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Matthew Yglesias: Democrats are pulling ahead of Republicans, just in time for midterms

From the commentary: The economy matters most of all. But the return to view of some traditional issues — abortion rights and taxing the wealthy — have helped Democrats regain their mojo. They should do their best to stick with that rather than open new fights or reopen old ones.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi at the podium during her weekly news conference on Capitol Hill on Friday, Aug. 12, 2022, in Washington, D.C.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi at the podium during her weekly news conference on Capitol Hill on Friday, Aug. 12, 2022, in Washington, D.C.
\Yuri Gripas/Abaca Press/TNS
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When Democrats pulled ahead of Republicans recently in broad averages on the generic ballot, I didn’t believe it. We’ve seen many large polling errors in Democrats’ favor in recent years, a 50-50 House vote would defy the historical trend toward the incumbent president’s party facing backlash in the midterms, and Joe Biden’s low approval ratings seem inconsistent with Democrats doing well.

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From the commentary: Maybe our current slide into fascism won’t continue; we don’t know yet, and the answer will be up to us. But we do have reason to believe that “America First,” means essentially the same thing to My Pillow’s Mike Lindell that it did to Charles Lindbergh.
From the commentary: President Biden is no Bill Clinton. The Democratic Party has been taken over by the hard left and they are not about to compromise on anything, from social issues to "climate change." ... Only if Republicans win the Congress and the White House does the GOP "Commitment to America" have a chance to fully succeed.
From the commentary: Sadly, even assuming a happy ending for a revised Electoral Count Act, that's not the takeaway from this legislative saga. Instead, what stands out is that Congress couldn't get unanimity in either house on its attempts to rewrite a badly drafted 19th century law that was at the center of a bloody attack on the lawmakers' own corridors and, potentially, their lives.

But a couple of events on Aug. 9 have made me a believer.

First was a special election for a House seat in Minnesota. Democrats didn’t win. But, in losing, their candidate ran about 3 percentage points ahead of Joe Biden’s 2020 margin in the district and about even with Democrats’ 2020 candidate for the seat. Those numbers are similar to the results we saw in the June 28 special election for Nebraska’s first congressional district. Again, the Republican won. But he won with numbers that were somewhat weaker than Trump’s in 2020 and about flat with House Republicans’ performance.

Those are two random races, but they provide a real-world field test of the national political climate. The generic ballot says Democrats are very slightly ahead, which is exactly where they were in 2020. That’s hard to believe. But the special election results in Nebraska and Minnesota were in line with the local results from 2020. In other words, they’re exactly what you’d expect if that generic ballot polling is correct.

The other data point is from the primaries held in Washington state the same day as the Minnesota special election. Washington uses a “top two” electoral system. Instead of Democrats and Republicans running in separate primaries, everyone participates in a two-phase process. The first phase, the voting that happened on Aug. 9, has candidates from both parties all mixed together. Whichever candidates finish first and second — usually but not always one Democrat and one Republican — run against each other in November. This system lets us aggregate all the votes received by the various Democrats and all the votes received by the various Republicans and get a preview of the November election.
The results in the state’s House races were similar to what they were in 2016 and 2020 — much better for Democrats than in 2010 or 2014 — consistent with a very close national race for control of the U.S. House of Representatives.

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Again, I wouldn’t bet a ton of money based on only one set of primaries and two special elections. But what’s impressive is that these results are consistent with one another and, most important, with the polling. They suggest that the national political climate for Democrats has improved a lot since voters in Virginia and New Jersey went to the polls last November.

What accounts for the turnaround? Probably a mix of three factors.
One is that gasoline prices started to fall, ultimately delivering 0% total inflation in July. Year-on-year price increases remain at a generational high, but the short-term trend has been good lately.

The other is that Republicans have no convincing argument against Democrats’ Inflation Reduction Act. It delivers exactly what Republicans say they want — an innovation-focused package of measures designed to increase U.S. energy production — but they won’t support it because the GOP is still wedded to low taxes on the wealthy more profoundly than to any other principle.

