KEY POINTS FROM THIS ARTICLE
— Our final Senate pick is 51-49 Republican, or a net Republican gain of 1 seat.
— Our final House pick is 237-198 Republican, or a net Republican gain of 24 seats.
— Our projected gubernatorial picture is 29-21 Republican, or a net Republican gain of 1 governorship.
— Read on for details — and caveats.
Table 1: Crystal Ball Senate rating changes
Table 2: Crystal Ball House rating changes
Table 3: Crystal Ball gubernatorial rating changes
The 2022 picks
At the end of a long campaign season, sometimes it helps to just take a step back from the chaos and noise of the day-to-day campaign and focus on the big picture.
Democrats control the presidency as well as, narrowly, both chambers of Congress. Republicans have polling advantages on some of the key issues of the campaign (such as the economy/inflation problem). President Biden is unpopular, with his approval stuck in the low 40s. These are good conditions for the opposition party in a midterm — the kind of conditions that make this, to us, more of an ordinary midterm (one where the president’s party suffers losses, like the last 4 midterms) than an extraordinary one (when the president’s party does well, like 1998 and 2002).
The confounding factors, such as Republican candidate problems in certain Senate, gubernatorial, and House races; the unpopularity of the GOP-controlled Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe vs. Wade; and the lingering presence of Biden’s predecessor all combine to give Democrats an opportunity to limit their losses, and perhaps even save their Senate majority.
To the extent these factors matter, our best guess is that they end up imposing some limitations on the size of GOP gains this year. That’s reflected in our projections, which we think represent a good but not necessarily great night for Republicans. How Republicans underperform, or overperform, the markers we’re laying down today, the day before the election, can provide a guide for assessing how well, or not, they end up doing.
With that preamble, let’s go through what we see in the 3 categories of races we’re handicapping, Senate, House, and governor. As you will see, we have Republicans making net gains in all 3 groups, albeit small ones in Senate and governor.
Projection: 51-49 Republican, net Republican gain of 1
Map 1: Crystal Ball 2022 Senate ratings
There is still a considerable amount of uncertainty about the Senate. Races in Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, and Pennsylvania can all accurately be described as jump balls. New Hampshire, where Sen. Maggie Hassan (D) is seeking a second term, is not quite in the same bucket, but it’s close.
We could discourse at length about our agonizing internal deliberations about these races, but, well, we suspect you don’t need to hear it at this point. So here goes:
Basically, we just think the environment is not conducive to Democrats holding the Senate. Could they? Absolutely. But we think the Republicans, despite this cycle’s challenges, could and should win the Senate. So we are leaning enough seats to them to get them to 51, their magic number for control (it is 50 for the Democrats because of the vice president’s tiebreaking power).
We feel zero temptation to pick against Republicans in any of the Leans Republican races where we have favored them the whole cycle (North Carolina, Ohio, and Wisconsin). Likewise, we cannot justify picking against Democrats in New Hampshire or a couple of reach Republican targets, Colorado or Washington.
We have been inclined recently to pick against Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), but the insular world of election forecasting was dealt a curveball when Jon Ralston, the top Silver State analyst whose Nevada Independent early voting blog is a must-read every 2 years, picked Cortez Masto to narrowly survive. That does also dovetail with some intel we picked up over the weekend from some Democratic sources suggesting that Cortez Masto has had a decent close to the campaign, polling-wise (though whatever lead she may or may not have is minuscule). The state’s early voting period, which often provides some clarity one way or the other, really hasn’t this time, as Ralston notes. It is also worth remembering that Nevada is the bluest of the core Senate battlegrounds (Biden carried all 4 of Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, and Pennsylvania, but Nevada’s the only place where he won by more than 2 points). We just can’t really justify going against Ralston given his strong track record over the years, especially with the picture otherwise murky.
So what now? Well, there’s Pennsylvania. We’ve had Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (D) with a small edge since the late summer, but television doctor Mehmet Oz (R) has been slowly consolidating GOP support. We have no idea if the Fetterman/Oz debate materially changed the race, but it was close before the debate and it’s close now. Of the key races, this is the only open seat, which has some bearing on our deliberations here. Attorney General Josh Shapiro (D) appears to be in great shape to hold the state’s open-seat governorship, and his coattails could very well help Fetterman. But one doesn’t have to go back far to find a lonely landslide in Pennsylvania: Back in 2014, now-Gov. Tom Wolf (D) soundly defeated unpopular incumbent Gov. Tom Corbett (R) by 10 points, but Republicans ended up easily defending all of their U.S. House seats and made gains in both chambers of the state legislature. We’re giving a small edge to Oz. This would be a Republican hold.
And then there’s Georgia. A runoff is still very much on the table, but some of our Republican sources are expressing optimism that they can get former NFL star Herschel Walker (R) over the runoff threshold against Sen. Raphael Warnock (D) on Tuesday. We know what many of you are thinking, because we have heard it countless times this year: Herschel Walker? In the Senate? Yes, we think it’s a little likelier than not, on Tuesday or in a runoff. While Georgia is trending to becoming more of a purple state, realignment does not happen all at once, and states that are moving sometimes revert back to their roots — which are Republican red in Georgia, at least over the past couple of decades. We do reserve the right to revisit this rating if there is a runoff: 2 of the 3 of us grew up in the South, where runoffs are part of the political culture, and we’ve seen firsthand how the dynamics in the second round of voting can change quite dramatically. It may be that a Georgia Senate runoff is for all the marbles — or the chamber might be decided by then. There are all sorts of variables.
