The midterm elections are November 8,2022, and redistricting is virtually over. The surging turnout of an electorate seeking to repudiate Donald Trump brought Democratic victories for the Presidency in 2020, the Senate in 2021, and the House of Representatives in 2018. Now it is the Democrats who are challenged to preserve their tiny margin of power this November. In this article I try to zero in on what messages can help the Democrats hold the House of Representatives, and will finish with a brief review of the closeout of redistricting.
Political circumstances have changed dramatically since the 2018 midterms. Before that election, polling showed the Democrats ahead by 8 percentage points on a poll called the Generic Congressional ballot, which simply asks voters across the nation whether they plan to vote Democratic or Republican. The polls turned out to be accurate. The Democrats won 41 seats and retook the majority. They also won the sum of all the votes in House districts by party, about 61 million votes to 51 million votes, more than eight percentage points. In 2020, despite Biden’s victory, the Democrats lost 13 House seats and their majority dropped to a mere five seats, 222-213.
This year the national polling average for the Generic Congressional ballot shows the Democrats losing by 2.2 points, 44.6%-42.4%. The Generic Congressional ballot is not a poll by individual district, nor does it account for over concentrations of Democrats or Republicans by district, wrought by redistricting or the urban-rural partisan divides of the country. President Biden’s approval rating is underwater, about 42%-52%. One important point to keep in mind about Republican strength in the polls is that a substantial, and nearly unmovable, part of the electorate, is a Republican baseline. A look at how the Republicans have done since 2014 makes this clear.
In 2014 the Republicans won the Congressional Ballot sum of all the votes in each House district by party) 51%-45%. In 2016, Trump won 46% of the popular vote but Republican candidates for the House ran ahead of him, winning the Congressional ballot 49%-48%. In the 2018 midterms, the Democrats won 53%-45%. In 2020, Trump won 47% of the vote and the Republicans won 48% of Congressional ballot (51%-48% Democratic). Turnout has varied with every election, but the Republicans’ weakest performance was 45% of the vote. This is a group that, for the most part, cannot be persuaded to vote Democratic and is the negative baseline in the polls.
Fortunately for the Democrats, this group is heavily concentrated in small towns and rural areas. Trump won 160 Congressional districts by ten points or more in 2020, and the Cook Political Report rating shows 167 solidly Republican districts. The same holds true for Democrats; many of them are heavily concentrated in urban areas and the rating report shows 155 safe Democratic districts.
The Cook Ratings for the most competitive seats show there are 27 House districts rated Toss-Ups in the election, 19 held by Democrats and 8 by Republicans. There are 15 districts in a “Lean Democratic” category, and six districts that “Lean Republican.” Missouri, New Hampshire, and Florida, which just adopted a ruthless Republican gerrymander, comprise 38 districts and have not been factored in. The problem for the Democrats is that they are defending 34 of the 48 most competitive districts and their majority is only five seats.
Donald Trump is Still Toxic
Trump’s unfavorable ratings still frequently exceed President Biden’s unfavorable ratings in many polls. He’s not on the ballot, but a vote to put the Republicans back in power is a vote to bring him back too. His incitement of the Capital riot, his plot to overthrow the election, and his support and praise of Vladimir Putin, an international monster, present Trump more than ever as a pathological danger to democracy along with his Republican enablers and conspirators. Two-thirds of the Republican House members voted not to certify the Presidential election hours after the Capitol attack. The fact that inflation and the economy dominate the minds of many voters doesn’t mean Trump and his pathology should be dropped from campaigns. Democratic campaigns must hammer these dangers home.
Incumbent Republicans have voted against the American Rescue Plan, the Build Back Better bill, and nearly all of them voted against the Infrastructure Bill. Many were there for the vote to Repeal Obamacare and give tax cuts to the rich and the big corporations
The Democrats need to maximize their leverage against the Republicans with all these votes against helping ordinary Americans. It’s understood that many voters can’t connect the names of these bills with support for the specifics of them, but it is the job of the Democratic campaigns to hammer away on what the votes against the specifics meant.
The American Rescue Plan provided $1,400 payments to tens of millions of Americans, and Republicans voted against that.
The American Rescue Plan provided the $ for free COVID vaccines to Americans. Now 76% of American adults are fully vaccinated, 68% of eligible seniors have received a booster shot, and more than 27 million kids age 5-17 have received at least one shot. The vaccine distribution has saved millions of lives and has brought American society and the economy back to a semblance of normalcy. The Biden Administration and the Democrats deserve this credit. The Republicans in the House and Senate voted against the money to pay for the massive vaccine distribution.
