(WASHINGTON) — The 2022 midterm cycle is not even done yet, with Georgia’s runoff next month leaving the U.S. Senate’s margin in question, and speculation over the 2024 presidential race is swallowing up media coverage. But already, Democrats and Republicans are positioning themselves for congressional runs in key races two years from now.
Democrats face a daunting Senate map in 2024, though a surprisingly strong midterm cycle that saw them lose the House by a smaller-than-expected margin has them optimistic about flipping it back.
Much of how the 2024 cycle plays out will be affected by the presidential race, including whether former President Donald Trump is the GOP nominee for a third time in a row and if President Joe Biden makes good on his intention to run for reelection. Still, early vulnerabilities for both parties in down-ballot races are beginning to come into sharper relief, with candidates starting to throw their hats into the rings.
Here’s how the early battles for congressional seats are shaping up.
For 2024, Democrats will find themselves largely on defense in the fight for the Senate, which they’ll control with either 50 or 51 seats depending on Georgia’s results.
Their only two possible offensive opportunities are seats in Florida and Texas — two Democratic long-sought “white whales” that had strong showings for the GOP this month. Meanwhile, they’re defending seats in three red states, Montana, Ohio and West Virginia, and several purple states, including Arizona, Minnesota, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — a stark imbalance that has even Democrats conceding how rough the map is.
“The plain math is difficult, puts Democrats almost purely on defense. I do think that even though there’s nothing easy about Democrats breaking through in either Texas or Florida, I do think Democrats are going to have to find a way to put one or both of those seats on the map, frankly,” said Democratic pollster Zac McCrary.
Already, Rep. Alex Mooney, R-W.Va., has said he’ll run for the Senate seat held by Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., who has not said if he intends to run for reelection. Sen. Jon Tester, a Montana Democrat, has also said he would make a decision next year on whether he will run again.
Rounding out the three toughest holds, Ohio Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown has announced that he will run again. He could face a sprawling field of Republicans looking to take him on.
Democrats are eagerly awaiting announcements from Manchin and Tester, saying that their candidacies would make the difference between having a fighting chance of holding their seats and facing significant headwinds to hold serve in states Trump handily carried twice.
“There’s no bigger recruits for [Senate Majority Leader Chuck] Schumer, D-N.Y., for the [Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee] than to get Manchin and Tester to sign the dotted line,” McCrary said. “That’s an imperative … to keep those seats on the map.”
With Brown’s confirmation of another run, both parties are gearing up for a bare-knuckle brawl in Ohio.
Brown has proven to be a unique Democrat who can withstand the state’s jolt to the right, winning reelection in 2018 by nearly 7 points two years after Trump won it by 8 points.
Brown’s camp is projecting confidence, noting Brown’s continued electoral success in a tough state and broad name recognition after decades in public office, with adviser Justin Barasky telling ABC News Brown “is well positioned to win re-election in 2024 and continue waking up every day and doing everything he can to make life better for Ohio families.”
However, Republicans are feeling their oats there after the midterms, when GOP Gov. Mike DeWine won reelection by 25 points and J.D. Vance defeated Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan in the Senate race by over 5 points even after Ryan ran a widely lauded campaign.
Already, Republicans are starting to test the waters, with state Sen. Matt Dolan, who lost the Senate primary this year, eyeing another bid. Other names being tossed around include former Senate candidate Bernie Moreno and Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose.
Brown is anticipated to put up a stiff fight, though experts project one of the toughest elections of his political career, particularly after winning in 2018 against a candidate not considered particularly strong.
“You never want to write Sherrod Brown off because he will outwork anybody, and he has been relentless in defining himself … around the concerns of working families, and that has proven to be one way, and really the only way, a Democrat can win Ohio,” said David Niven, a political scientist at the University of Cincinnati.
Still, “he’s obviously not going to get another freebie like that,” Niven said of Brown’s 2018 race.
Democrats are hopeful that they can be competitive in several of the more purple states given that candidates were able to win statewide races there this year despite being bogged down by Biden’s low approval ratings.
Meanwhile, Republicans are bullish, boasting that the Senate majority could easily be within reach given that Democrats will control a maximum of 51 seats heading into 2024.
“You got three Democrats running in states where Trump won in 2016 and 2020. Those ought to be three states where we can run a very strong candidate, have a great chance of a takeaway. And just the overall numbers, you got 21 Democrats in seats and only 10 Republicans,” said GOP strategist Bob Heckman. “The 2024 map is definitely a good map for Republicans.”
Democrats are much better situated in the House, where their surprisingly strong showing this month could see Republicans hold just a single-digit majority.
Already, candidates have started making moves. West Virginia State Treasurer Riley Moore, a Republican, is running for Mooney’s House seat, outgoing GOP Rep. Yvette Herrell already filed paperwork to run for the New Mexico House seat she narrowly lost this year, and North Carolina Republican Bo Hines also filed paperwork to run for the swing seat he just missed out on.
Of the races that have been called thus far, over a dozen Republicans will represent districts that Biden won in 2020. And House Majority PAC, House Democrats’ top campaign super PAC, released a memo Tuesday outlining 19 seats it intends to target in two years.
“The path to retaking the Majority is clear as day. HMP will be prepared to take back the House in 2024, and Republicans should start planning to hand back the gavel,” the group wrote.
Many of Democrats top targets, though, are expected to be in New York, where there will be six Republicans holding seats Biden won in 2020.
New York Democrats are facing an internal reckoning over what led to the party’s underwhelming performance in House races, with debates raging over a bungled redistricting process, inadequate responses to GOP attacks on crime and more. But with the party expecting a boost in turnout in a presidential year, Democrats are boasting that they’ll prove that the incoming Republican lawmakers are merely renting the seats.
“I think there are five seats that conceivably could come back. Definitely three, and possibly five,” Westchester County Democratic Party Chairwoman Suzanne Berger said. If Democrats are able to flip five seats in 2024, that alone could make up the possible House margin.
Meanwhile, Republicans’ top targets will likely echo several of their main foils from this cycle, including Reps. Matt Cartwright in Pennsylvania, Jared Golden in Maine, Marcy Kaptur in Ohio, Abigail Spanberger in Virginia and more.
Yet much of the low hanging fruit in the House for Republicans was picked this year and in 2022, leaving few Democrats representing districts Trump won in 2020.
Many swing-seat Democratic incumbents are now battle tested, with some of them fending off their first challenges as incumbents this month, while the new GOP members will be waging their first reelection bid, though Republicans are still cautiously optimistic they’ll be able to net some gains in the House in 2024.
“Hopefully the [Republican National Committee] and the congressional committee will both work closely with these candidates to raise enough money and to make sure that they’re ready for what’s going to be coming at them because the Democrats are never short on money in these kinds of seats,” Heckman said. “So, I’m concerned, but I think we can get the job done.”
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