Let’s get serious about Senate control


The midterm elections can be seen through the prism of a football game: for the first half, the Republicans opened a wide lead. Then, in the third quarter — from the Supreme Court’s anti-abortion ruling to Labor Day — Democrats closed the gap.

Since their attack stalled, the Republicans have kicked the political equivalent of a field goal to open a small advantage.

Now, a month away from the election, there’s a good chance the GOP will win 10 to 20 seats in the House, with an equal chance of winning the Senate.

There remain a few overarching themes that could affect momentum in the final weeks.

Both camps prefer a president to be in the limelight: Republicans want it to be Joe Biden; Democrats prefer Donald Trump.

The supposed improvement in Biden’s standing after Democrats won big legislative victories this summer has been overstated. Speaking to Democratic strategists in competitive races, they would like a relatively low presidential political profile in October. There is little demand for Biden on the campaign trail.

And while some Republican candidates think the defeated former president can chip away at their base — he’s recently been to North Carolina, Ohio and Nevada — it’s equally true that Trump is chipping away at Democrats and diverting attention from Biden. .

As has been the case for months, it’s the conditions that favor Republicans, over candidates, where Democrats have an edge.

The economy is the top concern for most voters; while the job market is exceptionally strong, the public is more focused on punitive inflation. In the summer, Democrats got a break when high gas prices started to drop; however, prices at the pump are rising again – and with the Russians and Saudis cutting off supplies, that’s not going to get any better. (So ​​much for President Biden’s diplomatic overture to rogue Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Sultan.)

If Democrats do better than the ruling party’s historic experiences in the midterm elections, that’s a testament to their candidates. In Ohio, North Carolina, Georgia, Pennsylvania and Arizona, Democratic Senate candidates have at least an equal chance, given the inferior quality of their opponents. If Republicans had nominated a more traditional conservative in these races, they would be in better shape. This is also the case in a handful of home runs in the Battleground Districts of Michigan and Ohio. (Conversely, there are a few cases — Wisconsin and Pennsylvania — where the Democratic primary runner-up would have been a stronger candidate in the general election.)

There’s an abortion-for-crime contest. The Supreme Court gave Democrats a huge boost when conservative Republican justices overturned Roe v. Wade and abortion rights for women. In several special elections and a referendum in Kansas, the pro-choice side prevailed.

This fall, a number of previously staunch Republican anti-abortion candidates are squirming and shading. Arizona Republican candidate Blake Masters backed a constitutional amendment to ban all abortions. Now he just wants to ban late proceedings. During the primary, Zach Nunn, a Republican from Iowa, wanted to ban abortions “without exception”. Now he says he would make exceptions for rape, incest, fetal abnormalities and to save the life of the mother.

Democrats, like incumbent Nevada Senator Catherine Cortez Masto, who is leading a close race against Republican Adam Laxalt, are relentless on the subject. “If I met Catherine Cortez Masto on the street and said, ‘Boy, the Las Vegas Raiders are terrible,'” Nevada’s top political analyst Jon Ralston told me, “she’ll say ‘Do you know what’s Adam Laxalt’s position on abortion?

Republicans are countering the Democrats’ attacks by raising the issue of crime. That resonates in some key races, including the Wisconsin and Pennsylvania Senate contests. There are false accusations — none of these candidates want to take away police funding — as well as racial overtones. Republicans have accused Florida Democratic candidate Val Demings of being soft on crime. She was the chief of police in Orlando.

Two of the most respected sources of election analysis, the Cook Report and Nathan Gonzales’ House Elections, both see a senatorial prospect up for grabs with a handful of tossed races. The GOP has an advantage in the battle for the House. Of the roughly two dozen sweepstakes, Democrats need to win about three-quarters of them to retain a majority.

Charlie Cook, who founded the Cook Report and has been an insightful political analyst for decades, cautions against assuming the races will divide equally. “Over the past 12 elections, an average of 77% of Senate races noted in the coin toss column prior to Election Day have erupted in the same direction.”

Al Hunt is the former editor of Bloomberg News. He previously served as a Washington reporter, bureau chief and editor for The Wall Street Journal. For nearly a quarter of a century, he wrote a political column for The Wall Street Journal, then The International New York Times and Bloomberg View. He hosts Politics War Room with James Carville. Follow him on Twitter @AlHuntDC.

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