Aug 23, 2022

Who will win the Senate?

The latest polling shows an advantage for Democrats.

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

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Today's read: 13 minutes.

We examine the latest commentary on who will win the Senate. Plus, a question about the term "pro-life."

Dr. Mehmet Oz, who is running for the Senate in Pennsylvania. (Image: Office of Claire McCaskill)
Dr. Mehmet Oz, who is running for the Senate in Pennsylvania. (Image: Office of Claire McCaskill) 

Quick hits.

  1. Florida, New York and Oklahoma hold primary elections today. (The races)
  2. Former President Trump filed a lawsuit to request that a third party review the documents seized by the FBI at his Mar-a-Lago residence. More than 300 classified documents were taken from his home. (The documents)
  3. Pfizer and BioNTech are asking the FDA to approve a "bivalent" Covid-19 vaccine for the original strain and Omicron sub-variants. (The shot)
  4. A federal judge signaled support for the Department of Justice in a lawsuit challenging Idaho's near-total abortion ban. (The comments)
  5. A federal judge sentenced a Florida businessman to five years in prison for trying to defraud the father of Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL). (The ruling)

Our 'Quick Hits' section is created in partnership with Ground News, a website and app that rates the bias of news coverage and news outlets.

Today's topic.

The 2022 Senate. Currently, the U.S. Senate is divided 50-50 between Republicans and Democrats. Sens. Bernie Sanders (VT) and Angus King (ME) are both independents but caucus with Democrats. Vice President Kamala Harris serves as the tiebreaking vote, giving Democrats the slimmest possible majority.

Heading into the final stretch before the November general elections, the Senate is now considered a toss-up. There are 10 competitive Senate seats up for grabs in 2022. Here are the states with Cook Political Report's rating for each race: Pennsylvania (lean Democrat), Wisconsin (toss-up), Florida (lean Republican), North Carolina (lean Republican), Ohio (lean Republican), Colorado (lean Democrat), New Hampshire (lean Democrat), Arizona (toss-up), Georgia (toss-up) and Nevada (toss-up).

According to FiveThirtyEight, a news organization that averages polling results from dozens of outlets, Democrats are currently slightly favored to win the Senate. In a simulation of 40,000 elections, FiveThirtyEight finds that Democrats win 63 of 100 of those elections. In late July, that same simulation found Democrats winning just 50 out of 100 times.

Results from FiveThirtyEight's Senate simulation.
Results from FiveThirtyEight's Senate simulation. 

Cook Political Report recently set the stage like this:

If you had asked us before primaries began in earnest in early May, we put the odds that Republicans would flip the Senate at more than 60 percent, with a gain of as many as four seats possible. Right now, we see the range between Democrats picking up one seat and Republicans gaining three. However, the most probable may be a net change of zero or a GOP pickup of one to two.

Cook Political also made three ratings changes: Pennsylvania went from toss-up to lean Democrat; Colorado went from likely Democrat to lean Democrat; Utah went from Solid Republican to likely Republican.

One key storyline of the Senate races is the impact of Trump-endorsed candidates. In Arizona, Pennsylvania, and Nevada, three Trump-endorsed candidates prevailed in their primaries but have been criticized by establishment Republicans as lacking the kind of broad appeal to win swing state races. On Monday, Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) gave his own party a 50-50 chance of taking control of the Senate in November. A few days before, McConnell made waves when he downplayed expectations that Republicans would recapture the Senate in November, citing "candidate quality"

“I think there’s probably a greater likelihood the House flips than the Senate. Senate races are just different — they're statewide, candidate quality has a lot to do with the outcome,” he said during an event in Florence, Kentucky.

Obviously, control of the Senate is critical for leveraging power in Washington D.C. As the upper chamber in Congress, the Senate gets final say on legislation and controls the appointment of federal judges across the country. If Democrats were to lose control of the House or Senate, their remaining legislative agenda would almost certainly be stonewalled.

In a moment, you'll hear from the left and right on the current state of the midterm races, and then my take.

What the left is saying.

  • The left is enthusiastic about the changing political winds.
  • Many say that extreme, Trump-endorsed Senate candidates should cost Republicans a shot at the Senate.
  • Some argue that there are already real-world results that should give Democrats optimism.

