In the dog days of summer, as President Joe Biden’s average approval rating plummeted to historic lows amid an intense flurry of national setbacks, policy blunders and rhetorical “gaffes” (otherwise known as palpable senility), most in the punditry class began to predict an imminent “red wave” of Republican electoral dominance in November’s midterm elections.
The midterms that take place two years into a new presidency typically favor the opposition party, after all, and certain data — such as the four-decade-high inflation rate that was, and still is, raging like wildfire — pointed in the direction of a strong ballot box backlash to one-party Democratic rule.
At that time, we could also add in an eyeball test of sorts: Uncle Joe was (and still is), quite simply, way too old and way too bad at this.
Then, from late July through early September, the momentum seemed to shift a bit toward the incumbent party.
Democrats largely outperformed expectations in special elections in Nebraska, Minnesota and New York, and the culturally conservative state of Kansas resoundingly rejected a pro-life attempt to amend the state’s constitution to democratize the abortion issue and let the state legislature decide abortion policy.
In general, for about four to six weeks, we began to see enough data trickle in to suggest that a Dobbs backlash — whereby the U.S. Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade would have the effect of energizing and mobilizing progressive voters — might really be in the offing. Some promising Republican Senate candidates in reliably Trump-y states, such as J.D. Vance in Ohio, seemed to be failing to gain polling traction.
The punditocracy switched gears: The “red wave” might simply be a shapeless “purple drip.” (Some of us, it must be said, suggested that little had actually changed.)
Now, two and a half weeks before Election Day, we are right back to where we started earlier this year, as spring moved into summer. The red wave appears to be coming back.
Republicans now consistently lead Democrats on the generic congressional ballot. As of this writing, the Real Clear Politics average had Republicans up 3.3 percent; only one of the past 10 polls showed a Democratic lead. Meanwhile, Biden’s job approval rating has stabilized in the low 40s, placing him double-digits underwater; at least three major polls taken this month have his job approval in the high 30s.
Individual races across the country are bearing this out.
In no less a deep-blue Democratic bastion than New York state, incumbent Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul is clinging to a narrowing single-digit lead over Republican challenger Rep. Lee Zeldin. In Connecticut, incumbent Sen. Richard Blumenthal appears to be nursing a similarly shocking single-digit lead over Leora Levy. In Georgia, incumbent Republican Gov. Brian Kemp is cruising to victory over inveterate election-denying challenger Stacey Abrams; in Arizona, rising Republican superstar Kari Lake appears very well-positioned in her own gubernatorial race.
In both the Peach State and the Grand Canyon State, then, ascendant GOP gubernatorial campaigns may well drag across the finish line Republican Senate candidates — Herschel Walker and Blake Masters, respectively — who have been neck-and-neck in the polls against their well-funded incumbent Democratic foes.
The map, moreover, is expanding — the Senate Leadership Fund, a super PAC affiliated with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, has been dropping millions of dollars to try to retake New Hampshire. At the same time, based on candidate funding, national Democrats are scrambling to secure the Oregon gubernatorial mansion while all but abandoning the Ohio playing field to Vance and the GOP.
In Pennsylvania, the criminal-mollycoddling and stroke-addled John Fetterman is slipping, and his Senate race against Dr. Mehmet Oz is now a dead heat. Nevada, which broke for both Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden in the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections, is now looking like a likely Republican pick-up.
In such an environment, when a huge plurality of 44 percent of voters (according to a New York Times/Siena poll) are voting on economic issues and when Republicans are trusted so much more than Democrats on those particular issues, it is reasonable to anticipate that the GOP will win the vast majority of the high-profile, toss-up races.
This week, Biden tried to rekindle the “Dobbs backlash” magic by suggesting a statutory Roe codification as his leading agenda item come January if Democrats hold Congress, but that abortion centrality now appears to be woefully misguided: According to a survey this week from WPA Intelligence, voters believe the mainstream Democratic position on abortion is “more extreme” than the mainstream Republican position by an almost 2 to 1 margin.
The question for Republicans, as always, is what they will do if — perhaps when — they do reacquire congressional power. That question is doubly relevant with two more years of Democratic White House control. And it is to that question that Republican leaders, with any luck, will soon turn.
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