Is a Republican wave in November already "baked in"?

Is a Republican wave in November already "baked in"?
AP Photo/Alex Brandon

I mean, yes? No one doubts this, right?

Democrats’ own pollsters don’t doubt it. “When was the last time a midterm looked this hopeless for the ruling party?” I asked a month ago. A month later, with gas prices at record levels and recession fears beginning to grip the public, the forecast for Dems somehow looks worse now than it did then.

The only good news for them lately is that the GOP’s lead on the generic ballot in RCP’s average has slipped a tiny bit. But if there really is an economic “hurricane” coming due to rising interest rates and the war in Ukraine, that trend will reverse itself. Sharply.

The reason even Democratic statisticians are pessimistic about a reversal is that, historically, the standing of the two parties at the start of summer in a midterm year reliably predicts how they’ll fare in November. In theory, five months is plenty of time for good things to happen for the ruling party and reverse voters’ perceptions of them. In practice, uh, no. Henry Olsen looks ahead and sees a pick-up of 20-35 seats for the GOP in the House — at a minimum. Fifty seats isn’t out of the question.

Recent political history shows that the course of a fall election is almost always set by Memorial Day. RealClearPolitics Senior Elections Analyst Sean Trende recently noted that “election outcomes are more-or-less baked in” by the end of the second quarter of an election year. Not even the financial crash of 2008 made a significant dent in that year’s outcome, which Trende says was largely expected in May of that year. One probably needs to go back to the Cuban missile crisis of 1962 to find an event that might have significantly helped the party in power on the eve of a midterm vote.

Political waves also take predictable courses, and the final outcome is almost always worse for the losing party than analysts predicted six months out. In May 2010, the Rothenberg Political Report (now Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales) projected a big Republican year, with GOP House gains of two to three dozen seats. Their final pre-election forecast predicted gains between 55 and 65 seats. The GOP ultimately picked up 63 from Democrats.

The question isn’t whether there’ll be a Republican wave, Olsen writes, only how far “inland” it’ll go by sweeping even Democrats who occupy what are supposed to be safe seats out of power. Some of the circumstantial evidence floating around today suggests that it’ll go … pretty far. Case in point:

Republicans aren’t supposed to lead in statewide polls in Oregon, even in a three-way race. And the independent candidate, Betsy Johnson, isn’t a far-leftist who’s cannibalizing the Democratic vote. She’s a centrist who staunchly supports gun rights and has received major donations from Republicans. If anything, she may be holding down Drazan’s numbers and preventing her from building a major lead — in a state that hasn’t elected a Republican governor in 40 years.

Two years of Democrats mandating outdoor masking and allowing anarchists to terrorize Portland will do that, I guess.

Meanwhile, across the border in Washington:

Patty Murray is a five-term incumbent who won her last Senate race by 18 points. Biden won Washington by nearly 20 over Trump in 2020. There’s no earthly reason for her to spend money to retain her seat in a state that blue — unless she’s worried that the Republican tidal wave in November will be so massive that even her own victory isn’t a sure thing unless she works for it.

One more bit of circumstantial evidence for you:

Democrats are fighting on blue terrain in Washington and Oregon. Nevada is decidedly more purple. And given the trend of Hispanic voters switching from Democrats to Republicans over the past two years, there’s a real chance of a total wipeout for Biden’s party there this fall.

Is there anything Team Biden can do to stanch the bleeding, short of waiting for Roe to be overturned and hoping there’s an uprising of angry liberals at the polls? Maybe one thing. One of their biggest political problems is gas prices, which tend to correlate with a president’s approval rating. And they understand that keenly inside the White House:

For the past several months, a White House-led team of economic specialists has marked each day in the same way: With a painstaking, state-by-state examination of gasoline prices and the intricate market forces pushing them relentlessly upward.

Senior officials and others close to President Joe Biden view those prices as the cost that most directly affects voters’ everyday lives, and therefore their perception of the economy as well. As such, Biden and his top advisers fixate on them with an intensity that some aides describe as obsessive. White House chief of staff Ron Klain has grown particularly absorbed by the issue, checking the average price of a gallon of gas every morning. He’s lamented that it’s the one item everyone knows the cost of because gas station billboards are so ubiquitous throughout the country.

“Could they advertise anything else?” Klain rhetorically, and ruefully, asked one recent visitor.

The trends are … sub-optimal:

But there *is* a little something Biden can do about the price of gas, and I don’t mean a gas-tax holiday. He can go groveling to the Saudis and beg them to start pumping more oil, knowing that extra supply in global markets will mean lower prices at the pump. His problem is that he spent the 2020 campaign talking tough about the Kingdom and has been cold-shouldered by them ever since, to the point where Mohammed bin Salman reportedly hasn’t been taking his calls. That’s about to change, though, as it was reported this week that Biden will meet personally with MBS during a trip to the Middle East this month. And lo and behold, breaking news this morning:

The president’s going to eat sh*t for Jamal Khashoggi’s murderers in hopes that doing so will somewhat reduce the magnitude of the red tsunami this fall. We’ll see if it pays off for him.

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