Midterms State of Play, Oct. 28, 2022
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Midterms State of Play, Oct. 28, 2022

Brownstein Client Alert, Oct. 28, 2022

State of Play

With less than two weeks to go until Election Day, and early voting already taking place in several battleground states, recent polling results and spending trends continue to indicate that the electoral environment is shifting toward Republicans. At present, some observers believe Republicans may win over 20 seats, which would not only ensure their House majority but also approach a so-called “Red Wave” at a level that was once the upper range of many projections by political analysts. Of note, prominent elections observer Dave Wasserman recently stated that Democrats may be up against a “category 2 or 3” hurricane in November. Moreover, Republicans are increasingly confident that they’ll capture a Senate majority too. As of Oct. 26, FiveThirtyEight projects Republicans have an 82% chance to win the House (up from 80% last week) and a 46% chance at securing a Senate majority (up from 42% last week). Republicans have also maintained their lead from last week on the generic congressional ballot, 45.3%-44.7%.

These recent trends indicate that Democratic boosts over the abortion issue may have peaked too soon, in tandem with continued economic concerns driving voters toward Republicans who have centered their campaigns around the economy and inflation. Moreover, in both the House and Senate, Republican campaigns and outside groups have made significant investments in blue-leaning districts and states, including several that Biden handily carried in 2020, forcing Democrats in spend large sums to defend these seats.

With respect to campaigns’ messaging, there is growing concern in Democratic circles that prioritizing discussions on abortion has inhibited their candidates from focusing on economic issues. Reinforcing this point, a recent poll by Monmouth found that 63% of respondents—including 36% of Democrats—wish that Biden would pay greater attention to “issues that are important to your family.” However, Democratic strategists have privately conveyed to the media in recent days that they are aiming to tailor Democrats’ closing messages to have a greater focus on the economy as well as health care.

Across the aisle, Republicans continue to emphasize inflation and crime issues, the latter of which some observers believe has helped them gain ground in suburban areas that had trended away from the party during the Trump administration. Both parties’ messaging is primarily geared toward Independents and suburban women—constituencies seen as the main groups whose votes may swing battleground races in the final days of campaigning.

In several key states, early voting is underway, with over 9 million having voted so far, according to the University of Florida's U.S. Elections Project. So far in Georgia, there has been high African American turnout, an expected trend witnessed in 2018 and 2020 and highlighted by a Southern political staple, the Sunday “Souls to the Polls” efforts by faith-based organizations. In a potentially positive development for Democrats, turnout is highest in the blue-leaning suburbs of Atlanta, followed by red-leaning turnout in north Georgia. In North Carolina, early turnout is significantly down from 2020, with the Democrats’ lead being only about half as big as it was two years ago, a trend that may favor Republican candidates in the Tar Heel state. In Nevada, early in-person turnout is noticeably low and Republican-leaning. It is important to note that this is the second cycle in which Nevada has sent all voters a mail ballot, possibly leading to low in-person turnout. In Virginia, turnout has been highest in two safely red districts (VA-1 and VA-5), followed by the state’s three competitive House seats (VA-7, VA-2, and VA-10). In a bearish sign for Democrats, turnout for blue-leaning seats is lagging behind their 2020 levels. Like several other states, media reports indicate Democrats are running behind their 2020 margins in Arizona too.


The Biden Administration and The Midterms

President Joe Biden continues to ramp up his midterm campaign activities. On Oct. 25, Biden penned an op-ed on CNN touting achievements by the administration and congressional Democrats while claiming congressional Republicans are “doubling down on mega, MAGA trickle-down economics that benefit the wealthy and big corporations.” Biden added that in two weeks, “the American people will decide whether we keep moving forward or go backwards.”

On Oct. 20, Biden joined Pennsylvania Senate candidate John Fetterman in Pittsburgh to tout the bipartisan infrastructure law. Later, Biden headlined a fundraiser for the Pennsylvania Democratic Party in Philadelphia, where he told the crowd that the “world” is watching the competitive Senate race.


House Campaign Developments

Political observers increasingly believe Republicans will win the House. The Cook Political Report upgraded its outlook for GOP gains from 10–20 seats to 12–25 seats, including shifting 10 races toward Republican candidates. Similarly, Inside Elections shifted 21 House races, of which 13 were in favor of the GOP.

Democrats have had one notable bright spot of late, however, with Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) saying she would rank Rep. Mary Peltola (D-AK) first on her ranked-choice ballot in November. Upon her revelation of the cross-party endorsement, Murkowski told reporters that the two have “been friends for 25 years, and the fact that we’re Republican and Democrat has never interfered with that friendship.”

Over the final stretch, candidates, campaign committees and PACs for both parties are continuing to make investments, with Republicans making efforts to expand the map while Democrats look to bolster their campaign committee chair. The GOP’s Congressional Leadership Fund is spending an additional $11 million into a slate of races in Democrat-held seats, including seven districts where President Biden won by double digits: CA-27, CA-48, CA-49, CT-5, OR-6, RI-2 and TX-34. The latest tranche also includes spending for challengers against Democratic incumbents in AZ-1, AZ-2, IA-3, MN-2, OH-13, PA-7, PA-8, PA-17, VA-7 and WA-8. Most of these races were some of the same races Cook and Inside Elections shifted in Republicans’ favor in their most recent updates.

