Democrats’ chances of a midterm victory have dwindled as many Republican candidates have been hammering home news on crime and the economy, while Democrats have largely relied on the sizzling issue of protecting abortion rights and the somewhat abstract concept of protecting democracy.
While these issues appeal to many Democratic voters, abortion was particularly strong during the August primary, shortly after the Supreme Court overruled deer v. calf — Republicans’ focus on inflation and crime appears to resonate with both their base and some independents.
Crime appears to be particularly emotional among voters — older, conservative voters, yes, but liberals as well, the New York Times’ Julie Bosman, Jack Healy and Campbell Robertson reported Thursday. Though national statistics paint a complicated picture, violent crime rates have increased overall since 2020, according to a July report from the Brennan Center for Justice. However, as this report found, violent crime peaks in 2020 were just as likely in Republican jurisdictions as in Democratic ones.
Nonetheless, Republican candidates in many races have benefited from their opponents’ support for calls to defund the police following the killing of George Floyd by Derek Chauvin, as well as support for bail policy reform. New York GOP gubernatorial candidate Lee Zeldin, for example, has come from behind in a Democratic stronghold by hammering Democrats against bail bond reform enacted in 2020, even though data shows those policies are not responsible for the rise in violent crime.
But according to the Post’s analysis, Republicans have devoted the most time and money to the economy, and inflation in particular.
“There seem to be classic midterm fundamentals at play, but Democrats are trying to refocus the campaigns and elections on issues that are favorable to them, like abortion and democracy,” said Michael Bitzer, a professor of politics at Catawba College. “Republicans have kind of a set playbook,” he said — tying Democratic candidates to President Joe Biden and attacking them over inflation, crime and immigration.
“That’s become the standard Republican playbook at this point,” Bitzer said, “but for the Democrats, they’re trying to leverage other issues and other policies that might be specific to their base.”
Democrats rely on abortion, democracy and celebrity to get their way
Perhaps hoping to win independents, some Democrats have rushed to parry those attacks, with candidates like Nevada Senator Catherine Cortez Masto, one of the most vulnerable Democratic Senate incumbents, touting her “tough crime record.” Cortez Masto recently claimed the assistance of a police chief in a complaint; Pennsylvania Lt. gov. John Fetterman, who is running against Mehmet Oz in that state’s Senate race, recently campaigned for his good faith criminal justice at a seniors’ center, the New York Times reported.
Fetterman, whose health has become a campaign focus after suffering a stroke in May, told voters he was “proud to work with our police departments and fund the police force” as mayor of Braddock, Pennsylvania.
“I was like, ‘Where’s the whole campaign been?'” Miles Coleman, an election expert at Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia, told Vox.
Democrats are also lagging behind on messages on the economy, although polls suggest voters from both parties have serious concerns about inflation, which continues to affect consumer goods as interest rates also rise. CNN polls conducted in late October show that inflation and the economy would be the most important issues for 51 percent of likely voters, considering their votes in Congress. In that poll, 71 percent of registered Republicans said the economy and inflation were top issues for them, while just 27 percent of Democrats and 53 percent of independents said the same.
President Joe Biden touted Democrats’ economic gains and pledged to crack down on oil companies posting record profits while consumers pay higher prices at the pump during a campaign freeze in California this week. Biden and other Democratic Party stars like former Presidents Barack Obama and bill clintonas well as former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stumbled on behalf of the candidates to get the vote.
“We have to remember that these rallies are less about persuasion and more about turnout,” Coleman told Vox. In other words, hosting Obama in Pennsylvania is unlikely to change an independent voter’s mind, but it could be effective in getting the state’s Democratic base more energetic to vote.
Even celebrities including Oprah and Markus Ruffalowere used to prop up the backlog of numbers. Many of these surrogates, like top chef host Padma Lakshmifocus on issues such as abortion rights and defending democracy against Republican candidates promoting the conspiracy theory that former President Donald Trump won the 2020 election.
The abortion problem peaked this summer, shortly after the Supreme Court ruled so Dobbs vs. Jackson Fall and overturned the federal abortion law. But months later, it’s not such a stirring subject, as Vox’s Ben Jacobs wrote on Saturday:
Democrats thought the focus on abortion rights would pay off after the Supreme Court ruling Dobbs Decision reversed in June Roe v. Calf, especially after they won special elections in New York State and Alaska. However, in states where abortion rights are protected by state laws, the issue has not resonated with voters.
“There was a narrative at one point that this was one Roe v. calf election,” Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-NJ) told the New York Times. “I never thought it would be this easy.”
The other major issue that Democrats, and Biden in particular, have focused on is protecting the election and the democratic process in the face of an aggressive, anti-democratic campaign of electoral denial by Trump, his Republican allies. and the candidates he endorses. Trump and his ilk have promoted conspiracy theories about voter fraud, which has led some of his supporters to take vigilante action and potentially intimidated voters. There have also been incidents of actual or planned politically motivated violence in recent weeks, creating an atmosphere of unease and fear in politics.
We cannot know what will happen until the results are in
“I called this election a kind of classic midterm election because it appears to be a referendum [a] President, a referendum on the Democrats who currently control Congress,” Bitzer said, “but there seems to be an undercurrent of something that makes this a little different — perhaps it’s a feeling of deep division and polarization that’s developing has many dedicated and dedicated people.”
Early voting numbers, as well as looking ahead to this summer’s primary, suggest turnout will be robust, Coleman told Vox. “There is nothing to suggest to me that this will be a low-turnout half-term.”
Of course, there could be surprises, as Vox’s Li Zhou wrote on Saturday. Though this cycle’s Senate toss-up races — those in Georgia, Nevada and Pennsylvania — got a lot of media coverage, candidates in Iowa and Utah are making waves against Republican incumbents.
Currently, polls suggest that Republicans will win back the House of Representatives while control of the Senate is neck and neck. But polls are thermometers, not crystal balls – they indicate public sentiment at a given point in time but cannot predict the future.
Vox reporters Rachel M. Cohen, Dylan Scott and Li Zhou outlined three possible scenarios for the midterm elections: Republicans could take just the House of Representatives, they could sweep both houses, or Democrats could remain in control. In all three scenarios, Biden would still face challenges pushing through his agenda:
A Republican-dominated Congress could cause something of a deadlock, leading to potential battles over the debt ceiling and government funding, and giving the Senate the power to delay Biden’s nominee. A split legislature, with Republicans controlling only the House of Representatives, would put an emphasis on investigations and potentially lead to a vote to impeach Biden. And if Democrats remain in control, they will face many of the same challenges they have faced in the last two years.
The outcome of the midterm elections, whatever they may be, will not change the challenge of governing a deeply and existentially divided country – one in which the two major parties, or at least their elected representatives, live in two separate realities seem to live . And Tuesday’s election, wrote Astead Herndon of the New York Times on Sunday, is likely to reveal further polarization.
“We should not assume that we are on schism bottom,” Herndon wrote. “We will go deeper”