Four Seats

31 of the 35 Senate races next month are noncompetititve.

Kevin Drum points to a story I saw a couple of days ago but didn’t get around to blogging, a NYT report titled “With Control of the Senate in Play, These Are the Races to Watch,” which is itself based on the latest Cook Political Report Race Ratings.

Drum extracts this chart from the interactive site

and observes,

If we take the leaners seriously, it means there are only four real Senate races in the entire country. Democrats have merely to beat Dr. Oz in Pennsylvania and Herschel Walker in Georgia and they remain in control of the Senate. The other two toss-up states are tougher: Wisconsin’s seat is currently held by incumbent Ron Johnson, while Nevada’s Adam Laxalt is political royalty as the son of Pete Domenici and grandson of Paul Laxalt. He’s also a MAGA nutter, but that may or may not be a negative among Nevada voters.

So that’s that. With less than a month to go, there are basically only four seats still in serious competition, and Republicans are surging in all of them. Democrats have their work cut out for them over the next four weeks.

Both because I spent much of the day writing a longish piece that will hopefully be published elsewhere and because I have little insight into the races in question, I didn’t bother to write about it. And it may well be that Walker’s latest scandals have shifted that race.

Regardless, what’s interesting to me is the contrast between the schoolboy civics version of American politics and today’s reality. In the former, the United States Senate is the “saucer” to the House of Representatives’ “cup.” Because it is elected to six-year terms rather than two, and only a third of it stands for election at a time rather than all, it is more detached from the passions of a fickle electorate.*

In reality, while 35 Senators are up for re-election,** 31 of them—a whopping 88.6%—are not competitive races. To be sure, that’s partially a function of voters in many of those states being happy with their current Senator’s job performance and voting record. Mostly, though, it’s because the winner of the party primary in most states is all but guaranteed to win the general election absent truly extraordinary circumstances.

In this case, all four states would likely feature competitive races regardless of the candidates. Georgia and Pennsylvania Republicans have hurt their chances, although likely only by a little, by nominating extraordinarily unqualified, sleazy men. (I haven’t paid any attention at all to the Nevada or Wisconsin contests.) Regardless, were they running in California or Massachusetts, they would get absolutely trounced. Were they running in Alabama or Mississippi, they would win in landslides.

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*Even more so, since the Senate at the time of the probably apocryphal conversation between Washington and Jefferson was appointed by the state legislatures rather than elected directly by the people.

**Which is one more than usual because Warnock was elected to fill out the remainder of Johnny Isakson’s term when he resigned citing health reasons and is now running for a full term two years later.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2022, Democracy, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. I get less worked up over non-competitive Senate seats than House seats simply because the districts (the states) are what they are, but the reality is that this is yet another way of underscoring the poor quality of US democracy. Competition for office is supposed to be a way to keep officeholders honest and focused on the people they represent. If Senators don’t have to care, where is democratic accountability?

    But, of course, the main problem is that the Senate is way too small and utterly unrepresentative, so the lack of competition is kind of down the list of problems.

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  2. James Joyner says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: Oh, absolutely. I’m just taking the Senate on its own terms as a body that ostensibly represents the states as independent actors.

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  3. Not the IT Dept. says:

    Well, actually the main problem is disconnected voters. In a world where people risk their lives to vote or participate in politics, we’re an international embarrassment with low voter turnout and infantile candidate messaging. What America needs before structural political change is voters who care enough to pay attention and not settle for voting for the guy they want to have a beer with. All the voting system changes being proposed won’t work if we don’t have that to begin with. And personally I think it’s too late to avoid a disaster in the next ten years.

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  4. James Joyner says:

    @Not the IT Dept.:

    we’re an international embarrassment with low voter turnout and infantile candidate messaging. What America needs before structural political change is voters who care enough to pay attention and not settle for voting for the guy they want to have a beer with. All the voting system changes being proposed won’t work if we don’t have that to begin with.

