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Thanks for your interest in Washington, D.C., and thanks for reading This Week in Washington.
This is the last edition before the November 8th midterm election, so we are using a different format.
My Heard on the Hill column looks at the upcoming senatorial and congressional elections from the perspective of a former Republican political consultant and now managing partner of Total Spectrum. Patrick Robertson’s Washington Whispers column looks at the upcoming elections from his perspective as a Democratic attorney and lobbyist who served as deputy chief of staff for former Senator Jay Rockefeller and managed the 2008 Rockefeller for Senate reelection campaign.
We have included an encore presentation of Congressman Erik Paulsen’s June 1st interview of Charlie Cook for Total Spectrum Spotlight. I was introduced to Charlie Cook in 1986, two years after he founded the independent and non-partisan Cook Political Report. He’s the dean of political journalism – and for a good reason. This interview still gets a great number of viewers and generates a lot of compliments, so I hope you’ll take a few minutes to watch it – or watch it again. It will be time well spent.
The Total Spectrum team is working now to bring you a post-election analysis as well as an introduction to the lame duck session and the next Congress. More on that special edition soon.
Please vote. From the left or from the right, it’s the right thing to do.
Total Spectrum Managing Director
Total Spectrum Spotlight
Charlie Cook, who’s been called the “Picasso of election analysis,” founded The Cook Political Report in 1984 as an independent and non-partisan newspaper that analyzes both elections and political trends. For nearly 40 years, people from both parties have wanted to know “What does Charlie think?”
In this encore edition of Total Spectrum Spotlight, Congressman Erik Paulsen talks with Charlie Cook about what issues may actually drive voters in the 2022 midterms, how we could see a wave election while our country is so divided, and two Members of Congress who, in Charlie’s opinion, have really improved the American experience.
Heard on the Hill
By Steve Gordon, Total Spectrum Managing Partner
Decision Day 2022
“It is almost certain Republicans will take the House, and the likelihood of Republicans taking the Senate was already high and is getting even higher.”
– Charlie Cook, Total Spectrum Spotlight interview of June 1, 2022
National Republicans are going into the last two weeks of the campaign feeling good and sensing that the political winds are at their back.
Republicans started the 2021-2022 cycle with high expectations. The first off-year congressional election after a presidential victory is traditionally good for the party out of power. The real question has been how good it may turn out to be.
Momentum was building for Republicans, but the Supreme Court’s June reversal of Roe vs. Wade brought that momentum to a halt. The ruling gave new energy to Democrats and pro-choice Americans, and caught Republicans and members of the pro-life community without a clear message or a coordinated plan.
Since Labor Day, momentum has swung back to Republicans. Part of the problem for Democrat incumbents and challengers is that they are running while President Biden’s popularity is under 50%. But the biggest problem for Democrats is that America’s mood has turned sour.
The stock market is down, the economy is cooling off, interest rates are jumping up, and most experts predict a recession next year. Housing starts have historically been an excellent barometer of the economy because it is a leading indicator: one of the first sectors to slow down before a recession and one of the first to pick up steam on the other side. Housing starts in the U.S. slumped 8.1% last month.
Inflation is the worst economic problem because it impacts everyone and almost everything. My accountant and financial advisor explained it to me this way. “Use 100 as a base. Divide 100 by 12, which gives you 8.33 – which means that you spend an average of 8.33% of your annual income each month. If inflation is at least 8.33%, that means inflation is costing people one month of income each year. Many people are going to be looking for their wages to increase to make up for that loss, and those wage increases will be passed on by companies to their customers and consumers – so the cycle continues.”
A CNN poll released on October 12th showed that 78% of Americans thought our economy was either somewhat poor or very poor. NBC News released a poll on October 23rd which showed that 71% of Americans think America is on the wrong track.
Add a huge spike in crime and a significant increase in illegal immigration to the economic problems and it’s no wonder Americans are feeling sour.
Republicans are seeing red
I started my career in politics 44 years ago, and I remember when candidates won by big margins. Blowouts are now mostly a thing of the past because of our polarized society. We’re equally divided between Republicans and Democrats, so turnout and independents have an oversized hand in picking the winner. As Charlie Cook said in his Spotlight interview, most campaigns are now won with narrow margins “because our divided country guarantees high floors and low ceilings.”
Almost every reasonable political observer has predicted that Republicans will likely take back the House next month. The parlor game in Washington, D.C. has been to guess how big the House majority will be. The bigger the majority the better chance Republicans will have to govern effectively.
Leader McConnell said recently that Republicans have a 50-50 chance of retaking the Senate. The battlegrounds are in seven states: Arizona, Wisconsin, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Nevada, and Georgia.
Republicans need to reelect Senator Ron Johnson in Wisconsin, elect Congressman Ted Budd to replace the retiring Senator Richard Burr in North Carolina, and elect Dr. Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania to replace the retiring Senator Patrick Toomey. Holding those three seats would assure Republicans of at least retaining a 50-50 Senate.
