With less than two weeks to go until Election Day, Democrats’ hopes of defying political history and holding on to their slim majorities in the House and Senate appear to be fading as many of the party’s candidates put on the defensive in the last days of the campaign.
Over the summer, many election prognosticators wondered whether Democrats could avoid the widespread losses the president’s party typically sees in midterms. With voters expressing outrage over the Supreme Court’s decision to end federal protections for abortion access and falling gas prices, Democrats were hopeful that their embattled incumbents would extinction could win re-election.
In August, Democrats took the lead in congressional generic voting, according to FiveThirtyEight. They held that lead for two and a half months, until last week.
The national political environment now appears to have shifted in favor of the Republicans, and Democrats are running out of time to change course. Gas prices started to rise again this month, although they have since moderated. With inflation near record levels, the proportion of voters naming the economy as their top priority has risen since the summer.
A New York Times/Siena College poll this month found that 44 percent of likely voters say economic worries are the most important issue facing the country, compared with 36 percent who said the same in July Only 5% of likely voters identified abortion as the most important issue right now. Voters’ renewed focus on inflation and gas prices could hurt Democrats’ chances in some key congressional races, as Republicans consistently score higher in polls asking which party is best equipped to manage the economy.
The shifting winds have some Democrats questioning whether they made a tactical mistake by focusing heavily on abortion rights in their campaign messages. Last week, Joe Biden promised to send a bill codifying Roe v Wade to Congress if Democrats strengthen their majorities in the midterms.
“I want to remind all of us how we felt that day when 50 years of constitutional precedent were overturned,” Biden said last Tuesday. “If you care about the right to choose, you must vote.”
With polls indicating that abortion rights are not the top reason for most voters, some progressive lawmakers are urging their colleagues to emphasize economic proposals such as raising the minimum wage and creating a federal paid family leave program while campaigning for re-election.
“In my view, while the issue of abortion must remain front and center, it would be political malpractice for Democrats to ignore the state of the economy and allow Republican lies and distortions to remain unanswered,” progressive senator Bernie Sanders wrote in The Guardian. op-ed earlier this month.
Sanders added: “Now is the time for Democrats to take the fight to the reactionary Republican Party and expose their anti-worker views on the most important issues facing ordinary Americans. This is both what needs to be done from a political perspective as good politics”.
Democrats fear the strategic pivot may come too late for some candidates as alarm bells ring in battleground states across the country.
In Florida, a state that Donald Trump won by just three points in 2020, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis looks likely to defeat his Democratic challenger, Charlie Crist, by double digits. DeSantis, a Trump-like figure expected to run for president in 2024, has already raised at least $177 million this election cycle, setting a record for a gubernatorial campaign. DeSantis’ fundraising and Democrats’ bleak poll numbers have caused many of the party’s national organizations and donors to abandon the Florida candidates, effectively declaring preemptive defeat.
In the battle for the House, Republicans are poised to regain the majority, as districts that Biden won easily less than two years ago now appear to be up for grabs. According to Politico, a recent internal poll conducted by Julia Brownley’s campaign, the California district that went for Biden by 20 points in 2020, showed the Democratic incumbent leading her Republican opponent by just one point.
Sean Patrick Maloney, the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee overseeing the party’s efforts to retain control of the House, is now at risk of impeachment. Earlier this week, the Cook Political Report changed Maloney’s race rating from “lean Democrat” to “Democrat.” If Maloney is unable to retain his seat, the defeat would mark the first time since 1992 that a House campaign committee chairman has lost re-election. Republicans are relishing the prospect of unseating the DCCC chair, pouring several million dollars into Maloney’s district.
Maloney has remained optimistic about his chances, telling CBS News“I’m going to win this election, and when I do, they’re going to want that $9 million back.”
But if the national environment is as dire for Democrats as it appears, a Republican wave could soon sweep Maloney and many of his colleagues out of office.
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