AMAC Exclusive – By Barry Casselman
Control of the U.S. Senate, now divided 50-50 by political party, yet run by the Democrats who hold the tie-breaking vice presidency, is very much in play with just less than two months before Election Day.
But the prospects for Republicans, after a brief interval of doubt, are brightening once again, as Democratic claims of a last-minute surge are not being confirmed by new polling and on-the-ground observation.
Nevertheless, very little is certain in a cycle with dramatic events and several unorthodox political candidates.
Those circumstances include a significantly unpopular first-term Democratic president, a “bear” stock market, rising prices of most goods and services, a historic U.S. Supreme Court decision on abortion, chronic problems at the U.S.-Mexican border, controversial major legislation, the aftermath of the COVID pandemic, widespread anti-parent school boards, rising urban crime, and a persisting and expensive war in Ukraine.
Initially, Democrats feared that they could not avoid a negative voter reaction to the Biden administration’s actions and policies in the national mid-term elections. Democratic strategists then inaugurated a series of countermeasures, including passing a trillion-dollar public spending bill, forgiving of hundreds of billions of dollars of college student loans, a pro-choice campaign attacking the recent Supreme Court decision, and numerous hardball ad hominem attacks on 2022 Republican candidates.
All of the above efforts were intended to counter the voter mood accumulating against them, but the only one that appears to be providing a clear boost for Democrats so far is the pro-choice abortion campaign. The misnamed Inflation Reduction Act turned out to be yet another partisan spending bill while wiping out college debt owed by mostly affluent Americans has angered those who have paid off their debt and did not receive the government gift. Poor schools and accelerating urban crime rates persist. So-called smear campaigns are becoming so prevalent they are having little effect in those cases when Republican candidates refuse to be put on the defensive and fight back. However, several GOP challengers are facing well-funded opponents, and are being greatly outspent in the media where they are being attacked.
At the outset of the cycle, it was believed that there were eight competitive races — four with Democratic incumbents (Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, and New Hampshire) and four Republican-held seats (Wisconsin, North Carolina, Florida, and Pennsylvania).
At the height of the early GOP red wave optimism, the Democratic Senate races remained in play, and the GOP seats appeared to be less competitive. Then a series of polls appeared that upended conservative optimism, including polls indicating a bit of a surge for President Biden.
The slight surge for the President has held up (although he remains at 55-45 unfavorable), but newer Senate polls indicate Republican Senate incumbents and challengers hold leads or ties in most of the eight races — and that several contests considered “safe” Democratic, including Colorado, Washington state, and Vermont, as well as a “safe” GOP seat (Ohio), are in play.
However, although the newest polls were somewhat reassuring to Republicans, it is important to point out that all twelve senate races remain in various states of play. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich remains optimistic, especially in U.S. House races, for big GOP gains, but even an optimist like Gingrich warns against the complacency of assuming election outcomes without aggressive GOP campaigning and heavy turnout.
At the campaign level, Democrats are pulling out all the stops to keep their tenuous hold on power at the federal level. They no longer control most state governments and non-urban areas, and the GOP seems on course to even add to its share of governors and state legislators in 2022.
Democrats’ problem is that in spite of having the most campaign funds, and the better get-out-the-vote organization, they are losing base voters at the grass roots level, particularly from the key groups of Hispanic and working-class voters they have depended on in the past.
Many of the Senate races in play involve one or more unorthodox nominees, including Pennsylvania, where both nominees, Democrat John Fetterman and Republican Mehmet Oz, defeated conventional rivals; Ohio, where GOP nominee J.D. Vance emerged; Arizona, where Blake Masters won to be on the GOP ballot; Wisconsin, where leftist Democrat Mandela Barnes beat a more traditional liberal; and Georgia, where football legend Herschel Walker is the GOP nominee. Fetterman started off strong, but now seems to be imploding under scrutiny, and after slow starts, Oz, Vance, Masters, and Walker seem to be gaining some momentum.
Now past Labor Day, and with airwaves and mailboxes filled constantly with political advertising, previously undecided voters are paying attention, making up their minds, and in some cases, casting their votes early. The polls, as Election Day draws closer, usually become more accurate — although their recent history has been mixed.
The one big question mark that will probably remain until the night of November 8, however, will be which party will control the U.S. Senate come 2023. With the highest stakes in any mid-term election in memory, the two parties are certain to battle it out to the very end.
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