Now the challengers: Blake Masters is challenging Senator Mark Kelly in Arizona, Adam Laxalt is challenging Senator Catherine Cortez Masto in Nevada, and Herschel Walker is challenging Senator Raphael Warnock in Georgia.
Each of these seven races are very close and within the margin of error. We have nationalized much of the content and direction of senatorial and congressional campaigns, so if this is truly going to be a wave election, it makes sense that most of these seven races will be won by Republicans.
Pollsters and strategists watch the ‘generic question’ in polls (“are you inclined to support a generic republican or a generic democratic in this election”) to measure waves – which is why last week’s poll from the New York Times/Siena College got everyone’s attention. Their September poll showed that generic Democratic candidates had a one-point advantage over Republicans among likely voters. But the same poll released on October 17th gave Republicans an edge among likely voters of over four points on enthusiasm – 49% to 45% – a five-point turnaround.
Another way to determine the possibility of a potential wave is to gauge the intensity of interest in the election, and that’s off the charts. An October 23 NBC News poll showed “…70% of all registered voters expressing high interest in the election… the highest percentage ever in the survey for a midterm election at this same point in time.” By party, “78% of Republicans have a high interest in the midterms, compared with 69% of Democrats.”Anything can happen in two weeks, but the conditions seem to be coming together for a red wave.
By Patrick Robertson, Total Spectrum Strategic Consultant
We are in the closing stretch of election season which, for those of you who live in swing states like Pennsylvania, Georgia, or Arizona, means the deluge of political ads will soon end.
Democrats have long faced an uphill climb because historically the party out of power picks up seats in the midterm election of a President’s first term. In addition, the economy is dragging, compounded by generational inflation.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said earlier this year that Republicans would win as many as 70 seats in the House. But predictions of a Republican tsunami have subsided. The most recent forecasts have shown everything from Democrats holding steady, which is an outlier, to Republicans winning 25-30 seats, which would be the outlier in the other direction.
Former House Speaker Tip O’Neill famously said that “all politics is local,” but that saying may be less true in 2022 than at any time in American politics. The country seems like it is smaller than it has ever been. We have homogenized news and politics, and we have national House members who run on national issues instead of constituent services or local projects.
Many of the old rules in politics make it likely that Republicans will walk away with this midterm election, but there are two reasons they may not: the Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade and former President Donald Trump. Former President Trump remains a polarizing figure and one who turns out Democrats. He weighed in on Republican primaries and he continues to hold rallies around the country and energizes Democratic voters nearly as much as it energizes Republicans.
Republicans have also struggled because some of their endorsed candidates are not from the mainstream. These candidates are giving many independents pause in voting for them.
Ultimately, the question will be whether voters – particularly in toss-up states – cast their ballots based on those concerns or based on their concerns about the economy. If voters vote on social issues or personality concerns, Democrats likely will keep this election close and may even retain the Senate. If this election is a referendum on inflation or gas prices, Republicans will likely control both houses of Congress.
The Pennsylvania Senate race is an excellent example. Television’s Dr. Mehmet Oz won the Republican primary and is being challenged in the general election by Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman, who won the Democratic primary. Fetterman, a liberal, painted Oz as a New Jersey resident out of touch with Pennsylvania voters, and these attacks and greater name identification allowed Fetterman to start the general election with a double-digit lead.
But Mr. Fetterman suffered a serious stroke earlier this year. Voters’ concern about his physical condition combined with the national trend toward Republicans have made this a dead even race.
The two candidates had their one and only debate this week. Pennsylvania voters had their chance to see how Oz and Fetterman stack up, with special focus on Fetterman’s health and Oz’s relatability. It was a 60-minute high-stakes event.
If you extrapolate the Pennsylvania dynamic to other states, you will find some similar dynamics at the local level, overlayed with national trends.
I agree with Steve Gordon when he says the House will likely be in Republican control come January. Some of the statistical models show them winning close to 80 times out of 100 when they run simulations. That is not a guarantee, just a likelihood.
In the Senate, where it felt like Democrats had a slight advantage in August, the battle for control feels like every bit of a toss-up. Races like Pennsylvania’s, with their complicated dynamics, will decide what happens in the Senate. On Democrats’ best day their ceiling is 52 seats in the Senate… and that is their very best day. The same can be said for Republicans. It is hard to see a path to more than a 52-48 majority for either party, meaning the Senate will need 60 votes to pass most anything, unless the majority party uses the reconciliation process again.
Shortly after the 2018 midterm election – one with high turnout by historical standards – it was estimated that 113 million people voted, many of them early. As of Tuesday, more than eight million people had voted early across 39 states. We are closing in on 10% of ballots already cast, which means that some of the closing arguments are being made to an increasing number of people who have already cast ballots.
Steve Gordon and I will provide post-election analysis on everything from leadership races to committee leadership, and what might happen in November and December’s lame duck session.
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