Democrats prevailed in this year’s Senate election — but that was the easy part.
The tough part will come in 2024, when the party faces a sharply unfavorable map that could land them in a deep Senate hole for some time if things go even a little badly.
So even if next week’s runoff pitting Senator Raphael Warnock (D-GA) against Herschel Walker (R) won’t determine a majority in next year’s Senate, because the Democrats have already won it, its outcome will have implications significant for how well positioned the party is in its next very challenging Senate cycle.
Currently, only three Democratic senators represent states Donald Trump won in 2020, and all are up for re-election in 2024. These are Joe Manchin (D-WV), Jon Tester (D-MT), and Sherrod Brown (D-OH). , though only Brown has confirmed he’s running again. These are all very red states, and winning them in a presidential year is going to be pretty tough for Democrats.
But the vulnerabilities run deeper. The only states remotely close in the presidential race where Republicans are defending seats are Florida and Texas, two states where Democrats keep trailing as of late. Democrats are also defending seats in five states that Joe Biden narrowly won in 2020. These seats are held by Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Bob Casey Jr. (D-PA) , Jacky Rosen (D-NV) and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI).
Democrats may think they have nothing to worry about in this group of seats, because, look, the party just took on naysayers in the tough year of 2022, winning at least one statewide contest in each of those — so clearly these states lean in their favor.
But it is always a mistake to re-read the results of the last elections too much, and to underestimate how much things could change before the next one. Especially if Trump is not the candidate again, party coalitions could be mixed in unpredictable ways. And even Trump came close enough to winning these states in 2020.
The class of 2024
Senators serve six-year terms, so only a third of the body runs for office each cycle. And the particular grouping of seats in the Senate (called “class”) running for election in 2024 has enjoyed a particularly glamorous run for Democrats. You have to go all the way back to the 1994 GOP wave for a strong Republican performance. Since then, they have been on the ballot in the following years:
2000: A closely contested presidential year in which Al Gore won the popular vote, but George W. Bush won Electoral College and Democrats captured four Senate seats on the net 2006: A year of Democratic surge, in which the party regained both the House and the Senate, winning six seats in the latter chamber 2012: A strongly Democratic year for Barack Obama’s re-election, in which the party unexpectedly expanded its Senate majority by two seats 2018: Another Democratic wave, but the party had won so many seats in deep red states in previous cycles that had several incumbents in heavily Republican territory, so they ended up with a net loss of two seats
So this class in the Senate is risky for Democrats in part because they’ve had such good luck in the past. Nearly half of the Democrats’ Senate majority — 23 sitting senators — comes from this grouping of seats, so they’ll all be on the ballot in 2024. Meanwhile, only 10 Republicans will go up, though a special election could boost that number. This is already a numerical disadvantage. But the downside extends to what specific seats are available.
What specific seats are available
To understand the scale of the Democrats’ challenge, it’s important to realize that the Senate has changed. In the past, it was common for a state’s voters to support candidates for the Senate and for president from different parties. For example, after the bitterly contested 2000 election, 30 out of 100 sitting senators represented states where their party’s presidential candidate did not win in the most recent election. That’s a lot of ticket splitting.
Since then, that number has gradually declined, as red state Democrats and blue state Republicans have either dropped out or been defeated. When Trump took office, there were 14 such senators left. Next year there will be five or six (depending on whether Walker can unseat Warnock on the Georgia ballot). The Senate ordered by factionalism.
Of course, states very close to the presidential contest can still go either way. But it has become much more difficult to defy partisan gravity in deeply Republican or Democratic states, especially in a presidential year. In 2016, zero states elected presidential and senate candidates from different parties. In 2020, only one state did, as Republican Senators Susan Collins and Joe Biden both won Maine.
In 2024, all three Democratic Senators representing the states Trump won in 2020 – Manchin in West Virginia, Tester in Montana and Brown in Ohio – stand.
Left handed And testers they have not announced if they are racing again. Both have won repeatedly in their respective states, though their wins in 2018 were narrow (each won by about 3.5 percentage points). If one or both of them dropped out, Democrats would have enormous difficulty finding candidates with comparable cross-party appeal. Brown he said he’s running again and Ohio isn’t quite as red as the other two states, but if the Republicans can find a competent challenger, he too will face a tough race.
So that’s three seats where, on underlying partisanship alone, the Democrats will fare hard.
Then there are five swing states that, if recent history is any guide, are likely to have very similar Senate and presidential results.
In Arizona, Kyrsten Sinema infuriated progressives and may face a primary challenge by the representative Ruben Gallego. In Nevada, Jacky Rosen just saw her colleague Catherine Cortez Masto narrowly survive a closely contested race in 2022. Then there are Rust Belt incumbents Debbie Stabenow, Tammy Baldwin and Bob Casey Jr.
None of them will start as underdogs and all could survive. But again, it will most likely come down to the presidential race, and if that race goes to the GOP, many of these Senate seats could follow.
Next is a set of probable Democratic states: Maine, where independent Senator Angus King caucuses with Democrats; He’s 78 and hasn’t announced whether he’ll race again, Minnesota (Amy Klobuchar), Virginia (Tim Kaine) and New Mexico (Martin Heinrich). Everyone starts out as the favorites, but these states aren’t so overwhelmingly Democratic that they’re absolutely certain to win.
Beyond that, Democrats will also have to defend the seat of Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ), who is under federal investigation again. Menendez was previously indicted on public corruption charges in 2015, but his the trial ended with a hung jury and the Justice Department dropped the case. New Jersey is a solidly Democratic state, but the party would probably feel better if their candidate wasn’t a perpetual DOJ target.
Meanwhile, of the seats held by the GOP going into the election, only those held by Senators Rick Scott (R-FL) and Ted Cruz (R-TX) are in presidential states remotely close.
Florida has drifted away from the Democrats, as seen most recently in the landslide reelection victories of Governor Ron DeSantis and Senator Marco Rubio this month. Texas has leaned toward Democrats (Trump only won it by 5.6 percentage points in 2020, and Cruz won re-election by 2.6 percentage points in 2018), but still the Democrats did not win a statewide race there since 1994.
The Senate’s 2024 mathematical ban on Democrats ups the ante on the Warnock/Walker ballot in Georgia: If the party starts with a 51-49 rather than a 50-50 majority, they can at least afford to lose a seat in the next cycle without losing control .
This is especially important because, in a presidential year, the party’s biggest challenge will be maintaining its three seats in the deep red states: West Virginia, Montana and Ohio. The first big question is whether Manchin and Tester will race again, and if they do, the next question is whether they can continue to defy partisan gravity, as Collins did in 2020.
But an analysis based solely on statewide factionalism would suggest that Democrats are likely to lose all three seats even in a banner year for their presidential candidate and their party nationally. This is the main reason why holding the Senate will be so difficult for them. The 2022 Senate map was, as I wrote last year, “relatively balanced”, but the 2024 map is not. (And again, this is mostly because the Democrats have been so successful in these races before, so they simply have more to lose.)
What if 2024 isn’t a good year for Democrats nationwide? Well, then they could lose some or all of those five state swing seats, putting them in a serious deficit in the Senate that could take many years to get out of.
Senator Raphael Warnock takes a selfie with a supporter during a campaign rally at Georgia Tech in Atlanta on November 18, 2022. Brandon Bell/Getty Images
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