The Coming Power Shift on Capitol Hill

From a story on axios.com by Josh Kraushaar headlined “The coming power shift”:

Fundamentals still matter in politics: The party out of power almost always gains congressional seats in a midterm. Presidents with underwater job approval ratings typically suffer sizable congressional losses.

Why it matters: Yes, Democrats’ fortunes have improved, but the most likely outcome of the midterm elections is still a shift in power to the Republicans — and bigger headaches for President Biden over the next two years.

  • There’s no doubt that Democrats have made significant gains over the summer. They’ve been boosted by lower gas prices and are benefiting from outrage over the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade.
  • Democrats are also getting help from the GOP’s nomination of extreme candidates in a number of pivotal Senate and gubernatorial contests. Republicans have diminished their chances by choosing MAGA-oriented contenders in swing states like Pennsylvania, Arizona and New Hampshire.
  • But the underlying data still indicates Republicans are heavily favored to win back control of the House, and they hold solid odds of netting the one seat necessary to take back the Senate majority as well.

By the numbers: Biden’s job approval now stands at 42% in the FiveThirtyEight average, up almost five points from his lower-water mark in July. Democrats hold a one-point advantage on the generic ballot in the polling average, up four points since the summer.

  • These are still weak numbers for the party in power, but improved from this summer’s rock-bottom standing.
  • Results from special House elections have also suggested a fairly neutral political environment. In August, Democratic Rep. Pat Ryan (D-N.Y.) held onto a swing House seat by two points in a district that backed Biden by two points.
  • An August all-party primary in a bellwether Washington state district carried by Biden showed Republicans making small inroads.
  • Democrats, led by Rep. Kim Schrier, won 49.6% of the vote while Republicans tallied 49.2% of the vote. That’s a diminished margin from Biden’s seven-point margin and Schrier’s four-point win in 2020.

Between the lines: Democrats are touting benefits from Biden’s bipartisan infrastructure bill, and a health care and climate change spending package that passed along partisan lines.

  • But they’re also homing in on Republican opposition to abortion rights, convinced the issue will drive up base turnout and persuade swing-voting independents (especially women) to stick with the Democrats.
  • Republicans have been hammering Democrats over the state of the economy, but lately have also focused on crime and immigration as part of their midterm message.

The Senate map: Despite the streak of discouraging news, Republicans still have a clear path to retaking the Senate majority. They only need to net one seat to win back the upper chamber, and there are plenty of paths to get there even if many of their recruits fizzle out.

  • Control of the Senate will likely come down to three races: Georgia, Nevada and Pennsylvania. The party that wins two of those three is poised to hold a narrow majority.

The House map: It won’t take a red wave for Republicans to win back the House: Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy only needs to net five seats to hold the majority.

  • But margins will matter for McCarthy’s ability to govern. If he only wins a narrow majority, hard-right rebels will make his job very difficult. The bigger the wave, the more pragmatic-minded Republicans are likely to get elected from bluer districts.
  • The biggest bellwethers will take place in suburban districts that Biden and House Democrats narrowly carried in 2020.
  • On election night, keep a close eye on the districts of Reps. Elaine Luria (D-Va.), Tom Malinowski (D-N.J.), Chris Pappas (D-N.H.) and Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.) as indications of whether Democrats have a chance at holding the majority.

The bottom line: Two things can be true at the same time: Republicans are still well-positioned to win back the House and the Senate, but expectations for bigger gains are looking less likely.

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