Democrats were riding high this summer. The Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade energized the party’s base and the economic woes that had been plaguing the Biden administration began to subside as gas prices dropped. The party had finally scored several legislative wins with the Inflation Reduction Act and the Chips and Science Act. Former President Donald Trump was under investigation by the Department of Justice for potentially violating the Espionage Act, and the generic congressional polls began to tilt in their favor. Suddenly, predictions of certain midterm disaster for the party gave way to cautious optimism.
Unfortunately for the Democrats, however, the pendulum never swings in one direction forever. Biden’s “soul of the nation” speech, in which he declared MAGA Republicans to be semi-fascists who posed a threat to our democracy, didn’t exactly help his party’s candidates. And although gas prices have dipped below their peak, the rising costs of necessities like groceries and housing have outpaced those reductions. Moreover, the Labor Department’s report on Tuesday showing year over year inflation at 8.3%, higher than expected, almost certainly solidified a voter backlash against Democratic candidates who have voted for all the needless overspending that triggered it.
While it’s highly expected that Republicans will win back the House in November, control of the Senate remains far less certain. The GOP is optimistic, but so too are the Democrats. The night before the release of the inflation report that sent the stock market into a death plunge, for example, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, (D-NY), was reportedly overheard in a D.C. restaurant telling colleagues Democrats have a 60% chance of holding the Senate, according to a Punchbowl News report.
All else remaining the same, Republicans need to win five of the eight Senate races rated as toss-ups by RealClearPolitics: Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.
RCP projects Republicans will hold onto Senate seats in Ohio, North Carolina, and Wisconsin, and will pick up seats in Nevada and Georgia.
In Ohio, Trump-backed candidate J.D. Vance leads Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan by 2.7% for the open seat currently held by Republican Sen. Rob Portman, who is retiring.
In North Carolina, Republican Rep. Ted Budd is ahead of his opponent, Cheri Beasley, a former chief justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court, by 1.3%. They are vying for the open seat being vacated by the retiring Republican Sen. Richard Burr.
In Wisconsin, Republican Sen. Ron Johnson is in a tough fight against progressive challenger Mandela Barnes, who is currently ahead by 1.7%. Still, the race has tightened. A Marquette poll released this week shows Johnson ahead by 1 point. A Marquette poll conducted last month gave Barnes a 7-point advantage.
It’s worth noting that right up until the 2016 election, Johnson trailed his opponent, long-time former Sen. Russ Feingold, (D), by 2.7 points, but won the race by 3.4%. Polling isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, it seems.
In Nevada, Republican challenger Adam Laxalt could easily unseat Democratic incumbent Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto. Laxalt currently prevails by just 1 point, but he has momentum on his side.
And in Georgia, football legend and Republican Herschel Walker might just pull off an upset against Democratic incumbent Sen. Raphael Warnock. Trump-endorsed Walker got hammered in the polls this summer when revelations of his illegitimate children and history of mental health issues surfaced, but he has rebounded strongly over the past month. Though the RCP average of polls is currently tied, summer polls showed him trailing Warnock by as much as 10%. Walker has made significant gains, and strong voter support for Republican Gov. Brian Kemp might be enough to pull Walker across the finish line.
The three remaining races in the toss-up column are ranked by RCP as Democratic holds. In Arizona, Democratic incumbent Sen. Mark Kelly remains stubbornly ahead of Republican Blake Masters by 4%, although the polls have tightened in recent weeks. In New Hampshire, Democratic incumbent Maggie Hassan leads Republican challenger Gen. Don Bolduc by 4%. And in Pennsylvania, far-Left John Fetterman, the state’s current lieutenant governor, has held onto an early lead against the Trump-backed Dr. Mehmet Oz. I wrote about this race earlier this week.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich predicted on Thursday that Masters will win in Arizona. He points to a recent Emerson poll that shows Kelly ahead by just 2 points and said that when an incumbent leads by such a small amount, particularly after a challenger has just won a tough primary, they are vulnerable. “Furthermore, an incumbent who cannot get above 50% is even more vulnerable,” he pointed out “James Carville once said a well-known incumbent gets whatever their final poll number is—they don’t get any of the undecideds. If that is true, Kelly will likely lose 53% to 47%.”
Recall the overly optimistic polls in the 2020 election. Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) was projected to lose her reelection bid by 6.5%. Instead, she won by 8.6%. Although less dramatic, the story was the same for Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham (SC), Joni Ernst (IA), Thom Tillis (NC) and Steve Daines (MT).
New York Times political analyst Nate Cohn warned on Monday that current polling may, once again, overstate strength for Democratic candidates. He compared recent polling results with those from 2020 and 2016 and found that “Democratic Senate candidates are outrunning expectations in the same places where the polls overestimated Mr. Biden in 2020 and Mrs. Clinton in 2016.” He concluded there is a “consistent link between Democratic strength today and polling error two years ago.” The most glaring errors in 2020 occurred in Wisconsin where polls overestimated Biden’s strength by 9 points and in Ohio where polls underestimated Trump’s strength by 8 points.
In other words, Republicans have good reason to be optimistic about taking back the Senate. As of today, they have a very plausible path to victory.
A previous version of this article appeared in The Washington Examiner.
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