It is not a stretch to say there have been plenty of unprecedented moments in American politics in recent history.
Consider the last three election cycles.
In 2016, a person was elected president, who, in a first, had never held either a military post or an elected office. That person defeated the first female nominee for president.
In 2018, more women ran for office than at any other time in American history.
In 2020, voters cast the highest numbers of ballots ever, and they were cast in new ways due to the pandemic. And never before had the transition of power between presidents come so close to being disrupted.
Now, with one month before the 2022 midterm elections, comes a warning: Hold on to your hats for what could be another extraordinary event.
It increasingly looks like the following scenario is possible in the midterms: The Senate will be tied at 50-50 for the second consecutive time, a first in history. And the way we will get to that evenly split Senate will be a runoff election in Georgia that will captivate the nation – if not the world – for an entire month. (A race that, by the way, will feature the state’s first Black senator, facing a Black challenger.)
But let’s back up to how we get there.
In the early summer, Republicans were giddy about the midterm elections. President Biden’s approval ratings were lower than all previous presidents, including Trump. Gas prices were the talk of the nation, along with inflation. That the House would flip to Republican control wasn’t even interesting enough to discuss. While the path for Republicans to flip the Senate was more complicated, it was still assumed. Even if there weren’t a big gain, analysts predicted, the GOP would have a two- or three-seat majority.
But then a number of things happened that turned around the fortunes of Democrats, particularly in the Senate. First, Republicans nominated candidates that were loved by the party base but made general election swing voters skeptical. Second, the US Supreme Court ruling overturning a half-century of abortion precedent energized Democrats and changed the conversation from being solely about the economy. Biden’s approval ratings started to tick back up.
So here is the situation a month out: Ten Senate races are in play, Each party holds five of them.
Analysts and polls suggest slight Democratic wins in New Hampshire, Arizona, and Colorado. Things are looking good for Republicans in Florida, Ohio, and lately in Wisconsin.
This leaves the following races: Pennsylvania, Nevada, Georgia, and North Carolina. These four will decide which party controls the Senate. At the moment, you can forget the others.
In recent days, momentum appears to be with Democrats in Pennsylvania. Meanwhile, Republicans have a slight lead in Nevada and an even slimmer advantage in North Carolina.
If it shakes out that way, it all comes down to Georgia, just as it did in the last election.
In Georgia, Democratic incumbent Raphael Warnock has had a consistent polling lead over Republican Herschel Walker. But the Georgia election comes with a twist: The winner in November must get at least 50 percent of the vote. Warnock is getting an average of 47.7 percent in polls, according to the website FiveThirtyEight on Friday.
The race was upended this week by allegations that Walker, an outspoken abortion opponent, paid for a woman to have one. The impact isn’t clear.
But if Warnock doesn’t get to 50 percent then there will be a runoff on Dec. 6.
In the 2020 election, everyone knew the Senate majority was potentially in play, but the Georgia runoffs vied for attention with Trump’s post-election shenanigans and the events leading up to the Jan. 6 insurrection. Warnock defeated Kelly Loeffler in the Jan. 5 runoff that year. (With fellow Democrat Jon Ossoff’s victory the same day in Georgia the Senate became balanced at 50-50.)
This year there won’t be any distractions. The race, with its momentous national implications, will likely be alone in the spotlight.