In New York Magazine, Jonathan Chait said Mitch McConnell has nobody to blame but himself.

"Having driven out the one member of their party who fought back against Donald Trump’s election lies, Republicans find themselves mystified that election liars are taking over. What is fascinating is that the party’s mainstream wing sees no connection between these two things at all," Chait wrote. "The Republican Establishment has dealt with this by refusing to acknowledge it and hoping the problem goes away on its own. Mick Mulvaney famously wrote an op-ed before the election predicting, 'If He Loses, Trump Will Concede Gracefully.' When Trump refused to concede defeat, McConnell went along, saying, 'A few legal inquiries from the president do not exactly spell the end of the republic.'

"After making the decision to stop challenging Trump’s election lies, it followed that the rest of the party needed to go along. Cheney stubbornly refused. As a result, Republicans stripped her of her leadership post and then began to abandon her as Trump backed a primary challenge," he said. "But of course one completely foreseeable consequence of the party’s decision to cede the argument over 2020 to Trump is that it has allowed Trump to retain his influence. Republicans complain over the personal aspect of Trump’s influence — he has interceded in primaries to endorse unqualified candidates — but his ideological influence is more profound. If Republican voters believe the 2020 election was stolen, of course they are going to demand their party nominate candidates who will stop it. Why would they even consider 'moving on' from a historical crime so profound?"

In Bloomberg, Matthew Yglesias said some real-world midterm results where Democrats outperformed 2020 is making him a believer.

"What accounts for the turnaround? Probably a mix of three factors. One is that gasoline prices started to fall, ultimately delivering 0% total inflation in July. Year-on-year price increases remain at a generational high, but the short-term trend has been good lately," Yglesias said. "The other is that Republicans have no convincing argument against Democrats’ Inflation Reduction Act. It delivers exactly what Republicans say they want — an innovation-focused package of measures designed to increase US energy production — but they won’t support it because the GOP is still wedded to low taxes on the wealthy more profoundly than to any other principle.

"Last but by no means least, the overturning of Roe v. Wade leaves Republicans playing with political dynamite. Midterm losses for the president’s party are normally driven by a sense of backlash to policy overreach. But this summer it’s the Republican Party, via its control of the Supreme Court, that’s been delivering a visceral and alarming policy change," he wrote. "It is important to continue highlighting Republican extremism on the abortion issue. That ought to include moving a series of mild federal bills to establish a national floor under abortion rights. Will Republicans agree at least to guarantee access in cases of rape? To safe harbor for doctors who believe in good faith that an abortion is vital to a pregnant woman’s health? To the FDA’s sole authority over prescription drugs? To Americans’ freedom to cross state lines to seek medical care?"

In The Washington Post, Eugene Robinson said it is hard to decide which Republican Senate candidate is the worst.

"The former president’s endorsements led enough bad Senate nominees to primary victories that the GOP’s hopes of seizing control of the chamber — in what should be a Republican year — are fading," Robinson said. "Former football star Herschel Walker, whom Trump muscled his party into nominating against Democratic incumbent Sen. Raphael G. Warnock in Georgia, had an early lead in the contest for hands-down-worst Republican standard-bearer. His across-the-board incoherence remains unmatched... [Mehmet] Oz’s supposed media savvy hasn’t made up for his other problems, chief among them, a lack of connection to the state he wants to represent. Oz, a longtime New Jersey resident, only moved to Pennsylvania two years ago. Fetterman’s campaign has made gleeful, social-media-friendly hay from that fact, pushing for Oz to be nominated to the New Jersey hall of fame and spotlighting the number of Oz’s residences.

"Then there’s Blake Masters. In Arizona, Republicans had high hopes of defeating incumbent Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly, who looked vulnerable. But Trump pushed the GOP to nominate Masters, a venture capitalist and political novice who has disturbing support from far-right extremists, and who backs Trump’s false claims about the purported illegitimacy of the 2020 presidential election... a mid-August poll by Emerson College showed Republican J.D. Vance ahead of Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan by a mere three points, and a string of earlier polls by the nonpartisan Center Street PAC consistently showed Ryan in the lead. Vance might have gotten rich writing his best-selling memoir, 'Hillbilly Elegy,' but Ryan has deep roots in the state’s post-industrial Youngstown area. Vance was stridently anti-Trump before he became stridently pro-Trump, and — like Walker, Oz and Masters — he is a political novice."

