Oct 7, 2022

Tangle's 2022 midterm primer.

Tangle's 2022 midterm primer.

A one-stop shop for everything 2022.

I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, nonpartisan, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum on the news of the day — then “my take.”

This is a subscribers-only Friday edition.

Election day for the 2022 midterms is just over a month away. In some states, early voting has already begun.

In today's issue, we're going to give a preview of some of the biggest races happening in the country, what is at stake nationally, and what the dynamics of a few of those important races are.

Our hope is that today's edition can be a one-stop-shop for everything you need to know about the 2022 midterms. Obviously, with 435 elected representatives in Congress and 100 in the Senate (who are up for reelection every six years), it is impossible to cover every race thoroughly. Even in the races we do cover, it's difficult to pack every storyline into a single newsletter.

So we’ll try to focus on the races that are driving much of the nation's discourse, acting as barometers for the rest of the country, or — for whatever reason — may carry larger implications for the nation as a whole.

We'll also try to highlight some races and issues that are falling under the radar and might deserve more attention. And, of course, we've got some extra reading for you if you're interested in going deeper on any particular race.

Setting the table.

In Congress, control of the Senate and House are both currently in the hands of Democrats. The Senate is split 50-50, but Vice President Kamala Harris has the tie-breaking vote. Meanwhile, Democrats hold a slim 220 to 212 majority over Republicans in the House. There are currently three vacant seats in the House: Jackie Walorski’s (R-IN), who died in a car crash in August; Charlie Crist’s (D-FL), who is running for governor in Florida; and Ted Deutch’s (D-FL), who resigned to become CEO of the American Jewish Committee.

There are also 36 gubernatorial races on the ballot in 2022 (governors serve four year terms).These elections are in Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.

This midterm season, more than anything else, could determine what the next two years of President Biden's tenure look like. If Republicans can retake either the House or Senate, they will be able to grind much of his agenda to a halt. If they retake both, it's unlikely he will get anything substantial done in the last two years of his term.

For Democrats, retaining control of one or both chambers, or at least keeping the majorities thin if Republicans take either over, is paramount.

The odds.

With a month to go, there is quite a bit of debate about who is leading in the midterms.

Late this summer, Democrats were riding optimism that the "red wave" many predicted wasn't going to come — and some even predicted they may hold onto their Senate majority. But with a month to go, the House and Senate landscape still looks more favorable for Republicans.

The Cook Political Report is one of the most trusted election modeling outfits in the country. They use an array of polling, fundraising, and other metrics to determine likely winners in elections — and have a strong track record for accuracy. Here is how they break down the current state of play.

The Senate: This year, there are 14 Democrat-controlled seats and 21 Republican-controlled seats up for election. Since Democrats currently hold the slimmest possible majority in the Senate, Republicans need to win 22 of these seats to gain a majority while Democrats only need to win 14. Cook Political Report rates each of these races in four tiers. "Solid" indicates practically zero chance that anyone beside that party wins. "Likely" means the seat is not considered competitive at this point, but has the potential to become closer. "Lean" is considered a competitive race, but one party has an advantage. "Toss-up" is used for the most competitive races, with either party having a strong chance of winning.

Solid Republican: 15 seats

Solid Democrat: 9 seats

Likely Republican: 1 seat

Likely Democrat: 0 seats

Lean Republican: 3 seats

Lean Democrat: 3 seats

Toss-ups: 4 seats

In the House, 218 seats makes a majority. Cook Political's House ratings show 211 seats in Lean, Likely or Solid Republican territory; 194 seats in Lean, Likely or Solid Democrat; and 30 toss-up seats. In other words, Republicans only need to win seven of 30 toss ups (23%) to win the House, while Democrats would need to win 24 (80%) of the toss-up seats to hold their majority.

Historically speaking, the party in the White House underperforms in midterm elections for Congress — which means Democrats would be facing headwinds even in typical times. Of course, these are not typical times. Inflation is still battering voters, there is a war in Europe, the pandemic is still killing hundreds of people a day, and President Biden's approval ratings are hovering around 42%.

Meanwhile, Democrats are barely edging Republicans (by one percentage point) on generic polls of congressional ballots.

At the gubernatorial level, 28 states have Republican governors and 22 have Democratic governors. This midterm season, there are 16 Democrat-held seats on the ballot and 20 Republican-held seats on the ballot, making up the 36 gubernatorial races.

Of those 36 races, 14 are solid, likely or lean Democrats, while 17 are solid, likely or lean Republican. There are five toss-up races.

The Senate.

Reminder: There is a 50-50 Senate split, with three "lean" Democrat seats, three "lean" Republican seats, and four toss-ups.

Fetterman vs. Oz

John Fetterman (left) faces Dr. Mehmet Oz (right) in Pennsylvania. Image: Magdalena Bokowa
John Fetterman (left) faces Dr. Mehmet Oz (right) in Pennsylvania. Image: Magdalena Bokowa

Pennsylvania's Senate race between John Fetterman and Mehmet Oz is perhaps the blockbuster race of the year. Not only is it the only open seat (without an incumbent running) that is also a toss-up in the Senate, but it's also in one of the purest swing states in the country — one that typically sets expectations about how the rest of the country might vote.