    Most voters everywhere are poorly informed and drawn to candidates they find charismatic and relatable. That’s just human nature.

    Our low turnout is largely a function of the structure. What’s the point of voting if the 31 races out of 35 whose outcome is preordained?

    For that matter, there’s not a lot of incentive to pay close attention to politics even in relatively competitive states/districts when the choices are between two parties that are likely not super representative of your interests and concerns.

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  5. MarkedMan says:

    Most voters everywhere are poorly informed and drawn to candidates they find charismatic and relatable. That’s just human nature.

    This. A hundred times this. And I just don’t see that having more choices is going to change it. The issue we have is the quality and motivations of our elected officials which lead to poor governance. And by poor governance I mean lack of attention to serious issues that need strong legislative and executive action. And I also mean that when legislation is passed, it is poorly crafted and full of loopholes that are easily exploited by those who were the targets of the legislation to begin with. The challenge is crafting electoral and government systems that improve actual outcomes.

    If there are certain electoral systems or government structures that result in better governance then, yes, let’s get behind them and pursue them. But I haven’t seen any evidence that merely having more choices on the ballot leads to better governance. In some cases at least, in other countries, the opposite occurs, where single issue parties use the need for coalition building to impose highly unpopular, inefficient or even dangerous beliefs on the entire country.

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  6. @MarkedMan:

    And I just don’t see that having more choices is going to change it.

    Which is better?

    System 1: Voters can choose between a center-left party and a white nationalist party

    System 2: Voters can choose between a center-left party, a center-right party and a white nationalist party.

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  7. @MarkedMan:

    And I just don’t see that having more choices is going to change it.

    How about a circumstance in which voters wouldn’t be forced to rationalize support for candidates like Trump, Walker, Mastriano, Green, Boebert, etc?

    I am not saying all of those folks would lose in a multiparty race, but if voters had different options, their behaviors would be different.

  8. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @MarkedMan: True enough, but that means that the problem is that “WE THE PEOPLE.” You want better outcomes? Figure out a way to get better voters. Maybe poll taxes? Citizenship tests? Voter registrations schemes? Laws fining people for not voting in primary elections (because that seems to be where the problem starts)? Pick your poison.

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  9. Kingdaddy says:

    This is shocking. Thanks for posting.

    Surely there must be some connection between the non-competitiveness of Senate races and the poor quality of Senatorial leadership. For example, I was talking to someone earlier this week about who might replace Schumer some day. I’m no fan of Schumer, and I don’t know if there are any lions of the Senate who might do a better job. Plus, he’s likely to stay as leader for a good long time, since Grassley and Feinstein have shown that you’re never too old to be a senator. Sigh.

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  10. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @James Joyner: Most voters everywhere are poorly informed and drawn to candidates they find charismatic and relatable.

    Never mind the candidates, some/more than a few/a lot don’t even know the basics of our political structures. I was visiting my very sweet ex neighbor who votes every election and she commented that Josh Hawley represented western Missouri. I had to pick my jaw up off the floor before I could correct her.

  11. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @MarkedMan: And I also mean that when legislation is passed, it is poorly crafted and full of loopholes that are easily exploited by those who were the targets of the legislation to begin with.

    Far too often, that is by design. “See? We did something about the problem.” Yeah, the problem of getting the populace to vote for you, while keeping the money boys happy to continue funding their campaigns.

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  12. MarkedMan says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: Does the extra choices lead to better governance? In other words, what do you mean by “better”? If it is simply “more choices” then the question answers itself.

    But more choices didn’t seem to better governance in Italy’s recent election, or prevent the election of a white nationalist.

  13. Michael Cain says:

    @Kingdaddy:

    …and I don’t know if there are any lions of the Senate who might do a better job.

    It’s not clear that you want a “lion of the Senate” in the majority leader slot right now anyway. Lions tend to have big egos and roar a lot, and are well suited to having a substantial majority. Schumer has impressed me as a sly old fox who has managed, despite having only the narrowest of majorities, to pass a Covid bill, an infrastructure bill, a climate bill, and a boatload of judicial nominations.

