If Democrats thought that 2022 was a difficult environment, they only have to look at the Senate map in 2024 to see that it can get even tougher.
During this year’s midterm elections, Democrats outperformed across the board with few exceptions. The president’s party typically loses across the board. Instead, the party gained governorships, state legislative chambers, and trifectas. In fact, for the first time since 1934, the president’s party did not lose a single state legislative chamber.
If that was not enough of an accomplishment, Democrats will hold the Senate and possibly even gain a seat. That is pending the outcome of Georgia’s Senate runoff between incumbent Raphael Warnock and the Trump-backed, scandal-plagued challenger, Herschel Walker.
Meanwhile, the red wave proved to be nothing more than a ripple in the House of Representatives. Republicans were crowing that they might win as many as 50 or 60 seats. With only five races left uncalled, the Republicans currently stand at a bare majority of 218 seats. At best, they can hope for 223 seats, although that appears unlikely.
Democrats are well-positioned to regain control of the lower chamber in 2024 with numerous obvious targets in Biden-won swing districts in California and New York, in particular. The Senate is an entirely different story.
The Senate map in 2024 looks brutal for Democrats
The Senate is looking far more precarious for the party. Democrats have few genuine targets and about a dozen incumbents who are at least marginally vulnerable. It’s arguable that Democrats will need to win the Georgia runoff next month to have a fighting chance at keeping the Senate in two years.
Worse yet, all of the Democratic targets in 2024 are basically a stretch. First, we’ll go over the numerous opportunities for Republicans, and then we’ll look at the possible targets for Democrats.
Republicans start with a considerable advantage
Although we do not know yet whether the incumbents will run for re-election, Republicans can target Democratic incumbents in Trump-won states. The two most vulnerable incumbents are Jon Tester in Montana and Joe Manchin in West Virginia.
West Virginia is one of the Trumpiest states in the country, second to only Wyoming (sorry, Liz Cheney). Joe Biden failed to even clear 30 percent of the vote in the Mountain State. Joe Manchin is a popular former governor and won a close Senate race in 2018 against the state attorney general, Patrick Morrisey. Despite his record as a conservative Democrat, that might not be enough to save him in 2024.
Jon Tester has won close races many times before. The senator was first elected in 2006 as Democrats won both the House of Representatives and the Senate amid a backlash against former president George W. Bush over his handling of the disastrous Iraq War, a botched federal response to Hurricane Katrina, and corruption scandals within the Republican-controlled Congress.
The good news for Senator Tester is that Biden won over 40 percent of the vote in Montana in 2020, so he would only need to run roughly ten points ahead of the top of the ticket. Needless to say, that is a considerably better starting position than the Democrats face in West Virginia.
Beyond Montana and West Virginia, Sherrod Brown is defending a seat in Republican-trending Ohio. Like Tester, Brown rode into the upper chamber amid backlash to former president George W. Bush. While Tester is known for his folksy personality, Brown embraces a pro-union, blue-collar working-class agenda. Will it be enough to buck the Buckeye State’s rightward drift?
Democrats must also defend seats in numerous swing states that will likely determine the 2024 presidential election. They include seats in:
Given the fact that partisanship is resulting in fewer crossover voters, these states are likely to vote for the same party in both the presidential and Senate races. In 2020, Susan Collins was the only senator from either party that won despite their party’s presidential nominee losing statewide. This is a continuation from 2016 when every Senate race mirrored the presidential election.
Lastly, they will have to defend seats in Democratic-leaning states like Maine, Minnesota, New Mexico, and Virginia. If Republicans have a particularly good election in 2024, these states would be in play. It is at least conceivable that Republicans could manage a filibuster-proof majority.
Democrats have few legitimate targets
Democrats have only four Republican-held seats that are even remotely competitive: Florida, Indiana, Missouri, and Texas.
Indiana will have an open seat if incumbent Republican Mike Braun announces an expected run for governor, but the Democratic bench is thin. Former senator Joe Donnelly could potentially make it competitive against a weak opponent – as he did in 2012, winning against Richard Mourdock – but is he even willing to consider running another longshot campaign?
Meanwhile, as a member of Joe Biden’s cabinet, former South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg has his sights set on a much higher office: the Oval Office. Should Biden decline to run for re-election, Buttigieg is expected to make a second run for president.
Rick Scott wants to gut Social Security and Medicare and has always won his elections by a hair, but Florida has trended Republican. Ron DeSantis just won by almost 20 points against former Republican governor Charlie Crist. Democrats have a slightly stronger bench in Florida than Indiana, but it’s not stocked with charismatic potential candidates.
Ted Cruz barely won re-election in 2018 and is unpopular within both parties, but you cannot beat something with nothing. Beto O’Rourke just concluded a third consecutive losing campaign (counting his failed bid for president), but maybe one of the Castro brothers could make this competitive. Again, it’s a stretch.
Insurrectionist Josh Hawley is up for re-election in 2024. However, it’s not at all clear that that is even considered a negative in a state as red as Missouri. Former senator Claire McCaskill is a potential Democratic nominee for Senate here, which would be a rematch of 2018.
The one potential silver lining for Democrats: an unexpected retirement or death could give them a chance to win a special election that we do not currently know about. Otherwise, the map is grim.