Democrats, for their part, are looking to shore up several incumbents, including the member who is running the party’s campaign operation: Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) Chair Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY). Maloney’s race against state Assemblyman Mike Lawler (R-NY) was shifted to being a toss-up by Cook and from “Lean Democratic” to “Tilt Democratic” by Inside Elections. Due to redistricting, nearly three-quarters of the Hudson Valley-based district is new to Maloney, and internal polling done by both candidates has shown them running neck and neck.

Last week, the House Freedom Caucus sent a 52-page “road map” guide to GOP candidates on what they would face as freshman members—including arcane rules, fast-paced and important votes, and how they may receive pressure from party leadership. The guide provides a detailed timeline of members’ responsibilities between Election Day and when they are sworn in, including votes on party leadership, conference rules and steering committee members. It also includes a list of Freedom Caucus reform proposals for both the GOP Conference and the House in general—including restoring the motion to vacate the chair.


Senate Campaign Developments

Media reports have indicated that the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) is shifting resources from races it believes they will easily win, such as North Carolina and Ohio, to battleground states where they have nominated MAGA-oriented candidates, like Arizona and New Hampshire. With respect to the latter state, the Senate Leadership Fund (SLF) PAC confirmed on Oct. 21 that they would be canceling their spending in the Granite State and shifting those resources to Pennsylvania. On Oct. 25, the NRSC revealed it was actually recommitting resources to the GOP candidate, Don Bolduc, despite previously canceling ad buys there. While the latest poll by Emerson College/WHDH found incumbent Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-NH) leading Bolduc only narrowly (48%-45%), the recent actions by Republican campaign committees toward the state indicate the GOP is not overly optimistic about Bolduc’s chances.

The marquee Senate race in Pennsylvania continues to tighten, with the latest poll from CBS News/YouGov finding Fetterman slightly ahead of GOP nominee Mehmet Oz, 51%-49%. On Oct. 26, Mitch McConnell (R-KY) hosted a “virtual roundtable” with Oz, with Senate Minority Whip John Thune (R-SD) to follow with a similar event on Oct. 28.

A great deal of media attention has been paid to the Oct. 27 debate between the two candidates, with many observers noting a particularly weak performance by Fetterman, who continues to recover from a stroke suffered in May. Fetterman struggled to answer questions at times, while also choosing not to release his full medical records, despite demands to do so by Oz and other Republicans. Despite these impairments, Fetterman remains active on the campaign trail, currently scheduled to appear alongside Rep. Chrissy Houlahan (D-PA) and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) at an event focused on suburban women in the Philadelphia suburbs.

In Georgia, a Monmouth University poll found incumbent Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-GA) holding a significant 61%-34% lead among early voters, while GOP challenger Herschel Walker is bolstered by the potential for more support among highly motivated Election Day voters, 44%-34%. Overall, the poll found Warnock ahead, 49%-44%. Moreover, Walker faces yet another controversy regarding his past, with a second woman coming forward alleging the candidate paid for her to have an abortion and personally driving her to the clinic, despite her objections to undergo the procedure. It remains to be seen if this new claim will have any effect on the race, but at present, it seems increasingly likely that the race will go to a runoff election, with neither candidate achieving 50% on Nov. 8.

In Arizona, incumbent Sen. Mark Kelly (D-AZ) continues to lead former Thiel Capital executive Blake Masters, albeit by a narrowing margin. The latest poll, conducted by co/efficient, finds Kelly up 47%-45%. Like Walker in Georgia, Masters is also subject to a recent controversy, with a recent Jewish Insider report finding that his campaign has had a “far-right Christian nationalist” on its payroll for several months.

Looking elsewhere, Republicans appear to hold narrow leads in several battleground races. In Wisconsin, the latest CNN poll found incumbent Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) leading his opponent, Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes (D-WI), 50%-49%. However, the poll found Independents backing Barnes, 50%-46%, indicating that Johnson is by no means in a secure position as Election Day draws closer. The outlook is slightly better for Republicans in Nevada, where incumbent Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) continues to trail her opponent, former state Attorney General Adam Laxalt (R-NV). The latest survey, conducted by GOP firm Insider Advantage, shows Laxalt narrowly ahead, 48%-46. Republicans also maintain a narrow lead in Ohio, where a poll from the GOP firm Cygnal finds author JD Vance leading Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH), 47%-43%. However, two recent polls have shown the race to be tied: a poll by Marist (both at 47%) and a survey by Spectrum News/Siena College (46%). Similarly, in North Carolina, the Republican candidate, Rep. Ted Budd (R-NC) narrowly leads former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley (D-NC) in a Cygnal poll, 47%-43%. A recent Marist survey found Budd leading Beasley, 49%-45%. Finally, in Florida, incumbent Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) appears to be gaining separation in what previously looked like a closer than expected race. A recent University of North Florida poll found Rubio leading the Democratic nominee, Rep. Val Demings (D-FL), 54%-43%.


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