With the primary season nearly over and the candidates for federal office mostly set, Republicans should be optimistic.
Perhaps not quite as optimistic as they were around Independence Day when Republicans held an eight-point lead in the generic congressional ballot and the GOP seemed assured of capturing both houses of Congress. Since then, Democrats have mounted something of a comeback. They’ve drastically outraised Republicans, especially in Senate races, and have forged leads in several key races where Republicans were expected to do well.
Part of this is the natural political equilibrium re-establishing itself. Part of it has been the coordinated efforts of the national media who have worked with the White House to trumpet Joe Biden’s “comeback” because his approval numbers have risen a couple of points since the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act [sic].
And part of it is self-inflicted wounds by Republicans. They aren’t raising nearly enough money, and their candidates — sorely lacking in experience and sometimes judgment — are underperforming.
Donald Trump might have endorsed J.D. Vance, Herschel Walker, and Mehmet Oz. But he can’t run their races for them. And right now, Republicans are seeing their potential Senate majority slipping away because of lackluster campaigns run by several of their candidates.
Surprisingly, Democrats remain tied with Republicans in the generic congressional ballot, which reflects national preferences for the parties’ House candidates. If this is still true on Election Day, Republican gains will be much smaller than they were in 1994 and 2010. Other factors—including the record low number of truly competitive House districts—point in the same direction.
In Senate races, candidate quality matters more. As has happened repeatedly in recent cycles, Republicans appear to have damaged their prospects during primary contests by choosing nominees who have more appeal with their party’s base than with statewide electorates. In Ohio, Pennsylvania, Georgia and Arizona, nominees backed by Donald Trump trail their Democratic opponents, several by wide margins.
In Pennsylvania, the radical leftist Lt. Gov. John Fetterman is running rings around Trump’s pick Mehmet Oz. Fetterman leads by double digits. Ohio’s Democratic Senate candidate Tim Ryan leads Vance by five points. And in Arizona, Blake Masters is trailing Democratic incumbent Mark Kelly also by double digits.
In Georgia, Herschel Walker is nearly even with Democratic incumbent Raphael Warnock but is being badly outraised. And in North Carolina, two House members are facing off in what may be the closest Senate election this November.
Democrat Cheri Beasley and Republican Ted Budd are going toe-to-toe in a projected nail-biter that may decide which party controls the Senate next term.
Inflation will do more than any other issue to shape this year’s midterms, and broad-based price increases have tilted polls toward the Republicans since last fall. But even on this issue recent trends have been favorable for Democrats. According to the AAA’s daily survey, gasoline prices have fallen to $3.95 a gallon from a peak of $5.02 two months ago. Lower shipping prices and a strengthening dollar should hold down the prices of imported goods, and bloated inventories will force retailers to give consumers some relief. Although July’s more positive inflation report—which showed a modest reduction in year-over-year inflation, to 8.5% from 9.1%—doesn’t necessarily signal a trend, a sustained decline between now and November could persuade some voters that the worst is behind them.
The Republicans are still on track to retake the House with a substantial majority, although perhaps not quite the red wave that many Republicans hoped for. But there may have been some complacency setting in after the numbers earlier this summer were showing a GOP sweep. Maybe a return to reality will force Republicans to concentrate on the races being run and take their minds off what they were going to do with their newfound majority.