Reading the tea leaves for 2022

The conventional wisdom is that the incumbent president’s party gets clobbered in the midterm elections in both the House and the Senate. Given that our current majority stands at four in the House and zero in the Senate, this is not a minor worry. But conventional wisdom would also lead us to believe that the Grand Old Party of Abraham Lincoln would support democracy over autocracy; and yet, here we are. So let’s look at the most recent data points to see if we can ferret out any reasonable guesses this early in the cycle.

Just this week, the Democratic candidate and State Representative, Melanie Stansbury, handily beat 7-term Republican State Senator, Mark Moores, by a whopping 24-point margin in a race for the U.S. Congressional seat in Albuquerque, NM, vacated by Deb Haaland who is now Secretary of the Interior in the Biden Administration. The inimitable Steve Kornacki breaks down the results and the implications in this video.

Yes, it’s true that Stansbury got a lot of help from national Dems including both money and visits from high-profile officials, while Moores was pretty much left on his own by national Republican groups. Still, he was a good candidate who had way overperformed Donald Trump in his district which overlaps with Stansbury’s district. He pressed hard on two related messages that worked well for R’s in the 2020 down-ballot races: the socialists have taken over the Democratic Party and in these days of soaring crime rates, they will defund the police.

Moores’ message clearly did not resonate. Stansbury carried the election by a slightly bigger margin than Joe Biden carried the district in 2020. R’s didn’t expect to win, but they were hoping to whittle away at that margin. They didn’t, and that bodes well for 2022 if we can replicate the results in other special elections between now and then.

The next place to look for trends is New York City where the Democratic primary for mayor is heating up. Fivethirtyeight discussed the election in a recent podcast.

A very crowded field has narrowed to a too-close-to-call race among three candidates.

Andrew Yang was the early frontrunner based on big-time name recognition from his presidential run. Staffed by many former Bloomberg operatives, he is stressing his managerial ability and business cred.

Kathryn Garcia, a life-long public servant who has been Sanitation Commissioner for 14 years, and has won the endorsement of the NYTimes and the Daily News based on her nuts-and-bolts knowledge of how NYC government works.

Eric Adams is the current Borough President of Brooklyn and a former cop in a city facing major increases in murders and other violent crimes.

Garcia has taken the lead, probably due to the newspaper endorsements that mean a lot more in primaries than in general elections when voters are much more influenced by party affiliation. And needless to say, the winner of the Democratic Primary is assured of winning the general election in a city that is every bit as blue as Chicago. You can get more information from this Rolling Stone article.

What we’re watching are the names who did not make this list, especially the candidates who would appeal to the Democratic Socialist and AOC organizations. In fairness, their candidates had some major flaws that got exposed during the campaign; never underestimate the importance of running good candidates. Nevertheless, the key takeaway is that even in a liberal bastion like NYC, Dems flocked to Joe Biden last year (he won the primary with 71% of the vote statewide). In the first big test of the next cycle, Democratic voters are staying close to the center as well. I, for one, take that as very promising for 2022.

But there are two big caveats to keep in mind before we get too comfortable. One is that there is very little decent public polling going on. Big reliable pollsters like Sienna College are staying out of this because of the second caveat: this is the first time there will be forced-rank voting. If no one gets 50% in the first round, all the votes for the lowest-performing candidate are eliminated and those voters’ second-choice picks get counted instead. That’s pretty impossible to call, especially the first time around. So stay tuned!

Bottom line, if Democratic primary voters keep choosing centrist Dems, and if our Republican brothers and sisters keep choosing wing nuts, Dems will hold the suburbs and independents and 2022 will be brighter than expected.

Grandfather of 4, HR guy, Democratic activist, writer for Democrats and not-for-profits, lapsed banjo player, and relatively decent human being on most days.