In Ohio, Rep. Tim Ryan (D) leads MAGA-compliant J.D. Vance by a margin of 5 to 12 points in every poll going back to July 3, according to FiveThirtyEight. In Pennsylvania, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (D) is leading TV snake-oil salesman Mehmet Oz by more than eight points. And in Wisconsin, Mandela Barnes, the near-certain Democratic nominee, leads incumbent Sen. Ron Johnson (R) in the most recent poll from Marquette University Law School by a statistically insignificant two points.
FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver explains: “[Democrats’] chances of winning the Senate now stand at 55 percent. That’s up from 47 percent from forecast launch on June 30. It’s also up from 40 percent in a retroactive forecast dated back to June 1.” He attributes the change to the Supreme Court’s ruling overturning abortion rights, a run of good news for President Biden, reduced gas prices and some really cruddy Republican candidates. He also points to another factor: While covid is not gone, it’s becoming a manageable condition for most Americans (thanks to vaccines, boosters and treatments).
The path to victory for these Democrats — as it is for Democrats in other competitive races — runs straight through their erratic, radical opponents. That takes nothing away from candidates such as Ryan and Fetterman, whose blue-collar persona, working-class agenda and down-to-earth delivery illustrate how Democrats can hold their base and still reach independents and disaffected Republicans. Nevertheless, if the GOP loses its chance to take back the Senate majority, it will largely be due to its decision to nominate terrible candidates.
Fetterman has been running circles around Oz, painting him as a rich, out-of-touch New Jersey carpetbagger. The messaging is resonating: One New Jersey Democrat recently nominated Oz for his state’s hall of fame. Fetterman has also deployed “Jersey Shore” star Nicole Polizzi, better known as Snooki, to troll Oz online. As a result, Fetterman is breaking through to a whole group of voters who don’t watch politics 24/7. Oz’s disapproval ratings are high and his fundraising is pathetically low.
Ryan’s campaign, though he faces a far more Republican electorate, has resembled Fetterman’s. He has been jabbing at Vance for his lack of connection to Ohio and is painting the Republican as a product of Silicon Valley (where billionaire Peter Thiel has been supporting his campaign). Meanwhile, Vance — who migrated from critic of Donald Trump to the former president’s bootlicker — has made a series of abominable remarks. He has suggested women should stay with abusive spouses. (Vance denies that’s what he meant. Judge for yourself.) He also compared abortion to slavery. (Even in Ohio, the sort of near-total ban Vance favors is unpopular.) And like Oz, Vance has been a relatively absent candidate, to the dismay of Republicans.
Johnson, who suffers from chronically terrible approval numbers, might be the most vulnerable incumbent, and it’s entirely his own fault. He racked up a host of extreme votes (opposing the bipartisan infrastructure package, an independent Jan. 6 commission and renewal of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act). He has also said he wants to repeal the Affordable Care Act and has made a slew of bizarre statements, from pushing vaccine denial to disdaining efforts to bring jobs to Wisconsin. To boot, he served as a useful dupe for Russians’ anti-Ukraine propaganda. And as with Vance, Johnson’s forced-birth cheerleading is entirely at odds with the Wisconsin electorate’s views.
Republicans certainly have a chance to pull out wins in all three states. Ohio remains a red state, which could revert to its normal political preferences in November. Barnes previously took on progressive positions out of step with the swing state (e.g., favoring Medicare-for-all and the Green New Deal) that can be fodder for the GOP attack machine.
Still, the fact that Democrats have significant leads in Ohio and Pennsylvania and still a good shot to win in Wisconsin underscores not only the weakness of Republican nominees but also how Democrats have successfully been decoupling themselves from President Biden’s poor approval ratings. All things equal, good candidates tend to beat very poor ones. Perhaps the GOP’s primary voters should have considered this when they had the chance.
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