When we began the year, the midterm elections were looking especially bleak for Democrats. Inflation was rampant. COVID-19 was back. Republicans were recruiting some good candidates for offices — and gerrymandering congressional districts. President Biden’s job approval numbers were the worst ever.
Republicans, it appeared, were poised to win basically everything everywhere on the ballot in 2022.
Eight months later, and a little over three months before the elections, things have changed. Maybe not dramatically, but changed nonetheless. Instead of being bleak, things are just pretty bad out there for Democrats — and even that subtle shift may be a big deal.
Here are three reasons why the midterm elections may not be as bad for Democrats as people once thought:
1. Democrats may actually keep control of the US Senate
How do you define a really bad midterm election? It’s when the party in complete control of Washington loses the House and the Senate.
If this happens in November, whatever is left of the Biden agenda will be totally stalled. A Republican-led House will focus on any number of new investigations into the administration. The Senate may launch its own investigations, but, most of all, Republican leader Mitch McConnell will get to decide whether any federal judicial nominee, including a Supreme Court justice, even gets a hearing.
Other than in foreign policy, Biden will be rendered unable to control his presidency.
But since the beginning of the year, there’s been surprisingly good news nearly every day about the Senate.
Today the most reputable election forecasters place control of the Senate as something of a 50-50 proposition, with Democrats having the momentum.
To maintain control Democrats just need to keep the current status quo. If they lose a seat somewhere, they will have to make it up somewhere else.
In key Senate races, it is actually easy to see how this would be possible. There are nine seats considered in play. Democrats have to win four to maintain the status quo. Right now, they’re leading in the polls in six, namely in New Hampshire, Arizona, Georgia, Wisconsin, Nevada, and Pennsylvania. Meanwhile, they are only down by 5 or fewer points in North Carolina and Ohio. Florida’s Marco Rubio has been up solidly for a while.
Also notable: Democrats have a huge fundraising advantage in key races and in their national Senate committees, something Republicans have begun to press their donors about.
A lot can change in three months, but if the election were held today, Democrats might actually be the slight favorite to hold the Senate.
2. Trump may well announce before November, creating a foil for Democrats
For years Biden has pleaded with voters, “Don’t compare me to the almighty, compare me to the alternative.” Indeed, it is a proven tactic for presidents in midterm elections - and for all types of incumbents seeking reelection - to show that the election is actually a choice between two candidates and not a referendum on one.
If the 2022 election were a referendum on Biden, then things would be very bleak for Democrats. He is, after all, the most unpopular president in modern history at this point in his presidency.
However, Democrats may soon be able to say voters have a very real choice. Donald Trump is reportedly very inclined to announce a presidential run before the election. Such a move would easily turn the midterm election into a choice for voters between Democrats and, in many cases, Trump-backed candidates who will have to answer questions about Jan. 6.
That is a very different setup for an election and Republicans know it. House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy told reporters Monday he had conveyed to Trump that he should wait until after the midterms to make such an announcement.
The Republican National Committee has reportedly warned Trump that the moment he announces they will stop paying his legal bills, possibly a move to encourage Trump to hold off.
3. Democrats have issues that could fire up their base
One thing that Republicans definitely have going for them is that, according to the polls, their voters are much more motivated than Democrats to show up and vote this fall.
However, especially in light of the seemingly neverending string of mass shootings and the Dobbs decision ending the constitutional right to abortion, Democrats have reasons to be more motivated to turn out than they had previously.
At this point, not even the Dobbs decision has registered in Democratic enthusiasm in a clear way (it has largely fired up people who were going to vote anyway). But in the margins, it will offer Democratic voters a reason to vote other than loyalty to Biden, who has been struggling for the past year.