The political reality, a bit under seven weeks from the Nov. 8 elections, is that prospects for both parties are muddled.
Tuesday’s contests in Delaware, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island put a capstone on primary season 2022, and both Republicans and Democrats have reasons for optimism and despair.
Republicans arguably have more to lose since the “out” party almost always does well in midterm elections. With President Joe Biden and the Democratic majorities in the House and Senate getting hit for months over the highest inflation in 40 years and stubbornly high gas prices, Republicans, for much of the summer, had strong reason to think they could sweep into power.
That may still happen, but it’s hardly a safe bet. Democrats have rallied, helped in no small part by the June 24 Supreme Court Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision declaring that there is no constitutional right to abortion and sending the issue back to the states to decide.
Since then, Democrats have been buoyed by consistently dropping gas prices and an inflation drop, though that narrative on inflation suffered a setback Tuesday after a crucial data point came in worse than expected.
That effectively leaves the midterm outlook at a political jump ball. So, here’s how the end of the primary season affects the nation’s two most prominent political players as the midterm drama intensifies.
President Joe Biden
Biden finds himself in a better political position heading into the midterm elections two years after winning the White House than his immediate Democratic predecessors. Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama presided over devastating Democratic midterm losses in 1994 and 2010, respectively.
Biden may not necessarily suffer similar losses as them, as both saw the House turn Republican (and the Senate in Clinton’s case). The Senate currently is split 50-50, with Vice President Kamala Harris’s tiebreaking vote giving Democrats a bare-bones majority. While the Senate map looked bleak earlier in the 2022 primary season, Democrats have momentum, including a decent chance at winning Pennsylvania’s open Senate seat. A decent election night could land Democrats in the majority, with 51 Senate seats — and they could get to 52 on a great night.
The House is a tougher slog. Republicans need only net five seats in the 435-member chamber. They’ve already got a leg in House districts that have been trending Republican, such as the open Wisconsin 3rd Congressional District, where Republican nominee Derrick Van Orden looks poised to capture the western Badger State seat.
Democrats, though, have House pickup opportunities of their own. In Michigan’s 3rd District, Democratic attorney Hillary Scholten is favored over Republican nominee John Gibbs, a former Trump administration official. Gibbs beat Rep. Peter Meijer for the Republican nomination in the traditionally GOP-heavy Grand Rapids and Muskegon district, which in recent years has become considerably more politically competitive.
And in New Mexico, state Democrats scrambled district lines for the Land of Enchantment’s three House seats. Freshman Rep. Yvette Herrell is running for the southern New Mexico and western Albuquerque 2nd District seat. In 2020, Biden would have beat former President Donald Trump in the new district 51.9% to 46.1%. In Herrell’s current House district, which includes all of New Mexico’s section of the U.S.-Mexico border, Trump would have beaten Biden 54.9% to 43.1%. Herrell on Nov. 8 faces Democratic nominee Gabe Vasquez, a Las Cruces City Council member.
How much Biden and Harris will stump for congressional candidates remains to be seen. Biden’s approval ratings are on the low side, hovering in the 42% range. Still, that’s an improvement over his midsummer doldrums, during which his approvals reached the mid-30s, dangerous political territory for an incumbent president in a midterm election year.
Former President Donald Trump
By the 2018 midterm elections, Obama was long out of the political picture — same with former President George W. Bush in 2010. And the 2002 midterm elections played out with Clinton a mere afterthought in the political Sturm und Drang.
That’s not the case with Donald Trump this year.
The former president won’t appear on any 2022 ballots, but his political shadow hangs over the midterm landscape, influencing the contours of how campaigns are fought and polarizing the electorate.
Democrats are seeking to tie Republican opponents to Trump at every turn, particularly over the Jan. 6 Capitol riots, in which the outgoing president’s supporters tried to thwart the congressional process to make Biden the next White House occupant. Democratic efforts on this front have only ramped up since the FBI’s Aug. 8 search of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate and home in Palm Beach, Florida. FBI agents searched Trump’s residence for the material specified in a warrant signed off on by a federal judge, including classified material. According to news reports, the material concerned top-secret intelligence programs and even nuclear weapons.
Republicans accuse Democrats of trying to deflect attention away from the nation’s real problems, such as inflation, high gas prices, and foreign policy damage from the Biden administration’s haphazard withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan.
Whatever the merits of these arguments, expect them to grow much louder by Nov. 8. It could be, like so much else in the Trump era, politically unprecedented. That would mean Democrats holding their own in what had seemed like a strong Republican year.
Or the midterm elections could prove utterly predictable, with the party in power — in this case, Democrats — faring poorly. We’ll know in 54 days.
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