 activity.  Both former President Trump and President Biden are subject of much speculation about whether they will run in 2024.  Biden would be 82 years and two months old on Inauguration Day 2025, and his age and not infrequent meandering during speeches raises questions.  Trump, many argue, is unfit for the job and a threat to American democracy.  Trump remains the preeminent force in the Republican Party, but other potential 2024 Republican presidential candidates are making endorsements, speaking at party gatherings, staking out policy positions, cultivating donors, and working to lay the groundwork for possible White House runs. 

While focusing on 2022, the national party committees have been preparing for 2024.  Research departments at the DNC and the RNC routinely track potential presidential candidates of the opposite party.  Both the DNC and the RNC started their convention site selection processes; Republicans have picked Milwaukee, and Democrats are considering four cities.  On Apr. 13, 2022, the DNC Rules & Bylaws Committee passed a resolution initiating "a transparent and fair review of the presidential nominating calendar" which led Democrats to serious consideration of changing their line up of early states, although the subject was ultimately put off until after the midterms.  On the Republican side, on April 14 the RNC voted to withdraw from the Commission on Presidential Debates (+), a stunning move as the CPD has organized the general election debates since 1988.
The 2022 cycle will likely the most expensive midterms ever.  In September, OpenSecrets reported that, "federal candidates andpolitical committees [are] on track for record midterm electionns spending (1, 2)."  According to Open Secrets,
"The total cost of 2022 midterm elections is projected to exceed $9.3 billion, according to an early, conservative estimate."  Voters will decide not only high profile federal but statewide races and local races as well as initiatives and referenda. 
Another trend to note, is that over recent cycles the number of women (>) and minority candidates is increasing, slowly. 

Given the many issues facing the country, it is important that citizens take time to learn about the issues and the candidates.  Which candidates rely on hot button issues and rhetoric, name ID or big money, and which are advancing serious and workable proposals to address some of the many issues?  Primaries are very important.  In non-competitive seats, winning the primary virtually guarantees winning the general election; in competitive seats a quality candidate who emerges from the primary can make for a close race in the general election.

U.S. Senate
The current balance is 50 Republicans, 48 Democrats and two Independents.  Thirty-five seats are at stake, 14 held by Democrats and 21 by Republicans.  There are six open seats.

Democrats have the narrowest of majorities in the Senate with Vice President Kamala Harris holding the tie-breaking vote.  Moderate Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Krysten Sinema (D-AZ) have held up Democrats' more ambitious plans, but are not up for re-election this cycle.  The Cook Political Report lists 25 of the 34 seats as solid for one party or the other.  Of six seats it lists as toss-ups, three are held by Democrats (AZ, GA, and NV) and three by Republicans (NC, PA and WI).  Republicans are defending five open seats in 2022 compared to just one for the Democrats.  Former President Donald Trump made endorsements in Senate races as he sought to solidify his hold on the party (1, 2); his endorsements of Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania (Apr. 9), J.D. Vance in Ohio (Apr. 15) (+) and other candidates tipped the balance in many cases.
  ||  Cook Political Report  |  Sabato's Crystal Ball

U.S. House
The current balance is 221 Democrats, 212 Republicans and two vacancies (>).  All 435 seats are at stake.

As noted above, reapportionment and redistricting is a significant factor, shuffling the deck in U.S. House races to varying degrees depending on the district (+).  Additionally, as of Aug. 5, 2022, 61 Members have announced they are retiring, are running for other office, or were defeated in primaries–36 Democrats and 25 Republicans (>).  One constant with other recent cycles is that Speaker Nancy Pelosi will again be a target for Republicans.
  ||  Cook Political Report  |  Sabato's Crystal Ball


The current balance is 27 Republicans and 23 Democrats.  Thirty-six seats are at stake, 16 held by Democrats and 20 by Republicans.  There are eight open seats.

The Cook Political Report lists seven seats as toss-ups, five held by Democrats (KS, MI, NV, PA, WI and two by Republicans (AZ and GA).  A Jan. 1 article in The Hill named Democrats as six of the most vulnerable incumbents (KS, ME, MI, NV, NM and WI) to just one Republican seat (GA).  Looking at open seats, Democrats are certainly eyeing Maryland and Massachusetts, where popular Republican governors were not seeking re-election.  Former President Trump endorsed in many primary races, frequently weighing in relatively late in the campaign (>).  There was a proliferation of candidates in many races advocating "America First" policies, and arguing that incumbents or other challengers had not been sufficiently supportive of those policies.  On the Democratic side, few incumbents faced significant primary challenges.  Top issues in many governors races include the economy, education and handling of the COVID pandemic.  More than half of the 2022 races are likely to be non-competitive; the Cook Political Report lists 20 seats as solidly Democratic or Republican.  Looking at comparable recent cycles, it is likely that from five to eight seats may change party control (>).
DGA   |   RGA  ||  Cook Political Report  |  Sabato's Crystal Ball 

State Legislatures
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, of 98 legislative chambers (does not include NE which is unicameral), Republicans control 61 chambers and Democrats 37 chambers. 

