washington, dc

The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

J.P. Green

Political Strategy Notes

In “Democrats seek campaign opportunity with ObamaCare court ruling,” Nathaniel Weixel writes at The Hill, “Democrats are seizing on a federal judge’s ruling against ObamaCare’s prevention coverage as an opportunity to campaign on preserving health care just two months before the midterm elections….The ruling on Wednesday by Judge Reed O’Connor in Texas escalates another battle over ObamaCare, and could jeopardize access to preventive care for millions of Americans, including screenings for colorectal and other cancer, depression and hypertension, among many other services….Running on saving the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has proven effective for Democrats in the past: The party used the GOP’s attempt to repeal the law in 2017 to mount a successful campaign in 2018 to take control of the House. Earlier this year, the Supreme Court’s June decision to overturn Roe v. Wade gave Democrats another health issue with which to galvanize their base — and now it appears they’re looking to build on that strategy with O’Connor’s ruling….“With the GOP’s utter disdain for our health, safety and freedom, it is only a matter of time that another drug, treatment, vaccine or health service becomes the next target of their extremism,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said in a statement shortly after the ruling….Pelosi also indicated that Democrats will look to tie the ruling directly to the GOP’s “extreme MAGA” agenda and the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade…..“As a thirty-five-year ovarian cancer survivor, I am outraged that this judge would take us back to the days before the ACA when individuals suffered pain and even death because coverage for routine cancer screenings were not guaranteed without cost-sharing,” Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) said…..O’Connor has a history of ruling against ObamaCare, as well as other Democratic policies. In 2018, O’Connor sided with a coalition of GOP state attorneys general and struck down the entire health law as unconstitutional, a decision that was eventually overturned at the Supreme Court in 2020…..Health care has not been a winning campaign topic for Republicans in recent cycles. Since failing to repeal the health law in 2017, the GOP has been largely silent on the topic of ObamaCare…..Vulnerable GOP candidates have also lately softened their language on abortion and even tried to scrub references to past comments on the issue from their campaign websites.”

Forecasters now predict Democrats have the edge in the fight for Senate control,” Chris Cillizza writes at CNN Politics: “Two prominent election forecasting models now give Democrats a 70% or better chance of retaining their Senate majority in November, a major shift that suggests the fight for control may no longer be the toss-up that it has long been considered….The FiveThirtyEight election model finds that in 70 out of 100 election simulations, Democrats emerge from 2022 in the majority. The Economist’s model is even more optimistic for the party, finding that in 78 out of 100 simulations, Democrats retain their majority in November….Both models take into account polling, demographic, fundraising and historical data to produce a prediction of what will happen in two months’ time. It’s worth noting that these forecasts are built on probable outcomes and their predictive power depends on how good the underlying data are. So, in 30-ish percent of the scenarios each models runs, Republicans win the Senate majority. In interpreting those numbers, FiveThirtyEight characterizes that probability as Democrats being slightly favored to win the Senate. In short, be wary of taking these models as fact….In explaining why Democrats’ chances have improved of late, both FiveThirtyEight and The Economist note the disparity in candidate quality between the Democrats and Republicans as playing a significant role in the broader fight for the majority.” Cillizza discusses key Senate races in four states, and concludes, “But what’s clear as of today is this: Democrats are on the front foot in the race for the Senate majority, a major shift and surprise from even three months ago.”

Amelia Thomson-Deveaux and Zoha Qamar explain why “The Supreme Court Is More Unpopular Than Ever. That Could Help Democrats” at FiveThirtEight: “The Supreme Court’s conservative justices aren’t on the ballot this November. But for Democratic voters, the upcoming midterms are looking more and more like a referendum on the country’s high court….In late June, when the Supreme Court overturned the constitutional right to abortion in a contentious and divided ruling, Republicans had a solid 2-percentage-point lead over Democrats in generic-ballot polling, which asks Americans whether they plan to support Republicans or Democrats in the upcoming congressional election. A little over two months later, though, and abortion is mostly or completely illegal in 14 states — and those generic-ballot polls look very different. According to FiveThirtyEight’s average, Democrats now have more than a 1-point lead over Republicans….A Pew Research Center poll conducted Aug. 1-14 found that more Americans have an unfavorable view of the Supreme Court than at any other point since Pew began asking the question just over 35 years ago. Only 28 percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents have a favorable view of the Supreme Court, down 18 points since January and nearly 40 points since August 2020. Republicans’ views of the court, meanwhile, have gotten a bit more positive since the beginning of the year, which has created a gaping 45-point partisan gap in the Supreme Court’s favorability rating….

Thomson-Deveaux and Qamar note, further that “the share of Democrats who say abortion is a very important issue for the midterm elections rose from 46 percent in March to 71 percent in August. Meanwhile, in a Gallup poll conducted July 5-26, 13 percent of Democrats said that abortion issues were the most important problem facing the country — driving record-high levels of concern among Americans overall. An additional 9 percent of Democrats said that the judicial system and the courts were the most important problem….According to a Kaiser Family Foundation poll conducted July 7-17, for instance, nearly three-quarters (72 percent) of Democratic voters and 56 percent of independent voters say the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs has made them more motivated to consider a candidate’s position on abortion. However, 62 percent of Republicans said the decision hadn’t made a difference to them….A solid majority (64 percent) of Democrats say the Supreme Court has too much power, up from only 23 percent in August 2020. Increasingly, Democrats also say that the justices are not making politically neutral decisions. Just over half (51 percent) of Democrats say the justices are doing a poor job of keeping their own politics out of their decision-making, up from 26 percent in January.” If the Democrats pick up a couple of seats in the Senate in November and hold a house majority, Supreme Court expansion becomes a  possibility. Supreme Court membership has changed 7 times in U.S. history. The last time it was set at 9 members (1869), the population was about 38 million. Today it is 330+ million. That’s a good demographic argument that Supreme Court justices do indeed “have too much power,” as the Kaiser poll put it, and for increasing the size of the court by an act of congress.

Political Strategy Notes

At FiveThirtyEight, Geoffrey Skelley takes a look at the two marquee races in Georgia, and writes: “After a history-making 2020 and 2021, Georgia is once again on our minds with two high-profile statewide races on the ballot this November: the U.S. Senate race, a highly competitive contest between Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock and Republican Herschel Walker, as well as the gubernatorial contest, a high-octane rematch between Republican Gov. Brian Kemp and Democrat Stacey Abrams….But interestingly, these races have pretty different outlooks in FiveThirtyEight’s 2022 midterm forecast. The Senate race is currently rated as a toss-up, while in the governor’s race Kemp is a clear favorite to win….For starters, the gap between the two races varies depending on pollster, but on average, polls have found a 7-point difference between the margins in the Senate and gubernatorial contests. This pretty much matches what our more rigorous polling averages found, too, with Warnock up around 2 points and Kemp leading by about 5 points1 — or a 7-point gap….The forecast currently3 has Kemp with a 6-point lead and Warnock with about a 1-point lead, which would amount to a 7-point gap between the two races….Finally, there’s one other wrinkle with Georgia: If no candidate wins an outright majority of the vote, a runoff between the top-two finishers will take place on Dec. 6, 2022.4 And considering each contest has a Libertarian candidate, which is notable because Libertarians have averaged a little over 2 percent in statewide races dating back to 2002, it’s entirely possible that if the Senate race is especially tight, a Libertarian candidate who gains 1 or 2 percent of the vote could trigger a Warnock-Walker runoff in December. Currently,5 the FiveThirtyEight forecast gives the Senate race about a 1-in-5 chance of going to a runoff, while the governor’s race has about a 1-in-10 chance.” If Georgia’s swing voters focus more on candidate quality, Warnock’s lead will likely widen. Abrams’s chances may depend on her campaign’s ability to mobilize Black voters, which was impressive in her 2018 run for the governorship, and/or the uprising of women voters against Republicans in response to the Dobbs decision. Georgia Republicans are nervous and are already flooding the state with hard-hitting attack ads.

