When asked to share their candid thoughts about the Democrats’ chances of hanging onto their House majority in the coming election, party strategists often use words that cannot be printed in a family newsletter.
But a brighter picture is coming together for Democrats on the Senate side. There, Republicans are assembling what one top strategist laughingly described as an “island of misfit toys” — a motley collection of candidates the Democratic Party hopes to portray as out of the mainstream on policy, personally compromised and too cozy with Donald Trump.
These vulnerabilities have led to a rough few weeks for Republican Senate candidates in several of the most competitive races:
Arizona: Blake Masters, a venture capitalist who secured Trump’s endorsement and is leading the polls in the Republican primary, has been criticized for saying that “Black people, frankly” are responsible for most of the gun violence in the U.S. Other Republicans have attacked him for past comments supporting “unrestricted immigration.”
Georgia: Herschel Walker, the G.O.P. nominee facing Senator Raphael Warnock, acknowledged being the parent of three previously undisclosed children. Walker regularly inveighs against absentee fathers.
Pennsylvania: Dr. Mehmet Oz, who lived in New Jersey before announcing his Senate run, risks looking inauthentic. Oz recently misspelled the name of his new hometown on an official document.
Nevada: Adam Laxalt, a former state attorney general, said at a pancake breakfast last month that “Roe v. Wade was always a joke.” That’s an unpopular stance in socially liberal Nevada, where 63 percent of adults say abortion should be mostly legal.
Wisconsin: Senator Ron Johnson made a cameo in the Jan. 6 hearings when it emerged that, on the day of the attack, he wanted to hand-deliver a fraudulent list of electors to former Vice President Mike Pence.
Republicans counter with some politically potent arguments of their own, blaming Democrats for rising prices and saying that they have veered too far left for mainstream voters.
In Pennsylvania, for instance, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, the Democratic Senate nominee, supports universal health care, federal marijuana legalization and criminal justice reform. Republicans have been combing through his record and his past comments to depict him as similar to Bernie Sanders, the self-described democratic socialist.
Candidate vs. candidate
One factor working in the Democrats’ favor is the fact that only a third of the Senate is up for re-election, and many races are in states that favor Democrats.
Another is the fact that Senate races can be more distinct than House races, influenced less by national trends and more by candidates’ personalities. The ad budgets in Senate races can reach into the hundreds of millions of dollars, giving candidates a chance to define themselves and their opponents.
Democrats are leaning heavily on personality-driven campaigns, promoting Senator Mark Kelly in Arizona as a moderate, friendly former astronaut and Senator Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada as a fighter for abortion rights, retail workers and families.
“Senate campaigns are candidate-versus-candidate battles,” said David Bergstein, a spokesman for the Democrats’ Senate campaign arm. “And while Democratic incumbents and candidates have developed their own brands, Republicans have put forward deeply, deeply flawed candidates.” Bergstein isn’t objective, but that analysis has some truth to it.
If the election were held today, polls suggest that Democrats would be narrowly favored to retain Senate control. Republican elites are also terrified that voters might nominate Eric Greitens, the scandal-ridden former governor, for Missouri’s open Senate seat, jeopardizing a seat that would otherwise be safe.
But the election, of course, is not being held today, and polls are fallible, as we saw in 2020. So there’s still a great deal of uncertainty about the outcome. Biden’s approval rating remains low, and inflation is the top issue on voters’ minds — not the foibles of individual candidates.
For now, Democrats are pretty pleased with themselves for making lemonade out of a decidedly sour political environment.
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Institutional confidence continues a downward spiral
Here’s a blinking warning light for America’s centers of power: Confidence in U.S. institutions has plunged to new depths over the last year, according to a survey released on Monday by Gallup.
The steepest declines, Gallup found, were for the Supreme Court and the presidency. Confidence in the court has declined by 11 percentage points since 2021, while confidence in the presidency has dropped by 15 percentage points.
Gallup tracks the public’s views of 16 institutions in an annual survey. Confidence in the three branches of the federal government has reached all-time lows. Congress rounds out the bottom, with just 7 percent espousing a “great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in the legislative branch.
On the other end of the spectrum, Americans still express high levels of confidence in two institutions in particular: small business and the military.
But of all the institutions Gallup follows, every single one — save organized labor — has gone down in the public’s esteem in the past 12 months.
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