The New Yorker spoke to Republican insiders about the coming election. What they heard was that, as bad as things look for Democrats now, the reality Tuesday is going to be even worse. Author Benjamin Wallace-Wells says the word that kept coming up in his conversations was “bloodbath.”
On Wednesday afternoon, I spoke with a leading Republican political consultant about the Senate campaign in Georgia. That race is strategically significant for both parties, but it has a special symbolic importance for Democrats. The incumbent, Raphael Warnock, who for many years has occupied Martin Luther King, Jr.,’s pulpit at Ebenezer Baptist Church, in Atlanta, is seen as a potential national leader of the Democratic Party—and he may still lose to a scandal-ridden ex-football star, the Republican Herschel Walker. The Republican consultant told me that Warnock’s prospects were even bleaker than many recent public polls suggest. “There isn’t a single private poll in America that has Herschel Walker anything but ahead,” the Republican consultant told me. “Not one.”
The consensus among a number of G.O.P. pollsters and operatives I spoke to this week is that in the Senate races that are thought to be competitive, Republican candidates are heading for a clean sweep: Mehmet Oz will beat John Fetterman in Pennsylvania, and not just by a point or two; Adam Laxalt looks pretty certain to defeat the incumbent Democratic senator Catherine Cortez Masto in Nevada; even less regarded candidates such as Blake Masters in Arizona will be carried into office by a predicted wave. “He won’t deserve it, but I think at this point he falls into a Senate seat,” one Republican strategist told me. To these Republican insiders, certain high-profile races in which G.O.P. candidates were already favored now look like potential blowouts—Kari Lake’s campaign for governor in Arizona, J. D. Vance’s for Senate in Ohio. And some races that seemed out of reach, such as the Senate campaign, in New Hampshire, of the election denier Don Bolduc, now look like possible wins. The word that kept coming up in these conversations was “bloodbath.”
Wallace-Wells let everyone speak anonymously so he could get an unvarnished take on the election. Some of the consultants he spoke to had a theory about the Democrats seeming revival this summer. In their view, there was initially some real energy that was seen in the willingness of Democrats to pick up the phone for pollsters. “Answering a political poll itself became a kind of expression of political identity,” one GOP strategist said. But an analysis found that more than half of the people who picked up those calls were “super voters” meaning Democrats who consistently vote in every election. Those were the people worked up about Dobbs but they would have voted blue anyway.
As a result of all of this feedback from blue super voters, Democrats became convinced that abortion was a winning issue. So they focused on that for months while the GOP talked about inflation and crime. And only in the last few weeks, as polls have red-shifted, has the Democratic Party realized they’d have been better off talking about the economy and Social Security.
But talking endlessly about abortion also had a downside that Democrats couldn’t see. There were Latino and Black voters, especially men, who started to feel like the abortion party wasn’t the party for them. One GOP strategist summed it up this way, “The reason that Democrats have f**ked this up is that they won’t stop talking about abortion. And the reason that they screwed it up with Blacks is they won’t stop talking about abortion. . . . It’s like they’re a two-issue party. It’s this and Trump. They can’t stop. I don’t think they have anything else.”
Meanwhile, the Republicans are running on a few issues on which a majority of Americans agree with them.
Back in the summer, I’d spoken with the Republican strategist, who then predicted that the Dobbs wave would be ephemeral. “The Republican base is asking for very, very little,” he told me this week. “For all the stories we have about, like, the election deniers, from March of last year until now, their demands have basically been, like, ‘Please do something about the economy, please do something about immigration, please don’t let dudes participate in girls sports, and please do something about crime.’ ” When it came to independents, he went on, “It’s, like, ‘Please do something about inflation, please do something about crime, we’re pretty much with you on the girls-sports thing, just don’t be a dick about it.’ ”…
“I can show you the trajectory of all our races,” the Republican pollster told me. “We took a benchmark in July—O.K., this is going to be harder than we thought. And it looks like a ‘V.’ We went straight down. And then once we finally got to October, we have enough money, the electorate becomes more fully engaged, and then the other side of the ‘V’ is straight back up. I can show you the same story in probably twenty-five races.”
Time’s up for Democrats to change their focus. They went with Dobbs and abortion and it looks like the result is going to be a bloodbath. Maybe that’s fitting.