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What's at stake in the 2022 midterm elections?

Tracking the paths to control of Congress
Tracking the paths to control of Congress 01:24

The 2022 midterm elections on Tuesday could be the most consequential in years, possibly defying political history and resetting modern political norms as control of the House and Senate will be decided.

Every seat in the House of Representatives is up for grabs, as are 35 U.S. Senate seats and 36 governorships. Several more down-ballot races for secretary of state, attorney general or control of state legislatures could have wide-ranging effects on the management of the 2024 presidential elections, as could hot-button issues like abortion rights, climate change and health care. 

In the final week before the election, Republicans were in good position to win a majority of seats in the House to take control, as shown by the CBS News Battleground Tracker. Eight in 10 likely voters describe things in the country as "out of control," and Republicans are winning those who say this by over 20 points. Currently, Democrats hold small majorities in the House and Senate. 

It takes 218 seats to win control of the House — here's what the Tracker estimates on House elections going into Election Day:

In the Senate, Republicans need a net gain of just one seat to flip control of the evenly divided chamber. CBS News classifies 10 of the 35 races as battleground contests. CBS News rates six of those races as toss-ups, three as leaning Republican and one leaning Democratic. 

Midterm elections to watch 03:22

Why did the margin tighten? The Supreme Court's decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization, which overturned Roe v. Wade propelled Democratic or left-leaning voters to the polls in primary elections this summer. And President Biden, whose popularity suffered as Americans saw gas and grocery prices rising earlier this year, enjoyed a slow, but notable rebound in his overall approval ratings. The FBI search of former President Donald Trump's Florida estate in August motivated Republican base voters, but polls show it's a concern for independents and Democratic voters, and could drag down some GOP candidates. Broader concerns about the future of American democracy — expressed by all ideological groups — are also sparking greater interest among voters. 

What are the key issues in the 2022 midterms? 

Recent CBS News polling shows these issues are deemed "very important" by most voters.

  • The economy and inflation: They remain the top issues of concern in CBS News polling. More than half of voters say they've seen gas prices — a key inflation indicator — declining in their area, but a plurality of voters, 43%, expect the U.S. economy to be in recession in the next year. While Mr. Biden has enjoyed recent policy wins with passage of a new climate, health and tax law and the CHIPs and Science Act, just 40% approve of his handling of the economy in our recent poll.  

  • Voting and elections issues: Among the hundreds of Republican candidates appearing on ballots nationwide, widespread belief among most Republicans that the 2020 presidential election was either stolen or mishandled, and fears among independents and Democratic voters that those Republicans could seize power, general concerns about voting and democracy have become a big issue of concern. The prospect of violence is also tied in part to a perception of widening divisions in the country: a whopping 80% of Americans believe the U.S. is more divided now than it was during their parents' generation. Just as many say tone and civility have gotten worse.  

  • Crime and gun policy: The shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, was the latest flashpoint in the decades-long fight over national gun control policy — but increased crime rates in several of the nation's largest cities, especially due to gun-related crime, is also a major cause of concern. Republicans continue to highlight concerns with crime, while Democrats — including the president — continue to campaign for stricter gun policy despite passage of bipartisan gun control and mental health legislation this summer, the most ambitious in more than 20 years. In response to growing voter concerns, Democrats are trying to portray themselves as tougher-on-crime than Republicans, noting support for increased federal funding for law enforcement and denunciation of those who attacked the U.S. Capitol on January 6th, 2021 — and the GOP officeholders who back them. 

  • Abortion rights: With the Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, Democratic campaigns and super PACs told CBS News they saw increased interest from concerned voters, including more online activity and fundraising and willingness to volunteer. Data also indicate the court's decision drove more voter registration for Democrats, especially among younger women.  

The results in several special elections and strong turnout in Kansas rejecting an abortion amendment also indicate the Dobbs decision is having an impact. In early August, Kansas voters blocked the amendment — 59% to 41% — that would have removed the constitutional right to an abortion and paved the way for the GOP-led Legislature to pass more restrictions. The strong turnout was closer to presidential levels than to a midterm primary, and  voters in some counties Trump won even moved to reject the amendment. Meanwhile, Democrats outperformed in every U.S. House special election since Roe was struck down. Most recently, Democrat Pat Ryan won in New York's 19th Congressional District, though he was  dramatically outspent. He put abortion rights front and center in his campaign messaging.  

