Voters shrug off Biden, prefer Democrats in Senate races


How can we have a referendum on the incumbent president if the last president won’t go away? This election is suddenly more about Donald Trump than it is about Joe Biden. Not only is Trump already running for president, but the Jan. 6 committee has put his actions squarely in the public’s eye. 

How can this be a normal midterm when the party in power isn’t the Democrats in the White House or Congress, but the unelected Supreme Court? And how can we take that Supreme Court seriously when five of its nine members were appointed by presidents who lost the national popular vote? If disenfranchisement drives turnout, well then, Democrats have every right to feel disenfranchised as the Republican minority. 

And how can this be a normal midterm cycle when more than half of Americans have been stripped of previous privacy and medical rights by that unelected, unaccountable, illegitimate Supreme Court? This is something Kerry Eleveld and I saw coming in our podcast, The Brief, over a year ago—if midterms are turnout elections, stripping half of Americans of a hard-earned and necessary right to bodily autonomy wasn’t going to go unnoticed electorally. And yet, the mostly male, mostly white elections punditry never saw it coming. I mean, when prominent Democrats like Rep. Jim Clyburn claimed the Dobbs decision overturning Roe v. Wade was “anticlimactic,” how were “non-partisan” white men supposed to factor abortion into their electoral predictions? 

So now we’re in this weird place where the incumbent president’s ratings are in the gutter. And yet…

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Look, no one gives two shits about “legislative agenda,” at least in a way that drives poll numbers. It could certainly help with volunteers, money, and, down the road, fodder for political advertising. But those effects wouldn’t be seen until much later in the cycle. Regular people aren’t watching CSPAN, and those who read political information like Daily Kos have already locked in their votes. This is maybe a little bit about Trump and Jan. 6, but it’s almost entirely about Dobbs. And that dynamic has essentially rendered Biden a non-issue in this cycle.

So check out this Fox News poll of Pennsylvania: 

Governor:

Josh Shapiro (D): 50%
Doug Mastriano (R): 40%

Senate

John Fetterman (D): 47%
Mehmet Oz (R): 36%

Looking good, right? Of course! And this is also awesome to see: “Just 35% of those backing Oz say they support him enthusiastically, while 45% have reservations. For Fetterman, 68% back him enthusiastically, and only 18% hesitate.” There is a huge enthusiasm gap in both races. 

But here’s what’s really mind-blowing about that poll: 

Joe Biden approval ratings:

Favorable 42%
Unfavorable 57%

(Civiqs has it at 31-57)

Net approval ratings:

Shapiro (D) +17
Fetterman (D) +15
Mastriano (R) -10
Biden (D) -15
Oz (R) -20 

Voters have decided they don’t like Biden, and they don’t care. They also don’t like the scrubs the Republican base and Trump have foisted on them. And despite Biden, they like and overwhelmingly support the two Democratic statewide candidates. Meanwhile, Biden’s unpopularity isn’t depressing Democratic enthusiasm. 

Donate here to John Fetterman

To be clear, the Republican Senate majority runs through Pennsylvania. Republicans know this and are freaking out

The Senate Republicans’ campaign arm is privately sounding the alarm about physician Mehmet Oz’s bid for the Senate in the critical battleground of Pennsylvania, while telling donors that the party still has a path to winning the majority without the state.

What’s that path? Don’t laugh: “On Thursday, the committee made its first television ad buys in Washington and Colorado—states President Joe Biden won by double digits in 2020 where Republicans believe they could make a compelling case to disaffected Democratic and independent voters.” 

Sen. Patty Murray (D) has a comfortable lead in Washington, with the 270toWin polling aggregate at 52-33. Colorado isn’t looking any more competitive. So even if Republicans were to win their two best opportunities—Arizona and Georgia—losing Pennsylvania still leaves them in a 50-50 minority. 

But we don’t want another 50-50 Senate, dear god. Better than Republican control, for sure. But we can definitely do better than another two years of President Joe Manchin.

