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A couple of days ago, a subscriber wrote to say: “you seem awfully bullish on GOP prospects for taking back the Senate.”
In early September, I thought the likeliest outcome would be 51R-49D, weak GOP candidates not withstanding, based on inflation, immigration and the incumbent (president). Since then, the incoming GOP tide has become a torrent. It appears certain that Election Day is going to be a very good day for Republicans.
Reasons for and evidence of a coming GOP “wave” are many, but let’s look at six that tell the tale.
1. The Fed:
Last week, News Items led with this report from The Wall Street Journal:
Federal Reserve officials are barreling toward another interest-rate rise of 0.75 percentage point at their meeting Nov. 1–2 and are likely to debate then whether and how to signal plans to approve a smaller increase in December. “We will have a very thoughtful discussion about the pace of tightening at our next meeting,” Fed governor Christopher Waller said in a speech earlier this month.
It’s nice that the Fed is going to have a “very thoughtful discussion” about QT, but it won’t do the White House any good. A 75 basis points increase in November may, I suppose, boost markets, or some markets, but for the rest of us it means higher home mortgage, re-finance and home equity loan rates, higher interest on credit cards, etc. That’s about the last thing anyone needs right now.
The Biden administration would argue that inflation, which the Fed is desperately (and so far unsuccessfully) trying to contain, is not its fault. That’s half-true (Ukraine). The other half, clearly articulated by former Clinton administration Treasury Secretary Larry Summers, is here.
2. Gloom and Doom.
The electorate is an especially sour mood. The president’s approval rating is underwater. By a 2-to-1 margin, voters think the country is “off on the wrong track.” By a 4-to-1 margin, voters think the economy is getting worse. And then there’s this from a recent CBS News poll:
To make matters even worse for Democrats, the majority of those polled said that Democrats and Democrat-led policies were a part of the problem. Nearly half of the respondents (48%) said that Democratic policies had harmed the economy, and just under one-third (29%) said that they had helped.
In addition, just over two-thirds (68%) said that the Biden administration could be doing more to combat inflation — while 29% said that the administration was doing everything that it could.
Nearly two-thirds said that President Biden bore either “a lot” (45%) or “some” (26%) responsibility for the current state of the economy — and well over one-third of respondents (42%) said that Republican policies would likely help the economy.
Which explains this from The New York Times:
Mr. Biden has not held a campaign rally since before Labor Day, even as the future of his agenda and his own political career are at stake in the midterm elections. His low profile on the campaign trail reflects his low approval rating, and White House officials say the president has made a point of delivering speeches on the party’s accomplishments, rather than taking part in rallies sponsored by political campaigns.
With less than three weeks until Election Day and polls suggesting Democratic enthusiasm is waning, Mr. Biden’s strategy is clear: He will help Democrats raise money and will continue to hopscotch the country talking about infrastructure, negotiated drug prices, student debt relief and investments in computer chip manufacturing. But his decision not to participate, so far at least, in rallies that are normally a staple of campaign season highlights how little the president can do to help his fellow Democrats, even with the megaphone of the Oval Office. (italics mine)
3. The Democrats don’t have anything positive to say.
I live in the New York media market and as a result see political advertising from three states: New Jersey, New York and Connecticut. The Democratic candidates’ messages in federal races in all three states are two: abortion and Trumpian extremism.
That’s it. No mention of, say, the Party’s decades-long defense of Social Security and Medicare. No cogent explanation of the Biden administration’s economic policies. No mention of a better future (“stay the course”). No mention of low unemployment. No mention of record infrastructure investment. No mention of climate initiatives (especially important to voters 18–29 years old). No mention, ever, of Joe Biden. Nothing remotely hopeful. Just: The Republican is a Nazi and you better get with the program or Trumpian brownshirts will triumph and force your daughter to have a baby.
Given that even my dogs know that the most pressing issue for the largest number of voters is purchasing power, it does seem especially odd that Democrats have nothing to say about it. The notion that the most pressing issue can be ignored is insane.
4. But the polls say it’s close.
First, pre-election polling undercounts rural and exurban voters. Those voters are the ones most closely aligned with what has come to be called MAGA. They don’t trust pollsters, to put it mildly. Their refusal (to answer questions) rate is (very) high. They are therefore hard to count. Anyone who suggests that this is not true hasn’t been following American politics for the last 30 years.
Second, pre-election polling is imprecise when it comes to “weighting” the results to accurately profile the electorate in this or that state or district. 85% of a rural area might vote, 45% of a suburban area might vote, Black turnout might decline. That changes the make-up of the electorate. Given that turnout is difficult to gauge, it’s best to allow for a bit more play in a poll’s margin of error.
Third, the spread is less important than the number. In Washington State, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D) leads GOP challenger Tiffany Smiley by 8 points (49%-to-41%), according to the most recent Seattle Times survey. That’s one way to look at it.
A better way to look at it is Sen. Murray is at ~50%, which means she’s probably not going to do much better than that. If the tide is really going out, then she’s in jeopardy of losing her seat. Forty-nine percent may well be just that: 49%.
5. The Republicans have plenty of dough.
The most under-reported story of this election cycle is this:
More than $1.6 billion has been spent or booked on TV ads in a dozen Senate races, with $3 out of every $4 being spent in six states — Georgia, Pennsylvania, Arizona, Wisconsin, Nevada and Ohio, according to an NPR analysis of data provided by the ad-tracking firm AdImpact. Most of that money is coming from dark money outside groups with little-to-no donor transparency — and Republicans are getting a huge boost from them. Outside groups have poured in nearly $1 billion to buoy GOP Senate candidates. Just how important have these groups been to Republicans? Eighty-six percent of the money going toward pro-GOP TV ads is coming from these outside groups, compared to 55% for Democrats. Put simply: If it weren’t for these outside groups, Republican candidates would be swamped on the airwaves. The concentrated ad spending is reflective of just how narrow the fight for control of the Senate is. Republicans need a net pickup of two Senate seats to win a majority, and many of the top races will likely be decided by only a few percentage points. So the campaigns and outside groups are pouring in tens, if not hundreds, of millions of dollars in each state to sway the ever-shrinking percentage of persuadable voters.
6. The surest sign GOP prospects have improved, markedly.
Mark Halperin of Wide World of News:
Prediction: We are about to see a flood of anonymous quotes from Democratic strategists explaining why they are going to get wiped out and either (1) pointing fingers of blame in various directions or (2) saying it was inevitable. The Washington Post kicked it off thusly:
“The entire issue set is working against us. It is really hard for a Democrat in a marginal district,” said another Democratic House strategist, who spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to speak frankly. “There was a lot of attention on abortion immediately post-Dobbs. As time has passed the immediacy has dissipated. The everyday reality of buying gas and buying groceries has overtaken it.”
Could the Republicans really run the table in the U.S. Senate races?
In a word, “yes.”
You might say: On October 1st, FiveThirtyEight said the Democrats had a 68% chance of maintaining control?
Aside from the ludicrous specificity, there aren’t three seasoned pols or political reporters who ever believed that Democrats had a 68% chance of maintaining control of the US Senate. It was and remains a possible outcome, but even before the recent turning of the tide, the chances were never better than 50–50.
The most likely outcome now is that Republicans will win back control of the Senate decisively. My guess would be 53R-47D and I wouldn’t be in the least surprised if the spread was wider.
It is possible that all the GOP Senate candidates have “peaked too soon,” that the electorate in the contested states will shift back toward the status quo. It’s unlikely.
It’s very unlikely.