Control of the U.S. Congress is the grand prize in the upcoming midterm elections on Nov. 8. There seems to be little doubt that Republicans will take the U.S. House. The Senate is much more competitive, with Nate Silver at Politico recently calling control for the body a coin flip. Yet, it’s increasingly likely Republicans will control the Senate, assuming you buy the momentum and betting markets. Additionally, a bevy of state races are up for grabs as Republicans have a chance to increase the number of governor offices under their control and legislative bodies across the nation.
Even when the polling seemed less favorable for Republicans, I’ve continually felt we will see a “red wave”-type election. All the markers are there: A recession, rising crime, inflation, and a White House that is struggling to offer up a coherent and unifying message to voters. Whatever you think of President Biden and his policies, it’s clear he’s abandoned his promise to unite the country. It’s unlikely that abortion rhetoric, painting opponents as “MAGA extremists” or so-called “threats to democracy,” will end up convincing many independent voters in the current political climate. If economic conditions were solid, it might be an easier sell.
Of course, the depth of the wave depends on many individual matchups, and I’m highlighting three races that I believe will reveal the difference between merely a good-to-okay night or a great night for the GOP.
Below are three critical statewide races to watch outside of North Carolina.
Kathy Hochul vs. Lee Zeldin
A Republican hasn’t won a statewide race in New York in 20 years. Despite registered Democrats outnumbering Republicans 2-1 in the Empire State, Congressman Lee Zeldin has a real chance to knock off incumbent Gov. Kathy Hochul. On Tuesday, the candidates debated for the only time, and Zeldin remains laser-focused on rising crime.
On the opinion side, Carolina Journal is covering the rise in crime extensively. Obviously, the situation is dire in New York City. The murders and attacks in the subway system receive special attention, but lawlessness has surged throughout the city. Gov. Hochul’s successful push for very lenient criminal justice reform laws combined with activist district attorneys created a massive opening for Zeldin in the deep blue state. Hochul didn’t help herself in the debate when she accused Zeldin of basically being obsessed with punishing criminals. Zeldin’s promise to call a special legislative session to deal with crime seems to be gaining traction.
City Journal offers a more extensive commentary and backstory on the race that is worth the read.
Still, Zeldin faces a daunting task. Democrats reign over the state and the demographic challenges for Zeldin might finish him off in the end. If New York elects a Republican governor, though, it’s hard to imagine Democrats doing very well in the more competitive regions of the country.
Mark Kelly vs. Blake Masters
Of course, there are a bunch of U.S. Senate races to watch closely on Tuesday. With mail-in ballots, the voters’ final decisions in Arizona are not readily apparent. Overall, Arizona has trended bluer lately with an influx of people fleeing California.
Sen. Mark Kelly, a former astronaut and husband of former Arizona Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, is the incumbent Democrat. Just a few months ago, Kelly was in a good position for reelection. But the surge of Republican Kari Lake in the governor’s race is undoubtedly benefiting Blake Masters.
Working against Masters is that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has spent little of his war chest to help him. Masters has the backing of Donald Trump and billionaire Peter Thiel though.
If Masters can ride Lake’s surging popularity to victory, it’s difficult to believe Chuck Schumer will still be controlling the U.S. Senate next year.
Keith Ellison vs. Jim Schultz
Keith Ellison is the current attorney general of Minnesota. He’s well known for his left-wing political positions and aggressive prosecution of police officer Derek Chauvin in the George Floyd case. The incident propelled the Black Lives Matter movement and many of the urban riots that raged in American cities.
Jim Schultz is challenging Ellison in this traditionally blue state for the AG job. Republicans have fielded decent candidates statewide in recent years but have had a rough time breaking through in Minnesota. Like most Republicans, Schultz is hitting the rising crime issue hard. Schultz also benefits from the governor’s race between incumbent Democrat Tim Walz and Dr. Scott Jensen being tight. The polls in both races remain essentially tied. If Republicans sweep both races, it’s a clear signal that the red wave turned disastrous for Democrats.
For all intents and purposes, Joe Biden’s presidency is likely over after Nov. 8. A more skilled politician like Bill Clinton or Barack Obama showed how to survive disastrous midterms. It’s not so much that Biden exudes weakness but his aloofness to the worsening economic conditions is proving to be politically lethal. And of course, his age and mental agility remains a serious question mark for most Americans.
Ray Nothstine is Carolina Journal opinion editor and Second Amendment research fellow at the John Locke Foundation.