Fast-Forwarding the Political Clock to 2021

Charlie "Chuck" Cook
February 21, 2020

This 10-day respite from primaries and caucuses gives us a good time to pause, to look past the Nov. 3 election and consider what may be the questions and topics dominating political discussions by this time next year. Of course, what happens this November will shape the contours of 2022 and 2024 in many ways, but here are some things to keep in mind.

With Democrats looking likely to hold onto their House majority this November, albeit with possible losses of a half-dozen or so seats (Republicans need a 19-seat gain to tip the majority), the first question might concern Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s future. Having led her party back into control in 2018, if she holds it for another term, will the 79-year-old decide it’s time to step down? Will it make a difference whether there is a Democrat in the White House? After all, she may be tempted to stay around long enough to help a new president get his or her initial agenda through Congress. Should Pelosi retire, it may not mean a quick ascendance for either Majority Leader Steny Hoyer or Majority Whip James Clyburn. Both have waited patiently, but their party’s caucus is likely to skip anyone else from their silent generation (ages 75-95), turning to a baby boomer (56-74) or even a member of Generation X (41-55). There are several understudies in the wings, not the least of which are Reps. Cheri Bustos of Illinois, Hakeem Jeffries of New York, and Adam Schiff of California (though he may have aspirations statewide or beyond).

With the Senate currently split between 53 Republicans and 47 Democrats, this year the GOP has 23 seats to defend to only 12 for Democrats. It’s a plausible bet that Democrats come out of November’s election with either 48 or 49 seats in the Senate, a net gain of one or two. But another seat-or-two gain for Democrats and a majority is distinctly possible, particularly if college-educated suburban women are on fire for Democrats the way they were in 2018. The current generic congressional ballot test, a rough measure of what direction the political winds are blowing and whether the velocity is light, moderate, or heavy, shows Democrats ahead by about the same margin as they were in 2018.

Two years from now in 2022, the GOP is playing more defense again. They’ll have 22 senators up for reelection to a dozen for Democrats. It isn’t until 2024 that the shoe is on the other foot, when Democrats will have 21 seats up to Republicans’ 10, pending the winners of this year’s special elections in Georgia and Arizona.

Assuming that Sen. Mitch McConnell is reelected in Kentucky this year, he’s a good bet to hang onto his job as Republican leader, whether he’s leading a majority or minority. Sen. Chuck Schumer also looks to be a lock to continue leading Democrats. While McConnell is certainly a polarizing figure, Kentucky does not seem to be trending purple. Democrats took the governorship last year, but that election had more to do with GOP incumbent Matt Bevin’s weaknesses than Democratic strength in the state. McConnell may well not win by a landslide—his Democratic challenger Amy McGrath will have tons of cash from every McConnell-hater in the Democratic Party (and there are quite a few)—but I would be very surprised if McConnell lost.

As obscene as it may be, the 2024 presidential race will start on some level on Nov. 4, the day after this election. Whether President Trump is reelected or not, Republicans will have an open fight for their presidential nomination. It’s not hard to see some early jockeying around for position. Democrats will only likely have a contest if either Trump is reelected or if an older nominee chooses not to stand for reelection in four years.

A lot of familiar names from the ranks of 2016 and 2020 candidates will be seen: It has long been said that presidential fever is incurable, but seriously, running and losing can often provide a very good education about what to do differently next time.

The first names on the list of possible GOP contenders for 2024 would be from the current administration: Vice President Mike Pence and current Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (my hunch is that he will be a member of the U.S. Senate by this time next year, regardless of what he announced earlier this year).

Among the ranks of current senators might be Tom Cotton, Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, and Rick Scott, though there are certain to be others who will take a look as well. Former U.N. ambassador and South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, fresh from her book tour, is obviously looking at running. Former Ohio Gov. John Kasich may make another bid as well. Among the current governors, look for Florida's Ron DeSantis and Arizona’s Doug Ducey.

Should Democrats come up short in the presidential race in November, the first place to look is among those who ran this year: Michael Bennet, Cory Booker, Steve Bullock, Julián Castro, Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris, Beto O’Rourke, and Deval Patrick. Stacey Abrams’s not-quite-close-enough gubernatorial bid in Georgia definitely put her on the national stage. California Gov. Gavin Newsom is someone worth watching, as is Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti. It’s possible that New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy and Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer might take a look as well.

One thing worth keeping in mind is that a lot of old rules and theories about who wins and loses in races for the White House have been either discarded or rewritten. The last two presidents hardly fit the conventional mold of the people who would likely win their party’s nominations or the White House. The result is that the flicker of hope is not as easily extinguished as in the old days. Obviously, with 17 Republicans seeking the 2016 nomination and 28 Democrats this year, something different is occurring.

Now back to our regular programming: the 2020 campaign.

This story was originally published on nationaljournal.com on February 18, 2020