(The Hill) — The midterm election doomsday scenario for Democrats is becoming clearer, scarier, and more real as inflation and gas prices remain stubbornly high and dissatisfaction with President Joe Biden is through the roof.
Democrats are seeing their chances of retaining the House slimmer than ever, with both history and the dreary political environment working against them. In the Senate, where the party had hoped strong swing state candidates could help save the majority, fears are also growing.
It seems that wherever voters look, things are bad in Biden’s Washington — and getting worse.
“Democrats haven’t done things they promised,” said Connor Farrell, a strategist who founded the progressive consultancy Left Rising. “In this environment, the best general election candidates will be bold [ones] that can distinguish themselves from what we’re getting from the White House.”
The high national anxiety — which many lawmakers, operatives, and activists are now openly acknowledging as problematic — was further laid bare when a poll released by the New York Times found that just 13 percent of voters surveyed think the country is on the right path. More strikingly, 64 percent of Democratic voters want someone other than Biden as their nominee in 2024.
The high prices of daily essentials, a gloomy appraisal of what’s happening around the country, and the prospect of more impending losses are leaving Democrats more concerned than ever about their odds in November.
“Democratic leadership should look no further than the fact that they need to wake up and step up to the plate,” said Jon Reinish, managing director at the political strategy firm Mercury.
While the idea that Democrats need to brace for a potential fall wipeout is not new, Monday’s poll highlights a trend that many see as particularly damning — a majority of registered Democratic voters are not happy with the overall direction of the U.S. under Biden’s leadership and they are not on board with another four years of it.
Sixty-three percent of Democrats polled said the country is headed in the wrong direction, while only 27 percent said it is on the right track.
“They’re not just losing Independents or you know, Never-Trump Republicans,” said Reinish, referencing two blocs that helped Biden establish a diverse coalition in 2020. “They’re losing their own voters. Democrats’ own voters don’t feel as if their leaders hear their concerns.”
That mindset is adding to what many already fear is an uphill midterm battle. A Politico/Morning Consult poll conducted last month did, however, find that registered voters are evenly split on the generic congressional ballot if the election were held that day.
Beyond the bleak bird’s eye view, there are some granular differences that are adding to frustration within the party and confusion among voters. The persistent debate about party direction, particularly felt in the battle for the House, is not over, some progressives and moderates say.
While certain ideological debates have been put on the back burner to focus more acutely on Biden, there are regular disagreements about the types of candidates who can win elections and who deserve to keep their seats.
Liberals think newer and more progressive candidates should be ushered in during the general election and have worked to defeat some Democrats they believe represent the old guard. A recent example came in Oregon, when insurgent Jamie McLeod-Skinner, an attorney, ousted Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.), a rare Biden endorsee, to face off against a Republican in the coming months.
“We think our progressive candidates are best positioned to survive the crosswinds,” said Farrell. “They are the most forceful in advocating for what Democratic voters actually want – bold leadership.”
But even that has sparked resentment, adding to the perception that the party lacks unity and direction on top of all their other problems.
And while some moderates typically like to jab progressives whom they believe can’t win general elections, others are now even cautious about bringing Biden into the conversation as a leader worth emulating. That hesitation has further blurred the lines of the ideal prototype of a Democrat who can win.
To that end, some prominent centrists have appeared to be moving away from Biden in recent weeks. The latest came from Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.), who is typically outspoken about the dangers of moving too far to the left ahead of election time.
She recently gave a speech in Woodbridge where she failed to offer even a tacit nod to the commander-in-chief. And Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio), one of Biden’s close personal friends who is running for the Senate, also decided not to show up for an event the president held in Cleveland.
Strategists have taken note.
“You’ll probably see moderates like [Spanberger] cold-shouldering Biden and progressives pushing him to do more,” Farrell said.
In the Senate, the outlook is more up-in-the-air. With the chamber currently split 50-50, it is anyone’s game.
Reinish said he was not shocked by the numbers in the Times poll because they reflect a growing frustration Democrats are feeling with 79-year-old Biden and top congressional figures in the party who have served in leadership roles for decades with no indication of stepping down.
“Democrats are angry, frustrated, dissatisfied and dispirited,” he said, reacting to the data. “And that’s not surprising to me.”
While social issues remain important to activists and others in Democratic circles, economic issues topped the list of topics voters care about more than anything, building on a trend that’s endured cycle after cycle.
Twenty percent of registered voters said the economy, including jobs and the stock market, is the most important problem facing the country today, which was the highest figure for any issue received. Inflation and the cost of living came in second with 15 percent.
With all the bad news, a newly released jobs report gave some relief to the White House in search of more than a simple narrative tweak.
“In the second quarter of this year, we created more jobs than in any quarter under any of my predecessors in the nearly 40 years before the pandemic,” Biden said in a statement announcing the optimistic numbers late last week.
“We have more Americans working in the private sector today than any day during Donald Trump’s Presidency – more people than any time in our history,” he said, careful to specifically call out his predecessor that many believe is exploring the idea of a rematch.
The White House is also going to great lengths to point out that gas prices are seeing even the tiniest decline.
In that, Democrats see another potential bright spot on the horizon, if not for 2022, but two years later.
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For now, Biden still beats Trump in a hypothetical head-to-head match-up in 2024. The edge is narrow and within the margin of error – 44 percent to 41 percent – but it’s something they can work with, some say.
“The Republicans cannot point to anything that they’re actually for. The only thing that they can tell you is that they are against what we are for,” said Antjuan Seawright, an operative based in South Carolina. “And so if anything, they should be fearful that we will hold them accountable between now and November about how high the stakes are, and what can and cannot be done between their party and ours.”