The American Rescue Plan provided billions for the reopening of schools across the nation, the rehiring of teachers, vaccines for school staff and kids, money for ventilation, and money to provide support for kids left behind when schools went remote. The Republicans voted against that. Adequate funding for schools and helping kids are still potent Democratic messages.
The American Rescue Plan provided billions to prevent evictions and foreclosures, PPP loans and tax credits for small businesses, help for the unemployed, and extensive support for the health care system, hospitals, clinics, and their staffs and patients to prevent them from financial collapse.
Only 13 Republicans voted for the Infrastructure Bill, meaning every other Republican incumbent running for re-election did not, including the Republicans in the competitive districts. Some of the 13 are retiring or are simply not on the list of members considered vulnerable to a challenge. The Democrats need to attack Republicans for these no votes even as they highlight positives from this law.
Every Republican incumbent voted against Build Back Better. Democrats won’t be mentioning the name of this legislation in their campaigns, but Democrats need to tell voters what they support and what Republicans voted against when it comes to the specifics. A Politico/Morning Consult Poll from last December shows the depth of public support on BBB specifics, especially health care:
, not only provides that assistance, it also frees Americans to go back to work and addresses labor shortages, a cause of inflation.
It’s clear Democratic messaging will remind voters that the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, and more tax cuts for the wealthy and the big corporations, were and are part of the Republican agenda.
Inflation and the high cost of gasoline are major economic problems, Americans of both parties are unhappy about them, and they are happening on Biden’s watch.
Once again, however, it is overwhelmingly Republicans and Republican-leaning independents who are blaming him for it. It’s not a surprise that an economy recovering from a two-year worldwide pandemic with business lockdowns and closed factories would suffer from major supply chain dislocations that are inflationary.
Energy prices are a piece of this supply-demand whipsaw, The rapid 2020 Covid economic decline caused crude oil prices to fall and oil companies to shut down many of their rigs. US oil production fell 25% between February 2020 and January 2021. Now a war in Europe has been started by the world’s third largest oil producer. We have an international energy crisis on top of a pandemic, neither of which is the fault of the Democrats or Joe Biden.
Americans of both political parties think the US should increase oil production. This is a short-term necessity caused by another international energy crisis. It’s rational to be in favor of increasing oil production right now while also trying to end the oil and fossil fuel addictions as soon as possible. The United States can walk and chew gum at the same time, switching to renewables and electric cars while coping with an international energy crisis.
The United States Supreme Court, with its 6-3 conservative majority, appears poised to uphold Mississippi’s 15-week limit on abortions, essentially turning regulation of abortion to the states. There is even a chance that the Court will overturn Roe v. Wade itself. The House of Representatives voted to codify Roe v. Wade in September 2021, 218-211. Every Republican incumbent in the House at the time voted No.
The Republican Party seems determined to eliminate a woman’s right to choose. Although polling shows abortion is not the most important issue to many voters, Democrats cannot afford not to tell voters their opponents are against a woman’s right to choose.
Increasing political polarization has hardened the number of people who simply won’t vote for a Democrat or a Republican, but it’s not everyone. Retail politics still matters; it matters if people think you have the interests of their community at heart. That’s why Democratic candidates, incumbent or not, need a photo op of everything they are doing. If an incumbent got an earmark for a school, a police station, or to create some jobs, get out there and take credit for it and let the public know. If some American Rescue Plan or Infrastructure bill money is being used to fix a bridge, open a community center, or fund a clinic, be there, get in the photo, and tell the voters you helped get it done. Tell stories in your literature about the people you went to bat for and helped. Get in pictures with cops and kids. You’re against defunding the police, you got the schools open, you saved the hospital from closing. Show up at everything and knock on doors. This is Politics 101 but the more the candidate can inoculate themselves against attacks because their voters know them and like them, the better the chance of winning.
I’ve written extensively about redistricting, both nationally and in New York. Nearly every state in the nation has adopted its maps. After a year of bitter partisanship, the rewrites of the district maps by the political parties have cancelled out each other’s gains.
The Democrats are far from doomed. They can win Republican seats in highly competitive districts, and many of their candidates, incumbent or not, can and must run skilled, adequately funded campaigns. There’s enough mistrust and fear of Donald Trump and the Republicans to persuade the voters that the common good is on the side of the Democrats. There’s a negative baseline of about 45% of the voters that probably won’t vote Democratic; that still leaves a majority that can be persuaded.