The surprising results of the 2022 congressional elections, which left Republicans in control of the House of Representatives by a much smaller margin than was expected throughout the campaign, create some anxiety and anticipation on both sides of the aisle. The limited number of truly competitive seats encourages speculation about which party will be in charge of the House in January 2025.
Among the political soothsayers who spend considerable time analyzing every single House seat, here are some observations:
In New York in 2022 Democrats lost five seats that were winnable:
- The Cook Political Report states there are 22 House seats that they consider to be “toss-ups” in 2024.
- Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball notes their “overall ratings show 212 seats rated Safe, Likely, or Leans Republican, 201 rated Safe, Likely, or Leans Democratic, and 22 Toss-ups.”
- The 3rd District, won by George Santos by 20,420 votes
- The 4th District, where Republican Anthony D’Esposito’s margin of victory was 9,751 votes
- The 17th District, where Michael Lawler was victorious by just 1,820 votes
- The 19th District, which elected former Republican gubernatorial candidate Marc Molinaro by 4,495 votes
- The 22nd District, won by Brandon Williams by 2,631 votes
Republican turnout statewide, according to an analysis by state Democrats, was about 63 percent of their registration numbers while Democratic turnout was just 48 percent. While 28 percent of registered voters in the state are not affiliated with either party, independent voters who lean toward one party or the other often follow the pattern of how the Dems and Reps turn out.
The state Democratic Party and its Chairman, Jay Jacobs, has been criticized for the poor performance. There are nearly 3.2 million more registered Democrats than Republicans in the state. The victory margin was relatively small not only for Governor Kathy Hochul , but also for Senator Chuck Schumer, Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, and Attorney General Letitia James, who all ran much better in their previous elections.
Efforts on the part of some party progressives to see a change in the leadership of the party haven’t really caught on. Jacobs has recently been touting additional staffing and better organizational tools throughout the state to get ready for 2024. House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries is getting involved directly in the 2024 congressional campaign efforts.
The New York Times last week ran a story about a political operative that most of us have probably never heard of, who Hochul relied on last year to plot out her campaign. The consultant’s name is Adam Sullivan. Though he has had some experience in New York campaigns, including the Governor’s 2011 congressional victory, Sullivan is based in Colorado.
The Time story was headlined “He Calls the Shots for New York’s Governor. He lives in Colorado.” Here is a glimpse of Sullivan’s influence as reported in the story:
“With the Democratic nomination all but assured last spring, Gov. Kathy Hochul of New York and her campaign team began to plot a pre-emptive television ad to protect against Republican attacks already bubbling up around rising crime.
“Ad makers cut a 30-second spot, highlighting Ms. Hochul’s plan to secure city streets and subway trains. She told her campaign manager she was eager to see it on air, and she previewed it for donors at a private Park Avenue screening.
“But the ad never ran. After rounds of debate, one voice rose above the others. “Let’s focus on abortion,” Adam C. Sullivan wrote in a note to senior strategists reviewed by The New York Times. Crime could wait.”
Had that campaign matter been decided differently, shifting the focus of Hochul’s campaign much earlier than what turned out happening, the statewide and congressional results would have likely been better. Legendary Buffalo Bills broadcaster Van Miller talked about “shoulda, coulda, wouldas,” but Sullivan’s advice certainly hurt the campaign. On Sunday Hochul severed her ties with Sullivan.
The Republicans have control of the House by just four votes. So yes, the Democrats’ campaign to win back the House next year could get a great boost if they can reverse those slim Republican victory margins in the five New York seats. A national Democratic PAC is planning to raise and spend $45 million on that effort. Congresswoman Elise Stefanik (Trump, 21st District) is going to raise millions to hold those seats for Kevin McCarthy.
But wait, there is more.
As previously noted, there are only about 22 House seats that remain competitive next year. There are 15 Republican-held seats throughout the country, including five in New York, that were won by Joe Biden in 2020. While the New York seats are critically important to winning back the House, so are districts in Arizona (2 seats), California (4 seats), Nebraska (1), New Jersey (1), Oregon (1), and Virginia (1) that are equally critical. There are five other districts won by Donald Trump in 2020 where the incumbent Republican House member was elected in 2022 by a margin of less than five percent.
On the other hand Republicans won’t be sitting idly by. They will be getting assists in places like North Carolina, where the state’s top court recently flipped to Republican control, setting up an opportunity for the Reps to gerrymander their way to up to four more Rep seats in the state’s congressional delegation. The same may happen in Ohio.
The 2024 presidential campaign will have a major influence on how the next House majority develops and we cannot even imagine how many twists and turns there will be before November 2024.
Normally I might suggest that politicos should just buy more popcorn and enjoy the show, but the upcoming show has much more at stake. The fight to maintain our democracy is not for the faint of heart.