Saturday, August 27, 2022

The Backlash Politics of Dobbs May Come to Haunt Republicans in November

I have to own up to it: At the time of the Court's decision in June inflation and the economy were so bad I thought the Dobbs decision would fade as an important issue for voters in the midterms. Actually, not at all. Inflation's now easing a bit --- and gas prices especially --- and we certainly aren't falling into the much predicted recession amid Federal Reserve rate hikes.

Republicans are still expected to take the House majority, but it's not likley to be a tsumami wave election.

At the Los Angeles Times, "Abortion issue has deflated Republicans’ hopes for November; question now is how badly":

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe vs. Wade and ending the nationwide guarantee of abortion rights achieved a goal the Republican Party had pursued for more than four decades. Now, the bill has come due, at a price much higher than many Republicans expected.

Since the ruling in June, Democrats have done significantly better than expected in special elections, culminating Tuesday with a victory in a race for a vacant congressional seat in upstate New York that strategists on both sides thought the Republican would win.

Combine those results with polls that show Democratic Senate candidates leading in a half dozen swing states plus a surge of women registering to vote this summer in several states, and you have the evidence that has caused nonpartisan analysts to drastically scale back their expectations for GOP victories this fall.

Democrats, despondent over President Biden‘s dismal job approval ratings, had feared a wipeout this fall. Now, they have a strong chance of keeping narrow control of the Senate, perhaps even adding a seat to their majority. The House still seems likely to flip to the GOP, but the prospect of Republicans sweeping to a big majority has dissipated.

The possibility of Democrats saving their current tiny majority is “not out of the question,” David Wasserman, whose forecasts for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report have a wide following in both parties, said Wednesday on Twitter.

None of that means Democrats can start popping Champagne corks — Biden remains unpopular, inflation and the economy still top voters’ list of concerns and the political climate could shift again before November. For now, however, the evidence for a resurgence of Democratic fortunes is strong.

A closer race for the House

For the House, few polls look at specific races this far in advance of the election. Instead, surveys frequently ask people which party’s candidate they would vote for if the election were held now. That question, referred to as the generic ballot, has provided a fairly reliable tool to forecast elections for many years.

Before the Supreme Court decision, Republicans had just over a two-and-a-half point lead on that question, according to the average of polls produced by the FiveThirtyEight web site. The GOP’s standing began to decline shortly after the court’s ruling, and Democrats now lead the average by about a half point. In many recent polls, the Democratic lead has been larger, ranging as high as eight points among registered voters in a recent survey by the Republican firm Echelon Insights.

Caveats: Because of gerrymandering, the overall House map tilts slightly Republican. Because of that, if the two parties were to split the nationwide vote for the House evenly, Republicans would be almost certain to take the majority. In 2020, Democrats won the overall House vote by about three percentage points, which yielded their current four-vote majority.

Moreover, the generic ballot is just that, generic. It can give a rough guide to the vote for the House nationwide, but isn’t designed to say anything about specific congressional districts. Out of the country’s 435 congressional districts, only about 50-60 are competitive. Republicans need only increase their numbers by five seats to take the majority, and Democrats are defending a lot more competitive turf than the GOP this year. The political forecasting site run by Larry Sabato at the University of Virginia lists 27 House races as tossups, including three in California. Of those, Democrats now hold 21.

Special elections this summer have bolstered the polling evidence. Before the Supreme Court decision, Republican candidates in special elections ran well ahead of the mark that former President Trump had set in their districts in 2020 — results that boosted GOP hopes for a big wave.

Since the abortion decision, the picture has flipped. In four contests this summer, Democrats consistently have out-performed what Biden did in their districts two years ago.

Abortion isn’t the only issue helping Democrats: Inflation likely peaked in June, and gas prices have dropped all summer. Biden’s job approval has rebounded a bit. Democrats succeeded this month in passing major legislation on climate change and healthcare, which could help mobilize their voters. Biden’s announcement of debt relief for millions of student-loan borrowers could similarly motivate a large Democratic constituency, although it could also rile up Republican opponents.

But abortion rights were the center of the campaign waged by Pat Ryan, the Democratic candidate in Tuesday’s New York special election, and Democratic candidates nationwide likely will copy what he did. Meantime, some Republican candidates have begun scrubbing their websites to remove previous statements supporting abortion bans.

The issue could have its strongest effect in 22 competitive districts in six states — California and Michigan, where abortion referendums will be on the ballot, and Texas, Wisconsin, Georgia and Ohio, where sweeping bans have been enacted that a majority of the state’s voters oppose, according to Natalie Jackson, director of research at the Public Religion Research Institute, who has closely studied public opinion on abortion.

Democratic advantage in the Senate

Individual candidates matter more in Senate races than in the House because voters tend to know more about them. That’s added to Republican difficulties this year.

“Candidate quality has a lot to do with the outcome” in Senate contests, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell ruefully noted in recent comments in his home state of Kentucky in which he sought to lower expectations for what his side could accomplish.

In Arizona, Georgia, Pennsylvania and Ohio, Republicans have picked Senate candidates backed by Trump who have significant problems.

They’re likely to do the same in New Hampshire when that state holds its primary in mid-September. The leading Republican candidate in the state, retired Gen. Don Bolduc, has defended Confederate emblems as a “symbol of hope,” fanned anti-vaccination theories and repeatedly made false claims about the 2020 election...