Saturday July 30, 2022

How bad could November be for Democrats? It seems all but certain Democrats will lose control of the House

How bad could November be for Democrats? It seems all but certain Democrats will lose control of the House

Joe Biden. File

Mark Z. Barabak, Tribune News Service

When Democrats candidly assess the party’s prospects for November, their responses range from bad to awful to curled up and whimpering in a fetal position. It seems all but certain Democrats will lose control of the House, with Republicans needing a gain of just four seats. The partisan redrawing of congressional districts after the last census should just about cover that spread.

The real fight is for control of the 50-50 Senate, where Republicans have saddled themselves with some dubious prospects.

If Democrats keep control, it will be because of candidates like Herschel Walker, the epically clueless former college football star who could easily fumble away one of the GOP’s prime pickup opportunities in Georgia, and election deniers like Adam Laxalt in Nevada.

But let’s say the red wave is a big one. Say it’s strong enough not only to sweep in GOP flotsam like Walker and jetsam like Laxalt and Pennsylvania’s Mehmet Oz, but also powerful enough to carry a Republican to victory in a blue state like Colorado. In that case, Democrats’ November could be very bad indeed. Democrat Michael Bennet, the state’s amiable U.S. senator, should be waltzing to reelection. President Joe Biden carried Colorado by more than 13 percentage points. Republican haven’t won the governorship in more than 20 years, and the last Republican to capture a Senate seat, in 2014, barely prevailed in a landslide year for the GOP.

But strategists on both sides say the race is far from over, even if it leans Bennet’s direction. As Georgia, Nevada and Pennsylvania appear more problematic, Republicans are eyeing Colorado as a place they might potentially swipe a Democratic seat and boost their chances of seizing the Senate. Consider the state a barometer. Or, if you don’t mind mixing metaphors, call Bennet a canary on the shoreline, gauging just how high the Republican tide might go.

“He’s not in danger yet,” said Floyd Ciruli, a Denver pollster who has spent decades surveying Colorado voters. “But (President) Biden is in terrible shape and if that becomes a major factor, a lot of candidates we assume would be safe could be in trouble.”

Democrats did their best to put the Senate race out of Republican reach. The party and its allies spent millions in the primary promoting GOP state Sen. Ron Hanks, a stoker on the Trump crazy train, in hopes of landing him as Bennet’s opponent. The strategy, which worked elsewhere, fell flat in Colorado. Instead, Republicans chose Joe O’Dea, 60, a fourth-generation Coloradan who got rich building a construction company and calls himself “a Republican Joe Manchin” who is willing to “work with reasonable people on both sides of the aisle.”

“I’ll vote my conscience, I’ll make tough choices, I’ll ruffle some feathers,” he said after winning the primary. “No political party will own me.”

Which is not a bad thing to say in a state where there are more unaffiliated voters than registered Democrats or Republicans. O’Dea rejects much of what has become GOP orthodoxy. He dismisses Trump’s lie about the 2020 election being stolen, opposes repeal of the Affordable Care Act and says he supports abortion rights “early in the pregnancy” and later in cases involving rape, incest or to save a woman’s life. (Democrats note he has not backed legislation at the state and federal levels that would enshrine abortion rights into law.)

Like most Republicans, he would prefer to campaign against Biden and the scourges of crime and inflation, which have cratered the president’s approval rating here in Colorado as elsewhere. That’s the weight hanging around Bennet’s neck. The lawmaker was appointed to the Senate in 2009, when Ken Salazar joined President Barack Obama’s Cabinet, and scratched out an election against a bumbling opponent in 2010, which was another banner year for Republicans. Bennet was reelected in 2016 with a less-than-impressive 49.97% of the vote, also against a weak opponent.

If the 57-year-old senator were summed up in a word, it would be inoffensive; even political opponents say Bennet’s a nice guy. Another word would be unexceptional.

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