North Carolina

Captured in Raleigh, GA, USA — settings: Camera: ILCE-9, focal length: 112mm, SS: 1/1600, Aperture: f/3.2, ISO: 500, Flash: off — photo by Kevin Lowery @kevloweryphoto
Former NC Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley

Polling in the North Carolina race is tight, with both candidates in the mid-40s. This is one of those places where candidate strength matters. Democrats have Cheri Beasley, former Chief Justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court. She is brilliant, with a proven ability to run statewide campaigns. 

Donald Trump won North Carolina by 1.3% in 2020, and by 3.5% in 2016. It has a definite slight Republican lean. Beasley won her Supreme Court race in 2014 with 50.11%-49.89% (or ~5,000 votes out of 2.5 million cast), and lost it in 2020 with 49.996%-50.004% (or 401 votes out of almost 5.4 million)—on the same ballot that Trump won. That one hurt, but if she wins this seat, it would more than make up for it.

Democratic candidates are dramatically better than Republican options in every single Senate race this cycle, but none may be as far apart in quality as these two. While Beasley is a brilliant jurist, Republican Rep. Tedd Budd is … exactly what you’d expect from someone Trump enthusiastically endorsed. Among other things, he’s an insurrectionist, a Big Lie adherent (claiming Trump won), corruptbuds with QAnon Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, and all in on “critical race theory” hysteria and other assorted conservative B.S.

Speaking to the great energy Beasley is generating, she has blown Budd out of the water in campaign fundraising, with $16 million raised to Budd’s $6.3 million. Beasley has $4.8 million in the bank compared to Budd’s $1.8 million. Republican super PACs are trying to close that gap financially, but outside money is far less efficient than candidates’ own cash, since they get the lowest advertising rates by law. And even there, the gap isn’t massive: $10.1M on Budd’s side, $8.6M on Beasley’s. 

If you’re thinking about donating to a race, this is one to focus on. Donate here to Cheri Beasley.

Ohio

Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan has raised $21.5 million for his Senate bid, and still has $3.5 million in the bank after saturation TV advertising and other spending. Money is coming in strong, so he can afford to keep being aggressive. Meanwhile, Republican J.D. Vance … has raised $3.6 million, has around $600,000 in the bank, and is AWOL from the campaign trail, no doubt expecting his sugar daddy Peter Thiel to foot the entire bill of the campaign. (As of now, Club for Growth and Thiel had pumped $24 million into the race, while outside groups have spent just $30,000 on behalf of Ryan. They don’t need to. Again, outside money is less efficient, and Ryan has got it covered on his own. 

In the polls, both candidates are hovering in the low 40s, high 30s. No one is running away with this just yet. But that’s it—Trump won Ohio by 8 points both in 2016 and 2020. It shouldn’t be a particularly competitive seat, even though liberal Sen. Sherrod Brown somehow finds a way to survive. And yet here is another race in which Republicans are freaking out

Bill Cunningham, a fixture on conservative talk radio airwaves in Cincinnati for decades, told The Daily Beast that voters, party activists, and even statewide officials are telling him that Vance has been phoning it in. Vance is allegedly missing from many of the county fairs, party meetings, and campaign stops where candidates in this state are expected to be […]

Meanwhile, Republicans begrudgingly admit that the Democratic nominee, Rep. Tim Ryan, is perhaps running the best possible campaign from a Democrat in this increasingly conservative state.

[Ryan] is using [his] war chest to blanket Ohio airwaves with ads touting his blue collar bona fides, amplifying his professed desire to break with fellow Democrats on key issues, like inflation and crime. (Notably, Ryan has been a reliable Democratic vote during his two decades in Congress.)

With Vance largely absent on the airwaves and the campaign trail, Republicans fret that Ryan is successfully defining himself before Vance is—and that time is running out for the Republican to right the ship.

