Election Day rout would force big changes on Democrats

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Democrats will call for big changes in their party if they lose control of Congress next month, which looks increasingly likely as polls show voters are worried about the economy and trust Republicans more than Democrats to handle inflation.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is expected to retire if Democrats lose control of the House, which political handicappers say is very likely.

If Democrats lose big, it will ramp up pressure on House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) to step down as well, say Democratic lawmakers and aides.

Many rank-and-file House Democrats view the top three leaders as “a package deal,” in the words of one Democratic lawmaker who requested anonymity.

“If we lose, there’ll be a change,” the lawmaker said.

If Republicans pick up 30 or more House seats and win control of the Senate by a comfortable margin, it will also fuel Democratic calls for President Biden not to run for reelection, according to political analysts and activists.

The nonpartisan Cook Political Report on Tuesday increased its forecast of Republican gains, predicting a GOP pickup of 12 to 25 House seats — well above the number they need to flip the chamber.

Polls show more than 60 percent of Americans think the country is on the wrong track, and Biden’s approval rating has sunk back down to 40 percent in the latest Gallup tracking survey.

“If Democrats lose the House, I think you’ll definitely see Pelosi leave. I’m not sure what Steny is doing but there will be a battle to get rid of the three leaders, Clyburn, Steny and Pelosi — particularly if Pelosi resigns — and a new generation of leaders come in,” said Robert Borosage, a progressive activist and co-founder of Campaign for America’s future.

Other Democratic strategists say there will be a discussion about how to do better in 2024 but that they don’t want to get into it until they see what happens on Election Day.

“There are a thousand things we can do after the election, but how the hell can I think beyond Election Day?” Democratic strategist James Carville said.

Hoyer and Clyburn may be able to fend off challenges to their leadership posts and Biden may be able to unify the party behind him, but if Republicans exceed expectations on Nov. 8, it will create an opportunity for up-and-coming Democrats to challenge the party establishment.

Borosage says calls for Biden to step down from the White House after one term will also pick up steam.

“On the presidential side, I think the bigger thing that hurts Biden will be the recession,” he added, predicting that the Federal Reserve’s plan to keep on raising interest rates to tame inflation will result in big layoffs and slow economic growth.

He said big losses in the midterm elections “will be used by everyone … the press, the Democrats, the other candidates” to call for a new nominee in 2024.

A Washington Post-ABC News poll of 1,006 people nationwide found that 56 percent of respondents who lean Democratic already say the party should nominate someone else in 2024.

Ross K. Baker, a political scientist at Rutgers University, said Democrats will reevaluate party strategy and leadership if Republicans win big on Election Day.

“You may see a replica of what occurred in the Republican Party after the 2012 election with the so-called inquest. That would be kind of a deep dive into the reasons why the party suffered so badly and probably a cause for generational change, which will certainly redound to the detriment of President Biden running again,” Baker said.

“It will certainly signal a change in congressional leadership in the House,” he added.

Biden said Friday that he intends to run again but hasn’t made a formal decision.

“I have not made that formal decision, but it’s my intention — my intention to run again. And we have time to make that decision,” he told MSNBC’s Jonathan Capehart.

Pelosi declined in an interview with CBS’s “Face the Nation” to say whether she would try to stay in the Democratic leadership for the next Congress.

“I’m not talking about that. I’m here to talk about how we win the election,” she told host Margaret Brennan.

Democratic aides say they don’t expect any leadership changes in the Senate, where Sen. Charles Schumer (N.Y.) became Democratic leader in 2017 and ascended to majority leader in January of last year after Sens. Raphael Warnock (D) and Jon Ossoff (D) won runoff elections in Georgia.

Schumer has been Democratic leader for six years, while Pelosi, Hoyer and Clyburn have stood atop the House Democratic leadership team for nearly 20 years.

A drubbing at the polls would likely prompt a recalibration of party message and strategy as well. One Senate Democratic aide said the Biden administration waited too long to recognize inflation as a serious problem for millions of Americans, letting Republicans define Democrats as failing to take it seriously.

“Biden dithered on inflation, and that is the problem,” said the aide.

Some Democratic strategists say the party needs to better address the hot-button issues of crime and illegal immigration, which Republican candidates have used to bludgeon their Democratic opponents this year.

“It’s more than the economy,” said Jim Kessler, executive vice president for policy at Third Way, a centrist Democratic think tank, and a former adviser to Schumer.

“I do think if we have a bad Election Day, we need to look at [how] voters view us on crime and immigration, first and foremost,” he added. “This is a place where Democrats had self-inflicted wounds. Defund the police, abolish ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement], that is a minority view among Democrats, but it was allowed to stay out there and fester.”

Many Democrats thought a few weeks ago that the public backlash over the Supreme Court’s decision to repeal federal abortion rights would help preserve their Senate and House majorities by driving Democratic voters to the polls and pushing independents away from Republicans.

Party leaders also focused their message on former President Trump and his ongoing false claims of a “stolen” 2020 election, arguing that Trump’s GOP allies, if given control of Congress, can’t be trusted to protect the country’s democratic traditions.

But a few weeks before Nov. 8, inflation and the economy are voters’ top concerns, overshadowing abortion rights and the future of American democracy.

Pelosi pivoted over the weekend in a letter sent to Democratic colleagues urging them to put more emphasis on the economy.

“The upcoming election will be decided at the kitchen table,” she wrote. “That is why we must communicate a clear, convincing message on why families are experiencing higher prices, what House Democrats have done to ease that burden, and what a future Democratic Majority will do to further drive down the cost of living.”

–Updated at 8:45 a.m.

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