The midterm polls continue to look dark for Democrats, as we explained in a newsletter last week. Inflation and Covid disruptions, as well as the normal challenges that a president’s party faces in midterms, are weighing on the party. As a result, the Republicans are heavily favored to retake control of the House.
But the situation in the Senate looks different, my colleague Blake Hounshell points out.
There are 10 potentially competitive Senate races this year, according to the Cook Political Report, and Democrats need to win at least five of them to keep Senate control. Democrats are favored in two of those 10 races (New Hampshire and Colorado) and Cook rates another five (Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin) as tossups.
If Democrats keep the Senate without the House, they still would not be able to pass legislation without Republican support. But Senate control nonetheless matters. It would allow President Biden to appoint judges, Cabinet secretaries and other top officials without any Republican support, because only the Senate needs to confirm nominees.
I’m turning over the rest of today’s lead item to Blake, who will preview the campaign for Senate control.
When asked to share their candid thoughts about the Democrats’ chances of hanging onto their House majority in the coming election, party strategists often use words that cannot be printed in a family newsletter.
But a brighter picture is coming together for Democrats on the Senate side. There, Republicans are assembling what one top strategist laughingly described as an “island of misfit toys” — a motley collection of candidates the Democratic Party hopes to portray as out of the mainstream on policy, personally compromised and too cozy with Donald Trump.
These vulnerabilities have led to a rough few weeks for Republican Senate candidates in several of the most competitive races:
Arizona: Blake Masters, a venture capitalist who secured Trump’s endorsement and is leading the polls in the Republican primary, has been criticized for saying that “Black people, frankly” are responsible for most of the gun violence in the U.S. Other Republicans have attacked him for past comments supporting “unrestricted immigration.”
Georgia: Herschel Walker, the G.O.P. nominee facing Senator Raphael Warnock, acknowledged being the parent of three previously undisclosed children. Walker regularly inveighs against absentee fathers.
Pennsylvania: Dr. Mehmet Oz, who lived in New Jersey before announcing his Senate run, risks looking inauthentic. Oz recently misspelled the name of his new hometown on an official document.
Nevada: Adam Laxalt, a former state attorney general, said at a pancake breakfast last month that “Roe v. Wade was always a joke.” That’s an unpopular stance in socially liberal Nevada, where 63 percent of adults say abortion should be mostly legal.
Wisconsin: Senator Ron Johnson made a cameo in the Jan. 6 hearings when it emerged that, on the day of the attack, he wanted to hand-deliver a fraudulent list of electors to former Vice President Mike Pence.
Republicans counter with some politically potent arguments of their own, blaming Democrats for rising prices and saying that they have veered too far left for mainstream voters.
In Pennsylvania, for instance, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, the Democratic Senate nominee, supports universal health care, federal marijuana legalization and criminal justice reform. Republicans have been combing through his record and his past comments to depict him as similar to Bernie Sanders, the self-described Democratic socialist.
Candidate vs. candidate
One factor working in the Democrats’ favor is the fact that only a third of the Senate is up for re-election, and many races are in states that favor Democrats.
Another is the fact that Senate races can be more distinct than House races, influenced less by national trends and more by candidates’ personalities. The ad budgets in Senate races can reach into the hundreds of millions of dollars, giving candidates a chance to define themselves and their opponents.
Democrats are leaning heavily on personality-driven campaigns, promoting Senator Mark Kelly in Arizona as a moderate, friendly former astronaut and Senator Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada as a fighter 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 put forward deeply, deeply flawed candidates.” Bergstein isn’t objective, but that analysis has some truth to it.
There are about four months until Election Day, an eternity in modern American politics. As we’ve seen from the Supreme Court’s abortion ruling and from the explosive allegations that emerged in the latest testimony against Trump, the political environment can shift quickly.
If the election were held today, polls suggests that Democrats would be narrowly favored to retain Senate control. Republican elites are also terrified that voters might nominate Eric Greitens, the scandal-ridden former governor, for Missouri’s open Senate seat, jeopardizing a seat that would otherwise be safe.
But the election, of course, is not being held today, and polls are fallible, as we saw in 2020. So there’s still a great deal of uncertainty about the outcome. Biden’s approval rating remains low, and inflation is the top issue on voters’ minds — not the foibles of individual candidates.
For now, Democrats are pretty pleased with themselves for making lemonade out of a decidedly sour political environment.
SPORTS NEWS FROM THE ATHLETIC
A programming note: This new sports section is written by the staff of The Athletic.
New York baseball dominance: For many teams, July 5 will mean 81 games played, the official halfway point of the M.L.B. regular season. None can top the New York Yankees, a team on pace to surpass some of their greatest seasons ever. Here is how all 30 M.L.B. teams stack up at the midway point. The Yankees have local company.
Ronaldo’s next home? That question dominated weekend conversations as the soccer superstar signaled an exit from Manchester United. Could Chelsea be Ronaldo’s next team?
Christian Eriksen’s new home: Meanwhile, Manchester United added a player known more for a Euro 2020 scare than his considerable talents.
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ARTS AND IDEAS
Beer and body slams
Craft beer and wrestling are starting to become a tag team, as crowds around the U.S. sip hazy ales and cheer on the action inside the ring.
“Spandex-clad wrestlers with stage names like Manbun Jesus, Rex Lawless and Casanova Valentine performed body slams and leaped off ropes, egging on spectators and occasionally inflicting performative injury with arm twists and traffic barrels,” Joshua M. Bernstein writes in The Times about a recent event in Brooklyn.
“It’s like going to the movies, but it’s a real-life performance and you get to drink,” one wrestler said. “What’s better than that?”