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10 Observations About the 2022 Midterms

ELECTION POLITICS - Two-thirds of the way through 2022, the political situation is quite different than it appeared to be on January 1.

Then, Democrats viewed the midterm elections with trepidation; now, they see them as an opportunity. Here are 10 reasons why the situation has changed.

  1. Trump is on the ballot:The midterms are no longer a referendum on Joe Biden; now they are a referendum on Donald Trump. Say what you will about Trump, he has a unique way of making himself the center of attention. The first eight months of 2022 have seen the political focus shift from Biden to Trump. Trump's retention of classified material and the FBI raid on Mar-a-Lago have made his personality the center of political attention. In many congressional contests, there's a Trump proxy on the ballot: voters aren't being asked to simply vote for Republican John Doe; they are being asked, "Do you want Trumpism to continue?" In many instances, the answer is "No."

Trump is a divisive figure. According to the 538 website, 55% of voters view him unfavorably.  NBC News reports that 57% of voters believe the Department of Justice Trump investigations should continue. A recent NPR poll found that 61% of voters do not want him to run in 2024—notably, 67% of Independents.

Having Trump on the ballot will affect the outcome of closely contested congressional races. We just saw this in the recent race for Alaska's lone congressional seat.  The contestants were Sarah Palin (Trump's candidate); Nick Begich (a Republican alternative), and Mary Peltola (Democrat). What should have been a safe Republican seat went to Peltola because Palin and Begich split the vote—the final tally was aided by a byzantine rank-choice voting process. Trump interfered and, in a closely contested race, his candidate lost.

We've seen that pattern repeated in the run-up to the November 8 election. In the Republican primary, there's a Trump candidate and a "moderate" Republican candidate. More often than not, the Trump candidate wins only to be defeated by a Democrat in the general election. Trump appeals to Republicans but not Democrats or Independents.

Trump is a GOP problem not only because he is divisive, but also because he is maniacally self-absorbed, In a recent "joint" Pennsylvania appearance, Trump spoke for two hours and gave Mehmet Oz, the Republican Senate candidate, two minutes. Trump raises lots of money but the vast majority goes to the "Donald J. Trump Improvement fund."

  1. Democrats have a chance to keep control of Congress.At the beginning of the year, Republicans were favored to take back the Senate and the House. Now Democrats are favored to retain the Senate and have moved closer in the House races. There are five shaky Democratic Senate seats; at the moment three lean Democrat (Bennett, Hassan, and Kelly) and there are two where the Dems are ahead (Catherine Cortez Masto and Raphael Warnock). There are Five shaky Republican Senate seats; at the moment two lean Democrat (Pennsylvania and Wisconsin) and there are three where Dems are ahead (Florida, North Carolina, and Ohio). There are many reasons why the Democratic candidates are doing well.
  2. Democrats have an agenda and the Republicans don't.Republicans might disagree; they probably would say that their agenda is: "Donald J.Trump has been poorly treated. The 2020 election was stolen from him and now the FBI is harassing him." This appeals to Trump devotees but it doesn't work with "rational" Republicans and Independents, who ask: "What about the economy? What about abortion? What about climate change? What about the other issues?"
  3. Many Republican candidates are terrible.One of the reasons that Democrats are doing better than expected in the Senate races is that the Republican Senate candidates are unprepared for prime time, Democrats are doing well in Pennsylvania because their candidate, John Fetterman, is much better than the GOP candidate, Oz.  Likewise in Wisconsin, where Mandela Barnes is stronger than Ron Johnson; and Georgia where Warnock is infinitely preferable to Herschel Walker.
  4. Abortion is a big issue.On June 24, the Supreme Court overturned the 1973 Roe v. Waderuling recognizing women's constitutional right to abortion. It came as a shock to many female voters, who had not taken seriously Democrats' concern that a conservative Supreme Court would overturn Roe v. Wade. Now this ruling has become a rallying point for Democrats who go to the midterm polls not only determined to stop Donald Trump but also set on protecting reproductive freedom of choice.

There are many polls suggesting that voter enthusiasm is up, particularly among women and younger voters—segments that traditionally benefit Democrats.

  1. The economy may not be the deciding issue.Historically, the state of the economy has been the determining issue in the midterm elections. This year, that may not be the case as abortion should be the biggest issue. Not to say that the economy will not be a big concern, but rather that the economy has improved enough that abortion—and other issues—will be more important.

Why?  First, the U.S. economy has stabilized and is clearly the world's strongest economy.  (For example, compare our economy to that of Great Britain or France or Germany or China or Russia.) Second, we're not headed into a recession—sorry Republicans, we know this disappoints you.

Of course, inflation is a concern, but many key consumer costs—such as food and fuel—are headed down.

And, the job market is robust. And—drum roll—enthusiasm for unions is rapidly growing. A recent Gallup poll showed that "71% of Americans now approve of labor unions"—duh. After the pandemic, millions of American workers woke up to the reality that they would have better pay and job protection if they belonged to a union.

By the way, Republicans don't have an economic message other than: "Vote for Trump; he'll handle the economy the way he handles his businesses."

  1. The environment is an issue.This is good news and bad news. The good news is that the environment should be an issue; the bad news is that this is happening because, in many parts of the United States, we're seeing clear evidence of the impact of global climate change. In California, we're suffering from a terrible drought and, of course, mammoth forest fires. (BTW, this week we had a heat wave that set records.)

In the California central valley, climate change will be the primary issue in several key races. For example, in CA-22 where incumbent Republican David Valadao is running against Democrat Rudy Salas.  In CA-22, wells are going dry. The Republican response is "Biden took your water." The Democratic response is, "We have to stop giving a disproportionate amount of water to Big Agriculture—for example, almond farmers—and give better access to the people."

  1. Democracy is on the ballot. A recent Quinnipiac poll found 67% of all of those surveyed said democracy is in danger. We should be concerned that a large number of Americans support Donald Trump and many of them do not appear to support democracy. In states controlled by Republican legislatures, they've made it harder to vote. They've continued to support egregious gerrymandering.

Recently, Joe Biden called Trump's political philosophy "semi-fascism." He's right. Trump has fomented an authoritarian cult. He's a threat to democracy.

  1. Democrats are (relatively) united; Republicans are not. A recent NPR poll found that 61% of voters do not want Trump to run in 2024. Nonetheless, 67% of Republicans do want him to run. While this is dismaying, it indicates that in a contested race the Trump candidate will probably lose because the Democratic candidate will have the support of an overwhelming number of Democratic and Independent voters and a few Republicans. That's what's happened in the Alaska congressional race. (By the way, the Trump supporters are primarily "White Evangelical Christians"—evidently motivated by Trump's moral conduct.)
  2. Elections are determined by turnout. On November 8, Democrats will prevail if they get out the vote. Will they? I think so.

Last year, in California, Gov. Gavin Newsom faced a recall. A lot of Democrats were worried. Then they got busy and turned out the vote. When the recall "dust" settled: 61.9% voted to retain Newsom, and 38.1% voted to recall.

It's time to get busy, Democrats. It's time to end the Trump madness. It's time to save democracy.

(Bob Burnett is a Berkeley Quaker, activist, and writer. In another life he was a Silicon Valley executive — co-founder of Cisco Systems. This story was first published in CommonDreams.)