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The post-Dobbs pivot

Wake Up To Politics: The post-Dobbs pivot
The post-Dobbs pivot

by Gabe Fleisher

Good morning! It’s Wednesday, August 24, 2022. Election Day 2022 is 76 days away. Election Day 2024 is 804 days away.

The post-Dobbs pivot

The special election in New York’s 19th congressional district yesterday was trumpeted ahead of time as a pivotal bellwether for November. It is a true tossup district: one that went for George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004, Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012, Donald Trump in 2016, and Joe Biden in 2020.

“Want to know if a red wave is happening?” asked a Politico headline last week. “Watch this special election.”

That’s why analysts are taking notice — and reframing their expectations for the midterms — after Democrats notched a win in the upstate New York contest.

With more than 95% of precincts reporting, Democrat Pat Ryan is currently leading Republican Marc Molinaro by about 5,000 votes, 51.9% to 48.1%. The Associated Press has already called the race in Ryan’s favor, although Molinaro has yet to concede.

Ryan will only hold the seat for about four months, but the implications of the result could be larger than that. Seen as an early test of each party’s messaging heading into the general election, the race is an affirmation of the electoral benefits for Democrats of centering the Supreme Court’s June decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which eliminated the constitutional right to an abortion.

After all, Ryan made Dobbs a key talking point in his campaign, running ads that warned Molinaro would support a nationwide abortion ban and handing out pink campaign signs to showcase his pro-choice bona fides.

“Choice was on the ballot,” Ryan tweeted after the race was called, repeating a phrase he frequently invoked on the campaign trail. “Freedom was on the ballot, and tonight choice and freedom won. We voted like our democracy was on the line because it is. We upended everything we thought we knew about politics and did it together.”

Democrat Pat Ryan, the winner of a New York special election. (Twitter)

This result is not an isolated data point. As InsideElections’ Ryan Matsumoto pointed out, Democrats have now outperformed Biden’s 2020 margin in all four of the House special elections since Dobbs.

Then, of course, there is the Kansas referendum earlier this month, when voters in the lean-red state voted to keep abortion rights protections in the state constitution, 59% to 41%.

Democrats have also moved into a slight lead in generic ballot polling, nearly closed the enthusiasm gap with Republicans, and racked up a series of legislative wins, including their long-sought climate change, health care, and tax package.

On top of that, inflation appears to be easing, while average gas prices are back below $4.

Does all of this mean the 2022 midterm calculus is fully scrambled? It’s too early to say for sure. Democrats are still running against the near-ironclad rule in American politics that incumbent presidents suffer losses in the midterms, and doing so at a time when prices remain high and Biden’s approval rating remains low.

But the possibility that this year could be — as FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver recently put it — an “asterisk election,” one that bucks the historical trends, is gaining purchase in Washington.

Conventional wisdom now holds that Democrats have a much better chance at holding the Senate, as inexperienced Republican candidates like Dr. Oz in Pennsylvania, Herschel Walker in Georgia, Blake Masters in Arizona, and J.D. Vance in Ohio struggle in the polls.

Tuesday’s result in New York could show that the House landscape is shifting too — or, at the very least, that Republicans’ hopes of notching a landslide majority in the chamber may be a thing of the past, courtesy of Dobbs and a confluence of other factors.

More election results from Tuesday

— Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY), the chair of the House Judiciary Committee, defeated Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), the chair of the House Oversight Committee, in a bruising member-on-member primary brought on by redistricting.

— Dan Goldman, the wealthy Levi Strauss heir who served as lead Democratic counsel during the first Trump impeachment trial, won a crowded Democratic primary for another New York seat. Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-NY), who moved districts to run for the seat, came in third place, joining Maloney as another incumbent who lost their place in Congress last night.

— Rep. Charlie Crist (D-FL) won the right to take on Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) in November, setting up a general election battle with the rising GOP star. Crist formerly served as a Republican governor of Florida before switching parties. Rep. Val Demings (D-FL) won the Democratic nomination to face Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) in November.

— Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY), the chair of the House Democrats’ campaign arm, fended off a primary challenge from progressive state Sen. Alessandra Biaggi.

— Controversial businessman Carl Paladino, who has a history of incendiary and racist remarks, lost a Republican primary to state party chair Nick Langworthy for a House seat in New York. He was one of several far-right candidates to come up short on Tuesday.

— Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-OK) received the GOP nomination for an open Senate seat in Oklahoma, making him the likely successor for retiring Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK).

— Gun control activist Maxwell Alejandro Frost beat out several more established politicians to win the Democratic primary for a House seat in Florida. At 25 years old, he could now become one of the first Gen Z members of Congress.

The possible first Gen Z member of the House. (Twitter)

What else you should know

>> Today is the 6-month anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. It is also Ukrainian Independence Day, which celebrates the country’s 1991 exit from the Soviet Union. President Biden marked both milestones this morning by announcing a $3 billion security aid package for Ukraine, the largest shipment yet from the U.S.

There are few signs of change in the “war of attrition” between Russia and Ukraine as it reaches its 6-month mark. “The Russians are measuring progress in feet, not even miles, at this point,” a New York Times correspondent recently wrote.

>> Biden is expected to announce his long-awaited student loan plan today. According to the Associated Press, Biden will announce plans to forgive $10,000 in federal student loan debt for borrowers with incomes up to $125,000 a year. He will also extend the pandemic-era pause on payments until January, offering clarity for borrowers who were unsure if the freeze would be extended past its August 31 deadline.

Biden’s announcement will close the loop on a decision that has hung in the air for much of his presidency, as progressive Democrats urged him to cancel much higher amounts of debt and Republicans warned that the move will exacerbate inflation.

Volodymyr Zelensky, Ukraine’s wartime president. (Ukrainian government)

Today’s political daybook

All times Eastern. Click on an event’s time to watch it.

President Joe Biden will return to the White House from Rehoboth Beach, Delaware (10:55 am) after three weeks of vacation.

Vice President Kamala Harris is on vacation in Kauai, Hawaii. She has nothing on her public schedule.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre will hold her daily press briefing (3 pm).

The Senate is on recess until September 6.

The House is on recess until September 13.

The Supreme Court is on recess until October 3.

Before I go...

Today is my first day of junior year. It feels good to be back on campus and back into the swing of things, although I can’t believe the summer has come to an end.

Many of you often ask what classes I’m taking, so I figured I would share them here to give you a glimpse at what I’ll be doing beyond WUTP this semester:

  • An international affairs course on terrorism and counterrorism
  • A philosophy course on the “history of freedom”
  • A history course on U.S. foreign policy until 1945
  • A political theory course on Alexis de Tocqueville’s “Democracy in America”
  • A journalism class on podcasting
  • And a course on “entrepreneurship for the common good”

If I’m a bit slower to respond to your emails or answer your questions in the next few days, please know that it’s probably just because I’m adjusting back to campus life and balancing WUTP with schoolwork.

I promise, I’m doing the best I can and I’ll get back to you soon!

That’s it for today. If you enjoy Wake Up To Politics, it’s always appreciated if you donate to support the newsletter or buy some merch. Or if you tell your friends and family to sign up at wakeuptopolitics.com.

If you have any questions or feedback, feel free to email me: my inbox is always open.

Thanks for waking up to politics! Have a great day.

— Gabe