Phoenix – With the Senate split 50-50, Democrats on the campaign trail and in Congress have no margin for error as the party attempts to navigate a hostile political environment defined mainly by Biden’s albatross-like approval ratings.
But with the Senate battlefield mostly laid out after the primaries in Arizona and Missouri last week, Democratic candidates are edging out Biden — running tight races or leading in nearly every major contest.
In Washington, Senate Democrats are racing to bolster their position, pressing for a vote as soon as Sunday on a sweeping legislative package that would represent their last and best sales pitch before the midterm elections to stay in power.
However, the history of midterm elections and unpopular presidents is working against them. With the fall election looming, less than 100 days away, the crucial question in the Senate race is how far Democrats in crucial races can go on to outpace Mr. Biden’s popularity — and to what extent.
“That’s the billion-dollar question,” said Robert Blizzard, a Republican pollster who has studied the pattern of the impact of the president’s support on Senate races over the past decade. His findings: Few precious candidates can outperform the president by more than six percentage points — a troubling fact for Democrats when Mr. Biden’s approval fell below 40 percent nationally.
“The president’s approval rating is a drag on their party’s candidate,” said Mr. Blizzard. “Gravity will apply at some point.”
So far, Senate Democrats have been buoyed by cash advantage, some strong candidates and the fact that Republicans have nominated a string of first-time candidates — Hershel Walker in Georgia, Dr. Muhammed Oz in Pennsylvania, and Blake Masters in Arizona — who have struggled to find their footing. They faced questions about their past and were generally unable to keep the 2022 campaign focused on dissatisfaction with Democratic governance in Washington.
Republican strategists involved in the Senate election, who have given anonymity to speak frankly, said these three candidates — all endorsed by Donald J. Trump in the primaries — fall short of expectations..
Democratic strategists hope that the domestic package of climate and tax policies they aim to push through Congress, along with the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, could revitalize a frustrated party base not particularly satisfied with Mr. Biden. But Republicans insist that passing key legislation, as happened with the 2010 Affordable Care Act, could also galvanize their side and could further entangle Democratic senators with Biden in voters’ minds.
The race for control of the Senate mainly occurs in more than half a dozen presidential swing states, making Mr. Biden’s acceptance rates all the more significant. Republicans need only one seat to take over, and four incumbent Democrats face tough races. Three Republican retirements have created opportunities for Democrats, and one Republican senator is running for re-election in Wisconsin, a state that Biden narrowly won.
On Tuesday, Republicans had one success, averting disaster in Missouri when voters rejected the Senate’s return to Eric Grettens, the scandal-plagued former governor, in favor of Eric Schmidt, the state attorney general, now considered the front-runner.
In a best-case scenario for Democrats, they maintain control or even get two seats if the environment changes; In the worst case, Biden’s support collapses, and Democrats lose nearly six seats, including some of the bluer states like Colorado and Washington.
Understanding the August 2 primary
As Trump’s GOP wing flexed its muscles, voters in the deep-red state of Kansas delivered a vociferous warning to the GOP over abortion rights.
For now, Republicans view Biden as their not-so-secret weapon. Some of the ads literally transform the faces of Democratic senators into his image, part of a brutal planned campaign of ads to convince incumbents of pro-Biden voting records.
“What we’re calling the 97 percent club — they voted 97 percent of the time,” said Stephen Law, the Senate’s main Republican senator, who has $141 million in TV ads saved this fall.
With Friday’s strong jobs report, long-stalled legislation moving and gas prices tumbling – albeit from record lows – it’s possible that Biden’s support could rise.
In contrast to the House of Representatives, where Republicans were gleefully talking about a coming red wave, Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, sounded like a general in trench warfare, lowering expectations Wednesday on Fox News.
“When the smoke from the Senate race clears, we will probably have a very, very close Senate, either we go up a little or the Democrats go up a bit,” he said.
In the four states with the weakest Democratic incumbents — Arizona, Georgia, Nevada and New Hampshire — survey data from Morning Consult shows a staggering drop in Mr. Biden’s approval ratings since early 2021. His net approval ratings in those states have fallen by 27, 20, 27 and 24 percentage point. However, the four Democratic senators maintain their positive ratings.
“Voters treat the Democratic candidates separately from President Biden,” said Jeff Garen, a Democratic pollster. “We see incumbent ratings rising even where the president’s numbers are falling, and it’s a very unusual mid-term dynamic.”
Some Democrats in the more competitive races have also developed unique brands that can protect them.
In Arizona, Senator Mark Kelly, a former astronaut and husband of former Rep. Gabby Giffords, who survived the shooting in 2011. In Georgia, Senator Raphael Warnock, who used a gentle Beagle in his last race, is well known as the pastor of the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta . In Pennsylvania, the Democratic nominee is John Fetterman, the 6-foot-8, deputy governor who bowed to his unusual political appearance.
