The contradictory road to November
Pablo Lacayo | Wednesday, September 21, 2022
In just over a month and a half, the United States of America has a very important date to keep: the 2022 midterm elections. Since the winter of 2021, every instance of significance that has dominated the news cycle at one point or another has come to be judged through midterm lenses, as political analysts, strategists and commentators weigh in how anything that happens may or may not have an impact on the decision the country makes later on this fall. Contrary to previous midterms, this year’s contests are much more of a head scratcher, as the leadup to them has been a complex minefield that can befuddle even the most devoted followers of the chaos that is contemporary American politics. Throughout the course of the summer, the consensus on how November was going to look has been constantly changing, and many races remain anybody’s guess.
In November of 2021, the Republican Party managed to pull off an upset victory in the Virginia gubernatorial election, and came very close to winning New Jersey’s governorship as well. Considering both states had given Joe Biden comfortable, 10 plus point victories back in 2020, the shift in these states’ political mood strongly implied the American electorate was souring on Joe Biden’s administration. Commentators characterized the strong Republican performance in parts of the country that have leaned towards Democrats in recent years as a backlash against the Biden White House’s policies, wokeism and a stalled legislative agenda. Regardless of what one’s political leanings may be, there is no denying the opening act of the 2022 campaign showed the wind was blowing behind the Republican Party’s back. As the new year rolled in and inflation began heating up, sticker shock further buoyed the GOP’s standing as the Biden administration was handed a barrage of challenges to deal with. Multiple polls indicated that Republicans were far more motivated than their Democratic counterparts to turn out and vote in the fall, and found Biden’s approval rating among independent voters was also deeply underwater. Back in the late spring, I would have joined the chorus of commentators that collectively agreed a red wave was inevitable, and Republicans were poised to sweep control of both chambers of Congress.
However, a tumultuous summer sent that prediction tumbling down, as the American political world was rattled by events that threaten to upend whatever consensus — fragile as it may have been — and send it down the drain. This June, the Supreme Court ruled that the Constitution does not confer the right to an abortion. Dobbs v. Jackson overturned five decades of precedent, in what was the biggest victory for the American Christian right. Overturning Roe v. Wade transformed the playing field for the midterms, as it gave Democrats a good talking point to use to their advantage, as opinion polls showed most Americans disagreed with the landmark Supreme Court decision. Polls immediately saw blue poll numbers shoot up, and the enthusiasm gap between both parties significantly narrowed as well. Evidently, more Democrats are now motivated to turn out and vote this November, which endangers the GOP’s triumphant optimism regarding its chances later this year. The best example showcasing how consequential Dobbs v Jackson was to politics came later on in the summer, when voters in ruby red Kansas voted to reject an amendment to the state constitution that removed protections for abortion rights by nearly 20 points, a margin higher than the one former president Trump beat president Biden in 2020.
On another note, the results of primaries in some competitive states weakens Republicans in what would otherwise be easy strong showings for them. In state after state, Republican primary voters chose to nominate candidates with former president Trump’s endorsement to the general election ballot, often picking candidates that hail from the most aggressively hard right and Trumpian wings of the GOP. In safe Republican states like Wyoming, this would usually not be an issue. However, the Republican primary choices in states like Arizona, Pennsylvania, Ohio and New Hampshire provide purple states with choices that are far more assertive in their right wing positions than their decisive pool of swing voters would prefer. These choices have caused plentiful amounts of worry among Republican leaders and strategists, with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell going on the record saying “I think there’s probably a greater likelihood the House flips than the Senate. Senate races are just different—they’re statewide, candidate quality has a lot to do with the outcome.” The Republican base’s willing choice to favor candidates willing to echo every Trump talking point over their overall electability in a general election undercuts the party’s chances at retaking control of the Senate, but at flipping many House seats and governorships as well.
As we head into November, it is impossible to predict the election’s end result with total accuracy. The leadup to America’s collective appointment at the ballot box has certainly proven itself to be confusing and chaotic, and has given us more mixed signals than the male lead in a cheesy rom-com from the 1990s. The highest inflation in the last four decades, soaring gas prices, the incumbent administration’s lagging poll numbers, the FBI raid on former president Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate, the overturning of Roe v. Wade and a rambunctious primary season are all flashing contradictory signals as to how America will vote in seven weeks. However crazy things may appear to be, the civic duty remains, and it is still everyone’s imperative to make sure they make their voices heard come Nov. 8. As the date draws nearer, make sure to make a plan to vote, and either vote early while home for fall break or request to vote absentee before it’s too late! As corny and cliche as it sounds, it’s on all of us.
Pablo Lacayo is a senior at Notre Dame, majoring in Finance while minoring in Chinese. He enjoys discussing current affairs, giving out bowl plates at the dining hall, walking around the lakes, and karaoke. You can reach him at [email protected].
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.