What the right is saying.

  • Many on the right are critical of McConnell, saying he should be embracing fresh candidates with populist ideas.
  • Some call on McConnell to start leading the entire party to usher in a Senate majority.
  • Others argue McConnell is right, and now has to clean up the mess.

In Town Hall, Jeff Crouere said "who needs enemies" when you have Mitch McConnell.

"On Thursday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) publicly complained about the 'quality' of GOP Senate candidates. He declared that a Republican U.S. Senate majority was not likely," Crouere said. "What did he mean by 'candidate quality?' He implied that many of the Republican Senate nominees are too conservative, too affiliated with President Donald Trump and too likely to support 'Make America Great Again' (MAGA) policies. McConnell prefers establishment Republicans, the moderate 'country club' candidates who cherish the Deep State, bureaucracy, growing government and raising taxes. They just want to do it slightly less than their Democratic colleagues.

"These Republicans are globalists and open border supporters who are unconcerned that millions of illegal aliens have entered the United States during Biden’s term. These McConnell Republicans also do not oppose government COVID-19 mandates or attacks against our children in the classroom with curriculum that is sexualized and infested with anti-American poison," Crouere wrote. "McConnell also strongly supports Biden’s position regarding the war in Ukraine and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) expansion. He has fervently backed sending billions of dollars in aid to the Ukrainian government... McConnell’s interventionist views are directly counter to President Trump’s focus on our country and our problems. Trump and the MAGA movement represent the millions of Americans who are tired of the United States acting as the policeman of the world."

In The Federalist, Mollie Hemingway asked "what in the world was Mitch McConnell thinking?"

"The country is 18 months into Democrats’ total rule, and by nearly every measure the results of their political control are utterly disastrous. The southern border has essentially been erased. Inflation is reminiscent of the 1970s, as is the energy policy causing high gas prices and reliance on other countries. Consumer confidence has cratered. War with nuclear powers is dangerously close in at least two parts of the world. The economy should be roaring out of the pandemic, but it’s returned to Obama-era sluggishness or worse. Woke mobs are completing their destruction of the country’s institutions. Democrats are persecuting political opponents with their deeply unpopular J6 star chamber," she said. "And in this milieu, Republican voters who care deeply about their country have chosen a slate of extremely interesting candidates, many of them non-career politicians.

"Herschel Walker, Mehmet Oz, J.D. Vance, and Blake Masters are successful and impressive people in a variety of careers. Even the more traditional politicians running for re-election — Ron Johnson and Marco Rubio — are among the better senators in office. Adam Laxalt, running against an incumbent Nevada Democrat, is a highly decorated former Naval officer and Iraq War veteran. He was an incredibly successful attorney general in Nevada," she wrote. "If you can’t work with this level of quality, you can’t work with anyone... More importantly, the Republicans won their nominations by running on the policies that have so reinvigorated and expanded the party. They have clear messages about helping out middle-class workers and their families, protecting the country from open borders and wasteful wars, and defending American values and freedom against leftist authoritarians."

The Wall Street Journal editorial board said struggling candidates are now turning to McConnell for help.

"The biggest campaign story last week wasn’t Mitch McConnell’s warning that Republicans might not retake the Senate in November. That’s been clear since the party nominated so many candidates whose main advantage was support from Donald Trump. The big story was that those candidates are now calling on Mr. McConnell to come to their rescue. Exhibit A is Ohio, where the Super Pac allied with Mr. McConnell, the Senate Leadership Fund, is committing $28 million to save GOP nominee J.D. Vance... Ohio should be a layup for the GOP this year," the board said. "But Democrat Tim Ryan, a Member of the House, is portraying himself as a moderate despite a liberal voting record and has out-raised the Republican. Thus Mr. Vance’s S.O.S. to Mr. McConnell.

"Blake Masters, another Trump-backed nominee, is also counting on Mr. McConnell to save his campaign. 'I think [Mr. McConnell will] come in and spend. Arizona’s gonna be competitive. It’s gonna be a close race, and I hope he does come in,' Mr. Masters told the Associated Press last week. Trailing Sen. Mark Kelly in the polls, Mr. Masters needs the Minority Leader’s help. During the GOP primary, Mr. Masters called for Mr. McConnell to be replaced as leader," the board noted. "These better-call-Mitch appeals are happening at the same time Mr. Trump’s allies are attacking Mr. McConnell for telling the truth last week about GOP Senate prospects this year... Only the willfully blind can look at several of the Trump-endorsed nominees this year and claim they were the strongest candidates in the general election."

