Voices: Some lessons and predictions for the midterms

Voters cast their ballots on Friday, Sept. 23, 2022, in Minneapolis. With Election Day still more than six weeks off, the first votes of the midterm election were already being cast Friday in a smattering of states including Minnesota (ASSOCIATED PRESS)
Voters cast their ballots on Friday, Sept. 23, 2022, in Minneapolis. With Election Day still more than six weeks off, the first votes of the midterm election were already being cast Friday in a smattering of states including Minnesota (ASSOCIATED PRESS)
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The midterm elections are officially 40 days away. As of right now, most prognosticators guess that Republicans are likely to win back the majority in the House of Representatives, while the poor candidate quality of some Republican nominees for Senate has led others to believe Democrats might hold onto the upper chamber.

Despite the fact that inflation and the economy remain at the top of the mind of most voters, the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v Wade energized Democratic voters in an unprecendented way. Usually, when a Democrat occupies the White House with a blue majority in the House and Senate, we don’t see so much urgency on the part of Democratic voters.

Here are four lessons The Independent has learned about the midterm election so far.

Candidate quality matters

Political scientists, pundits and former candidates themselves often debate the question of whether candidates actually matter. Some argue that voters elect people simply because they want a change.

But 2022 shows that just the right candidate can make a race winnable and poor candidates can hurt. The most recent example comes from Ohio, where Republicans redrew the 9th district with a six-point GOP advantage with hopes of beating Democratic Representative Marcy Kaptur. The problem? The Associated Press has reported multiple stories about Republican candidate JR Majewski exaggerating or lying about his military service. That’s led to the National Republican Congressional Committee cancelling its ad buys, a sign that they no longer believe he can win.

The inverse is true in Texas, where multiple polls show Beto O’Rourke trailing Republican Governor Greg Abbott. O’Rourke winning in Texas would be a boon for Democrats, but his views on guns likely made him radioactive.

Trump’s endorsement helps but isn’t a guarantee

Almost two years after he left the White House, the former president still casts a long shadow over the GOP. All but two House Republicans who voted to impeach him either lost their primaries or announced they would not seek re-election before facing a bruising loss. Dave Wasserman of the Cook Political report calculated that the former president went 21-5 in the primaries.

And in the primaries where he came up short, it was oftentimes because he backed weak candidates or opposed candidates with unique personal brands. The former was on display when he backed Representative Madison Cawthorn, even as allies of House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy used the full force of his political machine to nuke the freshman congressman. Conversely, former Senator David Perdue appeared to coast simply on Trump’s endorsement in his primary challenge to Governor Brian Kemp in Georgia, while Kemp marshalled every advantage of an incumbent governor.

But winning a primary is only half the battle. Trump’s endorsements catapulted Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania and JD Vance in Ohio, but many Republican voters continue to not trust either of them. And in Alaska’s special election, Trump endorsed former governor Sarah Palin, a candidate with tons of baggage whom many voters resented for quitting as governor years ago.

Roe v Wade changed the election

At this point, it is clear that Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the Supreme Court’s decision which overturned Roe v Wade, fundamentally reshaped the calculus of the election. This meant that every Republican candidate now had to go on record about where they stood on abortion.

Some Republicans have tried to flip the narrative, even trying to paint Democrats as extremists on the issue. Most recently, Zach Nunn, who is challenging Representative Cindy Axne in Iowa’s 3rd district (an Obama-Trump district) has tried this tactic in a new ad. But it is unclear whether this line will work for Republicans.

What is clear is that Democrats have outperformed expectations not just in Kansas’s referendum, but in special elections like in New York’s 19th district, where they held a seat, and in Alaska’s at-large district, where Representative Mary Peltola flipped a seat that had been held by a Republican for almost 50 years.

Democrats keep it (mostly) drama-free

While Republicans engaged in bruising primaries, Democrats mostly chose not to engage in primaries that could compromise their ability to win in November. Josh Shapiro ran unopposed for Pennsylvania’s Democratic nomination for governor while Doug Mastriano took advantage of a split field on the Republican side, saddling the GOP with a controversial candidate.

Meanwhile, in North Carolina, Democratic state legislator Jeff Jackson dropped out of the Senate primary, clearing the field for Cheri Beasley and Democrats in Wisconsin coalesced around Mandela Barnes. Even primaries with multiple candidates for competitive seats proved not to be contentious, as was the case when Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman stomped his opponents in the Senate primary in Pennsylvania.

Still, progressives wound up taking some severe losses, as was the case when the more moderate Daniel Goldman took advantage of a split primary field in New York’s 10th district. In addition, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s endorsement of Representative Henry Cuellar likely saved him against a Squad-backed challenger.