Democrats must close the perception gap

This week marked the anniversary of the attacks on the U.S. Capitol and our democracy. But our attention will soon turn to the midterm elections in November. The conventional wisdom seems to be that Democrats will lose control of both houses of Congress.

But that assessment may be premature. While the House of Representatives will be much tougher to keep, the Senate holds possibilities for Democrats to not only retain their slim majority but even expand it. 

Why, in the face of President BidenJoe BidenMacro grid will keep the lights on Pelosi suggests filibuster supporters 'dishonor' MLK's legacy on voting rights Sanders calls out Manchin, Sinema ahead of filibuster showdown MORE’s less than stellar poll numbers, do I believe this? Several reasons. 

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First, Democrats have 10 months to change the narrative going into the midterm elections. Even with Biden’s approval ratings in the mid-40s, the economic indices continue to be positive: a record six million jobs created in Biden’s first year, a low 4.3 percent unemployment rate, record-low jobless claims, rising wages for the first time in years, a robust stock market and more families saving money. More than 200 million Americans have been fully vaccinated, and even amid the omicron variant siege, Democrats are following the science that protects Americans’ lives.

But there is a gap between these numbers and how Americans are feeling. And that gap is what Democrats need to close by doing a better job of touting their successes and contrasting them with the way things would be if Republicans were in control.

There are many other factors working in Democrats’ favor in the upcoming Senate races. The map Democrats must contend with this year provides a pathway to protect and expand their Democratic majority. Democrats must defend only 14 seats while Republicans must defend 20 seats.

The top Democratic battlegrounds in which incumbents are running include states Democrats won in the 2020 presidential race — Arizona, Georgia, New Hampshire and Nevada. Biden also won two other top pick-up targets — Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

In a third top target – North Carolina – Biden came within a point of winning in 2020. In these three, two Republicans are retiring, making them open seats. Additionally, Democrats have opportunities with great candidates in Florida and Ohio (another GOP retirement).

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Many Republican candidates are involved in chaotic and expensive campaigns that pit mainstream GOP candidates against those hand-picked or endorsed by former President TrumpDonald TrumpSanders calls out Manchin, Sinema ahead of filibuster showdown Laura Ingraham 'not saying' if she'd support Trump in 2024 The Hill's 12:30 Report: Djokovic may not compete in French Open over vaccine requirement MORE. This means that whomever the nominee ends up being, they will be battered and beat-up. A Trump endorsement could be the kiss of death in some swing states.

In fact, Trump can be seen as one of the biggest negative factors in GOP Senate primaries, elevating flawed candidates, as in the case of Hershel Walker in Georgia. In other instances, Trump pits campaigns against each other in a type of political “Hunger Games,” forcing candidates to take extreme positions to win his endorsement.

In other races, the Republican incumbent has attracted negative scrutiny. Sen. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonSen. Ron Johnson: Straight from the horse's mouth Senate Democrats' super PAC releases million ad buy against Ron Johnson Barnes rakes in almost 0K after Johnson enters Wisconsin Senate race MORE (R-Wis.) is being labeled a “crook” and “unfit to represent Wisconsin in the Senate” by two prominent Wisconsin newspapers. In Florida, the Orlando Sentinel uncovered that  Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Djokovic may not compete in French Open over vaccine requirement Florida looms large in Republican 2024 primary How a nice-guy South Dakota senator fell into a Trump storm MOREhas missed as many as 14 Senate hearings over the past two months.” The Las Vegas Sun editorial board wrote about Adam Laxalt’s campaign in Nevada that “Laxalt is just as bad a candidate for Senate as he was for governor.”

The midterms will be very challenging for Democrats regardless. But it helps that many of the Democratic candidates in the most hotly contested Senate races have a record of accomplishment to run on.

With a better map, early investments, good fundraising and, most of all, effective messaging, Democrats have a good chance of keeping control and even expanding their Senate majority. And that will be good for the country. 

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.