Congressional Democratic candidates are responding by funneling millions of dollars into TV and digital advertising on abortion while Republicans in some states have tried to avoid the subject or portray their positions as more moderate. The issue of abortion rights is now clearly a motivating factor for Democrats and has jumped into the top tier of issues overall, ahead of climate change, and immigration. But it lags behind the economy, inflation, crime, and concerns about democracy – issues Republicans are much more focused on.  

Key House and Senate races

How many House seats are up for election?

All 435 House seats are on the ballot this November, since every seat is up for election every two years. A majority of the seats aren't necessarily considered competitive, a result of redistricting and the partisan nature of federal races. But a CBS News analysis of congressional maps finds 81 "competitive seats" that tend to be won by Democrats by five or less points, or by Republicans by five or less points.

How many House seats do Republicans need to take control from Democrats?

The GOP needs a net gain of at least six seats to reach the 218 seats needed to win the House. After a string of special election results this summer, Republicans hold 212 seats while Democrats have 221. There are two vacancies that will have special elections on the ballot in November, a likely Republican seat in Indiana and a Republican-leaning seat in Florida.  

What does the House of Representatives do?

As one of the two chambers in the legislative branch, it makes and passes federal laws. Unlike senators, who represent whole states, representatives cover a specific congressional district. The lines of those districts are determined and drawn every decade through the process known as "redistricting."

Who represents me in the House of Representatives?

You can look up who represents you in the House by entering your zip code, town or address here.

So, who's going to win the House? 

If you follow the historical trend of the president's party losing big in the midterms of their first term, Republicans are favored to flip the House. In the 2010 midterms, the first for former president Barack Obama, Democrats lost 63 seats in the House. In the 2018 midterms, the first for former president Donald Trump, Republicans lost 40 seats. After exceeding expectations in the 2020 elections, House Republicans just need a net gain of at least five seats to reach the 218-seat majority needed. 

Although Mr. Biden's approval ratings are low, and voters are frustrated about the economy and high inflation, House Democrats have seen some positive signs for their prospects recently. Special elections and a ballot measure in Kansas show that their base and moderate voters seem to be energized over the issue of abortion rights. Congressional Democrats have also passed aspects of Mr. Biden's agenda that deal with climate change and prescription drug prices, under the branding of the "Inflation Reduction Act." 

Given the smaller margin they have to overcome, Republicans are still likely to win the House, but Democrats do feel they have momentum to at least cut into the predicted GOP gains.

Who is the speaker of the House?

Nancy Pelosi of California has led House Democrats and has served as Speaker since 2019. This is her second stint as the chamber's leader, she previously held the Speaker's gavel from 2007 to 2011. Pelosi was first elected in 1987. She says she's running for re-election this cycle, but has not yet said if she would try for another term as speaker. 

What is redistricting? What is gerrymandering?

Every decade, states redraw their Congressional district lines to adjust for any population changes shown in the census. State legislatures control the process in most states, while other states use some sort of outside independent or bipartisan commission to handle redrawing the lines. 

When one party uses its power to draw lines that politically favor them, this is called "gerrymandering." Both Democrats and Republicans do this, but Republicans had more success in this latest round of redistricting: they've been able to add 10 more seats that lean heavily towards the GOP, according a CBS News analysis using data from Dave's Redistricting App.

Which party controls the Senate?

Democrats currently control the chamber with 48 seats, two independent senators that caucus with Democrats, and a tie-breaking vote from Vice President Harris, when necessary. Republicans control 50 seats. There are elections for 35 Senate seats this fall.

Who will control the Senate after the 2022 midterms?

Republicans need to hold all of their current seats and flip just one Democratic seat to win control of the Senate next year. Republicans are defending 21 of the 35 seats up for election, versus just 14 controlled by Democrats. The CBS News Battleground Tracker classifies 10 of these races as competitive: Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire and Wisconsin are considered "tossups"; Florida, North Carolina and Ohio lean in favor of Republicans, and Colorado leans in favor of Democrats.

Which Senate races are toss-ups in 2022? 

Arizona: Republicans saw Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly as one of the most vulnerable incumbents heading into 2022  in this state with a large proportion of independent voters and a large Latino population, where the GOP has made inroads in recent elections. But after a competitive Republican primary, national Republicans are concerned that Trump-backed Blake Masters is too far to the right for those crucial independent and suburban voters. He's softened his language recently on controversial issues like abortion, gun control, immigration, and even his belief that the 2020 election was stolen from Mr. Trump.

