One of the Few Potential Bright Spots for Democrats in 2022: The Senate

When asked to share their candid thoughts about the Democrats’ chances of maintaining their majority in the House of Representatives in the coming election, party strategists often use words that cannot be printed in a family newsletter.

But for Democrats on the Senate side, a better picture is emerging. There, Republicans are assembling what one top strategist laughingly dubbed the “island of misfit toys” — a motley collection of candidates the Democratic Party hopes to portray as politically off-mainstream, personally compromised, and too comfortable with Donald Trump.

These vulnerabilities have given Republican Senate candidates a tough few weeks in several of the most competitive races:

  • Arizona: Blake Masters, a venture capitalist who has secured Trump’s backing and is leading the polls in the Republican primary, has been criticized for saying “frankly black people” are responsible for most of gun violence in the US. Other Republicans have attacked him in the past for comments supporting “unrestricted immigration.”

  • Georgia: Herschel Walker, the GOP nominee to Senator Raphael Warnock, admitted to being the parent of three previously undisclosed children. Walker regularly sues absentee fathers.

  • Pennsylvania: dr Mehmet Oz, who lived in New Jersey before announcing his candidacy for the Senate, risks coming across as inauthentic. Oz recently misspelled the name of his new hometown on an official document.

  • Nevada: Adam Laxalt, a former attorney general, said at a pancake breakfast last month, “Roe v. Wade was always a joke.” That’s an unpopular attitude in socially liberal Nevada, where 63 percent of adults say abortion should be legal for the most part.

  • Wisconsin: Senator Ron Johnson made a cameo appearance at the Jan. 6 hearings when it was revealed he intended to hand former Vice President Mike Pence a fake voter roll on the day of the attack.

Republicans counter with some politically powerful arguments of their own, blaming Democrats for rising prices and saying they’ve strayed too far to the left for mainstream voters.

In Pennsylvania, for example, Lt. gov. Democratic Senate nominee John Fetterman, universal health coverage, federal legalization of marijuana, and criminal justice reform. Republicans have combed through his record and past comments to cast him as Bernie Sanders, the self-proclaimed Democratic socialist.

One factor in Democrats’ favor is the fact that only a third of the Senate is up for re-election and many races are in Democrat-preferring states.

Another reason is the fact that Senate races can be more diverse than House races, which are influenced less by national trends and more by candidates’ personalities. Advertising budgets in Senate races can reach hundreds of millions of dollars, giving candidates a chance to define themselves and their opponents.

Democrats rely heavily on personality-oriented campaigns, promoting Arizona Senator Mark Kelly as a moderate, friendly former astronaut and Nevada Senator Catherine Cortez Masto as a campaigner for abortion rights, retail workers and families.

“Senate campaigns are candidate-versus-candidate battles,” said David Bergstein, a spokesman for the Democrats’ Senate campaign arm. “And while Democratic incumbents and candidates have developed their own brands, Republicans have proposed deeply flawed candidates.” Bergstein is not objective, but there is some truth to this analysis.

If the election were held today, polls suggest the Democrats would be narrowly favored to retain control of the Senate. Republican elites are also concerned that voters could nominate Eric Greitens, the scandal-plagued former governor, for the open Missouri Senate seat, jeopardizing a seat that would otherwise be safe.

But of course the election isn’t happening today, and polls are fallible, as we’ve seen in 2020. So there is still a lot of uncertainty about the outcome. Biden’s approval rating remains low, and inflation is the number one issue on voters’ minds — not the weaknesses of individual candidates.

For now, Democrats are pretty pleased with themselves for making lemonade out of a decidedly sour political environment.

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Here’s a flashing warning light for America’s power centers: Confidence in US institutions has plummeted to new lows over the past year, according to a Gallup poll released Monday.

The steepest declines, Gallup found, were for the Supreme Court and the presidency. Trust in the court has fallen 11 percentage points since 2021, while trust in the presidency has fallen 15 percentage points.

Gallup tracks public opinion about 16 institutions in an annual survey. Trust in the three branches of the federal government has reached an all-time low. Congress rounds out the bottom, with just 7 percent having “very much” or “quite a bit” confidence in the legislature.

At the other end of the spectrum, Americans continue to express high levels of trust in two institutions in particular: small business and the military.

But of all the institutions that Gallup follows, every one except organized labor has lost public credibility over the past 12 months.

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