Will the 2022 midterms be like the 1994 tidal wave?
Published July 29, 2021
Conventional wisdom holds that the political party in the White House tends to lose seats in mid-term elections. Yet, 1994 turned into a proverbial bloodbath for Democrats.
Tom Foley became the first U.S. House Speaker to lose his bid for re-election since the American Civil War. His defeat was part of a tidal wave election in which Republicans picked up 54 U.S. House Seats, eight Senate seats, and 10 governorships. No Republican incumbents lost any of those races.
U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., made a bold prediction this week, saying 2022 is shaping up a lot like 1994.
“I think there’s a tidal wave brewing,” Graham told conservative FOX News host Sean Hannity. “I think this is going to be 1994 all over again. When you look at rampant inflation, out-of-control crime, and a broken border and just [a] general lack of knowing what you’re doing, lack of competency … the Republican Party’s going to have a great comeback if we recruit the right people.”
Gun-control measures, crime, rising taxes, and a universal health care push were issues that signaled doom for Democrats going into the 1994 midterms. President Bill Clinton admitted his administration and party were held accountable by the American people, and he wisely pivoted toward the political center amidst a strong economy.
Of course, elections are never exact reruns of the past. However, does Graham — who, by the way, was first elected to Congress during the 1994 “Republican Revolution” — have a strong case?
He might if inflation and other issues overwhelm Democrats. Still, there are many reasons for Republicans to damper expectations when one looks at a wave election like 1994.
First, 1994 saw significant realignment in the American South that helped run up Republican wins. Now, the GOP holds the vast majority of those once contested seats. The congressional map is tighter than in the past, as the urban-rural split makes most of the tossup races contained to a few dozen suburban districts.
Before the 94 elections, Democrats had controlled the House of Representatives for four decades. The speaker’s gavel has switched back and forth a few times since 1994, offering Americans recent exposure to a dysfunctional Congress under the control of both parties.
Republicans will have to defend 20 U.S. Senate seats compared to 14 for Democrats in 2022. In 1994, the numbers were nearly reversed. Democrats were defending 22 seats and Republicans 13. One of those Senate races will happen right here in North Carolina, where Republicans will try to retain a seat that Richard Burr has held since 2005. That contest is shaping up to be one of the most competitive and expensive races in the country.
Still, Republicans only must secure a net gain of five seats to pick up the U.S. House and increase one seat to take back the U.S. Senate.
Of course, Graham added qualifiers to his optimistic prediction. He’s been around a while, so he knows how bad Republicans can mess things up.
“Elections, my dear sir, elections to offices which are great objects of ambition, I look on with terror,” reminded America’s second president, John Adams.
Adams’s words are a reminder that few, particularly this far out, know what’s going to happen.
The election is still over a year away, and just about anything can happen in politics, especially since both parties are under the microscope in this highly politicized era.
Voters should remember that divided government – as the American Founders designed – rarely produces dramatic change.
Elections should remind us, too – no matter if the side we want to win is victorious – that there is little chance of problems dissipating or becoming resolved. Family and community renewal drive lasting change. Cultural reforms, mostly. If we can learn that truth, elections might even become far less critical in the future.
In the meantime, 2022 is another chance to turn the tables. Graham’s prediction, while unlikely, is still possible given Democrat overreach in Washington.
Ray Nothstine is Carolina Journal opinion editor.