GOP wave threatens blue-state strongholds

Democrats are increasingly worried that Republicans will make gains in deep-blue strongholds such as New York and Oregon as the winds appear to shift in the GOP’s favor ahead of next month’s midterm elections. 

The GOP is making competitive bids to take back governorships in both states, which reliably go for Democrats in presidential elections. The Republican gains could also extend to the House, where the GOP is making inroads in the aforementioned states, along with Rhode Island and others. 

“I would say Oregon Democrats are worried. We have a history of competitive gubernatorial elections, but usually we’re up by at least 2 points at this point in October, not down by 2 like the current public polls show,” said Oregon-based Democratic strategist Jake Foster. 

“And you know, frankly, we’re not used to hearing our state mentioned in the same breath as Arizona or Nevada,” Foster added, noting two other closely watched gubernatorial races.

Oregon has not elected a Republican governor since 1982, nor has it gone for the GOP presidential nominee since 1984. In 2020 alone, President Biden won the state by 16 points. 

But Republican Christine Drazan could be poised this year to win the Oregon gubernatorial race over Democrat Tina Kotek given a confluence of factors. Current Gov. Kate Brown (D) is the most unpopular governor in the country, per data from Morning Consult. Adding to that are issues like crime and homelessness, which are seen as top of mind for voters. Finally, but just as significantly, third-party candidate Betsy Johnson, a Democrat-turned-independent, could complicate things further by siphoning off votes from her former party.

An Emerson College Polling survey released earlier this month showed Drazan leading Kotek 36 percent to 34 percent, within the margin of error and effectively tying the two. Kotek’s campaign blamed Johnson for being a disruptor in the race and taking away crucial votes.

“One of the main reasons Tina decided to run for Governor is because Kate Brown was absent on two of Oregon’s biggest problems: homelessness and addiction. Tina has an urgent plan of action to make real change in all of these areas: reducing homelessness, making housing more affordable, and fixing our broken mental health and addiction treatment systems,” Kotek spokesperson Katie Wertheimer said in a statement.

“She will lead where Kate Brown couldn’t or wouldn’t. Christine Drazan has a failing record on these issues, and we don’t need to take our state to the far right-wing to fix these problems.”

Over in New York, recent polling has also shown Gov. Kathy Hochul’s (D) lead shrinking as she tries to fend off a challenge from Republican Lee Zeldin. A Siena College survey released on Tuesday showed 52 percent of respondents saying they would vote for Hochul compared to 41 percent for Zeldin, a narrower margin than the 17-point margin the governor held in a poll three weeks ago. The latest Siena College survey also showed Zeldin leading Hochul among independents, 49 percent to 40 percent. 

Meanwhile, a separate Quinnipiac University poll also released on Tuesday showed Hochul only leading Zeldin 50 percent to 46 percent. Among independents, Zeldin led Hochul 57 percent to 37 percent. Still, Hochul’s approval rating shows her above water for now. 

Hochul campaign spokesman Jerrel Harvey, who took issue with the Quinnipiac poll, said the governor was not taking the race for granted.

“Despite $8 million in outside spending from right-wing groups pushing baseless lies, Governor Hochul maintains a double-digit lead against her opponent,” he said. “Even in today’s Quinnipiac poll, which substantially undercounted Democrats, Governor Hochul continues to receive support from fifty percent of New Yorkers and we are confident in our ability to turn out voters in every community.”

Still, some Democrats see the numbers as unsettling.

“It’s concerning,” said Basil Smikle, former executive director for the New York State Democratic Party. “It means that … Hochul needs to make a strong closing argument to the voter in these last couple of weeks.”

Smikle noted that the issue of crime was a salient one in the state, including in New York City. He said that Zeldin had “tapped into this nerve” on an issue that both parties care about. He also believed that the party is suffering from the historic national headwinds a president’s party typically faces in midterms, adding that they could have implications for more than just Hochul.

“I will say that these national winds are not just about the … gubernatorial race. There are two congressional races that should concern Democrats … the 17th and the 19th,” Smikle said, referring to Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney’s (D-N.Y.) race and a newly drawn open seat, later adding that “those two races should not be as close as they are forecast to be.” 

Still, Democrats are brushing off those concerns, saying they understood the political environment they were walking into this cycle. 

“From day one, the DCCC has been clear eyed about the electoral challenges we face this cycle. Across the map, we are more competitive because House Democrats, like Chairman Maloney, took action to end the pandemic, get people back to work, and invest in America. Voters are going to reject extremist Republicans like MAGA Mike Lawler in November — Every special election in New York this summer makes that clear,” said Chris Taylor, spokesperson for the House Democrats’ campaign arm. 

Coby Eiss, campaign manager for Democrat Josh Riley, who’s running in the 19th District, echoed that sentiment, saying “We’re not focused on what the forecasters and pundits in D.C. say or the chattering class in Albany and D.C., we’re focused on running our campaign and delivering a winning message.”

Yet elsewhere too there are House districts of various shades of blue where this trend is emerging. Take, for example, Rhode Island’s 2nd Congressional District: The seat has long been considered a safely Democratic one, having been represented by outgoing Rep. Jim Langevin (D) for two decades. 

But recent polling has shown Republican Allan Fung leading Democrat Seth Magaziner, including a Suffolk University-Boston Globe poll released last week that had Fung at 45 percent compared to Magaziner at 37 percent. And the race has been rated a “toss up” by the nonpartisan election handicapper Cook Political Report.

In Oregon’s 6th Congressional District, which has similarly been seen as favoring Democrats and which went for Biden by double digits in 2020, the race has also been rated a “toss up” by Cook. Though the district is not quite as blue as other House seats, the competitive environment has required Democrats to move around their resources. 

AdImpact, which tracks ad spending among campaigns, noted that a super PAC aligned with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) had moved their broadcast flight from Oregon’s 5th Congressional District to the 6th District.

Miles Coleman, associate editor for Sabato’s Crystal Ball, said it’s possible the Democrats in Oregon running for Congress could ride on the coattails of Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), who is up for reelection this year and whom Coleman described as an “electoral overperformer.” 

Still, Republicans believe the environment and type of candidates this cycle has fielded have given them a shot at making serious inroads. 

“Gains in the northeast are poised to be the story of the night,” predicted Matt Gorman, a former spokesperson for the House GOP campaign arm. “Whether Allan Fung in Rhode Island, George Logan in Connecticut. Even governorships, possibly, Paul LePage [in Maine]. How well we could do in New York in the House seats and maybe even getting close to the governor’s race.”

Tags 2022 midterms Biden blue states House elections Joe Biden Kate Brown Kathy Hochul Kathy Hochul Lee Zeldin Lee Zeldin New York Oregon Red wave tina kotek
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