As momentum shifts, can Democrats defy history?

Abortion-rights supporters rejoice as early polls indicate the proposed constitutional amendment in Kansas has not passed late Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2022, at a Kansans for Constitutional Freedom election watch party at the Overland Park Convention Center in Overland Park, Kan. (Evert Nelson/The Topeka Capital-Journal via AP)

It’s likely there will be a wave in the upcoming midterm elections, but it may not be a red one. If Democrats work hard to organize, mobilize and educate voters about what is at stake, they may be able to defy conventional wisdom.

They must make this election about a contrast between an out-of-touch extremist radical MAGA Republican Party and a Democratic Party that’s fighting for practical solutions.

Several things have happened in the last few weeks that suggest Democrats may be in a much better position than history would portend.

The latest happened this week in Kansas with voters rejecting an amendment that would have removed abortion rights protections from their State Constitution. Importantly for Democrats, voter turnout on this referendum blew all expectations out of the water. Nearly 1 million Kansans voted in the primary elections. That’s more in line with voter turnout typically seen in a general election.

Kansans proved that letting Americans keep their rights to make their own decisions about their health care is not only popular in polls, but at them, and that voters would show up to protect those rights and their freedom in November. 

But what about the economy, gas prices and inflation, which continue to be top issues of concern for voters? Things may be getting better on that front too.

The economy’s fundamentals continue to be strong as employment is still at historic highs. According to new numbers released Friday, the unemployment rate has dropped to 3.5 percent, a half-century low.

The recent contraction of the economy was not welcome news, but many economists say that the robust labor market is keeping recession at bay. But what really is boosting Democratic moods is the breakthrough Inflation Reduction Act, which promises to reduce inflation, increase health care affordability and help fight the climate crisis. If this bill passes with only Democratic support and voters start to feel some easing of the pressure on their pocketbooks, they will give Democrats credit for doing something.

It also will give Democrats a much-needed boost with younger voters hungry for a real substantive fix to the climate crisis, which this bill jumpstarts. And it will allow Democrats to further contrast their approach with their do-nothing-but-blame-Democrats Republican counterparts. 

The Senate is also about the pass the PACT Act,  which expands benefits for burn pit victims sickened in Iraq and Afghanistan, after it was blocked by some Republicans. 

Two other events have surfaced that will allow Democrats to make this crucial contrast with Republicans in the upcoming midterms. The Jan. 6 committee hearings have put Trump’s egregious behavior front and center and crystalized his dereliction of duty and betrayal of his oath of office. Importantly, it was not Democrats who were describing his actions; it was Trump’s own supporters, former staffers and even members of his family. While these hearings may not have changed many Republican minds, polls show they have hurt Trump with independent voters.

Additionally, Trump is inching closer to announcing another run for president, and he may do so before the midterm elections. He is starting to make appearances and speak to his base. His speech to the American First Political Action Conference was a dark image of America riddled with the old grievances of a stolen election. He posted that it is not a matter of whether but when he will announce another run.  

The more Trump sucks up the energy, oxygen and attention between now and November, the better it will be for Democrats. He stands as a stark reminder that the destruction of our democracy would be imminent if his MAGA supporting, Big-Lie believing acolytes take over Congress.

The effects of Republican overreach on issues such as abortion, guns and marriage, the danger of election deniers holding powerful positions, in addition to the Democrats’ recent legislative successes and the recent drop in gas prices are shown in the latest generic ballot polls. In the Senate, Democrats have consistently held the lead in races in Nevada, Arizona, Pennsylvania, Ohio and New Hampshire. In seven of the last nine polls, Democrats hold the advantage on the general ballot, by anywhere from two to seven points.

It will still be an uphill battle for Democrats to keep the Senate and hold the House in November. But there are cracks in the conventional wisdom that Democrats, as the party of an unpopular first-term president, will necessarily see huge losses.

The political momentum has shifted ever so slightly. If Democrats can maintain that momentum, they have a real chance to defy history.   

Maria Cardona is a longtime Democratic strategist, a principal at Dewey Square Group, a Washington-based political consulting agency, and a CNN/CNN Español political commentator. Follow her on Twitter @MariaTCardona.

Tags 2022 midterm elections Biden approval rating gas prices Inflation Reduction Act Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 Kansas abortion vote Maria Cardona the big lie

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