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On the ocean, waves “break” when they begin to reach a certain height close to the coastline. Waves grow higher and higher. They build power and speed. But the “break” comes when the waves begin to succumb to gravity. The top of the wave travels faster than parts below. That forces the wave to spill over itself and break.
We may have witnessed a similar phenomenon in politics of late.
Political handicappers once predicted a red,would crest and crash down on the U.S. Capitol this November as GOPers ran up big totals in the House of Representatives.
“Somewhere between 40 and 70 House seats,” predicted, R-Ga., on Fox in mid-July.
“We’re going to win the majority and it’s not going to be a five seat majority,” foreshadowed, R-Calif., to Jake Sherman of Punchbowl News in mid-April.
McCarthy may be right about two things: Republicans are still on track to win the House majority this fall. In fact, redistricting could serve as a “firewall” for the party as Republican aspirations subside. And while Republicans may not gain 50 or 70 seats, they may feature a smaller majority of 10-15 seats. Not just five.
The current House breakdown is 220 Democrats to 211 Republicans.
But political analysts now suspect the political tsunami may dilute from a “red wave” to a gurgling, “red brook” snaking between the political tributaries.
This comes after Rep.-elect Pat Ryan, D-N.Y., unexpectedly won a special election in upstate New York this week.
“Remember this energy,” said Ryan after his victory. “We answered the darkness, the divisiveness, the cynicism with hope, with positivity. With people power. Remember that. We are going to take that into November. We are going to defeat threats to our democracy. To our safety. To our freedom.”
in the New York special election when they weren’t supposed to do so. Ryan drove home the abortion issue. It’s believed that the ruling overturning Roe v. Wade in this summer’s Dobbs decision energizes Democratic, pro-choice voters.
Plus, Democrats didn’t win recent special elections for House seats on Republican turf in Minnesota and Nebraska. But Democrats made both of those contests much closer than they should have been. In addition, Kansas voters trounced a ballot initiative — 59 percent to 41 percent — to remove abortion rights from the state’s constitution. Such Democratic enthusiasm could help protect Rep. Sharice Davids, D-Kan., in her re-election bid this fall.
This is reminiscent of Democrats getting traction in a host of special elections in Republican seats in 2017. Democrats made special elections competitive in Kansas, South Carolina and Montana — but failed to win any of them. However, the GOP softness in each of those elections foreshadowed Democratic strength heading into the 2018 midterms. Democrats gained control of the House.
This is why Democrats are now fired up.
“Republicans should be very, very, very scared this morning about their prospects,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., the day after Ryan prevailed in the special election. “I had never believed that we would not hold the House. That’s my mission. And that’s what I hope to accomplish.”
Special elections are just that: special. Snapshots in time. And a special election in mid-August serves as one of the final data points for analysts to study before the midterm.
“They tell us a lot about momentum. And right now, what we’re seeing is, I think much to a lot of the Republicans dismay, some increasing Democratic momentum,” said Alison Dagnes, a political science professor at Shippensburg University in Pennsylvania.
Midterms hinge on turnout. And Democrats have a new-found passion.
“The Dobbs decision did resonate with the Democratic base. There’s a lesson for Republicans here,” said former Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., who used to run the House GOP’s political operation.
But, while certain arrows now point in the direction of Democrats, one must be careful not to divine too much from the party’s electoral successes. In June Republicans flipped a seat from blue to red themselves. Voters sent Rep. Mayra Flores, R-Tex., to Washington to succeed former Rep. Filemon Vela, D-Tex., who resigned.
So is 2022 like 2018?
Kyle Kondik at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics says the signs “were all pointing in the same direction” for Democrats in 2018. But this year, “the signals are not as clear.” Kondik says the Democrats’ recent surge “does create a little bit more uncertainty than I think we thought we’d be feeling at this point of the cycle about the House.”
Note that during his July appearance on Fox, Gingrich said the prospects of a 40-70 GOP House seat pickup wouldn’t “be obvious until October.”
“In October it will come crashing down,” promised the former Speaker.
For the GOP, there’s one mantra: Make the election aboutand the economy.
“Typically people are voting based on their perceptions of the president,” said Kondik. “Joe Biden’s approval rating, while a lot better, is still pretty bad.”
“When voters go to the polls, they’re going to ask themselves a simple question: ‘Am I better off now than I was before the pandemic?’” asked Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Fla., on Fox. “The answer is no.”
But another factor looms.
“Former President Trump is not on the ballot,” observed Dagnes. “But he’s everywhere else. He’s like the wind. He surrounds us.”
The former president’s controversies cut two ways. The Mar-a-Lago warrant and search galvanized loyalist Republicans. But constant chatter about Mr. Trump exasperates other Republicans and independents.
More talk about formersiphons attention away from the GOP’s message.
“If you’re Republicans, you want this to be a referendum on Joe Biden,” said Davis. “If it becomes Trump versus Biden, it’s a different election altogether.”
The party of the president usually loses close to 30 seats in the House in their first.
And as always, this is about the math.
As it stands right now, Republicans must win five seats to flip the House. The party of the President has only lost fewer than five seats in a midterm once. That was 1962. The November election that year came just days after the Cuban Missile Crisis ended. Voters rewarded President John F. Kennedy for avoiding nuclear holocaust with the Soviets. Democrats only lost four seats.
And that’s why Kevin McCarthy may be right.
Republicans may yet win the majority. And, adhering to historical norms, it’s probable that majority will be more than five seats.