This week: The Briefing, Vol. X, Issue 40
- Biden isn’t out of the recessionary woods yet
- Wisconsin, Nevada show the overall trend
- Republicans on track to control the Senate
Last quarter, when GDP data showed a second consecutive quarter of economic contraction, the Biden administration successfully talked the media out of describing the current economy as being “in recession.” It’s just one more example of media bias, but there could be a price to pay this time. In the last week of October, a new set of economic data will come out. If there is a third consecutive quarter of economic contraction, then the recession headlines will hit the newsstands just as the elections enter their final days. Gas prices may rise in that time as well — natural gas prices will almost certainly rise as cooler weather sets in.
Biden’s numbers are currently poor, but not nearly as poor as they were in early summer, when gas prices were even higher.
Voters’ sour feelings toward Biden can indeed get worse, whereas the odds that he will substantially improve his image in the next 30 days are far less promising.
Bellwether races: So, what exactly is happening in Wisconsin? And is it happening everywhere?
Republican Sen. Ron Johnson, who is seeking a third term, has come from behind to lead in six of the last eight polls of his race. Of those other two polls, he was tied in one (from last week) of them and trailed Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes (D) by just one point in the other, which was taken more than two weeks ago.
Not only do multiple polls now show Johnson pulling out to a significant lead — as great as five points, which in Wisconsin is a landslide — but they also show Donald Trump’s hand-picked gubernatorial candidate, Tim Michels, inching ahead of first-term incumbent Democratic Gov. Tony Evers.
This is a dramatic shift, as both Barnes and Evers led all summer. In short, Wisconsin Democrats are experiencing something of a polling collapse, and there is too much data for it to be a purely random fluctuation.
Something similar is happening in Nevada, where both Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D) and Gov. Steve Sisolak (D) have suddenly fallen behind their Republican opponents for several polls in a row.
Former Attorney General Paul Laxalt (R) is pressing a positive message on crime (for a change). After taking over from Cortez Masto in the attorney general’s office, his office processed all of the rape kits that she had allowed to pile up, even leading to more than a dozen cold case arrests.
Nevada Democrats are openly fretting that Hispanic voters are going to stay home. What they won’t say out loud, but perhaps should, is that an unusually high number of Hispanic voters in Nevada will probably vote Republican this year. Laxalt holds a narrow lead in the last five opinion surveys. It’s a very big deal when you’re leading an incumbent, even by a little bit.
Why are these races shifting only now? One reason is that, finally, likely voter screens are being used in the polls instead of registered voting samples. This year, as historically, this shift adds a few points to the support of Republican candidates. But there is more going on here than just the shift in polling screens. The momentum also seems to be headed in Republicans’ direction as inflation worsens, gas prices rise, and discontent with President Joe Biden increases.
The others: So that’s what’s happening in Wisconsin and Nevada. But then, what is happening in Georgia? What about the open-seat races in Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Ohio?
These are all states where the candidates are out barnstorming, advertising, debating, canvassing, getting out their early vote, and attempting to surge in the final month. All of these races are competitive, and the polls are not producing nearly as clear a result in those states.
In all likelihood, what’s happening in those states is a lot like what is happening in Nevada and Wisconsin — it’s just happening later or more slowly.
There is one month left before Election Day, and that’s enough time for several of these races to shift in Republicans’ favor. It may be happening in different places at a different pace or to a different degree, but every important race appears to be shifting more Republican. This is not unusual in a midterm — in fact, it is exactly what happened in 2006, 2010, and 2014. (Counterexample: the 2018 election, in which Republicans gained Senate seats against a Blue tide, was slightly different due to Democrats’ having overperformance in Senate races from six and twelve years earlier.)
But of the races mentioned above, We believe they are all more likely than not to finish with the Republican winning. We expect Ted Budd and J.D. Vance to gain decisive leads and also to outperform whatever the polls say on election day in their vote totals. We will look more closely in future weeks at the race in Georgia, the most doubtful of the bunch. It is hard to imagine someone as far-left as Sen. Raphael Warnock (D) surviving this midterm, but Republicans have had a great deal of difficulty recently in the Peach State. Herschel Walker (R), although he could yet make a fine senator, also has special vulnerabilities as a candidate.
Pennsylvania: Then there is the open seat race in Pennsylvania to succeed retiring Sen. Pat Toomey (R). In many ways, this might be the most important bellwether of all.
Lt. Gov. John Fetterman’s (D) once-prohibitive lead has diminished from double digits to just two points — a statistical tie. But Fetterman has a much bigger problem than that. He is not gaining ground with the campaign he is running. There is no reason to think Fetterman can hold off his opponent, Mehmet Oz, in spite of the latter’s high negative ratings.
More than four months after suffering a stroke that really should have convinced him to drop out of the Democratic primary, Fetterman still isn’t capable of speaking in public for more than a couple of minutes, and all he says are talking-points and platitudes. He has pushed off debates as far into the future as he possibly can. Meanwhile, as his numbers worsen, he is being hammered by negative advertising right now about his failure to pay his taxes promptly, his record on crime, and his advocacy for releasing violent criminals — including all of the second-degree murderers in the state prison system currently serving life sentences. Although Oz, who is not a great candidate, has never led once in this race, we still believe that he will overtake Fetterman by election day.
The scenario described above results in a net change in the Senate of Republicans +2.
That is one more seat than the GOP needs for a Senate majority, which would be crucial for limiting Biden’s power in the second half of his term.
Extras: Republicans probably do not have sufficient momentum to capitalize on the weakness of Democratic incumbents in Arizona and New Hampshire. And yes, this may be down to candidate quality, although in a true wave year, some races become unexpectedly competitive late in the game.
In Arizona, Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly should manage to survive his challenge from the Trump-endorsed Blake Masters. In New Hampshire, Maggie Hassan was once perceived as the weakest Democratic incumbent in the Senate. But the victory by Donald Bolduc in the primary appears to have given her a second life. So far, there are no signs that Republicans have successfully put the Colorado Senate race against Sen. Michael Bennet (D) on the table, either.
Republicans would love to put Democratic Sen. Patty Murray’s seat on the table. They try this every six years, in fact. But in spite of a couple of seemingly optimistic polls from the Trafalgar Group, this one is probably just a bridge too far.