Democrats are feeling increasingly confident that strict COVID-19 policies are a winning campaign issue in 2022, motivated by a spate of recent polling and California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s triumph this week over a Republican-led effort to recall him from office.
After President Biden imposed a sweeping vaccine mandate last week that extended to certain private businesses, Republicans embarked on a campaign to cast the move as a blatant example of government overreach and an infringement of personal liberties, believing that such a message would resonate with Americans already weary from a 1 ½-year pandemic.
But now, Democrats say they have the evidence to prove that the public is on their side, fueling a sense of hope within the party as it prepares to defend its razor-thin congressional majorities next year.
“This is going to be a referendum on the pandemic,” New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, the chairwoman of the Democratic Governors Association, said of the 2022 midterms before pointing to Tuesday’s recall vote in California that saw voters easily reject an effort to oust Newsom from the governor’s mansion.
“I’m more than encouraged about that rejection in California,” she added. “I’m looking forward to that same effort … in the midterms.”
The recall election was seen, in part, as a referendum on not only Newsom’s pandemic-era mandates and restrictions but also those of Biden, who has enacted a series of mandates requiring health care workers, federal contractors and most federal workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
The president’s plan also extends to private companies, mandating that businesses with 100 or more employees require vaccinations or weekly testing.
While Newsom’s victory didn’t come as a surprise — preelection polling showed voters rejecting the recall, and California is among the bluest of blue states — the lesson for Democrats has so far been to lean into the more aggressive approach to the pandemic, believing that voters will reward them in 2022 for doing so.
“Don’t be timid. Lean in,” Newsom told CBS News in an interview after the recall election. “Because at the end of the day, it’s not just about formal authority of setting the tone and tenor on masks — on vaccines and masks. But it’s the moral authority that we have: that we’re on the right side of history and we’re doing the right thing to save people’s lives.”
Still, Republicans have seized on the mandates, especially those handed down from the White House, as part of a broader midterm election message warning of an increasing erosion of personal liberties under a Democratic-controlled federal government.
After Biden announced the requirements last week, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) denounced the move as an “assault on private businesses” and a “power grab” by the federal government. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), who has drawn praise from conservatives for his laissez faire approach to the pandemic, threatened to fine cities and counties in his state thousands of dollars if they mandate vaccines for their employees.
“I think the fight with the Biden mandate is a real serious fight to defend the constitutional system,” DeSantis said at a press conference. “And you know he is so dismissive of anybody who disagrees with him. You know how he talks about governors as if they just should be tossed aside out of the way.”
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy‘s (R-Calif.) message, meanwhile, was more blunt.
“NO VACCINE MANDATES,” he tweeted last weekend.
In the days since Biden unveiled his administration’s new vaccine requirements, however, poll after poll has shown broad support for such measures.
A Politico-Morning Consult survey released on Monday found that roughly 3 in 5 Americans support the measures taken by the White House, including the requirement that private employers with at least 100 workers mandate vaccines or testing.
At least two other public polls this week found majority support for at least some parts of the president’s new COVID-19 measures.
A Monmouth University survey showed that about 3 in 5 Americans back the vaccine requirements for health care workers, school teachers and federal employees, while 55 percent support such a mandate for federal contractors.
Likewise, a poll from Quinnipiac University out Wednesday found a similar level of support for the White House’s vaccine requirement for health care workers. A slimmer majority of Americans — 53 percent — said they back the vaccine mandate for federal employees and contractors, though respondents were divided 50 percent to 49 percent on the requirement for employees of private companies.
“The current poll shows that majorities of residents in both red states and blue states support some type of Covid control measures,” said Patrick Murray, the director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute. “And that includes many of the mandates proposed by the president last week.”
While most GOP voters remain staunchly opposed to the mandates, the relatively strong support for the Biden administration’s COVID-19 measures has baffled at least some Republicans, who initially expected a broader backlash to the vaccine requirements.
“Republicans are looking at this, warning that this isn’t a pandemic issue. It’s a freedom issue. It’s a personal choice issue, and people should be worried,” one Republican consultant said. “But what do you do with that when a bunch of people just shrug it off?”
The polling is a dose of good news for Democrats after a difficult month for the Biden administration. The president’s approval rating has plummeted amid the chaotic withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan and a surge in new COVID-19 cases after a relative lull earlier in the summer.
Those sinking approval numbers set off alarm bells for Democrats as they gear up for a difficult midterm election cycle. Republicans need to flip only about half a dozen seats next year to win the House majority and only one to take back control of the Senate.
Moreover, the party of a new president tends to lose ground in the midterms, and the decennial redistricting process is likely to net the GOP at least a handful of seats in the House. Despite those challenges, Democrats are touting Newsom’s victory in California and the relatively broad support for their COVID-19 measures as a sign that their agenda is resonating with the voters they need the most.
“We’re going to reopen your kids’ schools and make them safe, and all [the Republicans] want to do is make their congressional districts safe for themselves by stacking the deck,” Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.), the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, told reporters on a phone call this week, later adding, “The Republican message is failing badly in swing districts.”
Via The Hill