Wake Up To Politics - August 1, 2022
by Gabe Fleisher
Good morning! It’s Monday, August 1, 2022. Election Day 2022 is 99 days away. Election Day 2024 is 837 days away.
Happy August! I hope you had a great weekend and have a great week ahead.
99 days to go: A look at the midterms
In less than 100 days, Americans will head to the polls to vote in 35 Senate races, 435 House races, and a slew of state and local elections up and down the ballot.
The normal result, of course, is for the president’s party to face a drubbing at the ballot box. In the midterm elections since World War II, the party of the incumbent president has lost an average of 32 House seats and 4 Senate seats.
With Democrats currently leading razor-thin majorities in Washington, an election in line with those historical levels would easily tip Congress to Republican hands: the GOP need only win five House seats and one Senate seat to retake control of each chamber.
However, with about three months to go until Election Day, Democrats are gaining a renewed sense of confidence about their chances.
The new Democratic optimism has been fueled by a run of recent legislative achievements: the bipartisan gun control and semiconductor packages, plus the Manchin-Schumer climate change, health care, and tax deal.
“Democrats suddenly feel as if they have a robust agenda to run on” this November, as NBC News put it. (The Manchin-Schumer agreement has yet to pass either chamber and is still awaiting Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema’s sign-off.)
Gas prices are also falling, and Democrats are feeling bullish about extremist candidates being nominated by Republicans (often with Democratic help), especially in a post-Roe environment in which they hope their voters will be extra-motivated.
Does the data show signs of this supposed shift away from political gravity? Not really.
It’s true that generic ballot polling — which asks voters which party they would support if the election were held today — has tightened a bit in recent weeks, with Republicans now boasting a slim 0.4% edge in the FiveThirtyEight average. That’s compared to the 2-point advantage they held a month ago.
But most election forecasters continue to project Republican gains, at least in the House. FiveThirtyEight’s model says there are 44-in-100 odds that the GOP retakes control of both chambers of Congress, with the next most likely scenario being a Republican House and a Democratic Senate (39-in-100).
The Senate is generally less responsive than the House to national trends, and Republicans are worried that right-wing candidates could doom them in enough races to keep the chamber out of reach. The odds of Democrats keeping both chambers, however, are all the way down at 17-in-100, per FiveThirtyEight.
CBS News unveiled its Battleground Tracker this weekend, which estimates that Republicans will pick up 14 House seats to end with a 230-seat majority. The University of Virginia Center for Politics similarly predicts GOP gains of around 20 seats.
One factor those forecasts cite: polls consistently show Democrats struggling with an enthusiasm problem. When you ask voters which party they plan to support in November, it comes about to an even split. But that changes when you narrow the voter pool to just those expected to show up this November.
“Our likely voter estimates indicate that as of now there are more 2020 Trump voters than Biden voters planning to vote this year, an obvious reversal from the last general election,” CBS notes.
The network also estimates that the 2022 electorate will be composed of 38% Republicans and 34% Democrats (the rest are Independents), which would give the GOP an advantage identical to the four-point party ID edge Democrats boasted in the 2018 elections — which was enough for a massive “blue wave” that year.
Even on issues Democrats are counting on to fuel up their base, Republicans appear more motivated. A revealing Washington Post/Schar School poll that came out on Friday found that 65% of Americans believe the overturning of Roe v. Wade “represents a major loss of rights for women in America.”
But, crucially, “those who reject the idea that the court’s ruling is a loss for women are 18 percentage points more likely to express certainty they will vote in the midterms — 70 percent compared with 52 percent of those who do see such a loss,” the Post notes.
To frame the question slightly differently, 66% of Americans who believe abortion should be illegal say they are likely to vote in November, compared to 55% of Americans who believe abortion should be legal, a fairly sizable, GOP-friendly gap.
A key pre-November test of enthusiasm on abortion will come Tuesday, when voters in red-leaning Kansas will weigh in on a hotly contested constitutional amendment that would overturn the right to an abortion in the state, the first major referendum on the issue since Roe was overturned.
A surge of late-summer optimism, usually misplaced, is also a time-honored tradition for the president’s party.
“In fact, like clockwork, the out-party right about now starts to fret that their advantage is slipping, while the in-party sees green shoots springing from a barren landscape,” Amy Walter, the publisher of the Cook Political Report and a respected political analyst, wrote last week.
“But, let’s not overlook the fundamentals,” Walter continued. “Biden's job approval rating is dismal, consumer confidence is at or near all-time lows, and most Americans think the economy will get worse, not better, over the next year.” None of that makes for positive news for the president’s party.
Longtime Democratic strategist Bruce Mehlman made a similar point in a recent slide deck, adding that 9 out of the past 11 elections have ended in the Senate, House, or White House changing hands.
