Midterms: The big red wave has crested and turned into a rising blue tide
Labor Day has come and gone and so have the prospects for a landslide Republican victory in November.
The GOP quest to take control of Congress did not go gently into the Labor Day weekend. Just before the holiday, Republicans lost special congressional elections in Alaska and in upstate New York that they needed to win if they hope a significant majority in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Democrat Nancy Portola beat former GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin in a big upset in Alaska. She is the first Democrat to represent the state in the lower chamber for 50 years. A Democratic victory in a swing upstate New York district that former President Donald Trump won in 2016, and where President Joe Biden eked out a win in 2020, also came just before the holiday. Republicans now must beat both Democratic members in November to keep their dreams of House control alive.
The latest evidence that the big red wave has dissipated into a pink ripple on a pond comes from a new national survey conducted for the Wall Street Journal. The new poll conducted by the firms that worked for Trump (Fabrizio/Lee) and Biden (Impact Research) in the 2020 presidential election illustrates the dramatic change in the 2022 political environment since early this year.
The big red wave has crested and turned into a rising blue tide. The three-point Republican edge among registered voters in a generic congressional head-to-head in March turned into a five-point Democratic advantage just before Labor Day.
Democrats have gained, but the GOP is still in the driver’s seat because of Republican state legislative dominance in drawing districts. Because of gerrymandering, Democrats need at least this much of a lead in the national congressional vote to maintain control of the House. Biden’s party is on the rise but still has a way to go to keep control of the House. But the dreams of a big Republican majority have faded.
The situation on the Senate side is even more bleak for the GOP. Trump’s party is on the ropes with a field of troubled candidates like Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania, J.D. Vance in Ohio and Hershel Walker in Georgia. These candidates carry lots of baggage and little cash for the stretch run of the campaign. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), the chair of the Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee feud publicly while their hopes for control wither on the vine.
Analysis of the data from the Wall Street Journal survey suggests there have been two big factors in the revival of Democratic fortunes for the midterms. The first is Biden’s resurgence and the second is the debilitating impact of the Supreme Court’s abortion decision on Republican fortunes.
A rising presidential tide lifts all Democratic boats. Back in March, Biden’s unfavorable rating was 16 points lower than his favorable score. In the new poll, his favorability deficit has dropped by half to 8 percent.
Normally, a midterm election is simply a referendum on the incumbent president, but Trump just won’t get out of the way. His own vanity and investigations of the former president by the U.S. Department of Justice, the House investigatory committee on the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection and the New York attorney general have kept Trump in the spotlight as his popularity has faded. His popularity is now 16 points underwater, which means he’s in a hole twice as deep as his successor.
Last week, Biden criticized the ex-president and his MAGA followers for the danger they pose to our American democratic legacy. Trump’s problems and rising negatives created an opportunity for Biden to attack his predecessor for his attempts to undermine the results of a fair election in 2020.
A dramatic change in the issue environment on top of Trump’s legal jeopardy made it a long hot summer for his party. In June, the U.S. Supreme Court turned the tide against the GOP when the high court nullified Roe v. Wade and ended the constitutional right for legal abortions for millions of American women.
Earlier this year, inflation was the only issue that mattered and rising prices for gas took a terrible toll on Biden and his party. But a significant decline in prices at the pump and the unpopular Supreme Court Dobbs decision knocked the GOP for a loop.
Roe’s reversal had such a dramatic impact that voters indicated in the Wall Street Journal poll that abortion has supplanted the economy as the issue that will them to the polls this fall. Republicans once looked forward to November with glee. Now, Democrats anticipate “Roevember” with heightened anticipation.
Earlier this year, the contest for control of Congress seemed like a walk in the park for the GOP. Now, it’s a street fight between the two parties. The dramatic change in the political environment highlights the danger of making political predictions before voters cast their ballots. There are many closely contested House and Senate races. But the GOP must reverse the current trends to realize the big hopes and dreams they enjoyed in January.
Brad Bannon is a Democratic pollster and CEO of Bannon Communications Research. His podcast, “Deadline D.C. with Brad Bannon,” airs on Periscope TV and the Progressive Voices Network. Follow him on Twitter: @BradBannon