In “Democrats Winning Over the “Meh” Voter,” Amy Walter writes at The Cook Political Report: “This year, however, Democratic Senate candidates have been consistently outpolling Biden’s job approval ratings in their states. And, when it comes to the House, the share of voters who say they would vote for a Democrat for Congress is anywhere from 1 to 8 points higher than the percentage of voters who say they approve of the job Biden is doing. For example, the most recent Quinnipiac survey showed Biden’s job approval rating at 40 percent, yet 47 percent of voters said they were supporting a Democrat for Congress in November….In other words, many voters who are unhappy with Biden are nonetheless committed to supporting a Democratic candidate in November….In the Pew survey, 37 percent of voters said they either strongly or somewhat approved of the job Biden was doing in office. Not surprisingly 93 percent of those who strongly approve and 86 percent who somewhat approve say they are voting Democratic this fall. Among the 43 percent of voters who give Biden “very unfavorable” marks, 82 percent of those voters say they are supporting a Republican for Congress….But, among the 17 percent of voters who say they “somewhat disapprove” of Biden, 43 percent say they are planning to vote Democratic this fall, compared to 29 percent who say they’ll vote Republican….In other words, those who are “meh” about Biden are voting for Democrats. This is not something that we’ve seen before….Keeping those voters on their side for the next two months is a bigger – an unprecedented – challenge.”

Nathaniel Frank and Evan Wolfson write at The Daily Beast that “the Republican Party is currently so extreme that not only is it incapable of advocating for a vision of what government should do (the GOP didn’t even adopt a platform in 2020), it has abandoned a commitment to American democracy itself. Indeed, elected Republicans now pose the clearest and most present danger to democracy in our lifetime….Thus, preserving, let alone reinvigorating, our nation’s liberal democracy now entirely hinges on the Democrats’ ability to eke out a governing majority in the approaching election. That, in turn, requires delivering on—and touting—effective government action that improves people’s lives, just as President Biden said….More than ever, bold government action and the fate of democratic governance itself now depend on one another….The first bite at the apple, then, is that heading into November, Democrats can campaign with a message of what they have done in the face of Republican obstruction, and, even more important, what they will do if Americans keep them in power or expand their thin majorities….“Give us two more seats in the Senate and a stronger margin in the House,” the Democrats can pledge, “and then hold us accountable if we do not pass what we’ve promised.”…Selling the Democratic brand this way has not always been straightforward because while majorities of Americans agree with Democratic policy goals significant groups of voters, often for cultural reasons, lack trust in the party. Campaigning on recent accomplishments (particularly in contrast to Republicans’ dangerous enabling of Trumpian nihilism and sedition) could go far toward showing Americans that the Democratic Party truly is focused on making government work for them, and has begun to deliver on that promise.” Democrats must also “convince more Americans, of any or no party, that for now and the foreseeable future, Democrats are the only ones who will try to salvage democratic governance from the jaws of rising domestic authoritarianism and oligarchic greed.”

Joan McCarter reports that “Biden’s approval ratings keep ticking up. Getting stuff done turns out to be popular at Daily Kos, and observes, “The recent run of getting stuff done is working for Democrats with the American public, if you can believe public polling. That means unticking approvals for President Joe Biden and the Democratic Party. The latest message polling from Navigator Research shows that majorities believe Biden’s accomplishments will “result in positive outcomes for the country.” That includes passing the PACT Act to provide benefits for veterans harmed by burn pits, job growth, infrastructure investment, declining gas prices—it’s all combining to hold his approval rating steady as the midterm elections loom….The big surprise from this survey, though, is how popular his student debt plan is with pretty much everyone. That includes 86% approval from people with student debt, but also 56% of people who’ve paid off their loans, and 52% who never had student loan debt. That gives it an overall 60% approval….Biden’s approval is holding at 42% in the Navigator survey, but he gets 50% approval for handling the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s the stuff that he and Democrats have accomplished, though, that’s popular when messaged correctly. “After messaging about Biden and Democrats’ accomplishments, the share of independents who say the Democratic Party is focused on the right things increases by net 28 points (from -35 to -7) and the share of Black Americans increases by net 23 points (from +53 to +76),” Navigator finds….The Inflation Reduction Act is popular, too, with 67% support, including 64% support from Independents who are particularly supportive of the drug price caps and health care costs in the legislation. That’s the part that is most persuasive to voters, and that has given Democrats the edge on handling health care and lowering health care costs….It’s also not just Navigator. Civiqs has been tracking a steep uptick in Biden’s approval rating since an all-time low in early July. Since July 8, he’s gained 9 points in approval with registered voters….That’s all very good stuff for Democrats, the best you could hope for in the post-Labor Day push to the election. It also doesn’t hurt that Republicans own the hugely unpopular abortion bans sweeping red America after the U.S. Supreme Court ended federal protections. In fact, in the Navigator survey, “abortion” and “Trump” dominate, and 59% associate them negatively with congressional Republicans.”

Political Strategy Notes

“Okay, it’s not like labor’s high tide in the 1940s or 1950s yet,” E. J. Dionne, Jr. writes in his Labor Day column, “Unions are on a roll. And they unite a divided nation” at The Washington Post. “But unions are staging a remarkable comeback in the United States that few anticipated even a decade ago….Government policies are shifting in the direction of workers. Unions are winning workplace elections at a rapid clip. And just last week, Gallup reported that approval of unions hit its highest level in 57 years….Gallup found that approval of unions hit low points of 48 percent in 2009 and 52 percent in 2010. They have risen ever since — to 61 percent in 2017, 68 percent last year and 71 percent last week, a peak not reached since 1965….At a time when so many attitudes divide along racial lines, Gallup found that Whites and non-Whites were equally pro-labor. Approval spanned generations — at 72 percent for those under 54, and 70 percent among those 55 and over. Support for organized labor, close to unanimous among Democrats, is in fact bipartisan: 89 percent of Democrats approved of unions, as did 68 percent of independents and 56 percent of Republicans….A spurt of new organizing will not undo years of union decline. Efforts to change labor laws to make unionization easier have failed even in Congresses controlled by Democrats. The new shape of the economy — with fewer of the sorts of manufacturing jobs on which labor built its power between the 1930s and the 1960s — creates challenges that the movement still needs to master….But the new labor story, based on an embrace of the promise of triumph through shared struggle, runs crosswise to many of the trends in our politics, and usefully so. Unions have the capacity to bring Americans together across some very deep divides. Republicans have yet to alter their largely antilabor policy stances to accommodate a new constituency that includes large numbers of working-class voters. You’d never know from the party’s hostility to unions how sympathetic the GOP rank and file is to what they do.”