In most states one party controls both chambers—Republicans in 30 states, Democrats in 17 states, and in just two states is the legislature divided.  Of 7,383 total legislators, 3,980 are Republican, 3,266 Democrat and 137 other, Independent or vacant.

Ballot Measures
NCSL  |  Initiative and Referendum Institute

Local Elections
Elections for city and county offices are happening around the country throughout the year.  These are frequently nonpartisan.
U.S. Conference of Mayors
FOCUS: Mayor of Los Angeles

Memo Corner

Groups from across the political spectrum put out memos and reports describing the political terrain and the state of the electorate.  These can provide useful insights but may be colored by wishful thinking:
Aug. 2022 - Future Majority [PDF]
July 28, 2022 - Mike Lux
May 31, 2022 - NDRC [PDF]
May 16, 2022 - Democracy Corps [PDF]
May 5, 2022 - DLCC [PDF]
Feb. 2022 - Celinda Lake and Mike Lux [PDF]
Jan. 31, 2022 - Joe Trippi/The Lincoln Project
Dec. 15, 2021 - Doug Sosnik/The Brunswick Group [PDF]
Nov. 15, 2021 - DCCC [PDF]
May 3, 2022 - NRSC [PDF]
Mar. 10, 2022 - RSLC [PDF]
Mar. 2, 2022 - Congressional Leadership Fund [PDF]
Jan. 27, 2022 - RSLC
Nov. 10, 2021 - NRSC [PDF]
Nov. 1, 2021 - RGA [PDF]

Potential 2024 Republican Candidates
Former President Donald Trump

The Office of Donald J. Trump:
Save America JFC:  |
External:  C-SPAN  |  P2020  |  P2016

Sen. Tom Cotton (AR) 
U.S. Senate Office:  |  |  @SenTomCotton
Cotton for Senate:  |  |  t@TomCottonAR
External:  C-SPAN  |  Congress.Gov  |  Open Secrets  |  Ballotpedia

Former Gov. Chris Christie (NJ)
Chris Christie:  Christie 55 Solutions  |  |  @GovChristie  |  Republican Rescue 
Chris Christie for President, Inc. [2016]
External:  C-SPAN  |  P2016  |  Ballotpedia

Sen. Ted Cruz (TX)
U.S. Senate Office:  |  |  @SenTedCruz
Ted Cruz for Senate:  |  |  @TedCruz
ExternalC-SPAN  |  Congress.Gov  |  Open Secrets  |  P2016  |  Ballotpedia

Gov. Ron DeSantis (FL)
Governor's Office:  |  |  @GovRonDeSantis
Ron DeSantis for Governor:  |  |  @RonDeSantisFL
Friends of Ron DeSantis [PAC]:
External:  C-SPAN  |  Ballotpedia

Former Gov. Nikki Haley (SC)
Nikki Haley:  |  With All Due Respect [11/19]
Stand for America:  |  |  @StandForAmerica
External:  C-SPAN  |  Ballotpedia  ||  Draft Nikki Haley

Gov. Larry Hogan (MD)
Governor's Office:  |  |  @GovLarryHogan
An America United:
Larry Hogan:  |  |  @LarryHogan
Change Maryland, Inc:
External:  C-SPAN  |  Ballotpedia

Former Vice President Mike Pence
Mike Pence:  @Mike_Pence
Advancing American Freedom:  | @AmericanFreedom
External:  C-SPAN  |  Ballotpedia 

Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo
Mike Pompeo:  |  @mikepompeo
Champion America Values PAC (CAVPAC):  |  |  @CAV_PAC
External:  C-SPAN  Ballotpedia

Sen. Tim Scott (SC)
U.S. Senate Office:  |  |  @SenatorTimScott
Tim Scott for Senate:  |  |  @votetimscott  TIM PAC (Tomorrow is Meaningful)
ExternalC-SPAN  |  Congress.Gov  |  Open Secrets  |  Ballotpedia

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