But regardless, early moves in the 2022 Senate races are already underway, with the Republicans facing a challenging map for a second straight cycle.
Incoming National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) chair Sen. Rick Scott of Florida acknowledges the perils he faces the next two years but optimistically tells Fox News that “I think we have a good opportunity to not just defend but pick up.”
The Democrats had great expectations heading into the 2020 cycle, with the GOP defending 23 of the 35 seats up for grabs. Democratic challengers dramatically outraised Republican incumbents, but their hopes of a blue wave and a solid majority in the chamber never materialized. The Democrats at best will have a 50/50 Senate with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris as the tie-breaking vote if they capture both of the GOP-held seats in Georgia’s runoffs. Republicans – at best – will hold a 52-48 majority, one seat less than the 53-47 margin they held heading into the 2020 contests.
Similar to this cycle, the Republicans will once again start on defense in the 2022 showdowns.
As it stands right now, the GOP will be defending at least 20 of the 34 seats up for grabs in two years. But if appointed Sen. Kelly Loeffler of Georgia – a Republican who’s running to serve out the final two years of the term of former Sen. Johnny Isakson – wins in the runoff election, the math would slightly change to 21 Republican and 13 Democratic-held seats in play in the 2022 midterms.
The difficult map isn’t the only obstacle facing the Republicans. They’re also defending open seats in two crucial battleground states due to retirements. Sens. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Richard Burr of North Carolina are not running for reelection.
There’s also a potential headache in Iowa, where 87-year-old GOP Sen. Chuck Grassley is staying mum so far on whether he’ll run for an eighth six-year term in the Senate.
Democrats will be gunning hard for Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin in a state that President-elect Joe Biden narrowly flipped from red to blue in this month’s presidential election. Johnson, a strong supporter of President Trump’s, has yet to say if he’ll run for reelection for a third term. Regardless, Democrat Tom Nelson, a county executive and a former state assembly majority leader, has already announced his candidacy.
And GOP Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, who’s indicated he’ll bid for a third term, could also face a potentially tough reelection run in the country’s largest traditional battleground.
While the map once again looks favorable to the Democrats in 2022, Biden will be in the White House, and the president’s party normally loses seats in Congress in their first midterm election.
“The president’s party typically does lose seats,” noted Jessica Taylor, who covers and analyzes Senate races for the Cook Report, a leading nonpartisan political handicapper. But she suggested “that could be mitigated somewhat an overall favorable map for the Democrats.”
Scott, who takes over the reelection arm of the Senate GOP in January, acknowledged that “I’ve got to recruit somebody in Pennsylvania, and somebody in North Carolina, for Richard Burr and Pat Toomey, so that will be work.”
But he also pointed to possible pickup opportunities in Arizona, Nevada and New Hampshire. First-term Sen. Catherine Cortez Mastro is up for reelection in Nevada, which remains a key swing state. Biden narrowly defeated Trump in Nevada this month after Trump was slightly edged out in the state four years ago by Hillary Clinton.
In Arizona, Republicans will be targeting Democrat Mark Kelly, who will serve the final two years of the late Sen. John McCain’s term after winning this month’s special election. And Republicans also view first-term Sen. Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire as potentially vulnerable, especially if popular GOP Gov. Chris Sununu decides to run for the Senate in 2022.
Looking to Arizona, Nevada and New Hampshire, Scott told Fox News that “those are clearly areas that we have a chance to pick up.”
But an optimistic Scott eyed the possibility of a wider map.
“If you take states like Illinois and Connecticut, they’re really reeling and they’re mad at their government,” he said. “We have a shot across the country if we have good candidates and we raise our money and we run good campaigns.”
GOP incumbents were dramatically outraised and outspent by their Democratic challengers during much of the 2020 cycle until a late infusion of cash helped boost them in the final weeks leading up to the election.
One well-known Republican Scott may be looking toward to help raise money on behalf of GOP senators and candidates in the 2022 cycle is the president.
“He’s been a prolific fundraiser,” Scott said of Trump, who has strongly signaled he will stay very much involved in GOP politics after he leaves the White House in January. Trump earlier this month set up a leadership PAC, which will allow him to raise and spend money on behalf of other Republicans. He’s already quickly filling the PAC’s coffers.
And Scott predicted that “I think there are places where he’s going to continue to be very popular and be helpful.”