Gregory Krieg flags “Key Governors Races to watch This Fall” at CNN Politics and writes: “In November, 36 states will hold gubernatorial elections that, while often less expensive than Senate races, are likely to yield more immediate impacts on the political landscape and could provide a launching pad for candidates with even higher aspirations — like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis….Heading into the general election season, Republicans control 20 of the contested governor’s seats to Democrats’ 16. But many of the key battleground contests feature Democratic incumbents, elected during the 2018 “blue wave,” trying to win a second term. In Michigan and Wisconsin, Govs. Gretchen Whitmer and Tony Evers are likely Republicans’ only obstacle to governing trifectas. The same goes in Pennsylvania — another state President Joe Biden flipped in 2020 — where Democratic state Attorney General Josh Shapiro would likely face a GOP-controlled legislature if he defeats Republican nominee Doug Mastriano, a Trump-allied election denier….The added attention and, to some extent, increasing attractiveness of governors’ races to big donors and outside spenders, could benefit Democrats if only because the party has in the past tended to look past state elections and zero in on federal and presidential ones….While Democrats try to fashion a broad argument that ties economic concerns to growing extremism in the Trump-dominated Republican ranks, the GOP has been keen to narrow the conversation to dissatisfaction with the economy — especially in states, such as Nevada, which was hit especially hard by Covid-19 and has been slow to recover.” Krieg has lots more to say about particular races.

From Nicole Narea’s “Is post-Roe voter registration benefitting Democrats? Preliminary data suggests that enthusiasm is up among women and young voters in the midterms” at Vox: “Democrats appeared to be heading into the 2022 midterms with a perceived voter enthusiasm deficit brought on by inflation and an unpopular incumbent president. But over the last few months, the party’s outlook for the midterms has significantly improved, and many political strategists attribute the shift at least in part to voters’ outrage over the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade….Many of these strategists — like Simon Rosenberg and James Carville — believe the threat of further restrictions on abortion access should the GOP take control of Congress, governor’s mansions, and statehouses will energize Democratic turnout in the fall. Several recent elections — including in New York’s 19th, where the Democratic winner centered his campaign on abortion access and the resounding rejection of a constitutional amendment that would have allowed state lawmakers to further restrict abortion access in Kansas — have been taken as early signs that Democrats are likely to fare better than expected in the fall. Narea interviews Tom Bonier, CEO of data firm Targetsmart, who adds, “In every state that I’ve looked at so far, when you look at the under-25 voters who have registered since Dobbs, and then compare them to the under-25 voters who registered this year prior to Dobbs, they’re even more Democratic. You see the same pattern with women who are registering post-Dobbs versus those who registered prior to Dobbs. They’re more likely to be registered as Democrats by a pretty wide margin….What’s interesting to me is, when you see surges in enthusiasm reflected in registration historically, it almost always is then mirrored in surges in enthusiasm and turnout among those groups overall. So it stands to reason that what we’re seeing isn’t just relevant because it means more women are eligible to vote, but it indicates that women in general are far more attuned to this election and therefore far more likely to vote.”

Some observations from Alex Shephard’s “The Media Is Not Ready to Defend Democracy” at The New Republic: “On Thursday, President Biden delivered a searing speech about the threat to democracy posed by Donald Trump—whose name he mentioned only twice—and the growing ranks of “MAGA Republicans.”….He characterized the upcoming midterm elections as nothing less than a “battle for the soul of the nation.”….With the midterm elections less than three months away, the Democratic message is—rather  unsurprisingly—equally uncomplicated and understandable: It’s focused on protecting democracy from a party that keeps promising political violence. Biden’s speech, delivered just before Labor Day, served as a kind of grace note to the midterm season. It was an existential speech in that the fate of American democracy does actually seem to be on the ballot. And, yes, it was a political speech in that the Democrats are pledging to preserve democracy while Republicans plot to overthrow the Founders’ ideals in favor of something in Viktor Orbán’s image….That Biden’s speech was political served as an excuse for lazy both-sides journalism, as reporters scrambled after the nearest bottle of weak sauce to draw equivalence between Biden’s commentary and a movement that’s currently calling in bomb threats to children’s hospitals. Biden was quoted laying out an argument—with evidence—that Republicans were bent on subverting democracy….The Beltway press has struggled to cope with the rise of a political party that is pursuing an existential threat to democracy. They hate the idea that they actually bear some responsibility for preventing autocracy; indeed that their own profession relies on this defense of our institutions. This neurosis drives them, endlessly, back into a blind spot they’ve built for themselves, in which everything is strictly politics as usual, and the question of whether America’s multiracial democracy should actually survive the decade is just an interesting debate that can be bemusedly enjoyed. There are plenty of normal political issues at stake in the midterms—inflation, crime, the war in Ukraine—to which they can apply their preferred rubric. The GOP’s threat to the republic isn’t one of them.”

Political Strategy Notes

Ronald Brownstein’s “From a Republican ‘tsunami’ to a ‘puddle’: Why the forecast for November is changing” at CNN Politics sheds some fresh light on Democratic midterm prospects. As Brownstein writes, “It was a referendum. Now it’s a choice….For political professionals in both parties, that’s the capsule explanation for why the Democratic position in the midterm elections appears to have improved so much since summer began….with evidence suggesting more voters are treating the election as a comparative choice between the two parties, operatives on both sides are bracing for a closely contested outcome that could include an unusual divergence in results for the House and those in Senate and governor races….”It feels to me to be more like a shallow red puddle that we’re walking through, rather than a tsunami of sorts,” says Republican strategist John Thomas….Earlier this year, the debate between the parties centered on inflation, the economy, crime, immigration and President Joe Biden‘s stalled legislative agenda in Congress — all issues that motivated the Republican base and alienated many swing voters from Democrats. But a series of dramatic events over the past few months have elevated an entirely different set of issues: gun violence, threats to democracy, climate change and, above all, abortion rights….”The conversation in the nation has changed,” says Michael Podhorzer, former chief political adviser to the AFL-CIO and chair of the Analyst Institute, a collaborative of progressive groups that conducts extensive public polling….That shift in the conversation, he argues, is “reminding the 81 million people who voted against Trump in 2020″ about why they turned out to oppose him and increasing the odds that more of them will show up again in 2022….”We have even heard people in focus groups say, ‘prices go up and down, but I can’t prevent myself from being raped and not being able to have an abortion,'” she [Fernandez Ancona] said. “The idea that something everyone had is now being taken away is so strong it’s overriding” other concerns.”….Particularly noteworthy is that a recent Pew Research Center surveyfound congressional Democrats leading among voters who somewhat disapproved of Biden’s performance, while the NBC survey found them essentially breaking even with those voters. That’s a remarkable divergence from recent experience: the opposition party won about two-thirds of voters who somewhat disapproved of Trump in 2018 and former President Barack Obama in 2010, according to exit poll results provided by the CNN polling unit.”

In more downers for wingnuts news, Jeff Singer reports that “Sarah Palin loses Alaska’s lone House seat to a Democrat in a special election upset” at Daily Kos. As Singer writes, “Alaska election officials carried out the instant-runoff process Wednesday for the Aug. 16 special election for the state’s only House seat, and former Democratic state Rep. Mary Peltola has scored a dramatic pickup for her party by defeating Republican Sarah Palin 51-49….Peltola, who will replace the late GOP Rep. Don Young, will be the first Democrat to represent the Last Frontier in the lower chamber since Young won his own special election all the way back in 1973. The new congresswoman, who is of Yup’ik ancestry, is also set to become the first Alaska Native to ever serve in Congress….Peltola’s victory on such red turf, though, looked improbable before the polls closed two weeks ago. Indeed, national Democrats didn’t even commit serious resources to the contest, a decision the former state representative called “bizarre” just before Election Day. Peltola, however, benefited from voters’ lingering apathy toward Palin, whom the Anchorage Daily News last year described as “nearly invisible within the state” and “almost entirely absent from Alaska politics” since she resigned the governorship in 2009….Republicans, though, will have the chance to regain this seat in a few months. Peltola, Palin, and Begich, as well as Libertarian Chris Bye, will be on the ballot again in November for another instant-runoff election, and the dynamics could be very different for this second round.”

