Why 2022 promises to be a critical test of our democracy

Why 2022 promises to be a critical test of our democracy
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Many Americans across the country are kicking off their Memorial Day celebrations, traveling to see loved ones, and reflecting on just how much has changed for the better since this time last year, when the pandemic was starting to take hold in the country.

Hope is in the air for good reason. COVID-19 infection rates are plummeting, the economy is generally moving in the right direction, and the main driver of those successes is the fact that we have a president who has restored competent, thoughtful leadership to the Oval Office.

It would be an easy time to pat ourselves on the back for saving democracy, relax into complacency, and take a little break from politics. Unfortunately—and I can't believe I'm writing this—2022 could be the second most important election of our lifetimes, right after last November.

Republicans, having finally accepted that locking in minority rule is their only chance at maintaining power, have become even more dangerous since Donald Trump's defeat. The fascist precision with which they are proceeding to foil democracy and consolidate power at the state and federal levels is breathtaking.

In Washington, GOP votes to kill a commission designed to prevent a future insurrection at the Capitol were both an admission of guilt and a declaration of war on our democracy (as if another one was necessary). After Democrats met every Republican demand for the Jan. 6 commission, even GOP apologist Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia admitted that voting against it was inexcusable "unless you just don't want to hear the truth."

It's a clear cover-up, with congressional Republicans seeking to hide the truth and sully any investigatory findings in order to preserve their chances of retaking control of Congress next year. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's tricks aren't new, but his desperation in calling in "personal favors" to kill the commission laid bare his disdain for our country. Power isn't a means to an end for him, it's the end itself, and McConnell doesn't care whether he lords over a representative democracy or a dictatorship, just that he lords. The same is clearly true of House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy's feckless leadership.

The biggest worry by far: If Republicans manage to gain control of both chambers of Congress in 2024, they would refuse to certify a Democratic presidential victory, and instead install a GOP president.

On the state level, where Republicans control a majority of the governorships and legislative bodies, GOP lawmakers are rigging elections in their favor on both the front and back ends of the process. They continue to push a raft of legislation designed to disproportionately suppress Democratic voters, particularly voters of color and lower-income voters. Republicans have already enacted more than 20 laws in at least 14 states that will make it harder for Americans to vote, with many legislatures still in session, according to the Brennan Center for Justice.

As if that's not enough, states like Georgia and Arizona—where Joe Biden triumphed by razor-thin margins—are working to strip elected secretaries of state of their power, so GOP lawmakers can insert themselves into future election disputes if they don't like the way they are being handled.

The GOP's partisan redistricting efforts also loom, with Republicans likely to pick up an handful of seats in the House through redistricting alone.

So we are living in surreal times, where normalcy seems deceivingly close at hand, even as Republicans are laying the groundwork to end the American enterprise as we have known it for more than two centuries.

And yet there is no time to despair. I lay out the above not to declare our doom but rather to stoke our urgency. Now is the time to act, and while machinations at the federal level can feel untouchable, we all still have the ability to seed change at the state level, through local activism and political donations. Early money is more critical than ever now, whether you give to tried and true candidates you have come to trust, or you give to grassroots groups that are already mounting voter registration drives, making connections, and building critical infrastructure for next year.

I encourage everyone to pick a state, pick a race, pick a group and get involved—right now. The name of the game is early money, early activism—a return on investment that can compound the impact of any efforts you make next year.

In the fall, Daily Kos founder Markos Moulistas and I plan to devote a series of episodes of our podcast The Brief to outlining the state of play in a handful of critical states, as well as highlighting activist groups who are already working to register voters there for next year.

For now, here's some brief thoughts on races that will clearly matter, and where it's never too early to make a donation to a candidate or find a grassroots group that could use your help.

Holding the Senate

Democrats will need to protect Sen. Raphael Warnock in Georgia, Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto in Nevada, Sen. Maggie Hassan in New Hampshire, and Sen. Mark Kelly in Arizona.

On offense, Democrats hope to score pick ups in states like Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Wisconsin, Florida, and maybe Ohio.


Democrats must protect governors in the Midwest like Tony Evers in Wisconsin and Gretchen Whitmer in Michigan, as well as Laura Kelly in Kansas. Pennsylvania will also be critical, though it's not yet clear who the Democratic candidate will be as Gov. Tom Wolf is term limited.

Democrats also hope to score gubernatorial pick ups in Maryland, Georgia, Arizona, and Florida.

Secretaries of State

This elected office is becoming ever more important as Republicans take a hatchet to democracy. Two Democratic secretaries of state who stand out are Jocelyn Benson of Michigan and Katie Hobbs in Arizona (though Hobbs may run for governor). Holding the Wisconsin post is also key.

Places where Democrats hope for top election official pickups are in critical states like Georgia and Nevada, where the 2020 race was close and Trump activists sought to overturn the results.

Virginia in 2021!

Virginia's elections will be the most consequential contests this year, and Daily Kos Elections has an initial deep dive here on the Democratic bid to maintain control of the state legislature.

Honestly, this list is in no way complete—it's just top of mind for me. I encourage readers to add other races they are eyeing and tracking below in the comments. Obviously, House races will also be crucial, but I just didn't have the bandwidth to get into detail on them in this post. There's still so much we don't know about which races will be really competitive, or even who some of the candidates will be.

But there's some obvious recurring themes here and putting money or time right now into any of the following states will clearly pay dividends next year: Georgia, Arizona, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan, North Carolina, and Florida.

Again, don't despair: We have agency. Let's get an early start on our activism for these midterms that will undoubtedly prove crucial to future of our democracy.

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