It may be an even bigger toss-up than people think. Even apart from that, the bottom line for Roll Call is this: Pennsylvania and Ohio are looking better for Democrats right now. There has been a shift from August 2021 when it looked very possible for Republicans to win one seat back from Democrats and take control of the Senate. Since then, it has become clear that this is not a typical midterm election. Control of the Senate at this point is a toss-up.
Roll Call’s Inside Elections projection is Republicans +1 seat to Democrats +1 seat. There is no net change so, if true, Democrats would keep control of the Senate. An earlier projection had Republicans up one to three seats. Democrats had underperformed Biden’s 2020 margin of victory by 12 points in Virginia and New Jersey in 2021 gubernatorial races. Republicans felt the wind at their backs with those positive developments. The thinking at that time was that Republicans just needed to hold their own seats and win one race against a vulnerable Democrat incumbent to gain control of the Senate.
Easier said than done. Traditional logic tells us that the sitting president’s party suffers losses and likely loses seats due to disgruntled voters. Biden is definitely expected to drag down Democrat candidates in the midterm elections due to his poor approval rating and the general malaise felt by voters in the country. Democrats should lose in a big way in November but now those hopes are being tempered.
We don’t know what we don’t know. Democrats are counting on anger over the Supreme Court’s overruling of Roe v Wade to drive Independent voters to the polls to vote for Democrats. Republicans have sought strict bans on abortion since the Supreme Court’s ruling and some voters find that unappealing, especially in states that do not include exemptions for rape and incest. The investigations into Trump and the findings of the January 6 committee tend to polarize the parties. The price of gas is going down, slowly, which is a good sign for Democrats who are desperate for some good economic news, but the price of a gallon of gas is still about two dollars more than it was at the end of the Trump administration. It is imperative that Republicans remind voters of that when Democrats point to the relief at the gas pump.
Democrats are seeing an improvement on the generic ballot. Also, Democrats overperformed in recent House elections in Nebraska, Minnesota, and New York. Abortion weighed heavily in those elections for Democrats. Those elections were special elections which usually shake out differently than general elections. It’s still not clear if the Supreme Court’s ruling on Dobbs will sway voters to vote for Team Blue instead of voting with their pocketbooks and blame Democrats for the woes they face in everyday life. A 40-year high in inflation, high prices at the grocery store and other retail stores, a porous border, a shortage of baby formula, the devastatingly disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan, Wall Street is on a rollercoaster ride which affects savings and retirement planning, and rising interest rates for people looking to buy a home or a car. All of those things should add up to a red wave since Democrats are in full control of the White House and Congress but there are some bumps in the road to November.
Mitch McConnell truthfully warned some supporters in Kentucky that Republicans may not take back the Senate because some candidates are underperforming. Some candidates were recruited that have no political experience, which can be appealing if a voter is in the mood to throw all the bums out, but it’s not a good thing if the candidate falls to capture the imagination of voters. Trump ran successfully on an outsider’s image because he is savvy enough to know how to market himself and he knows his audience. Some candidates he has recruited to run in 2022 don’t have that talent. Conditions on the ground will only carry Republicans so far on election day. The candidates have to inspire them and motivate them enough to get out and vote. McConnell pissed off a lot of Republicans by saying what he did but he’s right. He was speaking candidly and truthfully. Candidates matter.
At Real Clear Politics, Fetterman is 7.8 points up over Dr. Oz in Pennsylvania. This should have been a pretty easy GOP win in November. However, Dr. Oz has not caught on with voters. Whether it’s poor staffing or just a personal disconnect, his mistakes have been rookie mistakes. Fetterman is a Bernie Sanders socialist who suffered a stroke on the campaign trail. He does not look or sound as though his health is back to normal. Yet, here we are.
In Ohio, J.D. Vance is the Republican candidate. He has not been a great candidate and Republicans have spent more money on his campaign than they projected. This should have been a win for Republicans without having to lay out a lot of money. Vance will probably win – he’s up 3.7 points at Real Clear Politics over Democrat Tim Ryan. Ryan has been a stronger candidate than originally thought, mostly due to his tact to the middle and often speaking in Trumpish ways to his audiences. He’s a clever candidate for a Democrat but Ohio is still, thankfully, a red state. The Senate Leadership Fund is making a multimillion-dollar TV ad buy to push Vance to a higher level of voter support by election day. With a stronger candidate, that money could have been spent elsewhere. Real Clear Politics labels Ohio as “Leans Republican” when it should be solidly in the Republican column.
The fight for control of the Senate has always been more competitive than the fight for the House this cycle. So as the fight for the House has brightened a bit for Democrats, the battle for the Senate looks like a toss-up. The new Inside Elections projection is Republicans +1 seat to Democrats +1 seat, including no net change, which would keep Democrats in control. Previously, the projection was Republicans +1 to +3 seats.