From “Male Politicians Haven’t Noticed How Angry Women Voters Are” by Dahlia Lithwick at slate.com: “One analysis of the Kansas’ voter registration list showed that in the week after Dobbs, more than 70 percent of newly registered voters in that state were women. Those numbers, according to an Upshot analysis of 10 states with available voter registration data, show consistently higher registration for women after the Dobbs leak in May. As Jennifer Rubin recently noted, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that, “62 percent of women registering since Dobbs registered as Democrats, 15 percent as Republicans and that 54 percent were younger than 25.” And a Pew Research Center poll indicates that “a majority of registered voters (56 percent) say the issue of abortion will be very important in their midterm vote, up from 43 percent in March.” Tom Bonier, CEO Of TargetSmart recently posted on Twitter: “We are seeing early signs of what could lead to a huge increase in women voting in November. …This surge is young and female.” Both Mitch McConnell and RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel are panicking about the GOP’s odds in Congress, directly connected to fundraising around abortion….I have a lot of theories about why nobody should be surprised that women are friggin’ furious right now, which include, as Mark Joseph Stern has been arguing all summer, the increasingly horrifying tales of women, disproportionately on teenagers and victims of violence, left to suffer from sepsis, refused prescriptions and denied treatment for ectopic pregnancies, and ever more horrors. And yet, the forced birth Republicans continue to insist that none of this is happening, or that journalists and physicians are making it all up….And as President Biden warned this week, Democrats losing Congress will mean that abortion is in peril everywhere.”

Kyle Kondik and J. Miles Coleman share “Senate Rating Changes: Arizona, Pennsylvania to Leans Democratic” at Sabato’s Crystal Ball: “Are we being too friendly to Democrats by moving Arizona and Pennsylvania off Toss-up? Quite possibly. On the other hand, you could argue we’re being too friendly to Republicans in at least one state: Wisconsin, where Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes (D) has posted surprising leads in several independent polls — even in the typically GOP-friendly Trafalgar, which found Barnes up 2 points a couple of days ago (although such a small lead might as well be a tie). Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) continues to struggle with favorability. As Marquette University Law School pollster Charles Franklin points out, Johnson entered the 2016 cycle more anonymous than he is now — he scored an upset victory that year by winning over ambivalent voters. Now, as more voters have firm opinions of him, Johnson’s favorables are not impressive. But we still ultimately favor Johnson in a state where Republicans do not appear likely to be at a spending disadvantage and where they appear to have ample opportunity to paint Barnes as left-wing. Wisconsin’s Senate race remains Leans Republican, to us….So we only have 2 Toss-ups right now, the seats that Sens. Raphael Warnock (D-GA) and Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) are defending. We don’t have much of a handicap in either at the moment. But we think both are legitimately close enough that we wouldn’t be surprised if the GOP sweeps both. This is why we still see the Senate as an overall Toss-up even though, based on our current ratings, Democrats only need to win one of these Toss-ups for a majority and Republicans need to win both (because Democrats only need 50 seats for a majority thanks to Vice President Kamala Harris’s tiebreaking vote, whereas Republicans need an outright majority of 51).”

Political Strategy Notes

From “Red wave hits breaker: GOP midterm worries rise” by Emily Brooks at The Hill: “Republican worries of a midterm flop are growing heading into the critical post-Labor Day campaign season, with analysts who had previously predicted massive GOP gains shifting their forecasts toward Democrats….Rick Tyler, a Republican strategist and analyst, said the environment looks “not even close” to a red wave election year….“The enthusiasm is just not there,” Tyler said. “Last time Republicans had a good year, they were 6 points ahead in the generic poll. Now we’re barely 2 points ahead. So it’s definitely not going to happen.”….RealClearPolitics averages of pollsmeasuring whether voters would prefer Republican or Democratic control of Congress show the GOP advantage slipping from 4.8 points in late April to less than a point as of Friday. At around this point in 2010, when Republicans saw historic gains in Congress, generic polls showed an advantage of 4 to 6 points for the GOP….Weaknesses for GOP candidates along with results from recent elections have led election analysts at Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia Center for Politics and The Cook Political Report to shift several forecasts for key congressional midterm races toward Democrats. Cook revised its expected GOP gain in the House from 15 to 30 seats to 10 to 20 seats, and its Senate outlook from Republicans having an edge to a toss-up….Kyle Kondik, managing editor at Sabato’s Crystal Ball, said that weaknesses in GOP Senate and gubernatorial candidates, as well as many Republicans’ position against abortion, has given Democrats the opportunity ”to make the election more of a choice than a referendum.” But he cautioned against fully reevaluating the midterm environment before Labor Day and said that Republicans could still flip both chambers even if they fall below expectations of a “red wave.”….“It is possible that the Democrats’ addition of more college-educated voters, at the expense of losing more non-college voters, has skewed some of these special elections, as the college cohort is a more reliable voting bloc,” Kondik said. “That said, if the GOP had some big enthusiasm edge over the Democrats — and if it was bringing a lot of lapsed GOP voters back into the fold — one would think they’d be doing better than they are.”

In “Ratings Update: Democrats Gain Big in House Races” at Elections Daily, Eric Cunningham writes: “The national climate has undeniably shifted, perhaps from a Republican wave to a so-called “ripple” or neutral environment. We regard Republicans as the unequivocal favorites to hold the House, still, but our ratings changes predominantly benefit Democrats. The vast majority of our changes here are shifting potential upset races or fringe races we considered to be on the table. Additionally, we’re moving a handful of urban or suburban-oriented Republican seats back onto the board….Currently, we favor Republicans in 218 seats (the absolute bare-minimum for a majority) and Democrats in 193. We have 24 seats rated in the Tossup column….”

Amy Walter observes at The Cook Political Report that “Democrats are getting help flipping the script thanks to the Supreme Court and Trump. For the first time in history, warnings by Democrats about a rollback of abortion rights aren’t theoretical. Poll after poll continues to show that the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade is widely unpopular. And, as my colleague David Wasserman has noted, Democratic engagement in the post-Dobbs era has jumped considerably. In the four special elections since the June 28th Supreme Court decision, Democrats have outperformed 2020 results by as many as 6 points….Then, there’s Trump. While Youngkin was able to keep the polarizing former president at arm’s length, most of the other high-profile Senate candidates are embracing him. For the last few weeks, Trump and his ungrounded claims of voter fraud have dominated the political and media discourse. July has been dominated by coverage of January 6th commission hearings, the primary defeat of the committee’s GOP chairwoman Liz Cheney, the FBI discovery of classified documents at Mar-a-Lago, and Trump’s ongoing legal troubles in Fulton County, Georgia. The party out of power — rather than the in-party — is in the spotlight….The more Trump is in the news, the more dangerous the political climate for the GOP….While neither Biden nor Trump are popular, Trump is the more polarizing. New polling from NBC News finds Trump’s net favorable ratings (-18) to be twice as bad as Biden’s (-8). That same dynamic is showing up in swing states like Arizona, where a recent FOX News poll finds Trump’s net favorable at -20 to Biden’s -10, and Wisconsin, where the FOX poll showed Biden’s net favorable ratings at (-6) compared with Trump’s (-10)….Democrats, especially incumbent Senators in key swing states, have built up solid foundation for themselves. Polling in Senate races not only finds Democrats leading in the ballot test, but also holding strong favorable ratings, especially among independent voters….A big reason for that bump in popularity is that Democratic incumbents have had the airwaves to themselves for most of the last two years. Since the beginning of 2021, significantly more money has been spent on positive ads for Democratic Senators in Arizona, Georgia, New Hampshire and Nevada than on negative ads against them….According to information provided to the Cook Political Report by AdImpact, every one of those Senators has had at least a two-to-one advantage on the airwaves.”

