Swinging voters, struggling with their choices, battle traditional political coalitions

ROCKEY RIVER, Ohio – A few weeks before the Ohio Senate primary, Kristen Bentz stood outside a grocery store in a Cleveland suburb, upset about the race.

Ms. Bentz, 46, disliked the idea of ​​a one-party Democratic takeover in Washington, and thought President Biden had been “slow to respond” to pressing challenges like inflation and rising gas prices. But she was also wary of the hard-right slant of her state’s Republican primary contest — and dismayed by the influence that Donald J. Trump seemed to continue to wield.

“I am more and more disgusted with the Republican Party,” Ms. Bentz, an X-ray technician from North Olmsted, Ohio, said in a follow-up interview this month, explaining why she is inclined to support the Democratic Party. Senate candidate, Tim Ryan. “It just breaks my heart.”

Persuasive voters like Ms. Benz are rare in the current highly polarized political environment. But interviews with dozens of voters, elected officials and partisan strategists in recent months have made clear that in this volatile moment, a narrow, ethnically diverse group of voters remains within reach of both parties. These Americans are overturning traditional assumptions about swing voters and pushing long-standing political alliances in highly unexpected ways.

And some are white suburban voters like Ms. Bentz who are historically right-leaning but hate Trump and election denial, backing away from far-reaching abortion bans and often supporting more gun restrictions, especially after the recent mass shooting attack. They could play a powerful role in states like Pennsylvania, where Republicans have nominated far-right election detractor Doug Mastriano for governor, and Georgia, where the Republican Senate candidate, Herschel Walker, has repeatedly faltered. Similar dynamics could occur in states including Michigan and Arizona, as voters head to primary next week.

Meanwhile — amid high inflation, still-expensive gas, poor approval ratings for Biden and fears of a recession — there are urgent warning signs for Democrats across the electorate, including core constituencies. Some voters of color are now appearing, to varying degrees, increasingly open to Republican support, while Democrats are warning that others may stay out of the election.

“When we see a better economy in Republican hands, that’s why we tend to vote for someone in the Republican Party,” said Audrey Gonzalez, 20, of Glendale, Arizona. Latin voters.

Ms. Gonzalez is the daughter of immigrants from El Salvador and Mexico, she said, and the first in her family to attend college. I voted for Mr. Biden two years ago in protest of Mr. Trump and what I saw as racist criticism. But she said she has been leaning toward Republicans this year, citing several issues including economic concerns.

For the first time in a national New York Times/Siena College poll, released this month, Democrats garnered a greater share of support among white college graduates than among non-white voters. And a poll, conducted this month for AARP by a bipartisan polling team from Fabrizio Ward and Impact Research, found that in congressional combat zones, Democrats performed poorly with black, Hispanic, and Asian American voters over 50 than in previous elections — especially . Disturbing signs for the Democrats between the last two constituencies.

Among Hispanic and Asian American voters over the age of 50, Democrats were only five and three percentage points ahead in the general congressional ballot, and Democrats performed significantly better with Hispanic and Asian college graduates than those without a four-year college degree . , the survey found.

In the 2018 midterm elections, Democrats won 69% of Latino voters and 77% of Asian American voters overall, according to polls. This data is not a comparison, but it does indicate significant shifts among diverse groups of voters that Democrats had hoped to cement as part of their base.

“No one is putting their head in the sand and not acknowledging there is a tenderness with African American, Hispanic and Asian voters,” said John Anzalone, founder of Impact Research and the prominent Democratic pollster. “You have to fight for every voter, and we have work to do in persuasion.”

For years, Democrats have battled over whether to prioritize persuading elusive swing voters or trying to provoke a constituency, such as black, Latino, and young voters across the board. But while the number one political imperative for both parties is to revitalize their bases and drive them out, some Democrats are increasingly claiming that in many races this year, there is no choice but to pursue both tracks. The very question of who the swing voter is in 2022 is fluid, as broad segments of Americans direct their frustration over complex economic issues toward the ruling party.

