Welcome to Yahoo News' Politics Briefing: Midterms Edition. Every week between now and Election Day, Yahoo News' team of political journalists will pull together everything you need to know about the November midterm elections. And it will all be in one place: your inbox.
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THE BIG IDEA: A normal election in a very strange year
If you’re a Democrat worried about what will happen on Tuesday, the glimmers of hope are where you find them. Here’s a New York Times poll, for example, showing Democratic candidates with the edge in several key Senate races.
Otherwise just about everything seems to be breaking the Republicans’ way. GOP Senate candidates who looked like no-hopers just a few weeks ago, like Arizona’s Blake Masters and New Hampshire’s Don Bolduc, are suddenly surging. Americans consistently tell pollsters they’re far more concerned about inflation than abortion rights. And the Times is casting doubt on the accuracy of its own poll showing Democrats in decent shape.
America is not a normal country. This is not a normal time. But if Republicans do well on Tuesday — perhaps not crazy well but well enough to capture the House and maybe the Senate — that will be a pretty normal result, historically speaking. And it will likely have happened for some pretty normal reasons.
President Biden is unpopular, with Gallup clocking his approval rating at 40%. That’s slightly worse than where Donald Trump was at this point four years ago — right before the 2018 midterms, when voters kicked the GOP’s teeth in.
Unpopular presidents watch their party lose a lot of seats in their first midterm. We’ve known this since at least the advent of modern polling. Heck, even popular presidents usually take it on the chin in their first midterm after taking office.
Why is Biden so unpopular? There’s never just one answer to a question like that. But the biggest reason is almost certainly the economy. Unemployment is low, but high inflation means the vast majority of Americans have less money to spend on products that are getting more expensive. Back in September, the economist Mark Zandi calculated that Americans were spending about $460 more a month on the same goods and services than they were a year ago.
Know what happens when the economy is in rough shape during a midterm election? The party in power loses a bunch of seats.
Again, we’re a big, weird country in a very strange time. Thanks to Trump, a good deal of the Republican Party believes our elections are illegitimate. That belief inspired a riot at the U.S. Capitol just last year. A crazed man broke into Nancy Pelosi’s house and beat her husband with a hammer just last week. Roe v. Wade was struck down in June. There’s a major land war in Europe for the first time since 1945. America’s status as the world’s lone superpower is being threatened by a rising China. We’re still recovering from a horrific pandemic. Race relations are, to put it mildly, rather tense. And on and on.
Yet for all that, we’re looking at what will likely be a normal midterm decided for normal reasons. The rules of political gravity have been tested mightily in recent years. But the fundamentals of midterm politics, for now at least, appear to be holding: The president is unpopular for normal-ish reasons, and his party is going to lose some number of seats as a result.
If you’re a Democrat, that doesn’t mean your favorite candidate is going to lose on Tuesday. Even in 2018, when Democrats took back the House in a wave, a number of Republicans won close races — including a fellow named Ron DeSantis, who was elected governor of Florida that year.
Who knows. Maybe Democrats lose Congress but elect a fresh face somewhere who becomes president one day. Keep that in mind if you’re all doom-and-gloom Wednesday morning.
SOUND LIKE A NERD
For whatever reason, future presidents often get their big political break in midterm elections.
George W. Bush won his race for governor of Texas in the 1994 Republican wave. Bill Clinton was elected governor of Arkansas in 1978. George H.W. Bush, fresh off a losing Senate campaign, was first elected to the House in 1966, which is the same year Ronald Reagan was elected governor of California. Jimmy Carter lost his race to become Georgia’s governor in 1966 but was elected in 1970.
The list goes on. Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy were both elected to the House in the 1946 midterms. Harry Truman won his Senate seat in 1934. In fact, with the exception of Barack Obama, there’s only been two presidents in the modern era who didn’t first come to political prominence in an off year: Dwight Eisenhower and Trump, two famous men who had never sought office before winning the presidency.
POLLS, POLLS, POLLS
Yahoo News’ Andrew Romano has more bad news for Democrats in our final poll before the midterms.
“Six in 10 voters believe Biden deserves either ‘some’ (18%) or a ‘great deal’ (42%) of blame for inflation; of those who say inflation is getting worse, nearly three times as many blame ‘policies the president can control’ rather than ‘events the president can’t control.’ Similarly, just 29% of voters believe Biden is doing enough to address inflation. A majority (53%) do not,” Romano writes.
Read the whole poll here.
SLEEPER RACE ALERT
Yahoo News’ Chris Wilson checks in on an abnormal House race in Pennsylvania.
“Democratic Rep. Mike Doyle, who has represented parts of western Pennsylvania for 14 terms, announced his retirement in October 2021. He is supporting state Rep. Summer Lee, a progressive who won a hard-fought primary in May to take over his spot on the ballot. In theory, this should be a relatively safe Democratic retention in next week’s midterm election. In practice, it’s not that simple,” Wilson writes.
“Lee’s Republican opponent is also named Mike Doyle, and like the current retiring congressman, he’s an older white guy with gray hair. Some voters in the redrawn Pittsburgh-area district who wanted to support the Democrat have said that they accidentally voted for the wrong candidate after two-plus decades of checking the box for Doyle.”
Read Wilson’s full story here.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK
“Yeah, of course it does.” — Gov. Gavin Newsom, D-Calif., when asked by CBS News’ Major Garrett whether it “feels like a red wave” will sweep Republicans into office across the country on Tuesday. Newsom, who is frequently mentioned as a future presidential candidate, is expected to easily win reelection next week.