Gabrielle Gurley’s “Democrats in Danger of Missing the Marijuana Moment” at The American Prospect spotlights a danger — and an opportunity — for Democrats. As Gurley writes, “The Supreme Court’s revocation of abortion rights and the rush of red states to ban it altogether have opened the eyes of young voters to the perils of sideline-sitting at election time. President Biden’s decision to forgive $10,000 of student loan debt may also energize more young people to vote in the midterm elections. But failure to deliver on a slam-dunk issue like the federal decriminalization of marijuana could convince other voters to skip the general election….Removing research restrictions is a monumental step, but what voters across the political spectrum, and especially people under 25, are waiting for is the end of prohibition. The Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act (CAOA) offers that pathway. The mammoth federal regulatory proposal, introduced in July by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sens. Cory Booker of New Jersey and Ron Wyden of Oregon, would end the federal prohibition of marijuana and remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act….Currently, recreational marijuana is legal in 19 states and medical marijuana in 39. An astonishing majority of Americans agree that marijuana should be legal for medical or recreational purposes. A July Gallup poll found that more than 50 percent of people 18 to 34 regularly use some type of marijuana product. Legalization is popular with young people, but it depends on who you ask: Americans ages 25 to 29 support legal cannabis by a 50 percent to 28 percent margin, with 21 percent unsure. Among people 18 to 24, the figure drops to 38 percent, with 39 percent opposed and 22 percent unsure. (On abortion and student debt relief, young people are much more uniformly aligned: 78 percent of young people support legal abortion, while 85 percent support some type of student loan debt relief.)….Cannabis descheduling by Congress or by a presidential executive order might serve as a motivational lever for both young potential voters and other unmotivated ones, demonstrating what they can expect next year if Democrats remain in power—or what they can expect if the Republicans take one or both houses of Congress.”

Biden’s Counterpunch to GOP Gripes re Student Loans Nails Their Hypocrisy

Rarely in today’s political debates do Democrats throw such a well-targeted counterpunch as did the White House in response to Republican criticism of President Biden’s student loan forgiveness initiative. As Zoe Richards reports at nbcnews.com:

The White House hit back at Republicans in an uncharacteristic manner Thursday by using its Twitter account to go after GOP lawmakers who are bashing President Joe Biden’s move to cancel some student debt after they personally benefited from having Paycheck Protection Program loans forgiven during the Covid pandemic.

In a series of tweets, the White House highlighted several congressional Republicans — Reps. Vern Buchanan of Florida, Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, Mike Kelly of Pennsylvania, and Markwayne Mullin and Kevin Hern of Oklahoma — who it said had six- and seven-figure PPP loans forgiven as part of a federal program intended to help those harmed by the coronavirus.

They blundered right into that one. Richards shares some of the specifics:

Greene, who said on Newsmax that “it’s completely unfair” for student loans to be forgiven, had $183,504 in PPP loans forgiven, according to the White House….Kelly, who tweeted that Biden’s move was poised to benefit “Wall Street advisors” at the cost of “plumbers and carpenters,” had $987,237 forgiven, the White House said….Buchanan, who according to the White House had more than $2.3 million in PPP loans forgiven, tweeted that Biden’s move was “reckless” and a “unilateral student loan giveaway.”….The White House also highlighted criticism and PPP loan forgiveness amounts from Mullin (more than $1.4 million) and Hern (more than $1 million).

This provides an excellent and instructive lesson for all Democratic candidates in the art of the political counterpunch. Be prepared for attacks in advance, hit back soon and hard. And keep in mind that the permanent weakness of Republican politicians is that their fingers are never far from the cookie jar.

Political Strategy Notes

In “This one issue could save Democrats in November,” Zachary B. Wolf writes at CNN politics: “the larger lesson of 2022 so far is that a focus on protecting abortion rights from the US Supreme Court and Republican-controlled state governments could, maybe, stop a “red wave” in November….In upstate New York, an Iraq War veteran, Democrat Pat Ryan, passed his Republican opponent, Marc Molinaro, in a House special election Ryan framed almost entirely around abortion….Ryan did better in the district against Molinaro than President Joe Biden did versus former President Donald Trump in 2020….Ryan told CNN’s Jake Tapper on Wednesday that his decision to focus on abortion came from watching the effect of the Supreme Court’s decision on the ground in his district….While the Kansas election put abortion directly on the ballot, it was simply a campaign focus in the special election in New York. Now, with a win in that hotly contested seat where both parties spent money, Democrats see a path in places that seemed to be slipping out of their reach earlier this year.” Woldf quotes CNN’s Harry Enten, who said “All told, Democrats are averaging a 4-point overperformance in House specials since Roe was overturned. This is a 10-point shift from where they were on average before the ruling.” Read the full story.”

Yes, Special Elections Really Are Signaling A Better-Than-Expected Midterm For Democrats,” Nathaniel Rakich writes at FiveThirtyEight, and observes, “We at FiveThirtyEight often track the results of special elections (i.e., elections that occur at unusual times because an office unexpectedly becomes vacant) because of the hints they provide to the national mood. When a party consistently does well in special elections — defined not by winning or losing, but by outperforming a state or district’s baseline partisanship — it’s often a sign that the national political environment favors that party, and is therefore a good omen for that party in the upcoming regular general election….There have been four first-past-the-post special House elections since that decision [Dobbs v. Jackson on abortion rights], and Democrats have outperformed their expected margins in those elections by an average of 9 points….special-election results are clearly indicating that the political winds are now at Democrats’ backs. And it’s not just special-election results. Democrats and their allies have also done well in other, non-special elections since Dobbs….On the day of the Dobbs decision, Republicans led polls of the generic congressional ballot, or polls that ask Americans which party they plan to support for Congress, by 2.3 points, according to FiveThirtyEight’s average. But since then, Democrats have gained 2.7 points, and on Wednesday,3 they hold a small lead in these polls….This is unusual, given that the polls usually get worse, not better, for the president’s party as a midterm election draws closer. That could be a sign that 2022 could be the rare midterm that bucks the usual trend of the president’s party getting a “shellacking.” And if so, Democrats may have the Supreme Court to thank.”

Kyle Kondik writes at Sabato’s Crystal Ball, “Democrats turned in another pair of congressional special election overperformances last night, giving them an at least somewhat surprising victory in the closely-watched NY-19 special and a decent showing in the much sleepier NY-23 special, which Republicans held by a smaller margin than the GOP presidential showing in the district in 2020….In NY-19, a classic swing district that Joe Biden won by about 1.5 points in 2020, Ulster County Executive Pat Ryan (D) beat Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro (R) by a small margin. Some sites were reporting 51%-49% on Wednesday morning, others 52%-48%, and there probably are some scattered votes left to count, such as late-arriving mail votes….This came despite Republican outside groups spending more in the race and polling that pointed to Molinaro….Ryan ran heavily on the abortion issue, an increasing focus for Democrats in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision that eliminated constitutional protections for abortion rights, while Molinaro ran more on other issues, like inflation….there is an accumulating amount of evidence that Democrats are holding up better than expected in this midterm environment, likely in no small part because of the Dobbs decision. We now have these decent Democratic special election performances to consider, as well as House generic ballot polling that, collectively, no longer shows a Republican edge. This comes despite President Joe Biden’s poor approval rating — his numbers have been better lately, although he’s still in just the low 40s (as opposed to the high 30s).” Regarding the Ohio Senate race, Kopndik writes, “We’re moving the race from Likely Republican to Leans Republican. Our confidence in Vance winning remains, but we do not feel as strongly about it as we previously did.”

