Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel speaks to a packed room at the opening of the RNCâ€™s new Hispanic Community Center in Suwanee, Georgia. File/Associated Press
Steve Peoples, Associated Press
The possibility of a great red wave still looms.
But as the 2022 midterm elections enter their final two-month sprint, leading Republicans concede that their partyâ€™s advantage may be slipping even as Democrats confront their presidentâ€™s weak standing, deep voter pessimism and the weight of history this fall.
The political landscape, while still in flux, follows a string of President Joe Bidenâ€™s legislative victories on climate, health care and gun violence, just as Donald Trumpâ€™s hand-picked candidates in electoral battlegrounds like Arizona, Georgia, Ohio and Pennsylvania struggle to broaden their appeal. But nothing has undermined the GOPâ€™s momentum more than the Supreme Courtâ€™s stunning decision in June to end abortion protections, which triggered a swift backlash even in the reddest of red states.
â€œThis midterm looks and feels significantly different than it did six months ago,â€ said veteran Republican pollster Neil Newhouse. The abortion ruling â€œhas energized some segments, especially the Democratic constituency, and it has thrown a wrench, at least to some extent, into the hopes of winning a ton of seats.â€
History suggests Republicans should dominate the November elections.
In the modern era, the party that holds the White House has lost congressional seats in virtually every first-term presidentâ€™s first midterm election. Ronald Reagan lost 26 House seats, Bill Clinton lost 52, Barack Obama 63 and Trump 40. Only George W. Bushâ€™s Republican Party enjoyed a modest eight-seat gain in his first midterm, coming after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Nine weeks before Election Day, leading operatives in both parties expect Republicans to pick up roughly 10 to 20 House seats, which would give the GOP a narrow majority in the chamber in November and break up Democratsâ€™ control of the federal government. But many Republicans are losing confidence in the high-stakes fight for the Senate majority and key governorships across the nation.
In Pennsylvania, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Josh Shapiro argues that his focus on public safety, education, the economy and freedom is driving his momentum but concedes that his opponent is also a major factor.
â€œFolks trust me to get it done,â€ Shapiro, the state attorney general, told The Associated Press. â€œAnd in fairness, in part, itâ€™s because Iâ€™m running against the guy whoâ€™s by far the most extreme and dangerous candidate in the nation.â€
In one of the nationâ€™s most important swing states, Republicans nominated Doug Mastriano as their nominee for governor, even after learning about his leading role in Trumpâ€™s push to overturn the 2020 election.
The state senator and retired military officer helped organise the stateâ€™s effort to submit fake presidential electors beholden to Trump and was seen outside the Capitol as pro-Trump demonstrators attacked police on Jan. 6, 2021. He has also alienated moderate voters and even some Republicans with divisive positions on several issues, including abortion, which he opposes in all circumstances.
Mastrianoâ€™s campaign didnâ€™t respond to an interview request for this story.
Shapiro will launch his first TV ad of the fall campaign on Tuesday, casting Mastrianoâ€™s fierce opposition to abortion rights and gay marriage as a threat to Pennsylvaniaâ€™s economy. The ad is the first spot in a $16.9 million television advertising investment the campaign reserved for the nine weeks leading up to Election Day.
Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel acknowledged that the GOP must sharpen its message on abortion given the Democratsâ€™ apparent momentum.
â€œWe canâ€™t allow them to control the narrative,â€ McDaniel said in an interview.
She emphasized Republican leadersâ€™ record of supporting exceptions for abortion in cases of rape, incest and the life of the mother, sidestepping questions about candidates like Mastriano, Georgia Senate nominee Herschel Walker and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who oppose such exceptions. â€œIâ€™m not going to speak about every candidate and where theyâ€™re at,â€ McDaniel said. â€œBut the past four Republican presidents since Roe believe in the exception, and that is where I think a lot of the American people are, according to polling. But they also believe in limitations, and Democrats have shown no inclination to have any limitation.â€
On the Republican Partyâ€™s broader midterm outlook, McDaniel said top races were always likely to tighten, despite the conventional wisdom that a massive red wave was building.
â€œMany of these states are battleground states,â€ she said. â€œItâ€™s going to be tight.â€
On paper, Republicans continue to enjoy tremendous advantages. Beyond the weight of history, Democrats are saddled with Bidenâ€™s low favorability ratings as roughly 7 in 10 voters believe the country is headed in the wrong direction. Democratic strategists acknowledge serious political headwinds as inflation and pessimism surge, but they note gas prices have ticked down, pandemic worries have waned and Biden has won major legislative victories on several key issues.
â€œRepublicans havenâ€™t taken advantage of the bad political Environment. And they punted on having any agenda or getting anything done,â€ said Biden pollster John Anzalone, who was far less confident about the midterm outlook at the beginning of the summer.
â€œHistorically, this should be a 30- or 40-seat win by Republicans,â€ he added. â€œThe entire Republican Party has been one big mistake for the past four or five months.â€
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell has blamed GOP â€œcandidate qualityâ€ for why his party was more likely to win the House than the Senate. Florida Sen. Rick Scott, who leads the Senate GOP campaign arm, sees it differently.
â€œHe and I clearly have a disagreement on this. I think weâ€™ve got great candidates,â€ Scott told the AP, citing opportunities to challenge Democrats in blue states like Colorado and Washington state. â€œI think weâ€™re doing fine.â€
Scott did acknowledge some uncertainty involving Trumpâ€™s role in the coming weeks.
The former president helped his loyalists, most of whom embraced his conspiracy theories about the 2020 election, win primary elections across the country throughout the spring and summer. But itâ€™s unclear how Trump will help them, if at all, as the election moves into the fall.
â€œHeâ€™s got a choice about what he wants to do. He clearly has some candidates that he wanted to get through the primaries and they did,â€ Scott said. â€œHeâ€™ll make his own decision on what he wants to do.â€
At the same time, a disproportionate number of women are registering to vote. And if recent voting patterns hold, thatâ€™s good news for Democrats. In at least seven states, women made up a higher share of newly registered voters following the overturning of Roe v. Wade, according to an AP analysis of voter data from L2, a nonpartisan data provider. In the five weeks after the court eliminated the constitutional right to abortion, women made up 64% of new Kansas registrations. Then, on Aug. 2, Kansas voters overwhelmingly rejected a ballot measure that would have let state lawmakers impose new restrictions on abortions.