A diagram of the direction of the 2022 campaign would look like a zigzag. Democrats faced near gale-force headwinds into June, but that moderated considerably in the first half of the summer, with the most optimistic of Democrats having visions of retaining majorities in both the House and the Senate.

In recent weeks, though, those winds in Democrats’ faces have partially returned, almost ensuring that the party will lose its House majority and turning the Senate into something closer to a fair fight, with Democrats still possessing a slight edge. With Vice President Kamala Harris presiding over the Senate, no net change works out just fine for Democrats; Republicans have to actually gain a seat in order to reach majority status.

In some states and districts, the renewed Democratic headwinds may not be sufficient to offset the newfound Republican disadvantage of having too many exotic and potentially problematic nominees, particularly in the Senate, where every single seat can represent the difference between keeping a Chuck Schumer-led Democratic Senate or a Republican majority led by Mitch McConnell. Overly exuberant Republican primary voters, particularly those of the MAGA variety, much like tea-party voters who flocked to GOP primaries in 2010 and 2012, got a bit over their skis, making some less-than-judicious decisions on who should represent their party in the general election. In some cases, excessive personal and professional baggage have weighed down candidacies; in others, it has been extreme rhetoric, actions, or political records.

We now see yet again why House races often have quite different outcomes than those in the Senate. The House, with all 435 seats facing the voters every two years, with as many as 100 seats in varying levels of competitiveness, is a very sensitive and more representative barometer of the national political climate. That is why in 36 of 39 midterm elections since the start of the Civil War, the party holding the White House has lost ground in the House. As Tim Storey, the longtime expert on state legislative elections and now executive director of the National Conference of State Legislatures, reminded me last week, the party in the White House has also lost state legislative seats in all but two midterms since 1900.

Conversely the Senate, with candidates considerably more visible and better defined than those in the House, is far more idiosyncratic. What happens in each individual race, especially the strengths and weaknesses of each candidate, is more relevant to the eventual outcome, particularly with the chamber now evenly divided and every seat mattering so much more. Given that, it is not so surprising that the linkage to the partisan occupancy of the White House is a bit less important: The president’s party has lost Senate seats in 19 out of 26 midterms since voters began directly electing U.S. senators in 1914.

FiveThirtyEight’s statistical modeling gives Democrats a 67-in-100 chance of holding onto their Senate majority, and the betting on PredictIt gives them a more modest 56 percent chance of retaining control. On this one, I am with the oddsmakers.

For the House, the betting on PredictIt gives the GOP an 83 percent chance of taking control, while FiveThirtyEight’s House model puts Republican chances at 70-in-100. Somewhere in between sounds right to me.

Two Republican-held Senate seats are proving to be more problematic than the party might have expected: In North Carolina, GOP Rep. Ted Budd is struggling to pull away from former Democratic state Supreme Court Justice Cheri Beasley. In Ohio, national Democrats may well rue the day that they did not get in heavily behind Rep. Tim Ryan. Ryan, the most impressive non-incumbent Democrat running for the Senate this year, is taking full advantage of J.D. Vance’s weakness as a candidate and lackadaisical approach to the campaign. A third GOP seat remains very close in purple Wisconsin, as Sen. Ron Johnson gets all he can handle from Democratic Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes.

In Georgia, Democrats have to be nervous given that Herschel Walker remains standing after charges that would normally be considered devastating have not seemed to put him away. But then again, many of us thought that the Billy Bush tapes would eliminate Donald Trump’s chances of winning the presidency.

Similarly, in Pennsylvania, the questionable health situation facing Democratic Lt. Gov. John Fetterman and the obvious lack of transparency on the part of the candidate and his campaign seem to have hurt his prospects little so far, although his only debate against Mehmet Oz, slated for Oct. 25, will obviously be pivotal. Democrats would quite rightly be apoplectic if a Republican candidate had the same health issues and was equally opaque about it, just as Peach State Republicans seem to be studiously ignoring Walker’s problems.

Which party can best manage the weaknesses of their standard-bearers could make all the difference.

The article was originally published for the National Journal on October 11, 2022.

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