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Analysis

Democrats may keep control of the Senate in 2022 for one reason: Republicans are struggling to recruit candidates where it matters

The GOP has yet to land a single top recruit to run for the Senate anywhere in the country.

Republican New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu has not yet announced whether he'll run for Senate.
Republican New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu has not yet announced whether he'll run for Senate.Charles Krupa/Associated Press

The surest way that Republicans can stop whatever legislative agenda President Biden has in mind after the 2022 midterm elections is to win a majority in the US Senate.

Even more than the House, a simple majority in the Senate could let Republicans gum up everything from gun control legislation to Supreme Court nominations.

On paper, it seems easy enough. Republicans need to win just a single seat in order to flip the 50-50 Senate and possibilities for doing so are all over the map. Given that midterm elections often benefit the party out of power, and Democrats control two out of three levers of the federal government, Republicans wouldn’t be overly optimistic in assuming Mitch McConnell might soon rule the Senate again.

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But here is the thing about the GOP’s chances: At this early stage, they are having problems getting good candidates to sign up. And while the historical trends look good for Republicans you can’t win something with nothing.

Republicans have yet to land a single top recruit to run for the Senate anywhere in the country — even in places where they have an opportunity to flip a seat — and a good candidate could make all the difference.

There are four states with vulnerable Democratic incumbents in the 2022 cycle. These incumbents include Senators Mark Kelly in Arizona, Raphael Warnock in Georgia, Catherine Cortez Masto in Nevada, and Maggie Hassan in New Hampshire. Defeat just one of them, and if everything else stays the same, control of the Senate has shifted.

But here is where we stand in those races. In Arizona, the top Republican recruit is the state’s governor Doug Ducey, but he keeps ruling out a run because he is in open war with Donald Trump over Biden’s victory in the state during the 2020 election, and Trump has vowed to defeat him in a Republican primary. In Georgia, the Republican contest is frozen because Trump keeps pushing his friend, former NFL star Herschel Walker, to run. But last month, news of Walker’s turbulent past emerged, including allegations of domestic violence.

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In Nevada, Republicans are pinning their hopes on getting former state attorney general Adam Laxalt in the race to challenge Masto, who won in 2016 by just 3 percentage points. So far, Laxalt has not announced plans to run and he comes with baggage: he lost a bid for governor in 2018.

Republicans are most hopeful about New Hampshire, where popular Republican Governor Chris Sununu is very publicly flirting with the idea of challenging Hassan. But after saying he’d take the summer to decide, Sununu now suggests he will announce a decision closer to the end of the year, which only gives Hassan more time to continue her pace of record-breaking campaign fund-raising.

Those are the races that Republicans are having a hard time getting quality candidates to opt into running. Their problem is compounded by the fact that some Republican incumbents also are dropping out. Indeed, while every Democratic incumbent is running for reelection, five Republican senators are retiring: Senators Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, Rob Portman of Ohio, Richard Burr of North Carolina, Richard Shelby of Alabama, and Roy Blunt of Missouri. If any of this group had run, they would have been considered favorites to win.

In Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Ohio, it looks like Democrats have recruited their top candidates to run. Republicans, meanwhile, have messy primaries ahead, without a marquee candidate, and with the added complication of who can win Trump’s endorsement. That said, in North Carolina Trump already weighed in on the Republican primary, though some suggest he might have picked a losing candidate — meaning that more money will be spent in the primary than in the general against Democrats.

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The races that are the most interesting to watch now are all for seats held by Republicans. This means the GOP could be playing more defense. In swing-state Wisconsin, and in Iowa, Republican senators Ron Johnson and Chuck Grassley have yet to announce if they will run again. Neither are really raising money but their delays have blocked any other Republican from running while Democratic candidates are already well on their way.

In addition to that is Florida, where Democrats have convinced their top recruit, Representative Val Demings, to challenge Senator Marco Rubio. So far, Rubio looks to have the advantage, but some political observers have their eyebrows raised.

Again, if there is any eyebrow-raising it should be in places where Democrats currently hold the seat. This is, after all, a midterm election in the first term of a Democratic administration. But at the moment, Republicans have not been able to get enough quality candidates into the races that matter the most. That may mean that while Republicans are close to taking the Senate, their inability to do the nuts and bolts of basic party-building could be the reason Democrats defy history and stay in charge of the upper chamber in 2022.

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James Pindell can be reached at james.pindell@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jamespindell.