At this stage in the election cycle, the broad outline of what the election is about is pretty much settled. It’s a referendum on the president’s performance, or it’s an issue motivating voters. The momentum favors one side or the other, and while individual races may vary, the overall direction of the election is easy to see.
Not this time out. This year is noteworthy for being the year when the pendulum keeps swinging wildly, making next month’s outcome hard to predict.
The Democrats are likely to lose control of the House of Representatives. The Democrats only have a six-seat majority as is, and Republican gerrymandering has given the GOP an advantage in some key states like Florida. The only question is how big a margin the GOP will get.
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While Republicans would like you to believe it’s going to be a blow-out, that doesn’t seem as likely as it might have been prior to the Supreme Court’s decision on abortion. That decision enraged Democrats, encouraging them to turn out to vote, and alienated moderates who might otherwise have been inclined to vote Republican. Republicans have been frantically trying to downplay the possibility of a no-exception national ban on abortion, even as their base demands it.
The real question is what will happen with the Senate. After a summer when it looked like Democrats would comfortably hold onto their majority there and perhaps increase it, a number of key races have tightened, leaving everyone uncertain as to what to expect. Making the calculus even more complicated, in states where the Republicans should be doing well, they find themselves saddled with lousy candidates.
The chief example of that is Georgia, where strictly pro-life Herschel Walker is simultaneously denying and shrugging off the story that he paid for an abortion for one of his girlfriends. That accusation led to a furious (and damning) condemnation of Walker’s parenting by his MAGA-influencer, don’t-call-me-gay son Christian.
Added to Herschel’s already numerous lies about his business skills, his education attainment, and even the number of children he has by numerous women, and the football legend’s reputation is in tatters. What should have been an easy race for Walker is now looking a lot better for incumbent Raphael Warnock.
Similarly, Peter Thiel’s protégé in Arizona, Blake Masters, is blowing the GOP’s shot at winning the seat there with his extreme views. That’s also the case in New Hampshire, where the party’s nominee, Don Bolduc, is a far-right election denialist and a homophobe to boot. In his failed 2020 Senate campaign, Bolduc, a retired brigadier general, ran an ad proclaiming, “I didn’t spend my life defending this country to let a bunch of liberal, socialist pansies squander it away.”
However, three other races are tightening up, giving Democrats chills. In Pennsylvania, television doctor and New Jersey resident Mehmet Oz is gaining on John Fetterman, helped in part by Fetterman’s absence from the campaign trail for a while due to a stroke. Oz has been blatantly exploiting Fetterman’s health problems in hopes of distracting voters from his own lackluster campaign.
In Nevada, anti-LGBTQ candidate Adam Laxalt has been gaining on incumbent Catherine Cortez Masto. In that race, Masto may be harmed by the return of rising gas prices in the car-dependent state.
Then there’s Wisconsin, where Sen. Ron Johnson (R), who always looks vulnerable but somehow never loses may yet again pull victory from the jaws of defeat. The Republican incumbent seemed like a goner early in the year, and he didn’t help himself by his frantic flip-flopping on marriage equality.
But he seems to have hit on a winning strategy by running ads painting Democrats as enabling rising crime. The dog whistle is that Johnson’s opponent, Mandela Barnes, is Black, so viewers can draw their own racist conclusions.
A Congress fully controlled by Republican would be disastrous. As is, nothing is going to get done in the next two years other than posturing, conspiracy mongering, and endless investigations. But at least if the Democrats control the Senate, there will be some brake on the craziness.
Otherwise, it will just be down to President Joe Biden, as Congress and the Supreme Court do everything in their collective power to hobble him and pave the way for a 2024 takeover.