Reports of Democrats’ midterm death may be greatly exaggerated.” Gabby Goldstein and Mallory Roman write at Salon in their article, “Democrats have seized the momentum — now that needs to flow down-ballot. Our analysis shows a narrow path for Democrats to win back state-level power. It’s crucial — but it won’t be easy.”  Goldstein and Roman continue, “In fact, Democrats have momentum. Public reaction to the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision has demonstrated the deep unpopularity of Republican abortion restrictions, including Kansas voters’ recent and resounding rejection of a change to the state constitution that would have made an abortion ban possible. And a summer of explosive Jan. 6 hearings has shown the depths to which MAGA Republicans aim to go in dismantling democracy. Meanwhile, the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act has been a tremendous victory. FiveThirtyEight now has Democrats ahead on the generic ballot….Democrats have a path to retain control in Washington. But the fight must be for much more than that. From abortion access to fair elections, state legislatures are increasingly the venues that control ever-broader swaths of our social, economic, and personal lives. Building progressive power in state legislatures is a key to securing the very future of our civil rights and democracy. Remember: whoever we elect to legislatures this year will be in office during the critical post-2024 election period….The good news is that control of legislative chambers is not wildly out of reach. Our recent analysis shows that Democrats have been much closer to controlling chambers than has been commonly understood. Follow the data: Legislative majorities often hinge on the outcomes in a handful of competitive seats. With so much on the line, Democrats must use their newfound momentum to fight hard for control of critically important state legislative seats….to combat ballot drop-off, Democrats need to make sure that our voters understand the importance of state legislatures, policy and power. Unlike Republicans, Democrats do not have an embedded, emotional connection to state-level power. But we can build one. We can shift the narrative to embrace the value of state power as necessary for a free future, we can celebrate progressive federalism, and we can commit to building and maintaining progressive state power.”

How Effective Are Political Ads?

I’m always encouraged when I see a really good Democratic political ad. But does it really matter, and if so, how much? Maybe it’s impossible to say for sure. What we can know is, what the best data says about it.

Writing in 2020, Mike Cummings takes the skeptical view in “Political ads have little persuasive power” at Yale News: ”

Every four years, U.S. presidential campaigns collectively spend billions of dollars flooding TV screens across the country with political ads. But a new study co-authored by Yale political scientist Alexander Coppock shows that, regardless of content, context, or audience, those pricey commercials do little to persuade voters.

The study, published Sept. 2 in the journal Science Advances, measured the persuasive effects of 49 high-profile advertisements from the 2016 presidential campaign on a nationally representative sample of 34,000 people through a series of 59 randomized experiments. Expanding on prior research suggesting that political ads have little impact on voters’ preferences, the study shows that those weak effects are consistent irrespective of a number of factors, including an ad’s tone, timing, and its audience’s partisanship.

There’s an idea that a really good ad, or one delivered in just the right context to a targeted audience, can influence voters, but we found that political ads have consistently small persuasive effects across a range of characteristics,” said Coppock, an assistant professor of political science in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. “Positive ads work no better than attack ads. Republicans, Democrats, and independents respond to ads similarly. Ads aired in battleground states aren’t substantially more effective than those broadcast in non-swing states.”

OK, 2016 was weird, and Cummings’s article was focused on TV ads. Regarding the study’s methods, Cummings writes:

Coppock and his co-authors — University of California-San Diego political scientist Seth J. Hill and UCLA political scientist Lynn Vavreck — conducted the study throughout the 2016 presidential primaries and general election.

Over 29 weeks, a representative sample of Americans was divided at random into groups and assigned to watch campaign advertisements or a placebo advertisement — a car-insurance commercial — before answering a short survey.

The researchers selected ads using real-time, ad-buy data and news coverage of each week’s most important ads. They tested ads attacking or promoting Republican candidate Donald Trump and Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton as well as commercials concerning primary candidates, such as Republican Ted Cruz and Democrat Bernie Sanders. They analyzed the ads’ effects on survey respondents across several variables, including the candidate, party, or political action committee that sponsored them; whether they were positive or negative in tone; the partisanship of those viewing the ads; the time to Election Day when they aired; whether they were viewed in a battleground state or not; and whether they aired during the primary or general election.

Cummings summarizes their findings:

They found that, on average and across all variables, the ads moved a candidate’s favorability rating among respondents only .05 of a point on the survey’s five-point scale, which is small but statistically significant given the study’s large size, note the researchers. The ads’ effect on whom individuals intended to vote for was smaller still — a statistically insignificant 0.007 of a percentage point.

Campaigns should carefully consider efforts to tailor advertisements to specific audiences given that the evidence shows that ads’ persuasive effects vary little from person to person or from commercial to commercial, the researchers concluded.

Of course a candidate’s favorability rating is not the same thing as a vote for or against a candidate. As Cummings notes further,

The findings do not demonstrate that political advertising is always ineffective, Coppock said, noting that the study didn’t analyze the influence of an entire advertising campaign.

TV ads help candidates increase their name recognition among the public, which is extremely important,” said Coppock, a resident fellow at Yale’s Institution for Social Policy Studies and the Center for the Study of American Politics. “Moreover, the effects we demonstrated were small but detectable and could make the difference between winning and losing a close election.”

Another study of TV ads in the 2020 election in 75 market areas and 1607 counties by Northwestern University scholars Brett Gordon, Mitchell J. Lovett, Bowen Lou and James Reeder found, as reported by Roberta Kwok :

….Gordon and his colleagues report that TV ads do influence voter turnout and choices—and that the tone of the ad makes a difference. Based on data from the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections, the team found that positive ads encouraged more people to show up on Election Day, while negative ads slightly suppressed turnout. And while both types of commercials affected whom people supported, the negative ones were more effective at swaying voters’ decisions.

In hypothetical scenarios, the researchers found that ad tone was sometimes enough to tip a close election. For example, the team predicted that if only positive ads had been shown, Al Gore would have won in 2000.

The results suggest that in tight races, “political TV ads matter,” Gordon says. “They drive outcomes.”

Kwok notes further that “Some studies that evaluated the overall influence of ads, without distinguishing between positive or negative ones, found that the commercials didn’t affect turnout. Among researchers who analyzed specific ad types, some reported that both positive and negative commercials had little effect; others found that negative ads boosted turnout; and still others that negative ads decreased turnout….The researchers found that, in the 2000 election, allowing only positive ads would have increased overall voter turnout from 50.4 percent to 52.4 percent. Meanwhile, airing only negative ads would have decreased turnout to 48.8 percent. The gap between the all-positive and all-negative scenarios was about 10 million voters.”

Regarding the thorny problem of campaigns continuing to spend billions of dollars on TV ads in elections every year, highly-experienced campaign managers know about such studies, but they still think TV ads are very important. The cynical argument goes, “Well, the system is corrupted by massive amounts of money they have to spend somewhere.” No doubt, however, many campaign managers can point to evidence that specific ads helped their candidates.

So who do you trust more – academics defending their studies, or campaign managers and consultants defending their investments?  No shortage of self-interest on either side of that argument. Kind of a draw, isn’t it?