He said Lanhi c. Chen, the Republican candidate for California and son of Taiwanese immigrants: “I’m talking to families, especially those of Asian and Hispanic descent — I find there’s a particularly palpable frustration with what’s going on right now.” , in an interview on the Saturday before the primary day last month. California gas prices soared to over $6 a gallon (it’s gone down somewhat since then), and voters were furious.

“There is a desire, especially on economic issues, for change,” said Mr. Chen, who later outperformed several Democrats to become the loudest vote-taker in the state’s primaries. “I think these voters are becoming swing voters, even though they might not have been 20 years ago.”

Kim Markella Franklin, 34, of Wichita, already considered herself a swing voter. She said she supported Mr. Biden in 2020, and she supports abortion rights after being sexually assaulted as a teen. But, she added, she struggled to identify progress for “low- and middle-income communities”.

“Look at the gas prices. Look at food inflation. “I mean, I work — and I still struggle,” Ms. Franklin said, when asked what Biden’s tenure was like. “I just know times are tough right now.”

After being asked how she affected her midterm decision, she said abortion rights are “a serious issue, but that’s just one issue out of everything that happens in our lives.”

It’s too early to predict exactly how much voter anger raging in July will, on both sides, affect November, and there are still unknowns around the scene — including whether Mr. Trump will announce another presidential bid before Midterm elections.

Republicans note that voters of all stripes often focus more on pocket questions, a major flaw for Democrats in the current climate. Democrats argue that normally loyal voters, frustrated with Washington and the direction of the country, will not suddenly become Republicans — especially if Democrats can make elections more of a choice than a referendum on the ruling party. There is still time for Democrats to make more major legislative breakthroughs, including the potential for the most ambitious climate action by Congress.

Tim Persico, executive director of the House Democrats’ campaign arm, acknowledged the need for a clear contradiction between “what is our record and what is their record, what are our plans, and what are their plans.” He stressed that Democrats do not take core constituencies for granted.

But he also noted that Republicans were seen as increasingly radical and that the backlash to the overturning of Roe v. Wade was evident among many constituencies, across a wide range of constituencies.

“Roe v. Wade was so popular. And get rid of him?” said Mr. Persico, noting that he saw great political influence. “Everywhere where she was close before, she was—everywhere—moving in our direction.”

In recent weeks, there have been some relatively encouraging signs for Democrats despite the difficult fundamentals of this year’s campaigns. Some incumbent Democrats in major races are outpacing Mr. Biden’s approval ratings. The Democrats’ online fundraising advantage expanded by $100 million from the last quarter of 2021 to the last three months, as Republicans face online fundraising challenges. Flawed Republican candidates fielded a number of candidates marquee The races look more competitive for Democrats.

“Those college-educated suburban voters who put Biden on edge may in fact be willing to snatch Republicans,” said Sarah Longuel, the anti-Trump Republican strategist. In some cases, she added, these voters should be considered “persuasive because Republican candidates are far from the mainstream.”

Some Democrats have looked at the 2020 ticket splitters — a small but sometimes politically influential group of voters who opposed Trump but embraced Republicans in lower-level races — arguing that the GOP has become more extreme since the last presidential election. Election denial and abortion dominated news sessions this summer, fueled by congressional hearings on the January 6 attack and Roe coup.

In Ohio, Ms Bentz said she was comfortable enough with Mr. Ryan, who did not describe her as a “liberal libertarian”. By contrast, she said, she was tired of the extent to which some Republicans — including JD Vance, the Republican nominee — had gone to embrace Mr Trump. She wanted more action to combat gun violence. She lamented the contortions some embraced to justify the January 6 attack.

“It’s sad that the Republican Party has negated this guy who, I’m sorry, thinks he doesn’t care about us that much,” she said. “They just throw their beliefs and everything away.”

Kirsten Noyes contributed to the research.

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