Republican comeback is in the works

TROY, OH - APRIL 11: U.S. Senate candidate JD Vance speaks with prospective voters on the campaign trail on April 11, 2022 in Troy, Ohio. Vance, a prominent author, announced his candidacy in July 2021 to replace retiring Sen. Robert Portman (R-OH). (Photo by Gaelen Morse/Getty Images)

This week: The Briefing, Vol. X, Issue 38

  • Democrats’ election narrative is teetering
  • Drunk and disorderly Dem
  • Fetterman’s health woes have Democrats worried


The post-Roe election? If you follow politics, you’ll notice how much importance each party places on shaping the narrative of the current situation. In an election year like this one, the parties are especially eager to tell their story and convince everyone in political journalism that it reflects reality, in hopes that it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

For the last two or three weeks, Democrats have been trying to sell the narrative that the abortion issue, perhaps combined with Donald Trump’s election denialism and poor GOP candidate recruitment, is pushing the electorate in their direction. They pointed to a very modest surge in their poll numbers and difficult or problematic Republican nominees as evidence that there was something to this.

But all along, there was an alternative explanation: random chance. After all, this is how polling works. Each poll represents an educated guess, and no one should put too much stock in two or three points of variation. Each has a level of confidence (usually just 95%) and a margin of error (often around three points for each result), which are supposed to indicate the chances that the poll would achieve the same or similar results if taken again. 

The truth is, sometimes, polls produce slight variations or misleading results. They don’t even have to be deliberately biased to produce such findings. In the absence of any large shifts in the numbers, the small shifts may just be static.

Republican resurgence? This month, Joe Biden delivered an address insinuating that Republican voters are in existential threat to the republic. Perhaps this has backfired. Or perhaps most voters have not noticed it, save for those who very closely follow politics and hover on Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

But whether it was real or the result of random chance, the trend that was giving Democrats hope appears to be fading away.

In the last seven days, Republicans have been greeted by polls that show them winning key  Senate races in Wisconsin, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, Florida, and Georgia. Such a result still seems like a real possibility and would be sufficient to hand them control of the U.S. Senate, in spite of earlier concerns. 

Republicans have also seen their candidate in Pennsylvania, despite his slow start, close the gap in his race to as little as two points. And at least one pollster (the Republican Trafalgar Group) has their candidate in Arizona making a real race out of something that was supposed to be less competitive. 

Meanwhile, in congressional generic ballot polls, Republicans either lead or are statistically tied.

Yes, Republicans certainly risk underperforming in what ought to be a devastating midterm for Democrats. But Joe Biden’s approval ratings are ticking downward again, and He appears to have failed to win over the nation with his rhetoric about Republicans bringing about the destruction of America. He has helped drive up Trump’s negatives, but he’s not running against Trump. Meanwhile, he continues to expose himself, between his administration’s false claims that the border is secure and his equally false claims that inflation is up “Just an inch, hardly at all,” when it just spent another month rising by more than 8% annualized — a multi-decade record. 

People never like to be lied to, but it gets much worse when they can see and feel the truth for themselves.

This puts Republicans at a good starting point from which to go into a wave-year election and build a new congressional majority. It’s only a starting point, but the narrative that they are about to blow it seems to have been premature, given subsequent developments.

Senate 2022

Alaska: In yet another sign that ranked choice voting is a flawed system that voters cannot wrap their heads around, the fourth place finisher from the first round of voting has dropped out in order to prevent another situation where Republicans lose a seat. Buzz Kelley has dropped out of the race and endorsed the conservative Kelly Tshibaka (R) because he is afraid that the weird mat tricks of RCV cause Democrats to win this Senate seat. Never mind that the entire point of RCV is to make it unnecessary for people to drop out in order to avoid splitting their vote.

As matters stand, Tshibaka leads on the first round of balloting and comes up in a 50%-50% tie with incumbent Lisa Murkowski in round three in a recent poll. Although this summer’s special House election demonstrated how three-way RCV contests can help Democrats win by pitting two Republicans against each other, the Senate race could just as easily demonstrate how Alaska Republicans may prove more likely to choose a conservative like Tshibaka If they have the safety net of picking the moderate Republican as a second choice and avoiding electing a Democrat if she falls short of 50%. That could still be fatal for Murkowski.

Ohio: Just as J.D. Vance takes a modest lead in the latest poll, Republicans have dropped an opposition research bomb on Rep. Tim Ryan in the form of his apparent alcohol problem. He was actually arrested for intoxication after attending a wedding just 10 years ago, while he was already serving in Congress. He was also cited for disorderly conduct in the 1990s after throwing a beer at police officers. 

This story would be inconvenient in any election year, but in a Republican year in a state that is trending right like Ohio, it could be a well-timed and fatal blow. 

With Republican Gov. Mike DeWine easily leading a no-chance opponent, Republicans have a built-in advantage in the race that promises to be the closer finish. This will likely end up being one of the races that was never as close as it appeared.

Pennsylvania: Democrats are finally getting nervous about Lt. Gov. John Fetterman’s (D) health problems, especially given his evident inability to speak coherently in public and his consequent unwillingness to debate until after early voting is well underway. Dr. Mehmet Oz, despite his low approval ratings after the brutal Republican primary, still trails. But his dogged retail campaign over the summer is finally bearing fruit as he has nearly closed the gap. He still has time to flip the script on a race in which he has never led in a single poll.

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