Monday, January 10, 2022

The Pending November 'Shellacking' for Democrats

At the Los Angeles Times, "Democrats face a tough slog in midterm battle to keep Congress":

Democrats have long known history is not on their side in the 2022 midterm elections. But as they enter this campaign year, the steep climb to keep their majorities in Congress appears even more daunting with the COVID-19 pandemic stubbornly persistent and voters concerned over inflation and crime.

The unsettled national climate — if it holds in November — will likely favor Republicans, who need just five additional seats to take control of the U.S. House and only one more for a majority in the Senate.

The sitting president’s party almost always loses ground in midterm elections — doing so in all but two such contests since the end of World War II. And Democrats hoping to buck precedent have few easy fixes for the problems on voters’ minds or for President Biden’s underwater approval ratings.

“Sometimes you have a messaging problem, and other times you just have a problem. In this situation, [Democrats] just have the latter,” said Matt Gorman, a Republican strategist who ran communications for the GOP’s House campaign arm in 2018. “No slogan or single policy achievement can turn around a broader environment. There would have to be a seismic shift.”

Democratic campaign officials reject predictions of a gloomy November, saying they’re confident they’ll have a solid pitch for voters.

“Democrats are going to hold the House because we are delivering for the American people,” said Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney of New York, chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. He pointed to millions of jobs created in the last year, as well as vaccine distribution and efforts to lower healthcare costs.

“Kevin McCarthy and his band of extremist House Republicans have yet to present a single realistic idea to move this country forward,” he said, referring to the congressman from Bakersfield who leads the GOP in the House.

There are some silver linings for Democrats.

The party probably avoided a worst-case scenario in the redistricting for the House. Though the GOP had an overall advantage in drawing the new congressional maps, so far they’ve mostly tried to shore up existing red districts instead of aggressively creating new ones, experts say.

In the Senate, Democrats are defending seats in battleground states that Biden won last year, albeit by the barest of margins in places like Arizona and Georgia. Senate races can also depend more on individual candidates, making Democrats slightly less vulnerable than their House counterparts if there is a wave election against them.

Still, “it obviously takes unique circumstances to redirect a midterm election,” said Stuart Rothenberg, senior editor of Inside Elections, a nonpartisan political newsletter. “I don’t know whether there’s anything that’s going to happen that’s so shocking to people, so stunning that it will give the Democrats the ammunition they need to change the election.”

Privately, Democratic strategists acknowledge the difficulties ahead, particularly after losing the Virginia governor’s race in the fall and barely escaping a similar defeat in deep-blue New Jersey. Those off-year races often have served as early indicators for the direction of the midterms.

The Democrats’ challenge partially lies with the nature of midterms: Supporters of the party in power are often disappointed that the president’s campaign promises have not yet been fulfilled, dampening their enthusiasm, while the opposition is motivated by unhappiness at being out of power.

Republicans, meanwhile, have a more basic task: keeping the focus on the majority party.

“The strategy for Republicans is a pretty simple one: Don’t screw it up,” said Ken Spain, former spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee. “Don’t make yourself the issue and allow the election to be a referendum on Democratic control of Washington.”

Distilling the party’s campaign message, Emma Vaughn, a spokesperson for the Republican National Committee, kept the focus tightly on Biden.

“Biden has lost all credibility — he has failed to ‘shut down the virus’ like he promised, pushed Americans out of work with unconstitutional mandates, overseen a rise in crime, presided over skyrocketing prices for everyday goods and promoted trillions more in reckless spending,” she said...