Corey Bliss, a veteran Republican strategist, admitted that “the Democrats do have some good candidates.” But the point is very simple: if Joe Biden had a degree of approval in the 1930s, what Raphael Warnock says or does has nothing to do with the matter. Because he will lose. a period.”
Mr. Bliss said Republicans had been experiencing a periodic “summer of bedwetting” before the landslide.
But some Republicans worry that their party has picked some of the worst candidates of the year in important states.
Mr. Walker, a former soccer star who avoided the preliminary debates, has suffered in Georgia from past exaggerations and lies about his background, as well as the appearance of children being born to him with whom he is not in constant contact. A team of patriotic activists was sent to continue his campaign.
Dr.. Oz, the TV personality, struggled to shore up Republican support after a painful primary as Democrats hammered his recent residence in New Jersey. Polls show Mr Vettermann is ahead, although he has not held a public event since suffering a stroke in mid-May.
Mr. Fetterman’s campaign has shifted its efforts almost entirely online, as the Dr. Oz campaign has abandoned the digital realm when it comes to paid advertising. Since May 1, Dr. Oz has spent $0 on Facebook and about $22,000 on Google; Company records showed that Mr. Vettermann spent nearly $1 million at the time.
However, the political environment makes Republicans optimistic about holding Senate seats in North Carolina and Florida. And in Wisconsin, where Senator Ron Johnson awaits re-election, the party sees Lieutenant Mandela Barnes, whose primary field Democrats have just purge, as too liberal for the state.
Some even hope that Washington and Colorado will emerge as competitors. In the latter state, Democrats spent millions of dollars unsuccessfully trying to prevent Joe O’Dea, a moderate businessman, from becoming the Republican nominee.
“I appreciate the advertisement,” Mr. O’Dea said in an interview. “My name has been recognized.”
2022 dynamics in the desert
No Senate dynamics are more pronounced than in Arizona, where Biden flipped in 2020, but where polls show he is now unpopular.
Even before Mr. Masters won the Republican nomination on Tuesday, he had set out to associate Mr. Kelly with Mr. Biden. In a speech to a pro-Trump rally in downtown Phoenix on Monday, Masters criticized Mr Kelly’s moderate reputation and blamed him for approving spending that “caused this inflation”.
“What Biden, Harris, Mark Kelly are doing to this country — it’s making me sick,” Masters said.
Despite this, Mr. Kelly has used his financial advantage – he had $24.8 million in the bank as of mid-July compared to Mr. Masters’ $1.5 million – to run television ads for months, positioning himself as a get-together who beats oil companies and his party alike. whether.
And in Mr. Masters, Republicans have a 36-year-old candidate who faces questions about his past comments and positions, including describing a notorious domestic terrorist, the Unabomber, an underrated intellectual. Questioning the involvement of the United States in World War II. Expressing openness to the privatization of social security in a country full of retirees.
A recent poll for the super PAC supporting Mr. Masters showed that a majority of voters strongly disapproved of Mr. Biden; Mr. Masters was trailing by five percentage points.
The poll suggested that Kelly’s main weakness was his perceived proximity to Biden’s agenda, though the Masters campaign would likely need outside groups to advance the cause.
“I have to raise the money,” Masters said in a short interview this week. “But what I really have to do is tell the truth. Tell the truth about the voting record on the far left.”
Andy Surabian, a Republican strategist who advises the PAC supergroup backing Masters, suggested that focusing on Democrats would be critical to all Republicans. “You will see all incumbent Democratic senators who vote with Biden nearly 100 percent of the time being ruthlessly tied to those votes,” he said.
But Kristina Freundlich, the Democratic chancellor, said a “dominant” list of Republicans like Mr. Masters was making the 2022 campaign around both parties.
Ms Freundlich, who worked in Terry McAuliffe’s failed bid for Virginia’s governor last year against Glenn Youngkin, a jacket-clad Republican businessman, said the recently promoted Republican candidates in the Senate weren’t Glenn Youngkins: “They have a lot of fringe views. “.
Mr Lu, the Republican PAC leader, said his group will reassess the Senate landscape throughout August, looking for candidates with “sufficient funds to communicate directly with voters – and a message of discipline to focus on issues that resonate.”
“Not every candidate can do that,” he said plainly.
His group booked $51.5 million in television ads in Arizona and Georgia beginning in September, although Mr. Low did not stick to those full reservations. “We have more time to evaluate both,” he said, raising questions about the master’s holders due to the omission. “In Georgia, in particular, I see very positive signs of developments at Camp Walker.”
As in Georgia, national agents are now augmenting the Masters team, including a new general counsel as well as reconnaissance and media teams.
Shane Goldmacher reported from Phoenix, and Maggie Habermann from New York.
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