Republican concerns about a midterm fiasco have intensified heading into the critical post-Labor Day campaign season, with analysts who had previously expected a massive GOP hike turning their forecasts in favor of the Democrats.
Rick Tyler, Republican strategist and analyst, said the neighborhood looks “not even close” to a red-wave election year.
“The enthusiasm wasn’t there,” Tyler said. “Last time the Republicans had a good year, they were 6 points clear in the polls. Now we are only 2 points ahead. So it’s definitely not going to happen.”
Real Clear Politics poll average a gauge of whether voters prefer congressional control of Republicans or Democrats showed the GOP’s lead slipped from 4.8 points in late April to less than one point on Friday. At around this point in 2010, when Republicans saw historic gains in Congress, opinion polls showed a 4 to 6 point lead for the GOP.
The narrowing of the poll was the result in Tuesday’s special election. New York’s 19th Congressional District — which includes a suburban area captured by former President Trump in 2016 but President Biden in 2020 — is representative of the kind of battleground district Republicans across the country expect.
But while Republican Marc Molinaro sticks to the party’s points on inflation and the economy, topics that Republicans have repeatedly said were top of mind for voters, Democrat Pat Ryan narrowly won seats after very focused on abortion rights following the Supreme Court’s decision to annul Roe v. Wade earlier this summer.
Former GOP Senator Rick Santorum (Pa.) he said on Newsmax on Thursday that after the special election, “Republicans should start paying attention.”
“The problem is where the Republicans have to take to win Congress in a district like that,” Santorum said. “If you look at the national polls, if you see a lot of races like in my home state of Pennsylvania – if it was the year of the red tide, the polls don’t show it now.”
Democrat celebrating victory in New York also points to the recent special DPR elections in Minnesota and Nebraska as proof of passion. The candidate there outperformed the historical trend in the GOP-leaning districts, even though they lost the race in the end.
And after the Dobbs Supreme Court ruling and the controversy surrounding Trump over January 6, 2021, and the FBI’s seizure of classified documents on his Mar-a-Lago estate, Democrats are aiming to put a negative emphasis on Republicans rather than making a referendum vote about Biden or the Democratic leadership.
“The Republic of MAGA expects voters to ignore their dangerous extremism, but NY-19 shows us that voters will reject their extreme agenda,” Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokesman Tommy Garcia said in a statement.
Republicans have begun to dampen hopes of reclaiming the equally divided Senate as the Republican nominee pushed by Trump is showing signs of trouble.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) he said last week that the House is more likely to reverse control than the Senate, citing “candidate quality.”
Tyler blamed Trump for the changing dynamic.
“Donald Trump has turned this campaign from a Joe Biden referendum, inflation, high food prices, high gas prices and affordable housing to a referendum on him,” he said.
The weakness of the Republican candidate along with the outcome of the recent election has led election analysts at Crystal Ball Sabato to di University of Virginia Political Center and Cook’s Political Report to shift some estimates for the major congressional midterm race to Democrats. Cook revised his expected GOP rise in the House from 15 to 30 seats to 10 to 20, and his Senate Republican view has the upper hand.
That’s a stark contrast to nine months ago, when House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) predict that 2022 could be a bigger Republican wave than 2010, when Republicans won a staggering 63 seats.
Republicans have since warned lawmakers not to measure the curtain early and that elections will be difficult, but GOP lawmakers are still largely operating on the assumption that they will win control of the chamber.
A Senate defeat and just a tiny Republican majority in the House would “make the media say, ‘You know, this is a separate decision,'” Tyler said. “No mandate, no red tide, no resistance to Biden’s policies. It was a disaster for the Republican Party.”
Other GOP operators played down those fears, saying the New York special election was a case of outliers complicated by the high Democratic turnout in the primaries that took place on the same day and noting that there were still months to go before the midterms.
“Anyone who thought reclaiming a majority would be easy needs to get up,” Republican National Congressional Committee communications director Michael McAdams said in a statement. “The majority won in November, not August and we hope to sue the case against the failed one-party Democrat rule.”
Sarah Chamberlain, president and CEO of the Republican Main Street Partnership, cautions against viewing the New York special election as an indication of what may happen in November. Many voters don’t even know elections are in progress, he says, or are on vacation.
“I’m not going to mark it yet. We will wait to see and do some more polls but I think all is well,” Chamberlain said.
Republicans have beaten previous expectations. Even though the Democrats have an advantage of more than 6 points in general ballot in 2020, Republicans gained a House seat and pushed Democrats into the thinnest majority in the lower house in a century.
Democrats are also spending millions defending seats rather than being offensive on their House map, a GOP strategist noted, with the record number of House Democrats retiring rather than running for re-election this year helping the GOP expand its take-up opportunities.
Kyle Kondik, managing editor at Sabato’s Crystal Ball, said weakness in the GOP Senate and gubernatorial candidates, as well as many Republican positions against abortion, had given Democrats the opportunity “to make elections more of an option than a referendum.” But he warned against fully re-evaluating the midterm environment before Labor Day and said Republicans could still reverse both chambers even if they fall below expectations of a “red wave.”
“It is possible that the Democrats adding more college-educated voters, at the expense of more non-college voters, has skewed some of these special elections, because the college cohort is the more reliable voting bloc,” Kondik said. “That said, if the GOP had great enthusiasm over the Democrats — and if it brought a lot of renegade GOP voters back into the group — people would think they would do better than them.”