My take.

Reminder: "My take" is a section where I give myself space to share my own personal opinion. It is meant to be one perspective amid many others. If you have feedback, criticism, or compliments, you can reply to this email and write in. If you're a paying subscriber, you can also leave a comment.

I've said many times before in this newsletter that I don't like political forecasting.

I'm generally mediocre at it, as most people are, because looking into the future is really hard. To scratch the itch last year, I published 19 predictions about the future (subscribers-only), and — to my genuine surprise — so far they are aging pretty well. Of the five with results in, I've been correct on four. I have three more (an estimate on how many Americans would get booster shots, Trump running in 2024, and Biden not running) that I feel increasingly good about, and one prediction (that support for the pro-life position would increase over the next five years) that looks to be the opposite of what's happening. At least I was right that change was coming!

All this is to say, I'm hesitant to step back into the arena when I could quit while I'm mostly ahead.

But I will anyway.

I don't trust the polls.

I think the most plausible explanation for Democrats' sudden advantage on generic ballots is not that Roe being overturned is turning the electorate against Republicans, or that gas falling a dollar is endearing voters to Biden, or that a flurry of legislative victories is satiating Americans’ thirst for change. I think it's that generic ballot polling on Congress is still underrepresenting tens of millions of pro-Trump, conservative voters who are unlikely to take political surveys with any pollster calling from The New York Times or NBC News.

If I were to make a bet today, my bet would be that Republicans get control of the Senate in the midterm elections. The reason for this is pretty simple: Joe Biden. His popularity has nudged up about three percentage points, but he's still in abysmal, underwater territory. Historically speaking, that's a death sentence for the party controlling the White House in midterms. And in the last few elections in particular, both presidential and midterm, America has shown itself hungry for one thing: change. We always want change. Get the people who are in, out, and get the people who are out, in.

Yes, the changes in these polls suggest some Democratic momentum. Yes, the Inflation Reduction Act has some very popular elements. Yes, Biden has been able to score wins on infrastructure, veterans’ health, and gun control. Inflation also appears to be slowing down, and gas prices are falling. All good things for courting Democrats and moderates.

But the opposite side of the coin is still there: Interest rates are still generationally high, the war in Ukraine (and our funding of it) is dragging on, crime in big cities is up, and — by the way — the southern border is seeing a record number of illegal crossings (a story that matters a great deal to Republican voters but is historically undercovered by left-leaning news outlets). Also, across the country, school board meetings are still being swarmed by parents petrified of "woke ideology" on race and gender, and former President Trump is still pulling in jaw-dropping fundraising numbers which have only increased since the Mar-a-Lago search.

It’s easy to imagine candidates like Dr. Mehmet Oz, who is one of the worst politicians I've seen in recent memory, floundering (I predicted Oz would win Pennsylvania, which I now regret). But I suspect Republicans will win their Senate races in Georgia, Arizona and Nevada, and I'd be quite surprised if they lost in Wisconsin. Control of these states is teetering on a razor's edge, and I just don't see a world where Democrats win with a historically unpopular president, real wages falling, and such an overwhelming sense of global and national instability.

I've made it quite clear where I stand on the integrity of the 2020 election, so I’m pretty nervous about the influx of candidates who say the 2020 election was stolen. I generally have mixed feelings about political novices, too. I love outsiders, and fresh blood in Congress, but I also want people who understand how the government works to be running the government. So without saying which candidates I think should win in any individual race or who I hope wins, I do have serious questions about Herschel Walker, Blake Masters and Dr. Oz; and I’ll be very curious to see how their pitches to voters change in the next couple of months as the general election comes into focus.

At this moment, I just don't believe the polls. I do believe Democrats have some momentum, and I believe the odds that they hold the Senate are better now than they were a month ago. But an advantage? In this climate? I don't think so.

In politics, 11 weeks is an eternity, so a lot can happen between now and election day that could change my calculus. For now, though, I think the Republican doomsday commentators are getting pretty far out over their skis.

