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Democrats bet on stimulus bill to boost them in 2022

Democrats bet on stimulus bill to boost them in 2022
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Democrats are banking on their recently signed $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package to boost their chances in next year’s elections, betting the bill’s broad popularity will preclude the kind of midterm shellacking that typically befalls the party in power.

But political strategists and experts acknowledge that a lot can happen between now and Nov. 8, 2022, when voters will head to the polls to render a verdict on full Democratic control of Washington.

The party’s electoral fate is still subject to the whims of a fast-moving news cycle and unpredictable political landscape. The legislation also has yet to be fully implemented and its effects fully realized — a fact that President BidenJoe BidenBiden to meet with 6 GOP senators next week Arizona secretary of state gets security detail over death threats surrounding election audit On The Money: Five takeaways on a surprisingly poor jobs report | GOP targets jobless aid after lackluster April gain MORE himself conceded this week as he touted the sweeping nature of the measure.

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“It’s one thing to pass a historic piece of legislation like the American Rescue Plan, and it’s quite another to implement it,” Biden said at the White House on Monday. “The devil is in the details.”

The 2022 midterms will prove critical for Biden’s legislative agenda in the second half of his first term in the White House. Republicans need to flip only five seats in the House and one in the Senate to recapture control of Congress, meaning Democrats can’t afford to cede any ground to the GOP if they hope to retain a governing majority.

What’s more, decennial redistricting this year appears likely to favor Republicans after state-level wins in 2020 delivered the party control of the redistricting process in a handful of key states, including in North Carolina, Florida and Texas, which are expected to gain House seats.

While the narrow Democratic majorities in both chambers and the possibility of Republican gerrymandering would typically be enough to make any party nervous, Democrats are wagering that their massive stimulus package will prove so “transformational,” as Biden has put it, that voters will be willing to hand Democrats at least another two years in power.

“I don’t think anyone underestimates how difficult the midterms might be,” Max Steele, a senior adviser for the liberal super PAC American Bridge 21st Century, said. “But that’s why we’re trying to start early, go big early and deliver.”

The super PAC has committed $100 million to boost Democrats ahead of the midterms and is using the American Rescue Plan as a centerpiece of its campaign. The group launched its first ad touting the stimulus bill on Tuesday, dropping six figures for an initial two-week run in the Philadelphia and Pittsburgh media markets.

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“We’re trying to make sure people understand the real world impact of this,” Steele said. “How it is helping them, how the American Rescue Plan will impact them, their communities, their job and understanding that, in the face of unanimous Republican opposition, Joe Biden and the Democrats delivered.”

Democrats also see Republicans’ unanimous refusal to support the stimulus bill as a helpful campaign tool that allows them to cast GOP incumbents as partisan obstructionists, even in the face of the deep economic and public health crises spurred on by the coronavirus pandemic.

“Every single Republican in the House, every single Republican in the Senate voted against this bill,” Jaime HarrisonJaime HarrisonDemocrats announce initial M investment ahead of midterms Santorum dismisses influence of Native American culture on US life DNC taps veteran campaign hands for communications staff MORE, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee (DNC), told reporters on a video call last week. “Are they so out of touch that they don’t know that people in their states are actually hurting?”

The stimulus bill has so far proven popular, recent polling shows. A national survey from Pew Research Center released last week found that 70 percent Americans — and 41 percent of Republicans and GOP-leaning independents — supported the $1.9 trillion package, while only 28 percent opposed it.

A recent Morning Consult-Politico poll yielded similar results, with 75 percent saying they supported the measure. Only 18 percent of voters objected to it.

While polling offers some positive indicators for Democrats, history has yielded mixed results for parties looking to maintain their grip on power.

In 1934, as the country struggled with the Great Depression, Democrats expanded their House majority and won a supermajority in the Senate following a prolific first two years of former President Franklin Roosevelt’s tenure in the White House.

But the 1966 midterm elections saw sweeping Democratic losses in both the House and Senate under former President Lyndon Johnson, who pushed a raft of civil rights and anti-poverty legislation as part of his Great Society agenda.

And Democrats are still scarred by their trouncing in the 2010 midterms, when the GOP flipped 63 House seats, giving Republicans their largest congressional gain since 1938 and stripping Democrats of control of the House. Democrats also lost six seats in the Senate, only barely hanging on to their narrow majority in the chamber.

Just over a decade later, however, many in the party now attribute those losses to a failure by former President Obama and congressional Democrats to sell to voters their early legislative victories, including the passage of a $787 billion stimulus bill in 2009 and the Affordable Care Act in 2010.

“Even though we had passed health care, cap and trade, Wall Street reform, the enthusiasm in our base was really low,” one Democratic consultant and former House staffer said. “And it ultimately was one of the things that ended up sinking us.”

Biden has also acknowledged as much. Speaking to House Democrats earlier this month, the president recalled how he had urged Obama to flaunt their early accomplishments to no avail. Consequently, Biden said, Democrats “paid a price” for Obama’s “humility.”

“We didn’t adequately explain what we had done. Barack was so modest, he didn’t want to take, as he said, a ‘victory lap.’ I kept saying, ‘Tell people what we did.’ He said, ‘We don’t have time. I’m not going to take a victory lap.’ And we paid a price for it, ironically, for that humility.”

Democrats are taking a different approach this time. Biden is embarking on a nationwide victory tour to tout the stimulus bill, making his first stop in the Philadelphia suburbs on Tuesday. And several groups, including the DNC and Priorities USA, the largest Democratic super PAC, are launching ad campaigns to promote the legislation.

It remains to be seen whether Democrats can keep their legislative achievements front and center over the next 18 months.

Republicans have already spent weeks attacking the stimulus package as a wish list of liberal policy priorities, and some have signaled a desire to shift the national conversation to the massive surge of migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border or culture war issues such as the recent rebranding of the Mr. Potato Head toy and a decision by Dr. Seuss’s estate to stop publishing six books because of their inclusion of racist imagery.

Julian Zelizer, a professor of political history at Princeton University, said that the stimulus bill has the potential to bolster Democrats in 2022, but that there is one major variable: whether it actually works.

“It’s more than just the passage of the bill or the creation of a new right or regulatory system,” Zelizer said. “It’s about theoretically reviving the economy and providing relief from the pandemic combined with the vaccine rollout.”

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“The way it could move into the fall or winter as the midterms kick in is if it’s working,” he continued. “If American families are feeling that the benefits delivered have helped them, it can be a pretty powerful asset, even if the midterms are some time away.”

Democrats might not have to wait long to put the stimulus package’s political capital to the test.

A May 1 special election in Texas’ 6th Congressional District to replace the late Rep. Ron WrightRon WrightUnsuccessful anti-Trump Republican candidate: GOP 'not living up to this moment' Democrats confront difficult prospects for midterms On The Trail: Texas underscores Democrats' struggle with voter turnout MORE (R) could provide an early assessment of Democrats’ policy agenda. The party previously contested the district in 2020, only to see Wright win reelection by a 9-point margin.

Regardless of the outcome in Texas, Zelizer said that it is simply too early to know the exact impact of Democrats’ stimulus package on their political prospects in 2022. Not only will new issues and challenges inevitably come up, he said, but the ongoing coronavirus pandemic makes things even more uncertain.

“There’s a lot that can happen between now and then, not with this bill but with other issues. New bills, new conflicts,” Zelizer said. “It’s not simply a question of do people remember the bill, but what happens between now and then, especially given that we’re in an unpredictable pandemic.”