Georgia: Democrat Raphael Warnock is up for re-election just two years after defeating Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler in a special election to fill the remainder of the term of retiring Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson. He's outraising his opponent, University of Georgia football legend Herschel Walker. Walker was another Trump pick, but he comes with some baggage that could hamper his ability to flip the seat: allegations of abuse against his ex-wife and some policy gaffes including not honestly disclosing how many children he has and suggesting China's polluted air has replaced American air. If neither candidate wins over 50%of the vote, the race could go to a runoff – potentially delaying the outcome of Senate control for weeks if it's a close night.

Nevada: Prominent Republicans including Trump, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz have thrown their support behind former Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt, who is seeking to oust Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto in a very tight race. Cortez Masto, the first woman from Nevada and first Latina ever elected to the U.S. Senate, is one of many Democrats nationwide who may benefit from increased motivation among voters who want to protect abortion rights after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.

New Hampshire: Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan faces a far-right opponent in the general election, retired Army Gen. Don Bolduc, who defeated the candidate favored by national Republicans, state Sen. Chuck Morse. Morse was considered by Republican leaders to be better poised to flip the seat into the GOP column than Bolduc.  

Pennsylvania: After a bruising Republican primary that split the party establishment, celebrity TV doctor Mehmet Oz is trying to defeat Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman to keep this seat in Republican hands following the retirement of Sen. Pat Toomey. Fetterman is still recovering after suffering a stroke in May that has affected his speech and hearing. He has so far declined to participate in a September debate against Oz, who has accused him of hiding from voters and the media, but said he'd debate in October. Oz, meanwhile, has struggled against allegations that he has almost no ties to the state where he's running for Senate. Despite receiving Trump's endorsement and a visit from the former president, Oz recently said he would have certified the election for Mr. Biden but then said more information is needed to determine if the 2020 election was stolen.  

Wisconsin: Sen. Ron Johnson is the Republicans' most vulnerable incumbent this cycle as the lone senator running for re-election in a state Mr. Biden won in 2020. He and challenger Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes are attacking the other one as too extreme for the state, with Barnes pointing to Johnson's stances on gay marriage, COVID-19, and the state GOP effort to overturn the 2020 elections, while Johnson argues Barnes is soft on crime and immigration.

Which Senate race leans toward Democrats?

Colorado: Unlike nearly every Republican running in a competitive Senate seat, construction company CEO Joe O'Dea hasn't been endorsed by Trump. That gives the GOP hope that the moderate Republican can beat two-term Democratic centrist Sen. Michael Bennet. O'Dea is particularly out of step with most Republicans on abortion, saying that he believes the procedure should be legal through 20 weeks of pregnancy, with exceptions for rape, incest, and danger to the life of the mother after that.

Which Senate races lean Republican?

Florida: Once-purple Florida has trended increasingly Republican in recent years, with notable shifts among the state's large Latino population, which benefits two-term Republican Sen. Marco Rubio. But he has a formidable opponent in three-term Democratic Congresswoman Val Demings, who has outraised Rubio and gained national name recognition as one of the House impeachment managers in Trump's 2020 Senate trial and as one of the women Mr. Biden considered to be a potential vice presidential nominee. She's also leaned on her experience as Orlando's first female police chief to inoculate her against Republican claims that Democrats want to defund the police

North Carolina: Sen. Richard Burr's retirement leaves this seat open for a race between three-term House Republican Congressman Ted Budd and former North Carolina Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley, a Democrat. North Carolina has eluded Democrats in statewide races since Barack Obama eked out a close win in 2008. If Beasley wins, she would be the first Black woman to represent the state in the Senate – and it would be an early sign of a good night for Democrats.

Ohio: After a Trump endorsement helped him win a grueling Republican primary to succeed retiring Sen. Rob Portman, "Hillbilly Elegy" author JD Vance is trying to beat moderate five-term Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan. Ryan is outraising and outspending Vance in his effort to pull off an upset win, but national Republicans plan to flood the airwaves with tens of millions of dollars in ad buys in the coming weeks to boost Vance.

With reporting by Fin Gomez, Sarah Ewall-Wice, Musadiq Bidar, Jake Rosen, Caroline Linton, Anthony Salvanto, Kabir Khanna and Jennifer De Pinto.

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