We’re doing all of this because we believe the Republicans are at least small favorites in the Senate, and so we wanted to get them to at least 51 in our ratings. Georgia and Pennsylvania, in addition to the other Republican-leaning races that we are not changing, is the path we’ve chosen, based on our best intel. And, to be honest, we think it’s probably likelier that Republicans get over 51 than Democrats stay at 50 and preserve their majority. Another race right on the edge is Sen. Mark Kelly (D-AZ); if he loses, that would also be a reversion story, just like Georgia. But we still see Kelly with a tiny edge.
It seems unlikely that the Senate majority will be clear on Tuesday night/Wednesday morning. Arizona often takes a few days to finish its count. Heavily Democratic absentee ballots will take longer to count in Pennsylvania, which will contribute to a “red mirage” in that state (even if Oz wins, his margin appears likely to look large earlier on, just like Donald Trump’s did in 2020 before evaporating). Georgia, of course, has the possibility of a runoff, and Nevada may be close enough that mail ballots, which have until Saturday to arrive, could impact the outcome.
So it may take an outcome we’d regard as at least a small upset to provide Election Night clarity on the Senate. On the pro-Republican side, the state to watch is New Hampshire, where Sen. Maggie Hassan (D) appears to retain a tiny lead on retired Gen. Don Bolduc (R). A GOP win there would go a long way toward resolving any sort of uncertainty about Senate control. For Democrats, the signal for a wildly successful night would be flipping the open seats in North Carolina or Ohio or beating Sen. Ron Johnson (R) in Wisconsin. But at this point we don’t think the Democrats have a good shot at pulling off any of those upsets.
This is a long way of saying that we probably will need to be patient in the battle for the Senate. We’re sure that bad actors will exploit the uncertainty for their own ends, but just remember that this was all foreseeable in advance — just like in 2020.
Projection: 237-198 Republican, net Republican gain of 24
Table 4: Crystal Ball 2022 House ratings
The Republicans’ surprisingly robust performance in the 2020 election, in which they won 213 seats, took a lot of the drama out of the race for the majority in 2022. By getting to within 5 seats of the speakership a couple of years ago, Republicans made it so that there was never much significant doubt about the House in 2022, given the way midterms often go for the party that holds the White House. Yes, there were the ups and downs of redistricting, as well as the back-and-forth of the election cycle, particularly in the late summer, when Democrats enjoyed a string of good showings in a series of special elections. But Democrats never truly seemed to be in serious contention to hold the House — the amount of defense they have had to play is just too daunting, and they have been hampered by a number of open seats. A considerable number of them are in the Leans Republican column now.
With a playing field tilted heavily toward districts that President Biden carried and that Democrats currently hold, Democrats do not have much opportunity to play offense. We aren’t picking any Republican incumbents to lose, although a few are in very close races, most notably Reps. David Valadao (R, CA-22), Yvette Herrell (R, NM-2), Steve Chabot (R, OH-1), and Mayra Flores (R, TX-34), the special election winner who faces Rep. Vicente Gonzalez (D) in a member vs. member race.
While Republicans are playing in several deeply Democratic seats, Democrats are quick to remind us that Republicans haven’t necessarily totally put away some of the most vulnerable Democratic incumbents, like Reps. Tom O’Halleran (D, AZ-2), Cindy Axne (D, IA-3), and Tom Malinowski (D, NJ-7), all of whom remain clear underdogs, to us. On the other hand, Republicans appear to have put some Democratic incumbents in double-digit Biden seats in serious jeopardy, such as Reps. Mike Levin (D, CA-49) and Jahana Hayes (D, CT-5), indicating the potential for them to make major gains. Among the other big Republican targets is the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chairman, Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D, NY-17); we could not quite get there ourselves in our picks, but it would not be surprising at all if he ended up losing.
Implicit in these picks is our belief that the eventual Republican margin in the overall House vote is being a little bit understated by the House generic ballot polls (the averages currently show a range of R +1 in FiveThirtyEight to R +2.5 in RealClearPolitics). It’s not odd for that to happen, historically, and we’ve seen it several times in the recent past (including 3 of the last 4 elections). But also keep in mind that even a neutral overall vote is still a shift of a few points from 2020, when Democrats won the national House vote by about 3 points. Such a shift, though small, would likely still be enough for Republicans to flip the House, but that would also mean we probably would have overshot the Republicans in terms of their net gains. There’s also a world in which Republicans blow past what we’ve projected and get into the high 20s or even 30s in terms of a net gain.
