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Ruben Navarrette: Midterms Madness leaves outcome too close to call

From the commentary: Even in a season marked by unpredictability, some things never change. Politics is still a street fight. And it never hurts to get in the first punch.

Gov. Gavin Newsom reacts to the overturning of Roe v. Wade in Sacramento in June. Newsom's jabs at Republicans over abortion and immigration are being noticed by Democrats he'll need if he seeks national office.
Gov. Gavin Newsom reacts to the overturning of Roe v. Wade in Sacramento in June. Newsom's jabs at Republicans over abortion and immigration are being noticed by Democrats he'll need if he seeks national office.
Hector Amezcua/TNS
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SAN DIEGO — If you don't like the outlook for the 2022 midterm elections, don't worry. Just give it a couple of weeks, and the picture will look different.

Ruben Navarrete column logo
Ruben Navarrete column logo
Kit Grode / Tribune graphic
From the commentary: From all the reporting I've done about the Latino vote over the past three decades, along with the experience I've had for nearly 40 years as a Latino voter, there are a handful of factors that determine whether Latinos — who tend to register Democratic by 2 to 1— are at least open to voting for a Republican.
From the commentary: Cartoonist Dick Wright draws on Donald Trump's attacks on other Republicans.
From the commentary: The poor guy. Biden always sings the same song. He is convinced that he's doing all the right things, and he can't understand why he is not getting credit. So, he reasons, it must be because the messaging isn't working. The American people just don't know everything he's doing. Biden thinks his problem is communicating. It's not. It's competency.
From the commentary: Who says Republicans and Democrats can't cooperate? When it comes to offending Latinos, the parties inadvertently come to each other's aid by saying or doing something boneheaded just as the other is floundering.

The politics are fluid. Some things are unfolding as expected. But there have also been some surprises. Some voting trends have reversed course. Voters who appeared to be fed up and ready to flee seem to be sticking around.

With just a few weeks until the Nov. 8 midterms, here are several takeaways to help us figure out where we are - and just as importantly, where we're headed.

— While still positioned to win control of the House of Representatives (largely because they can do so by flipping fewer than a half dozen seats), Republicans may not do nearly as well as many analysts have assumed over the last few months. The fabled red wave may not materialize after all, giving Democrats a partial reprieve. A recent NBC News poll found that, on the question of which party registered voters would rather see in control of Congress, the two parties are virtually tied, 47% GOP to 45% Democratic.

— Abortion appears to have become more important as an issue, especially to Democrats, since the Supreme Court overturned Roe vs. Wade in June and ended the federal guarantee to an abortion. According to Pew Research Center, 56% of registered voters say abortion will be "very important" in determining how they vote in the midterms, up from 43% in March. And 71% of Democratic and Democratic-leaning registered voters rate abortion as "very important"; only 46% said as much in March.

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Election 2022 in United States
Midterm Election 2022 in United States.
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— But the story of what may be motivating voters is more complicated than that. Abortion may not technically be on the ballot, but extremism most certainly is. In the last few months, in one issue after another, Republicans have shown their teeth — and left their humanity at the office. Members of the GOP have shown themselves to be outside the mainstream and out of step with much of the country by refusing to even discuss gun control after the massacre at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas; by attacking a White House plan to forgive college student loan debt; and by supporting cynical efforts by the governors of Texas, Arizona and Florida to relocate migrants and refugees to Democratic-controlled states.

— This could be a big reason why those inroads that Republicans were supposedly making with Latino voters have suddenly turned into dead-ends. A recent New York Times/Sienna College poll found that 56% of Latinos plan to vote for Democrats in the midterms, while only 32% say they're going to vote for Republicans. Take it from me: Latinos have no use for extremism — not from the right, or from the left. They're moderates. Those who are Democrats, and roughly two-thirds are registered that way, are conservative Democrats. Those who are Republicans are often liberal Republicans. The GOP might have had a shot at Latinos if it hadn't scared them off.

— With more than a few of the GOP Senate candidates who were handpicked by former president Donald Trump floundering, and the latest polls showing that Democrats are likely to retain control of the upper chamber, more and more Republicans are likely to emerge from the midterms recognizing that Trump isn't an asset but an albatross. If this realization, however late in coming, helps loosen the death grip that the former president has on congressional Republicans, the GOP's hopes for retaking the Senate will not have died in vain. The party could still do itself a lot of good by distancing itself from Trump in 2024, whether or not he decides to run for president again.

From the commentary: Perhaps the ultimate point is that Pompeo’s attack on Weingarten and teachers must do just that. Pompeo’s demagogic words must bring together all the sane patriots who still call themselves Republicans. They must unite to condemn his message — and tell Americans we must work with our teachers to help them build the infrastructure that will be America’s ultimate bridge to tomorrow.
From the commentary: Ocasio-Cortez has a long record of pushing primary challenges to Democrats deemed insufficiently radical. These attempts are almost always unsuccessful though draining to the incumbent.
From the commentary: This fetish with identity started as a tic of the left, which tends to believe that voters want candidates who represent certain groups, as opposed to certain ideas. What it should have learned by now is that Republicans are perfectly capable of running their own candidates of color, witness their support in the Georgia senate race of the unintelligible Herschel Walker, a Black football player.
From the commentary: Still, as Biden quietly marked his 80th birthday on Nov. 13, the basic Democratic dilemma remained: Will it be best for the party — and the country — to renominate the nation’s oldest president, even if the alternative is chaos?
From the commentary: We have become hyphenated Americans with too many clinging to their native land in language and culture. No nation can be sustained in its character without controlling who is allowed to enter. Other nations have far more restrictive immigration laws and paths to citizenship than ours.
From the commentary: The question becomes: How much further can we keep expanding the number of domestic birds that are grown and slaughtered? How much longer can this vicious cycle continue before it explodes?
From the commentary: Americans want better results. They want a government that’s efficient and effective and improves their lives. They expect and deserve elected leaders who will fix the damn roads.
From the commentary: Those kinds of cross-party relationships don’t exist in today’s hyper-partisan world, so McCarthy will be pretty much flying solo.
From the commentary: It's a safe assumption that fear of crime is what flipped several suburban New York congressional districts to Republicans. The fears may not match the reality, but elected officials should not add fuel to them with careless talk. Kathy Hochul was lucky this time.
From the commentary: In his new book "So Help Me God," Pence quotes Trump as pressuring him to overturn the results of the 2020 election by rejecting electoral votes from the states. When he refuses, Pence says Trump told him "you're too honest." It was cynicism at its worst and what so many people hate about Washington and politics.

Speaking of 2024, that presidential election is already underway, in case you hadn't noticed. The goal at this point is simple: to capture the attention of the media and the support of the political establishment in each party. And the two leading contenders aren't coming from Washington; instead, they're governors — Ron DeSantis of Florida and Gavin Newsom of California. This is the matchup everyone wants to see. When Newsom recently challenged DeSantis to a debate on immigration, it might have been a precursor of a standoff yet to come. Newsom has found a foil — a Florida governor who was cynical enough to use as props 50 Venezuelan refugees who "played by the rules," only to have DeSantis change them.

Even in a season marked by unpredictability, some things never change. Politics is still a street fight. And it never hurts to get in the first punch.

This commentary is Ruben Navarrette's opinion. He can be reached at ruben@wctrib.com.

© 2022, The Washington Post Writers Group

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