An old adage says that Labor Day kicks off the fall campaign. We only wish it were so. It’s become a bit more dated political wisdom. Campaigns are now almost perpetual. This one started long before the summer of Memorial Day began, let alone the cornerstone of Labor Day.
Nevertheless, here we are.
As we hold a giant mattress sale to honor those who toil and work, the midterm elections are only nine weeks away. For those states, led by Colorado, which rely heavily on mail-in voting, actual election day is closer to just six weeks when ballots arrive in mailboxes.
This is a good time to take stock of the political configuration of the terrain and assess the probability of such and such a trajectory.
Over the past year, nearly all quarters expected 2022 to be a boon for Republicans, perhaps of historic proportions, and a devastating annihilation for Joe Biden’s Democrats.
If you’re a betting type, that’s still the way to bet given the long-established pattern of the party occupying the White House suffering significant mid-term losses. But it is no longer wise to bet the college fund. And you might want to get some odds because the bloom is the rosiest of these showings.
The hand held by the Republicans always seems preferable to that of the Democrats. The story is hard to deny. Inflation remains high even if the edge has eased a little. Economic insecurity, as well as the feeling that the country is on the wrong track, are dominant feelings. Violent crime dominates almost every news report. President Biden’s poll numbers have improved, but remain disappointing.
But all of a sudden in the past few weeks, the Democrats seem to be back in the game. They have a bit of a spring in their step while the Republicans are contemplating, so quietly, that it might get away from them.
At a minimum, the most optimistic estimates of a Republican rout are much more moderate. Months ago, the GOP had visions of a Senate takeover with few votes to spare and a tsunami-induced recovery of 45 or more House seats.
These thoughts now look like chimeras. Leading tipsters give Democrats an unrivaled chance to hold the Senate. In the House, Republicans need just a gain of a measly four seats to drop carbon-dated Nancy Pelosi in favor of backbone and testicle-lacking Kevin McCarthy. It’s practically a given.
If the Democrats manage to retain control of the House, history will have been challenged in multiple ways. But smart money now estimates the loss to be in the order of a few dozen seats, not much more dramatic numbers.
If it remains anything less than a total turnaround, it still deserves a major rating. What was supposed to be a straight-line death march for Democrats through November has turned interesting, maybe even competitive.
Four reasons stand out for this possible change of course.
First of all, whatever you think of the so-called Cut Inflation Act, beyond the cynical branding, it shows that Democrats are finally doing something. The main pieces of it are very popular. Related to this, Biden has risen from the political ground, even if higher levels still seem out of reach. Gasoline prices aren’t that mind-blowing.
The second factor is the re-emergence of Donald Trump at the center of almost every political story. He never left – not even close to that. Again, we can only wish. But he’s gone from a ranting sideline player to a shrinking crowd to once again a major player in the Republican primaries and most likely criminal Mar-a-Lago shenanigans. Rumor has it announcing his next presidential campaign as early as this month — much to the dismay of any Republican strategist with an ounce of savvy.
Much, arguably too much, is made of Trump’s grip on his base. What often goes unsaid is how he drives away infinitely more voters. The repelling end of his magnet is stronger than the attracting end.
Then comes the political effect of the Supreme Court’s decision Dobbs Decision at the end of June. At the time, many Republicans predicted its effect would give way to their favorite problems of inflation, crime and presidential weariness. This is not the case as we have seen in a handful of elections. If the end of deer was a winning question for Republicans or even neutrals, many GOP candidates in swing districts would not cut their positions or clean up their websites.
Finally, there is the critical and essential issue of the selection of candidates. True to form, Republicans are sacrificing a number of winnable races by anointing off-putting, fringe, and utterly ineligible standard bearers.
Georgia remains a Republican-friendly state, especially in a slow year. But they can cost themselves a Senate seat with the idiocy of Herschel Walker. In a very accessible Arizona, neither Senate candidate Blake Masters nor gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake is likely to win. Ditto for Pennsylvania, where Dr. Oz is doing poorly in his Senate race and Doug Mastriano is a non-runner in the gubernatorial contest.
And so on. They may even lose a senate seat in scarlet Ohio.
Nine weeks is another political expense. Fortunes can change. One factor that deserves special attention is the Latino vote. If it continues to slip away from the Democrats, even by a few points, it means major problems. Hint: Every supposedly enlightened Democratic press release referencing Latinx voters only propels this change.
Driving home to Colorado, Republicans nominated a mature and responsible ticket, with an exception here and there. They see this as their best opportunity to get back into the game since the blue takeover nearly two decades ago.
But this resurgence requires a substantial national wave. If Colorado has become a Democratic-leaning state by about half a dozen points, a three-point surge from the GOP will still leave them short of unrealized opportunities.