Tsunami patrol has been on watch in Washington since last year. I served in the House during the last four midterm elections and experienced three massive waves that swept the president’s party out of power with an average loss of 45 seats.
Many House Democrats at the start of last year privately admitted that they expected to lose the majority in the 2022 election and that they were just hoping to avoid being victims of a fourth tsunami in five cycles. Can Democrats escape an enormous wave in House elections? Can Republicans net that one seat they need for the Senate? These are the questions in the home stretch to Tuesday’s election.
Many prognosticators use generic ballot poll numbers to predict what the balance of power in the House will be after an election. In 2010, a nine-point GOP lead in the poll yielded a pickup of 63 seats. In 2018, a seven-point Democratic lead led to a 41-seat swing. According to RealClearPolitics, Republican’s four-point lead in the spring turned to a slight Democratic advantage by the third week of September. This led some to begin talking about what had seemed to be impossible: Democrats holding the very slim five-seat House majority.
But in the past month, the polls have turned in the Republicans’ favor. And behind the scenes, both sides sense a Republican wave could be building as concerns about inflation and the economy, as well as crime, are becoming the issues driving voters.
Though politics and elections tend to follow timeworn patterns, some current factors complicate predictions. Polling accuracy continues to be questioned as more voters, especially Republicans, are unwilling to respond to pollsters. Thanks to even more complex gerrymandering during the just-concluded redistricting, fewer swing districts exist than we’ve seen in decades.
Perhaps the most overlooked factor is the unpopularity of both parties, Republicans more than Democrats. This could explain why President Joe Biden’s disapproval numbers and Americans’ economic anxieties have not translated into a big Republican advantage. Now that people need to cast a vote rather than just give an opinion, they are deciding that the lesser of two evils is the one that is out of power.
This may not lead to a massive wave, but it could produce a robust pickup of 25 to 30 seats and a significant majority. If Republicans manage to win 36 seats, they would have their biggest House majority in 92 years.
While the Senate floor is only a five-minute walk across the Capitol from the House, it is a surprisingly different world. This includes elections. One midterm in the past four, 2014, didn’t result in a tsunami in the House but produced a big wave in the Senate. That is because Senate seats are less subject to national partisan trends and more subject to the number of seats a party needs to defend (this year, Republicans, 21, and Democrats, 14), as well as individual candidate quality.
Thanks to endorsements by Donald Trump of poor candidates along with some Democratic meddling in primaries, a number of Republican Senate candidates are weak. New Hampshire seems lost for Republicans, but Georgia, Pennsylvania and Arizona, along with Nevada, are four races that likely will determine control of the Senate.
Republicans are speaking confidently about all four of these races and need to win only two for a majority. But it is possible that control of the Senate for the second time in a row could come down to a runoff in Georgia.
One caveat to this: Trump. The Democrats’ biggest hope for a major election boost this year has been that Trump would announce before Nov. 8 that he is running in 2024. It doesn’t look like it’s going to happen. But he is Donald Trump.
Lipinski was a socially conservative Democratic U.S. representative for Illinois’ 3rd Congressional District from 2005 through January 2021: danlipinski.com. He wrote this for the Chicago Tribune.