Wisconsin

KENOSHA, WI - AUGUST 27: Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes speaks at a news conference on August 27, 2020 in Kenosha, Wisconsin. The news conference was held to discuss the recent civil unrest surrounding the police shooting of Jacob Blake. Video shot of the incident appears to show Blake shot multiple times in the back by Wisconsin police officers while attempting to enter the drivers side of a vehicle. The 29-year-old Blake was undergoing surgery for a severed spinal cord, shattered vertebrae and severe damage to organs, according to the family attorneys in published accounts. (Photo by Brandon Bell/Getty Images)
Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes

A crowded Democratic primary was suddenly cleared this week on behalf of Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, and this guy is fire. 

He is up against Vladimir Putin’s fave, Sen. Ron Johnson, in the most 50-50 state in the entire country. In a normal midterm, Johnson would cruise to reelection. But again, we don’t have one of those anymore. 

The only poll in the race so far, from well-regarded Marquette Law School, has Barnes up 46-44, and expect it to remain tight down to the wire. 

Barnes isn’t as prolific a fundraiser as some of the others, but he was also in a contested primary until this Friday. The spigot should now open, and you guys should help. He has raised $6.1 million and has $1.5 million on hand (which will quickly grow). Johnson has raised almost $17 million, but only has $3.6 million on hand. Incumbency has its advantages, but being Ron Johnson has its subsequent disadvantages. He’s a polarizing figure in a battleground state. All that money he’s already spent hasn’t bought him breathing room. Outside groups have already dropped $18 million supporting Johnson. But again, it hasn’t really moved the needle. 

You guys in Wisconsin, Illinois, and Minnesota—you have to be busy with GOTV this fall. Every vote will count here. Donate to Mandela Barnes here

Florida

WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 29: Rep Val Demings, D_FL, speaks during the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial and Administrative Law hearing on Online Platforms and Market Power in the Rayburn House office Building, July 29, 2020 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. (Photo by Mandel Ngan-Pool/Getty Images)
Florida Rep. Val Demmings

Oh Florida, you always break our hearts, never there when we need you. We have an amazing candidate in Rep. Val Demmings, and she has raised a staggering $42.5 million for this race already—compared to $34.5 million for Marco Rubio. The financial support is certainly there. Can she deliver a state that consistently gives Republicans the narrow edge? 

Weirdly, we haven’t seen much polling in Florida yet. Democratic pollster PPP had it 47-41 Rubio before Dobbs. We have no indication of how things might have shifted since then. It’s certainly a long-shot race, but it’s in play. Maybe Trump will go on the warpath against Republicans in the state, sabotaging his biggest political rival—Gov. Ron DeSantis—in his reelection bid. 

Donate to Val Demmings here.

So that about covers the Democrats’ best chances, though Iowa has a remote chance to come into play. Also, Utah is getting interesting, as independent candidate Evan McMullen has a chance to knock off the odious (and locally unpopular) Sen. Mike Lee. While McMullen isn’t a Democrat, and is certainly a conservative, he’s not an asshole conservative, and has already said he wouldn’t vote for Mitch McConnell for majority leader. 

Republicans’ best pickup opportunities are in Arizona (where Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly has a solid lead in polls), Georgia (where Republican train wreck Hershell Walker is Trump’s gift to the Democrats), and Nevada (which definitely leans Democratic, but bears watching).

If the election was held today, I suspect we’d gain two, given that Manchin- and Kyrsten Sinema-proof Senate and a 52-48 advantage. But everything is in play, and the possible outcomes range from losing two seats, to gaining four.  

Here is a page with all the Daily Kos endorsed candidates. Pick those on this page, or any others. We can win this thing, which is unbelievable given Biden’s terrible numbers. But Trump, the Supreme Court, and the Republican Party have all conspired not just to keep Democrats in the game, but to give them a real chance to win. 

If we lose, our democracy is in genuine peril. No hyperbole. If we win, we can expand the Supreme Court, grant Washington, D.C., statehood (and Puerto Rico, too, if they want it). We can pass laws protecting voters and eliminating partisan gerrymandering. Our system is still broken, still tilted toward small, rural, white conservative states. But we can take real steps toward mitigating those inequities. 

We just have to get it done. 





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