By Nathan Gonzales, Inside Elections Editor and Publisher
Public Affairs Council Senior Political Analyst
There’s reason to be on alert this summer. No, the risk doesn’t come from sunburns or cicadas. (If you don’t know why you should fear cicadas, ask a friend who lives in the mid-Atlantic region.) It’s the lack of interesting elections over the next couple of months that could lull you into complacency about the rest of the cycle. Once we get to the fall, it’s going to be a yearlong sprint to the finish line.
More than six months into President Joe Biden’s first term and we still haven’t had a seismic election. We haven’t had a partisan arms race between Republicans and Democrats like Georgia’s 6th District special election in 2017, which became the most expensive House race in history. And there hasn’t been anything close to Republican Scott Brown’s Senate victory in Massachusetts in early 2010, which pulled Democrats below the 60 seats necessary to avoid the filibuster and foreshadowed the GOP wave.
Thus far, this cycle has been pretty disappointing for folks looking for fireworks. Democrats were locked out of the special general election in a marginally competitive district in Texas when Republicans finished first and second in the initial jungle primary. And Republicans didn’t put up much of a fight in New Mexico’s 1st District, which used to be competitive a decade or so ago. The remaining special elections on the docket are in heavily Republican or Democratic seats.
But before too long, no one will be complaining about the lack of election excitement. And don’t waste the next couple of months resting when you could be preparing for the future.
First of all, we have to remember that the House and Senate majorities are on the line in these midterm elections. Republicans need to gain just a single seat in the Senate and five seats in the House to get control of both chambers. The midterm elections will determine how much or what type of legislation Biden can sign into law in the last two years of his first term.
Data delays from the U.S. Census Bureau have prolonged the redistricting process and much of the corresponding drama and chaos. By the end of September, the states should be armed with the necessary data to draw the maps. Now’s the time to prepare for panicking incumbents who will see their political fortunes changed in an instant because of the new district lines, as both parties will try to maximize their opportunities to gain seats. After new maps are in place, the courts will decide what will be finalized. Then we get to the actual races, which are expensive and complicated contests in and of themselves.
This November, Republicans will be trying to make a splash in the Virginia and New Jersey gubernatorial races (and even the recall in California), looking for any proof that the party is on its way to major gains in 2022. While the general elections in each state don’t start as extremely competitive, they will receive a disproportionate amount of attention relative to their impact on the country. But prepare for both parties to tout favorable aspects of those races to project bigger gains next year, even those that might be disconnected from reality.
With an evenly divided Senate and a limited number of competitive states, each battleground will be of utmost importance. While a dozen Senate seats were competitive in 2020, the 2022 battleground is closer to eight. That means a handful of seats could receive a lion’s share of the money. And considering many of the key Senate races are in some of the closest 2020 presidential states (Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin), control of the Senate could be hard to project until all the votes are counted.
This summer is also an opportunity to refine policies related to how our elections are conducted. Many corporate and association PACs chose to temporarily or permanently stop contributing to the 147 Republicans who voted against ratifying the certified 2020 presidential results. And some groups went a step further to oppose efforts in Georgia to change laws about voter access.
The effort to change election laws and cast doubt on election results is only going to continue. Each entity is going to have to determine which actions cross the line and make a candidate unfit for support.
So even though the summer may lack the urgency of imminent elections, there’s plenty of work to be done.
Of course, now that I’ve declared that the next few months will be uneventful, there will probably be a historic event (or two, or three) that will upend the political environment. Let’s just hope it doesn’t involve months of quarantining with small children.
Nathan L. Gonzales is a senior political analyst for the Public Affairs Council and editor of Inside Elections, a nonpartisan newsletter with a subscription package designed to boost PACs with a regular newsletter and exclusive conference call. His email address is email@example.com.