The Memo: Republicans gain momentum in midterms’ final stretch

The midterm elections are tilting in Republicans’ favor with just one full week of campaigning left.

Polling in key Senate races has edged toward the GOP, with once-endangered Republican incumbents strengthening their positions and vulnerable Democrats looking more fragile.

Democrats, who believed less than two months ago that they might expand their Senate majority and perhaps even hold onto a razor-thin margin in the House, have grown less sanguine.

“It’s pretty clear that Republicans have the wind at their back,” said Jim Manley, a former aide to the late Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). “I thought a few weeks ago that we could keep the losses in the House to single digits. That’s no longer the case. And my big fear is what is going on with the Senate races.”

Those fears look to be well-founded.

In Pennsylvania, where Democrats had seen their best opportunity to pick up a seat, Republican Mehmet Oz has almost eliminated Democrat John Fetterman’s once-sizable polling lead.

Oz has gotten traction by attacking Fetterman as soft on crime, and was further helped when the Democrat, who is still recovering from a stroke, delivered a halting performance in a debate earlier this week.

In Georgia, allegations that Republican nominee Herschel Walker paid for two women to get abortions, while he now runs on a fervently anti-abortion platform, have not appreciably hurt his standing.

Two recent polls have shown Walker leading incumbent Sen. Raphael Warnock (D), while Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) was caught on a hot mic telling President Biden on Thursday that the party’s hopes were “going downhill” in the state.

Meanwhile, two longer shots for Democrats to pick up seats appear to be slipping away.

Republican J.D. Vance has edged ahead of Rep. Tim Ryan (D) in Ohio, and Rep. Ted Budd (R) now leads former state Supreme Court chief justice Cheri Beasley (D) by almost 5 points in the RealClearPolitics average in North Carolina.

Data and polling site FiveThirtyEight rates the overall battle for the Senate as a toss-up, having given Democrats a 71 percent chance of maintaining control of the upper chamber as recently as mid-September. The site’s analysis gives the GOP a greater than 80 percent chance of taking the House.

Republicans have a straightforward explanation for why things are moving in their direction: the economy in general and inflation in particular.

Inflation is hovering near a 40-year high, at 8.5 percent in September.

“This is clearly a positive issue environment for Republicans,” said GOP pollster David Winston. “When you are in the seventh month of inflation at 8 percent or higher, and gas prices have basically gone up more than 60 percent since Biden came into office and food prices are going up, inflation is the issue.”

“That doesn’t mean other issues aren’t important,” Winston added. “But inflation is overwhelming.”

Biden and the Democrats are under no illusions that the economy is the central issue of the campaign.

The president has sought to focus on his job creation record, which has brought unemployment down to 3.5 percent from 6.4 percent when he took office. Earlier this week, Biden proclaimed that the economy was “looking good” and “continuing to power forward” after new data showed the nation’s gross domestic product grew in the third quarter.

The president has also talked up the Inflation Reduction Act and its capacity to curb prescription drug prices.

But polling provides little evidence those efforts have been successful.

An Economist-YouGov poll this week showed 56 percent of adults disapproving of Biden’s handling of inflation while just 32 percent approved. Ratings on the economy at large were not quite so bad, but still negative for the president, with 48 percent disapproving and 40 percent approving.

Still, it is not as if Democrats have abandoned hope.

Some note that, even if the picture is not as rosy as it appeared around six weeks ago, the party’s nominees are competitive in almost all the major Senate races.

The potency of abortion rights as an issue remains unquantifiable — but it could mobilize voters in a big way after the Supreme Court’s June decision overturning Roe v. Wade.

Democrats also contend that the GOP has nominated some obviously flawed candidates, including Walker, Oz, Vance and Arizona’s Blake Masters. And, they say, the specter of former President Trump, the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection and Trump’s fictitious claims of election fraud could yet haunt Republicans with moderate voters.

“The reality is, with Biden’s approval ratings, with inflation being where it is, none of these Senate races should be close — not one of them,” said Democratic strategist Joe Trippi. “There are reasons they are close, and it’s the extremism, it’s candidate quality.”

Democrats are pulling out all the stops in the campaign’s final stretch, with Biden, Vice President Harris and former President Obama — the most popular figure in the party — hitting the campaign trail.

Friday also brought a reminder that dramatic events could shape the campaign’s closing days, after Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) husband Paul was viciously beaten by an intruder. Though much remains unknown about the attack, it was instantly seen by some as a new and shocking example of the nation’s slide into venomous instability.

But, for all that, with Election Day just 10 days away, there is little question that things are moving in the GOP’s direction.

The question now is whether that trajectory will continue until Nov. 8.

Via The Hill

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