Political Strategy Notes

From “GOP’s Senate outlook grows dimmer amid ‘candidate quality’ concerns” by Mychael Schnell at The Hill: “On Thursday, the nonpartisan Cook Political Report changed its rating for the Pennsylvania Senate race from “toss up” to “lean Democrat,” signaling headwinds for Republican Mehmet Oz in his race against Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (D)….The shift came amid the crudité controversy in the Keystone State. Oz came under fire after Fetterman’s campaign recirculated a video the TV doctor posted in April showcasing him grocery shopping for crudité in an effort to show the effects of inflation….The Democratic campaign seized on the video, with the candidate writing on Twitter “In PA we call this a… veggie tray,” the most recent move in his attempt to paint Oz as a carpetbagger from New Jersey….Fetterman’s team said it raised more than $500,000 in the 24 hours after the video went viral. The lieutenant governor remains comfortably ahead of Oz in FiveThirtyEight’s average average, 49.1 percent to 37.7 percent.” Actually, the ‘crudite’ dust-up is more about the Republican candidate’s elitist language, in stark contrast to Fetterman’s authentic working-class appeal. Fetterman’s campaign was smart to capitalize on Oz’s blunder, and it wouldn’t hurt to make some humorous ads portraying Oz as poster boy for the crudite crowd.

In his op-ed, “The barely hidden fascism of Ron DeSantis makes a Pa. pit stop on a race to ’24,” Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Will Bunch explains why Americans should be very concerned about a potential presidential candidacy of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis: “The time for mincing words is over. This is the latest and most alarming manifestation of a now barely hidden fascism by the head of America’s third-largest state, and one of the handful of serious contenders for the White House. DeSantis’ push for voter suppression and the increasingly paramilitaristic vibe of his public appearances prove the Floridian is the one we’ve been warning about: A post-Trump Republican taking a war on democracy to an even more dangerous place, minus the buffoonish narcissism of the 45th president….DeSantis has embraced a politics that has absolutely nothing to do with traditional conservative blather about freedom and everything to do with raw power. This 43-year-old rising force has already surpassed the dark promise of Trump by going after corporations who’ve dared to criticize him, seeking to chill classroom discussions about race or gender, and even overriding the resultsof a democratic election for a large-county prosecutor whose offense was having a differing opinion….In this context, DeSantis’ national campaign swing — which came to Pennsylvania this weekend with his controversial embrace of our extremist and Christian nationalist GOP gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano — marks a major turning point as America looks warily toward a 2024 election that already has a kind of 1860 feel to it. Right now, DeSantis — the only serious Republican rival to Trump, according to the polls — is demolishing the myth that The Former Guy would be challenged by a moderate. Instead, DeSantis is taking the loose ideology of Trumpism to new extremes of demonizing The Other and positioning the GOP as an anti-democracy movement….Just the fact that DeSantis, the head of a state with a large Jewish population, thought it important to endorse Mastriano — despite the shocking revelationsabout the Pennsylvanian’s ties to the website Gab, a cesspool of anti-Semitism that inspired the 2018 mass murderer of 11 Jewish people at a synagogue just a few miles from where he spoke — was a powerful illustration of a political party’s downward spiral into madness….the two true leaders of today’s GOP are tripping over each other to embrace a homophobicanti-Semite bidding to run the state where the American Experiment began.”

WaPo columnist E. J. Dionne, Jr. turns the spotlight on Senator Maggie Hassan’s re-election campaign, and writes, “The New Hampshire Democrat, who got elected six years ago by a margin of just 1,017 votes, uses an unmistakably New England locution to describe her state’s voters: “Wicked independent.” So it’s not surprising that one of her very favorite words is “bipartisan.”….Hassan adds a thought far more likely to be embroidered on a sampler than shouted out on Twitter: “You can’t care more about winning the argument than about solving the problem.”….The proudly purple reelection campaign Hassan is waging is a reminder that to win a majority in a U.S. Senate that structurally tilts toward conservatives — Wyoming and South Dakota have the same number of senators as California and New York — Democrats need to prevail in states that are by no means reliably progressive….This makes bipartisanship a good calling card for potentially vulnerable Senate incumbents, and it’s valuable in swing House districts, too. Hassan’s two Democratic House colleagues here, Reps. Chris Pappas and Ann Kuster, are also stressing the bipartisan victories in Congress….In this very swingy state, no one in this trio pretends that 2022 will be easy for any of them. But they all sense a mood swing in the Democrats’ favor…for Hassan, the fact that congressional Republicans unanimously opposed the [Inflation Reduction Act] bill — and that her leading GOP opponents vying in a Sept. 13 primary have criticized the bill — allows her to give her moderation a populist tilt. She assails “extreme” Republicans who are “regurgitating Big Pharma’s talking points and Big Oil’s talking points.” Count on “Big Pharma” and “Big Oil” to play starring bad-guy roles in Democratic campaigns all over the country….And if there is any state where the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade is likely to change the political winds, this is it. A poll this month by the Saint Anselm College Survey Center found that 71 percent of New Hampshire voters identified themselves as “pro-choice” while just 25 percent picked “pro-life.” Only 38 percent said they supported the Supreme Court’s ruling….The Democrats’ hope that abortion will be a wedge issue among libertarian-leaning conservatives — they loom large here — was underscored by the evocative tag line of a Hassan television ad against the court decision. “Protecting our personal freedoms isn’t just what’s right for New Hampshire,” she says. “It’s what makes us New Hampshire.”….Demonizing Hassan as an ideologue will be hard, not only because voters here know her well from her four years as a moderate governor, but also because she tried to immunize herself on prices by criticizing Biden for not doing more about inflation and by calling for a gas tax holiday. Dionne closes with a quote from rep. Kuster: ““For the first time, I’m running on freedom and safety, which used to be bedrock Republican issues,” she said. “The Republicans are running on chaos.” Wicked independents aren’t big on chaos.”

Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight is bearish on Ohio Democrat Tim Ryan’s chances of winning his race for the U.S. Senate, but The New Republic’s Timothy Noah is more optimistic. As Noah writes, “Trump won the working class (defined conventionally as voters who lack a college degree) by 3 percentage points in 2016 and 4 in 2020. Granted, he won it partly through appeals to white bigotry. But Trump also increased Republicans’ share of working-class voters of color (mostly Hispanic) from 16 percent in the 2012 presidential race to 18 percent in 2016 to an alarming 25 percent in 2020. This is a serious problem. As the sociologist Ruy Teixeira, a leading scholar of working-class voters, puts it: “They just don’t feel Democrats give a shit about them.”….One Democrat who’s trying to reverse this tide is Ohio Senate candidate Tim Ryan, a 10-term congressman whose district includes Youngstown, the former steelmaking hub…..This year, Ryan is running to replace retiring Republican Senator Rob Portman. The move requires him to give up his safe House seat and is therefore a significant risk, given the Republicans’ tightening grip on the state. But Ryan has a record of risk-taking; he tried unsuccessfully to unseat Nancy Pelosi as Democratic leader in 2016, and made a brief, quixotic bid for the 2020 presidential nomination, dropping out three months before the Iowa Caucus. When I asked Ryan what he considered his most important legislative accomplishment, he cited an obscure but important measure, included in last year’s Covid relief bill, that shored up Rust Belt multiemployer pension funds at serious risk of defaulting and bankrupting their insufficiently funded federal insurer, the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation. The beneficiaries, he told me, included “about 100,000 people” in Ohio….Ryan parts company with Trump Republicans most obviously in his vigorous support for labor. The AFL-CIO gives him a lifetime score of 98 percent, the same as Representative Bobby Scott, the Democratic chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee. The very first entry on the “issues” page of his campaign website is titled “Cutting Workers in on the Deal,” and in the first paragraph he voices support for the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, which would eliminate many significant legal barriers to unionization, and for a $15 minimum wage. Unions build communities, Ryan told me….To win back the working class, Democrats need to lead with their economic pitch: stronger unions, higher minimum wage, higher taxes on the rich. Ryan is doing all that….the Democrats have grown sufficiently weak in Ohio that even an inauthentic Vance will be hard to beat. If Ryan succeeds, it will be his job, alongside senior Senator Sherrod Brown, to persuade Ohioans that the Democrats really are the party of the working class. If they can do that, then maybe the Democratic standard-bearer in 2024 (I don’t assume it will be Biden) can shore up the party’s working-class support and make the Buckeye State competitive again by November 2024. If they fail, don’t rule out four more years of Trump.”