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  14. Moosebreath says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    “You want better outcomes? Figure out a way to get better voters.”

    Yep. And agreed that the solutions you listed are largely worse than the disease. I think restoring mandatory Civics classes in high school would help, though not for decades.

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  15. Mimai says:

    @Moosebreath:

    I realize you focused on high schools. I wanted to chime in to note that several university systems* have mandated civics education for undergraduate degree-seeking students.

    Reception — to the idea and its implementation — has been mixed.**

    *These include the Florida system, Missouri system, and Purdue University.
    **See above for a likely explanation.

  16. gVOR08 says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    Far too often, that is by design. “See? We did something about the problem.” Yeah, the problem of getting the populace to vote for you, while keeping the money boys happy to continue funding their campaigns.

    Yes, the loopholes are there by design, put there by the money boys’ lobbyists who wrote the legislation and will later exploit them.

  17. Stormy Dragon says:

    Georgia and Pennsylvania Republicans have hurt their chances, although likely only by a little, by nominating extraordinarily unqualified, sleazy men. (I haven’t paid any attention at all to the Nevada or Wisconsin contests.)

    Ron Johnson is also an unqualified, sleazy man

  18. Stormy Dragon says:

    @James Joyner:

    Most voters everywhere are poorly informed and drawn to candidates they find charismatic and relatable. That’s just human nature.

    Polling has repeatedly showed that what the voters want by and large is 1) quite reasonable and 2) nothing like what they’re actually getting. Blaming the voters for the results of a conspiracy to deliberately thwart their wishes at every turn is borderline DARVO BS

  19. Michael Reynolds says:

    Boris Johnson and Liz Truss are what more choices produced in the UK. Baby Mussolini is the result of more choices in Italy. OTOH, multiple choice works for Netherlands while no choice at all seems to work for Singapore.

    Yes, the system is fucked, but it would be manageable, as rickety as it is, if voters were not lazy, ignorant, and frequently malicious, assholes.

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  20. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Stormy Dragon:
    All systems are inadequate if voters are not capable of reason. All power, including the power to alter the system, is in the hands of voters.

  21. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    -d I don’t know if there are any lions of the Senate who might do a better job.

    And to the extent that I can recall, Schumer was more “the guy who happened to be at the head of the line”* than a “lion of the Senate.” YMMV

    *I stole this from Peter Frampton who used it as a negative reply to someone calling him “a rock legend.” (In an interview plumping Peter Frampton Comes Alive, his breakout solo album.)

  22. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Moosebreath: I don’t know where you live, but civics is mandatory in my state still and has been for the 4o or so years that the Republic has been in decline. There’s a notion out in the big world that one of the problems of “mandatory” classes is that learning is still mostly voluntary and volitional after about grade 4 or 5 (some note that it may be lower 🙁 ). And what penalty do you wish to have for students underperforming in Civics? Are you going to refuse to grant the diploma attendance certificate? (Not to mention that a “D” meets the requirement for getting a diploma–it seems that you can graduate from school without passing all your classes.) Deny them the vote? Refuse to send them to the next war?

  23. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Moosebreath: So, you want to indoctrinate our children, eh? Groom them eh? Commie.

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  24. Moosebreath says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    “I don’t know where you live”

    Philly suburbs, on the PA side.

    “And what penalty do you wish to have for students underperforming in Civics? Are you going to refuse to grant the diploma?”

    Yes. Our school district has started doing that, making US Government a required course for graduation over and above the state mandated requirements (in addition to doing the same with Career and Financial Management, though that is not exactly relevant to this discussion). I think it is a good idea.

  25. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Moosebreath: Allrightie then. If I’m still around in a decade, I’ll check back to see how happy you are. Glad to see your district is coming to where we’ve always been here.