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Politico to Dems: You're gonna lose the House ... and Senate too?

AP Photo/Alex Brandon

After last week’s elections, the build-up of a red wave out in the 2022 midterm ocean hardly remains a secret. That might be more true of New Jersey than Virginia, despite Politico’s reliance on the latter as a bellwether of doom for Democrats. Virginia’s loss can be chalked up to having a terrible candidate in Terry McAuliffe, after all. The Biden administration’s idiotic decision to treat concerned parents as “domestic terrorists” certainly didn’t help either, especially when based on an incident in Loudoun County that turned out to be very different than first reported.

But will the red wave crash into the Senate? Politico warns Democrats that it’s a real possibility, but first let’s first take a look at the dynamics in the House races:

Last week alone, the GOP saw the stirrings of a full-fledged suburban revival from Virginia to New Jersey to New York — and also possibly ended the careers of as many five Democratic incumbents with punishing new congressional maps in three other states.

Republicans were plotting to cement their advantage beneath the surface, too: A top GOP polling firm heard from more potential congressional recruits interested in running for Democratic-held seats last week than it had during the first 10 months of the year. Some 30 moderate Republican incumbents gathered on Capitol Hill to discuss how to replicate Virginia Gov.-elect Glenn Youngkin’s playbook in swing districts across the country. And the largest House Republican super PAC sent a memo to donors vowing to compete in every district redder than Virginia, where President Joe Biden won by 10 points.

“We’ve been seeing it in our polling, but Tuesday’s election was tangible confirmation that the political environment is, in fact, as good as we think it is,” said Dan Conston, the president of the Congressional Leadership Fund, who wrote the memo. “The map has expanded and will continue to expand deep into Democrat territory. We are looking closely at many seats Biden won by more than 7.”

Just three years after they lost the House in an anti-Trump revolt — and with just one year to go until the midterms — Republicans are well poised to reclaim the gavel, barring a drastic shift in the political trade winds, which even the most optimistic Democrats aren’t expecting.

The stepped-up recruitment of challengers will almost certainly speed up the retirement process for House Democrats with no interest in returning to the minority. Thus far, the retirements have been relatively evenly split between the two parties, but we should expect a spate of them from Pelosi’s caucus over the next couple of months. Current incumbents will need to make those decisions soon so that their party can recruit new candidates, although that will be difficult in the current environment. One has to wonder how many people will really want to step up in a cycle where Joe Biden’s getting 38% approval ratings in a USA Today/Suffolk series.

Even if some were inclined to stick around, the emergence of solid challengers and the prospect of an all-consuming campaign fight to save their seats will be demoralizing, if not entirely disincentivizing. That will produce a vicious cycle if retirements start piling up. The more of their colleagues head for the exits, the clearer it will be that House Democrats will end up in a futile position, which might convince even more to leave. The more that happens, the better recruitment the GOP will get, too.  We should have a good sense of the exodus by the end of February, when Democrats will have to start getting primary ballots set.

But what about the Senate? Unlike in the House, Democrats have a significant advantage in upper-chamber elections next year, with Republicans defending six more seats — and already dealing with five retirements to boot. Even with Biden sucking wind in approval ratings, the GOP appears to have an uphill battle in retaking the Senate majority. However, Politico warns that the map has turned unfavorable to Democrats in the wake of last week’s elections — and that their only hope might be Republican recruitment, ironically.

Well, that and all the “seizing,” natch:

Double-digit swings toward the GOP in races in Virginia and New Jersey last week suggest the seats Democrats narrowly won in recent special elections in Georgia and Arizona will prove difficult to defend, and the Senate playing field could be expanded by the addition of one or more top-tier GOP challengers.

While the 2022 map overall tilts slightly in their favor — sparing the party from defending Senate seats in any states Donald Trump won last year, and giving Democrats multiple pickup opportunities thanks to retiring Republicans — historic midterm trends are working against the party. So is President Joe Biden’s tanking approval rating. …

Now, there appears to be an opportunity for the GOP to seize on discontentment with Biden in states he won that Republicans, prior to last week, weren’t banking on. …

Yet Republicans have significant exposure of their own — most notably a cast of frontrunning candidates with flaws big enough to blow up their campaigns.

Their only real examples of this problem are scandal-ridden former governor Eric Greitens in Missouri and Herschel Walker in Georgia, whose mental health might be an issue in a campaign. Neither has won the nomination, of course, and could end up on the outside after the primaries. The bigger problem for Republicans in 2022 will be the retirements, especially in Pennsylvania and North Carolina, two states that have grown tougher for Republicans over the past couple of decades. Arizona and Georgia will be tough for Democrats no matter who Republicans manage to nominate thanks to Biden’s tanking ratings and clear incompetence.

Stasis seems just as likely an outcome as a clear majority for either party in the Senate. Of course, even Senate stasis helps the GOP if they take over the House, especially with Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema providing an occasional brake on radical nominees from Biden. But if progressives convince Biden that the best way to recover his standing and that of Democrats is to push the party even further to the Left, then bad GOP recruitment won’t be enough to save the Senate. In that case, expect the red wave to roll through 2024 and beyond, and not just at the federal level, either.