Preliminary 2024 Senate Outlook, Part I: Democratic-leaning Seats
Benefitting from a historically friendly map, Republicans are set to gain seats. Will they be able to create a durable majority?
The situation for the Republican Party as it heads into the 2024 elections is tenuous, to say the least. Following their historically poor showing in 2022, they face the prospect of an extended, messy, and expensive primary that will lead into a general election where there are strong indications that they will lack their famed electoral college advantage of 2016 and 2020. The House map is even worse. While mid-decade redistricting decisions may provide them with a bit of a boost, they still face tall odds in their quest to once again win in the Biden districts that have given them their flimsy majority in the face of Presidential-year polarization and turnout. Even state-level races may elude them, as poor candidate recruitment could cost the party their chance to win back the North Carolina governorship following the term-limiting of Roy Cooper.
While President Biden is not popular by any means, Republicans have simply been unable to harness the ill feelings towards him to their own benefit, while also being weighed down by deeply unpopular positions of their own. This is a fact that has only confirmed itself in subsequent elections since the Dobbs decision, most recently and memorably by the crushing victory of liberal Judge Janet Protasiewicz against fascist former Justice Daniel Kelly in the Wisconsin Supreme Court Election this week. There are no indications or reasons to think this should stop. Across the board, the GOP in its current state does not stand as a party well-positioned to make gains next cycle, much less win a governing majority.
The one exception, however, is the Senate.
To say that the 2024 Senate map is favorable to the Republican Party would be a dramatic understatement. Following the cycle’s three prior elections in the strongly Democratic years of 2006, 2012, and 2018, the map is simply full to bursting with Democrats, some of them in ludicrously red states. Three states with Democratic incumbents—Ohio, Montana, and West Virginia—are highly favored to go Republican in the 2024 Presidential election, even if the party is losing solidly nationally.
Just to win any of these seats, the sitting Democratic senator is going to have to overperform their party’s nominee to a degree that might be borderline undoable in a polarized, Presidential electorate. It is not impossible, and if anybody can do it, it would be the incumbent Senators in these states. But since 2016, the number of Senators to pull off such an overperformance compared to the top of the ticket consist exclusively of Jason Kander of Missouri in 2016 and Susan Collins in Maine in 2020. And of these two, only Collins managed to actually win.
Remember: there are three seats in this category. And to win the majority—assuming they lose the Presidential election—Republicans only need to flip two seats.
This is the level of difficulty that Senate Democrats are facing. They could have a candidate pull off an overperformance with an extremely rare level of potency and they would still lose the majority. Because the bare minimum for winning is doing that—twice.
In most cases, such a poor position on defense could be supplemented by going on offense. But Democrats do not have an opportunity for that, either. They have simply won so many of the seats in next year’s map that practically all the Republicans remaining are in the country’s most deep red states. The one exception there could maybe be Texas given the unpopularity of the state’s Republican incumbent, Ted Cruz, but even that is a longshot that would require a decisive victory at the national level to even be possible.
Of course, things could change. If the Republicans run bad candidates and/or political environment shifts in such a way that a decisive Democratic victory appears likely, it might very well be worth looking at the Senate as a chamber where control is truly up in the air. But as things stand right now, Republicans have the decisive edge. The principal question is not if they will take control over the chamber, but how large their majority will be.
And the answer to that: surprisingly small. While the bevy of right-leaning seats across the map led some to forecast that Republicans stood to win a filibuster-proof majority by 2025, their odds of achieving that—or even coming close to it—have dwindled into nothingness following shifts in the electorate post-Dobbs and a very strong Democratic performance in the 2022 Senate contests. Even if the path to getting to 52 seats is easy, the chances for Republicans to make any gains at all afterwards are much narrower.
This is not an inconsequential thing. The Senate, after all, was supposed to be the place where an anti-majoritarian GOP could perpetually exercise power. But doing so perpetually requires winning the chamber perpetually. And if the party comes out of 2024 with a majority of only 51, or even 52, seats, it leaves them deeply vulnerable to losing the Senate again in 2026 or 2028, where the maps are far friendlier to Democrats.
That is the task facing the GOP next year. Winning the battle is easy. Actually winning the war may prove to be much, much harder.
Ettingermentum Prediction Map: 4/5/2023. No tossups.
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