Our home state of Virginia, which is one of the early poll closes, will provide a good early barometer. There are 3 races there that we rate as something other than Safe for the incumbent party. Rep. Elaine Luria (D, VA-2), who holds a very marginal Hampton Roads seat, is an underdog; if she somehow wins, something may be going haywire for Republicans. Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D, VA-7) holds a district where Biden did a little better than he did nationally, and we continue to see her with a small edge. If she loses, that may be a sign that Republicans are going to be doing better than we’ve projected. And if Rep. Jennifer Wexton (D, VA-10) ends up losing in a district Biden won by nearly 20 points, Republicans are likely in for an absolutely huge night.
Just as 2020 set us up for 2022, 2022 could set us up for 2024. The more Republicans gain in 2022, the deeper they’ll be cutting into bluer turf that’ll be harder to defend in a presidential year. But even fluky Republican winners this year will then be incumbents, who often require lots of outside money to dislodge. Democrats are going to want to keep GOP gains down in order to reduce the number of seats they would need to win back in 2 years to recapture the gavel, assuming they do in fact lose it Tuesday night.
Projection: 29-21 Republican, net Republican gain of 1
Map 2: Crystal Ball 2022 gubernatorial ratings
Though 2022 will likely be a significantly less blue year then 2018, we are not expecting a huge net change in the number of governor’s mansions each party holds. This is partly because some Democratic incumbents — such as Connecticut’s Ned Lamont and Minnesota’s Tim Walz — seem to have held up better than what we’d expect in this type of environment. Another reason for our relatively modest net change projection is that Democrats have the 2 most sure-fire pickup opportunities: With popular moderate Republicans on the way out in deep blue Maryland and Massachusetts, those states should easily switch parties.
However, as we’ve suggested over the past few weeks, Republicans look positioned to fare well in the most competitive races. Of the 5 races that we had in the Toss-up category until today, we’re giving a small edge to the Republicans in 4 of them.
Arizona, Nevada, and Wisconsin are all close states in presidential elections that we are pushing from Toss-up to Leans Republican. In Arizona, which is an open Republican-held seat, former TV news anchor Kari Lake (R) has built a small but consistent lead in most public polling. Lake’s views on the legitimacy of the 2020 election have made her a polarizing figure, but she is more charismatic than her Democratic opponent, Katie Hobbs, who drew criticism for refusing to debate.
Republicans arguably put up one of their best possible recruits against Gov. Steve Sisolak (D-NV) in Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo (R). Unlike Adam Laxalt, Sisolak’s 2018 opponent who is now the GOP nominee for Senate, Lombardo has a base in the state’s most populous county. The neutrality of the Clark County Education Association also seems like an ominous sign for Sisolak, especially considering that the teacher’s union endorsed him in 2018. We mentioned Ralston above; he is also going with Lombardo.
In Wisconsin, we are picking businessman Tim Michels (R) over Democratic Gov. Tony Evers. Wisconsin polls have been close since the Badger’s State’s August primary, but our sense is things have moved more in Michels’ direction — we also favor Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) to win reelection, which may buoy other state Republicans. Marquette University Law School’s final poll of the race, released last week, found the candidates tied at 48% with likely voters. In 2018, when Evers beat then-incumbent Republican Scott Walker, Marquette’s final poll similarly found a tie — if the race breaks with the national environment this year, as it did then, we’d expect a close Michels win.
The 2 toughest Toss-ups to eliminate actually weren’t in any of those close presidential states. Kansas and Oregon were almost mirror images of each other in 2020 — the former was Trump +15 while the latter was Biden +16 — but both are hosting close gubernatorial races this year. We really could go either way in both races — and as of a couple of days ago, we were planning to do the opposite in each state compared to what we’re actually going to suggest — but in the end we’re going to use the respective states’ baseline partisanship to break the tie. Kansas Republicans may not be overly enthusiastic about state Attorney General Derek Schmidt, but he may be acceptable enough to all factions of the party to get the job done against Gov. Laura Kelly (D-KS). Republicans have made a serious effort at Oregon this cycle — where they have been locked out of the governor’s mansion since the 1986 elections — but former state House Minority Leader Christine Drazan (R) may have peaked too soon. Over the last week, Democrats may have “come home” to former state Speaker of the House Tina Kotek, who made gains as former state Sen. Betsy Johnson, an erstwhile Democrat who is running as an independent, seems to have faded.
One additional gubernatorial change we’re making today is in Michigan. We still consider Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D-MI) to be a favorite for reelection, but we are bumping her race down to Leans Democratic. Unlike in Pennsylvania, where national Republicans have given up on their candidate, far-right state Sen. Doug Mastriano, they have not abandoned their nominee in Michigan, conservative radio personality Tudor Dixon. In polling aggregates, Whitmer’s lead has stabilized at roughly 5 points.
Finally, if Tuesday ends up being an unexpectedly strong night for the GOP, it’s possible they’d pull upsets in states like New Mexico or Maine, where we currently have Democrats favored. There has also been plenty of bad buzz about Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) in New York, although it would still be a considerable surprise if she actually lost.
As always, thank you for following the campaign with us this year, and also thank you to the many people we’ve consulted with about these races both in the last few days and throughout the cycle. We’ll be back sometime soon after the election to begin sorting through the results and gearing up for the presidential cycle of 2024.
Author: Larry J. Sabato, Kyle Kondik, and J. Miles Coleman