Political Strategy Notes

In “Liz Cheney Already Has a 2024 Strategy. To save the Republican Party, the defeated Wyoming representative may first have to destroy it,” Ronald Brownstein writes at The Atlantic: “The magnitude of Cheney’s defeat yesterday underscores how strong Trump remains within the party, and how little chance a presidential candidacy based explicitly on repudiating him would have of capturing the nomination….Yet many of Trump’s remaining Republican critics believe that a Cheney candidacy in the 2024 GOP presidential primaries could help prevent him from capturing the next nomination—or stop him from winning the general election if he does. “Of course she doesn’t win,” Bill Kristol, the longtime strategist who has become one of Trump’s fiercest conservative critics, told me. But, he added, if Cheney “makes the point over and over again” that Trump represents a unique threat to American democracy and “forces the other candidates to come to grips” with that argument, she “could have a pretty significant effect” on Trump’s chances….In some ways, a Cheney 2024 presidential campaign would be unprecedented: There aren’t any clear examples of a candidate running a true kamikaze campaign….Kristol predicted that the party might try to exclude her by requiring any candidate participating in a RNC-sanctioned debate to commit to supporting the party’s eventual nominee in the general election—something Cheney’s determination to stop Trump would not allow her to do. (In 2016, the RNC imposed such a loyalty oath primarily out of fear that Trump wouldn’t endorse the nominee if he lost. Trump signed it but characteristically renounced it in the race’s latter stage.)….Even so, it would be difficult for any media organization that sponsors an RNC debate to agree to keep her off the stage. And if Cheney is registering reasonable support in the polls—say 5 percent or more—even state parties might think twice about barring her. “Every other candidate not named Trump is going to want Liz Cheney on the debate stage,” the GOP consultant Alex Conant, the communications director for Senator Marco Rubio’s 2016 presidential campaign, told me.” It is hard to see how Cheney’s loss will have any effect on the midterm elections. In 2024, many Democrats would rather have Trump to run against, since having him at the top of the ticket in 2020 cost his party the presidency, the House and Senate majorities already. But at this juncture, it looks like Trump’s legal troubles are a bigger threat to his candidacy than Cheney’s shrinking megaphone.

“Overall, our best guess right now is that there will not be a ton of net change in the governorships,” Kyle Kondik writes at Sabato’s Crystal Ball, regarding GOP prospects in the midterm elections.Democrats appear very likely to flip the open seats of Maryland and Massachusetts and they have another prime open-seat target in Arizona, but Republicans may be able to make up for losses (and then some) by flipping a number of the vulnerable Democratic-held governorships we’ve noted above — with many of the best targets coming west of the eastern time zone.” Kondik adds, “Democrats continue to have the 2 clearest pickups, the open seats in Maryland and Massachusetts. However, Democrats also are defending 4 of the 5 Toss-ups.” Kondik shares this map, illustrating Crystal Ball’s current gubernatorial ratings:

A couple of encouraging recent Polls noted at The Hill: Caroline Vakil writes, “President Biden’s approval rating ticked up 3 percentage points in the past week, according to a Politico-Morning Consult poll released on Wednesday, as Democrats scored a major legislative win with the passage of their climate, health care and tax reform package….The poll showed that 42 percent of registered voters said they approve of the job Biden is doing as president. The same poll released last weekshowed Biden’s approval rating was at 39 percent….At the same time, the number of registered voters who said they disapproved of his job performance dropped from 59 to 56 percent….More people in the latest poll also said the country was on the right track — 30 percent, compared to 25 percent last week. Seventy percent of registered voters said it was on the wrong track, compared to 75 percent the previous week.” Also at The Hill, Jared Gans reports, “Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes (D) leads incumbent Sen. Ron Johnson (R) by 7 percentage points in their race for Johnson’s seat, according to a poll from Marquette University Law School released Wednesday….The survey found that Barnes received support from 51 percent of respondents, compared to Johnson’s 44 percent. Barnes expanded his lead from Marquette’s June poll, in which he led Johnson by only 2 points, within the margin of error….The poll released Wednesday shows a sharp partisan divide between the candidates, with 95 percent of Democrats supporting Barnes and 92 percent of Republicans supporting Johnson. But Barnes leads among independents, 52 percent to 38 percent. …The two candidates were tied among independents in the June poll….The conservative senator has faced sharp pushback after he said earlier this month that Social Security and Medicare should be categorized as discretionary spending, requiring Congress to approve their budgets every year instead of allowing them to rise annually….Democrats also released an ad this week targeting Johnson for his vote against implementing a $35 per month cap on out-of-pocket insulin costs for individuals with private insurance.”

Abby Vesoulis’s “The Inflation Reduction Act Was a Huge Win for Democrats. Will It Help Them In the Midterms?” at Mother Jones offers some messaging advice for Democratic campaigns: “battle. Now Democrats must convey this major legislative victory to voters as they struggle to preserve their congressional majorities in the upcoming midterm elections….There are, however, strategies Democrats could take to turn their legislative successes into electoral ones, half a dozen political strategists and experts say….The most obvious move is to start pointing out the highly popular policies that Republicans have tried to thwart, three strategists emphasize….Fully 83 percent of voters support Medicare negotiating for lower drug prices, 61 percent say Congress should do more to fight climate change, and 62 percent backraising corporate taxes. Not a single Republican voted for the IRA, which does all three….Even the 2021 bipartisan infrastructure deal hardly lived up to its billing as bipartisan. Democrats ought to point that out, says Mike Lux, a political strategist who has served senior roles on six different presidential campaigns. “Ninety percent of House Republicans voted against it. A majority of Senate Republicans voted against it,” says Lux, “Democrats need to serve up the contrast: ‘Look, we’re working to get stuff done. Republicans are trying to stop things from getting done.’”….Republicans’ vote against expanding the reconciliation bill’s insulin price-capping provision to include privately insured patients is one of the most obvious examples of GOP obstruction….More than 7 million US diabetics require daily insulin and roughly 14 percent of insulin users spend “catastrophic” levels of their income on insulin, according to a Yale study, meaning their insulin accounts for at least 40 percent of their income after deducting food and housing costs….“I think we can kill the Republicans on the insulin thing,” argues Lux.” Vesoulis continues, “Every GOP lawmaker just voted against a bill that will surely prevent some people from dying from treatable diseases, says Dr. Rob Davidson, the executive director of Committee to Protect Health Care, a group that advocates for policies that put patient care over profits….In his day job as an emergency medicine physician in rural Michigan, Davidson says he sees patients rationing medication due to financial difficulties end up in the his emergency room on a weekly basis….Lower prescription drug and insulin costs procured by the IRA will “save a certain number of people’s lives,” he says. “It’s incontrovertible. Nobody can say that’s not true.”….Whether the IRA can save Democrats’ congressional majorities is less straightforward. That will not so much depend on what Democrats got done—but if they can finally learn how to talk about it.”