“Backlash is baked in,” Mehlman declared.
Some race-by-race updates:
- Wisconsin Democrats have consolidated behind Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes as their candidate to face Republican Sen. Ron Johnson, with Barnes’ three biggest primary rivals dropping out in the past few days. Barnes is now attempting to pivot from past liberal positions ahead of the general election.
- Republicans are fretting about a number of their Senate candidates, including J.D. Vance in Ohio, Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania, and Herschel Walker in Georgia. Recent polls have shown Oz and Walker trailing their rivals, John Fetterman and Sen. Raphael Warnock, respectively, in the pivotal races.
More news you should know
🦠 President Biden has Covid (again). Biden tested positive again on Saturday after testing negative last week at the end of a 5-day bout with the virus. According to his doctor, he “has experienced no reemergence of symptoms” but will return to isolating in the White House residence.
- “Rebound” coronavirus cases are not uncommon among users of Paxlovid, the Pfizer antiviral that Biden took during his initial infection.
🔍 More details are emerging about texts from January 6. Not only did a 2021 reset of government phones apparently wipe away Secret Service text messages from the period including January 6, but the messages of other top Department of Homeland Security officials seem to be lost as well. The Secret Service directly is delaying his planned retirement as the “baffling” erasure is investigated.
- Democrats are calling for the DHS inspector general to step aside from leading the investigation, amid new revelations that he knew about the missing texts for more than a year before telling Congress — and even scrapped a plan by his investigators to try to recover them.
📺 Meanwhile, Fox News is turning on Trump. Both the New York Times and the Washington Post reported this weekend that Fox News owner Rupert Murdoch is souring on the former president amid the January 6 hearings. And it’s showing in the channel’s programming: Fox has stopped airing Trump rallies live, while several hosts have been promoting Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
🤷♂️ Some moderate Democrats seem similarly ready to drop Biden. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) declined to say on Sunday when asked if he plans to support Biden for a second term in 2024. Manchin’s non-answer comes after some fellow centrists — Biden’s putative base — have recently called on the president not to run again, including Rep. Dean Philips (D-MN) and South Carolina gubernatorial candidate Joe Cunningham.
➡️ A few more headlines to know...
- “Chinese invasion of Taiwan may come sooner than expected” (Axios)
- “Blinken resists push to label Russia a terrorist state” (New York Times)
- “White House communications director Kate Bedingfield makes ‘last-minute’ decision to stay in her role” (CNN)
What’s going on in Washington today
All times Eastern. Click on an event’s time to watch it.
President Biden will receive his daily intelligence briefing virtually (10:15 am) while isolating in the White House residence.
Vice President Kamala Harris will travel to Miami, Florida (10 am) to receive a briefing on climate resilience (1:55 pm) at the National Hurricane Center. She will then deliver remarks on the Biden administration’s efforts to make U.S. communities more resilient to climate disasters (4:05 pm) before returning to Washington, D.C. (6 pm).
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre will hold her daily press briefing (1:45 pm).
The Senate will convene (3 pm) and vote (5:30 pm) to advance the nomination of Elizabeth Hanes to be a U.S. district judge in Virginia.
The chamber may also try again to advance the Honoring our PACT Act, which would offer health care benefits to veterans exposed to toxic substances during their military service, after Republicans blocked the bill in a 55-42 vote last week. (It needs 60 votes to advance.)
GOP senators are hoping to change a provision of the bill that would move about $390 billion into a different spending category, which would free up room in the federal budget for that much new spending down the line.
The House is on recess until September 13.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is currently leading a congressional delegation to Asia. Per CNN, the trip is expected to include a stop in Taiwan — despite China’s threat that its military “won’t sit idly by” if she follows through with the visit. Pelosi’s office has not confirmed her plans.
The Supreme Court is on recess until October.
I want to correct two errors that were made in the newsletter last week:
In Tuesday’s newsletter, I accidentally gave the wrong party affiliation for Sen. Lisa Murkowski. The Alaska moderate is, of course, a Republican.
And in Friday’s newsletter, I omitted a country when listing the current designees on the U.S. state sponsors of terrorism list. Syria is also on the list, along with Cuba, North Korea, and Iran.
My apologies for both errors — and my sincere thanks to the careful readers who pointed them out.
Before I go...
Here’s some good news, at least for lovers of the Choco Taco.
Did you hear last week that the popular ice cream treat was being discontinued? Well, it turns out that reports of the Choco Taco’s death may have been exaggerated: the company behind the snack now says it’s “exploring options to bring it back.”
Here’s more from the Wall Street Journal, including an interview with the Choco Taco’s creator about how it came to be.
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Thanks for waking up to politics! Have a great day.