Political Odds: Senate Democrats’ Path To 52 Seats In Midterms

Written By Evan Scrimshaw on September 2, 2022
senate democrats

With Democrats having a run of good form in recent weeks in the wake of the Supreme Court’s abortion decision in Dobbs, there’s been some chatter about the Senate map moving towards Senate Democrats. Given that, Dems are increasingly feeling confident about their chances of not just winning the Senate, but stretching the map towards less-likely targets in Florida, Wisconsin, and North Carolina.

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US Senate Odds: Florida

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We’ll start with Florida, where the GOP is trying to defend the most Trump-friendly state of the three, and one where they’ve been consistently winning for the last decade. In 2018, Republicans flipped the state’s other Senate seat, and with the state’s legacy of not electing a Democratic Governor since 1994, the state should be reliably (if narrowly) Republican.

That said, there have now been three polls either pointing to a tied race or a Democratic lead this month, and with the Democratic increase in the Generic Ballot and their standing across the country, it is, in theory, possible that they’re in a position to pull the upset.

Marco Rubio has taken a series of unpopular votes in recent months – voting against lowering prescription drug prices in particular won’t be the most popular in a geriatric state like Florida – and he won’t be able to rely on outrunning state partisanship with Cubans as much as 2016.

In 2016, Marco won by a ton for three reasons – he got to run against a hard left winger, he was able to rely on traditionally Republican areas in suburban Jacksonville and Tampa to still vote for him, and he was able to outrun Donald Trump massively with Cubans in the southeast of the state.

Now, those Cubans are just Republican voters, so he won’t be able to rely on a non-traditional boost in the state, and his other two advantages are out the window. Val Demings, the former chief of police in Orlando, is a much better candidate than Rubio faced in 2016, and suburban Tampa and Jacksonville is substantially bluer terrain than it was six years ago.

The problem for Democrats is that it might be bluer, it won’t be blue enough. Florida will always be close, and it’ll be closer this year than Rubio’s 9% win was, but it won’t be enough to materially have a chance.

Jacksonville and Tampa getting bluer as the white suburbs swing left would be enough if they weren’t cratering with Hispanics, but Democrats have a coalition to win 46-48% of the vote right now. That’s not enough to beat Rubio.

Throw in the fact the Democratic machine there is a joke, and Rubio winning again is essentially free money. If they couldn’t win in 2018 with an incumbent in a blue wave, they’re not beating Marco.

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US Senate Odds: Wisconsin

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Here, the polls have been even better for Democrats, but unlike in Florida, it’s not fundamentals that point against them, but recent history.

Yes, Democrats still hold the Governorship and the other Senate seat in Wisconsin, but the polls there in recent years have been atrocious, and since Obama’s re-election, always show Democrats in a better position than they end up in.

Over the last 4 cycles, Democrats have underperformed their polls by 5%, on average – meaning that the 4% lead Fox showed and the 7% lead Marquette did for Democrat Mandela Barnes might not be enough.

The glimmer of hope for Democrats is that in the two midterm cycles, the polls only overestimated Democrats by just over 2%, and the bigger misses have come when Donald Trump’s on the ballot. If that holds – and the small samples involved her suggests that it’s not hugely reliable – then Democrats probably have a lead right now.

The problem with that is that Wisconsin is a state where Republicans are doing better cycle after cycle, with Joe Biden only winning it by 0.63% in 2020 despite huge expectations. It’s a state with a lot of right trending areas with plenty of room for Democrats to fall, but also a lot of suburban areas with GOP votes to bleed left.

The best case for Democrats might actually be the extremity of Ron Johnson, the GOP incumbent who wants to privatize Social Security, but whether or not Johnson is toxic enough to overcome the state’s hue and trends is hard to say. Johnson probably should win, but it’s much less safe than it was months ago.

US Senate Odds: North Carolina

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Here is the Democrats’ best chance to find their theoretical 52nd Senate seat, and it’s not even close.

Yes, Barnes has the better polling, but Cheri Beasley, the former Chief Justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court, has the better fundamentals, and the polling isn’t bad for her either.

Beasley is running against a fairly non-descript Republican Congressman in Ted Budd, and Beasley has a track record of running ahead of Democrats, losing by 0.03% in her bid for re-election in 2020 on the same ballot that Joe Biden lost North Carolina by 1.4%.

Here, Beasley has a chance to pull off what the winning Democratic campaigns in Georgia have done – by running a Black nominee, boosting Black turnout to the point where, as GOP-friendly rural white turnout falls, the electorate that actually turns out is less white, and therefore less GOP.

We haven’t had any media polls of North Carolina in a while, but there have been two post-Dobbs, GOP internals there – a Trafalgar poll showing Beasley down 2.5%, and a Cygnal poll showing a tie. And if the GOP are finding a tied race, then this is very winnable.

North Carolina has a lot of the ingredients to be a Democratic flip – a much better candidate than they’ve run in the past, low hanging fruit in terms of votes to be won, and a GOP candidate who has never won statewide before. That said, it’s not as simple as saying Beasley is the favorite.

North Carolina, much like Florida, has been a bit of a thorn in Senate Democrats’ sides in recent years, failing to deliver the Senate race in 2020 when expectations were high. Budd is the favorite, clearly.

But he’s nowhere close to this big of one. Beasley has a clear path to victory and will be benefitted by her experience running and winning statewide. If Democrats are going to get a 52nd seat, it will be North Carolina – and it’s decidedly a live option.

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