Last but by no means least, the overturning of Roe v. Wade leaves Republicans playing with political dynamite. Midterm losses for the president’s party are normally driven by a sense of backlash to policy overreach. But this summer it’s the Republican Party, via its control of the Supreme Court, that’s been delivering a visceral and alarming policy change. Chief Justice John Roberts, one of the most effective politicians in America today, tried to persuade his conservative colleagues to roll back abortion rights without generating alarming headlines. But they didn’t listen, and incaution has a price.

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Election administrators and judges are part of the community. We are your neighbors and co-workers, people you see at church on Sunday or in line at the grocery store. I believe I speak for all election officials when I say we are honest citizens who want to serve our community to the best of our ability.
From the commentary: Viewing t.. the Court as just another political institution staffed by the usual hacks, deprives the Court of the grandeur and dignity that an institution without an army to enforce its decisions needs to be respected. The rule of law holds force ... because of the power of our belief, both in the law and in the people enforcing it.
From the commentary: The one thing we can do is build relationships at the local level. The notion of building relationships across differences can feel quixotic. But part of the beauty of being human is that we have the capacity for empathy and kindness, and these feelings can grow even in the most painful circumstances.
From the commentary: So, the ideological, political and legal war rages on. Welcome back, justices.
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From the commentary: Progressives tend to blame systems, rather than individual choices, for disparities in everything from income to health. But sometimes, those choices matter more than any system.
From the commentary: Supply chains have become an economic battlefield of the 21st century. In a jarring example, Europe faces an energy crisis for having become dependent on Russia for gas and oil.
From the commentary: On the night of Nov. 8, the focus will be on whether Republicans overturn Democratic control of the House and Senate — and the resulting impact on the Biden administration and Biden’s political future. ... But those secretary of state and gubernatorial races in the six states that decided the 2020 presidential contest may ultimately have a greater impact.
From the commentary: Biden clearly never learned this lesson from history. Now would be a good time to start.
From the commentary: In forcing changes to inhumane scheduling practices and lack of sick leave, rail workers have already demonstrated that union solidarity and militancy can be as potent in the 21st century as they were in the 19th.

How can Democrats keep up the momentum? Unfortunately, there’s little they can do to ensure that inflation keeps weakening. But whatever they can think of is worth trying, especially when it comes to crucial energy commodities. Part of the upside from passing a major climate bill should be freedom to work hand-in-glove with fossil fuel companies to address immediate issues such as refinery capacity — rather than worry about placating environmentalists.

Beyond this, it is important to continue highlighting Republican extremism on the abortion issue. That ought to include moving a series of mild federal bills to establish a national floor under abortion rights. Will Republicans agree at least to guarantee access in cases of rape? To safe harbor for doctors who believe in good faith that an abortion is vital to a pregnant woman’s health? To the FDA’s sole authority over prescription drugs? To Americans’ freedom to cross state lines to seek medical care? It would be nice if one of two of these could pass, though I fear none could secure 60 votes in the Senate — which is too bad but also informative for voters.

Last but not least, Democrats need to avoid new stumbles. It’s not entirely a coincidence that their political fortunes have revived at a time when blue states have finally abandoned most nonpharmaceutical interventions and accepted endemic COVID as a fact of life. What’s not clear is whether this spirit of normalcy will govern the school year that starts in a couple of weeks. Obviously if children are ill, they ought to stay home just as ill children always have. But the rituals of testing and quarantine ought to end so students can benefit from a mostly normal school year. A hard line on this will, of course, agitate some parents and teachers. But Democrats should avoid reviving arguments around schooling that did them no favors last year.

The economy matters most of all. But the return to view of some traditional issues — abortion rights and taxing the wealthy — have helped Democrats regain their mojo. They should do their best to stick with that rather than open new fights or reopen old ones.

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Matthew Yglesias is a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion. A co-founder of and former columnist for Vox, he writes the Slow Boring blog and newsletter.

©2022 Bloomberg L.P. Visit bloomberg.com/opinion. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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