After a summertime burst of optimism,many Democratic political operatives are decidedly gloomy approaching the final stretch to Election Day.
Their hopes were rising in July and August, on the expectation that the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v Wade would energize the Democratic base and nudge independents into voting for the blue team.
Their abortion-issue hopes have proven wildly overblown, as a mere 5% of likely voters say abortion is their top concern, according to the latest New York Times/Siena College poll. Instead a plurality point to the economy and inflation, and most think Republicans are best equipped to tackle both.
A Harvard/Harris poll released on Monday found 53% of voters say they’re more likely to vote for a Republican, compared to 47% who favor Democrats. Just 40% of Americans approve of President Biden’s performance, according to the latest Reuters/Ipsos poll.
Mark Longabaugh, a Democratic ad maker and veteran of the 2016 Bernie Sanders campaign, tells Politico:
“Look, man, I’ve been at this for 30 years, and it is always the period in late September and early October when an election starts to tilt and move. So, we’re at that moment, and I don’t think you can look at these numbers across the country and say anything but it looks like it’s moving in Republicans’ direction.”
The 40,000-foot view is bad enough, but it’s the steady drumbeat of discouraging race-by-race poll results that now has Democrats bracing for a punishing midterm.
In the battle to break the 50-50 tie in the Senate, Republicans have taken small leads in Wisconsin and Nevada, and Herschel Walker is still hanging around despite the October-surprise claims about his ex-girlfriend’s abortion. RealClearPolitics now puts Dr. Oz in the lead in Pennsylvania, after adjusting for historical polling errors, and projects a 52-48 GOP Senate majority.
In the House, counting “safe,” “likely” and “leans,” RealClearPolitics gives Republicans a 221-176 lead, with 38 more races considered toss-ups. In June, that outlet projected the GOP would gain 24.5 seats; now it forecasts a 27-seat pickup.
In reliably blue Oregon, a Republican is poised to take the governorship for the first time in 35 years. Michigan governor and lockdown enthusiast Gretchen Whitmer is up only now leading by just 5 points in the latest poll. Even the New York governor race has tightened up, with Quinnipiac putting Democrat Kathy Hochul up only 4 points — and independents breaking toward challenger Lee Zeldin 57% to 37%.
“I think we had three really good weeks in August that everybody patted themselves on the back,” an anonymous Democratic advisor to major donors tells Politico. “We were like, ‘Yeah, that should be enough to overcome two years of shitty everything’.” Now, he says, “It’s not looking great. The best we can hope for right now is a 50-50 Senate, but the House is long gone.”
Oddsmakers have similarly flipped red when it comes to the GOP’s chances of retaking the Senate, joining a longstanding bet that they’ll win control of the House.
“I think it’s clear Republicans have seized the upper hand,” says Longabaugh.