Your questions, answered.

Q: Do you think the term “pro-life” is accurate? To me it sounds like a way to avoid sounding negative (like anti-abortion or anti-choice). The vast majority of people do not want abortions to exist, while a smaller majority of people recognize that abortions are necessary in some cases. After that, it’s all up to how far along in the pregnancy the abortion is allowed to be performed. Though I am pro-choice, I don’t know where I fully stand on that spectrum. I do know that I’m definitely not “pro-abortion.” But people who consider themselves "pro-life" are without a doubt "anti-abortion."

— Akshay, Bay Area, California

Tangle: Making language choices like this in Tangle is incredibly difficult. It might be the hardest part of my job, which is to show the range of opinions on current events and not to arbitrate what language is correct. That said, I’ll tell you how I use the term, then give my personal opinion about it.

Generally speaking, when I'm not writing "my take," I try to use the most neutral language possible. But if I am writing about abortion and call a group "pro-life," I inevitably hear from liberals who criticize me for using their "propagandist language" and insist that they aren't merely pro-life, but want to control women's bodies. If I write about the "pro-choice" side, I will also hear from conservatives who tell me that what they really are is "pro-abortion," insistent on allowing people to kill babies. It is really, really hard to navigate these responses when you’re trying to present something neutrally.

What I usually do is try to use a mix of language and descriptors, and not define either side in the terms their opposition wants me to, but in ways I think both sides will accept or can understand. In my experience, most pro-life people are fine being called anti-abortion. That is what they are. They don't find that to be a pejorative line, so they don't mind if I use that language. Many, many pro-choice people object to being called "pro-abortion," since most say they are fundamentally arguing for more freedom to choose, not for more abortions. Given that, I try not to use that expression in Tangle.

To me, pro-life most accurately denotes a political class of people who are both anti-abortion and against the death penalty. We published an essay from Sophie Trist last year, who is a pro-lifer in that mold, that I think encapsulates the full breadth of the position nicely. But I also recognize that pro-life is the most common way to reference any American who is only opposed to abortion, and since my goal is to help people understand what Americans are thinking and arguing, I try to use familiar language we can all grasp.

Again: These aren't easy editorial choices to make. But that’s my thinking on the common terms surrounding this issue.

Want to ask a question? You can reply to this email and write in (it goes straight to my inbox) or fill out this form.

A story that matters.

President Biden is going to announce a decision on student loan forgiveness by the end of the month, according to several news reports. White House officials have been weighing whether to cancel student debt, how much of it to cancel and who to cancel it for. Some economists have warned that such a move would increase inflation, but Biden appears determined to follow through on a promise he made on the campaign trail. Apparently, the administration is currently leaning toward cancellation of up to $10,000 in student loan debt per borrower for anyone earning less than $125,000 per year. The announcement could come as early as Wednesday. CNN has the scoop.


  • $1.6 billion. The amount of money gifted by Barry Seid, an electronics manufacturing mogul, to Leonard Leo's conservative nonprofit The Marble Freedom Trust. It’s among the largest ever political donations.
  • 88,000. The number of new downloads of Trump's "Truth Social" app in the week after the Mar-a-Lago raid.
  • 45-38. Nevada Democratic Senate candidate Catherine Cortez Masto's lead over Republican Adam Laxalt, according to a Suffolk poll.
  • 50-45. Ohio Republican Senate candidate JD Vance's lead over Democrat Tim Ryan, according to Trafalgar.
  • 49-38. Pennsylvania Democratic Senate candidate John Fetterman's lead over Dr. Mehmet Oz, according to a FiveThirtyEight average of polls.

Have a nice day.

A Brooklyn Uber driver is being hailed as a hero after stopping a ride to sprint inside a burning building and rescue a fellow New Yorker. Fritz Sam was on his way to the airport when he noticed flames coming out of the second floor window of a brownstone apartment. Sam asked his passenger if they could stop to help, since she was on her way to catch a flight, and she said yes. The two darted toward the commotion, and Sam ran inside. He ended up ushering several people out of the building who were not aware of the fire or didn't understand how serious it was. Minutes later, police and firefighters arrived. Nobody was hurt. The Washington Post has the story.

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