Ohio Senator Rob Portman’s decision not to run for reelection in 2022 is expected to be the first of several GOP retirements over the next year as Republicans look to take back the Senate.
GOP prospects look good — on paper. So far, they will be defending three toss-up seats in Wisconsin, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania and have excellent opportunities to pick up seats in Georgia and Arizona. Both Georgia’s Raphael Warnock and Arizona’s Mark Kelly won their elections in November 2020, negating the usual advantage of incumbency.
Both Georgia and Arizona are still strong Republican states and any GOP candidate who runs will have a decided advantage. Another potential pick-up is in New Hampshire, where Senator Maggie Hassan beat GOP incumbent Kelly Ayotte by a little more than 1,000 votes.
But Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson is trying to decide whether to go back on his promise to voters to run for only two terms. His second term will be up next year and Johnson says he hasn’t even begun to think about running. And Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley is 87 years old. He barely won in 2016 and might give way to someone else — his grandson Pat is speaker of the Iowa House.
The House Republican caucus was also plagued by a wave of retirements in 2018 that ultimately contributed to losing the chamber. But with Democrats only controlling a 50-50 Senate and facing a midterm election with a Democrat in the White House, Republicans’ straightforward path back to the majority probably prevents a wider rush to the exits.
“The big change here is going from the majority to the minority,” said Scott Reed, a veteran GOP operative and former top political strategist at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “It’s no fun being in the minority as the ranking member. You lose all your power.”
Reed, however, downplayed any concerns about the effect retirements could have on their prospects in 2022.
“I don’t think this is cause for panic, at all,” he said.
Indeed, other potential retirees, like Alabama’s 86-year-old Richard Shelby, would almost certainly make way for another Republican, given Alabama’s deep-red electorate. On the other hand, Democrats will be defending Arizona and Georgia, treating them as if they were open seats, given the short term of service for those senators.
It appears, then, that ultimately, Senate control will come down to Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina. Wisconsin and Pennsylvania are both nominally blue states as North Carolina is nominally red. Republicans have been coming on strong in both states, however, and will be expected to field competitive candidates.
Another built-in advantage for the GOP is that they’ve done exceptionally well in off-year elections in recent cycles. The Democratic urban vote is diminished, as is their advantage with young voters.
Donald Trump won’t be on the ballot but he may as well be. There will be a lot of Trump in campaign ads as Democrats believe he will be a drag on the Republican vote. He will also be a plus for Republican candidates if he smiles on their campaign. The truth is, Trump is an unknown factor and will probably help some Republicans and hurt others.
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