Amid a Senate primary season that’s seen wins by a number of inexperienced candidates with serious question marks, the attitude of the Republican consultant class in Washington has been straight out of Douglas Adams’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: DON’T PANIC!
Yes, the argument goes, these candidates are not ideal; yes, it’s going to take some effort to hold the seats of key retiring Republicans with so many new faces; and yes, the gubernatorial candidates in some key contests aren’t doing the GOP any favors. But overall the attitude remained positive, at least through the first six months of the year.
Now, all of that has changed. Republicans are openly expressing concerns they may squander what could have been a wave election with a series of green Senate candidates drained by fractious primaries. These contenders, they worry, lack the fundraising skills to make up the ground they’ve lost and can’t unify enough independent voters with their MAGA base in time to form a winning coalition in November. While the vaunted red wave is still there, with turnout up across the board, smart GOP consultants believe that it may now be matched by a blue wave of dramatically increased excitement among Democrat voters. This could turn 2022 into something more along the lines of 2020 than 2010.
What changed? Dobbs.
The defeat of Roe v. Wade may not end up altering a single Senate race. The Kansas ballot initiative doesn’t have a direct analog on the ballot this fall. But the Supreme Court ruling has upped the energy of the Democratic coalition in tangible ways. ActBlue, the Democratic online fundraising machine, is seeing an incredible spike in donations. And the fact that many small dollars on the Republican side continue to flow to the Donald Trump machine has proven to be a problem for GOP candidates.
NEW: GOP fundraising dropped 12% in Q2 on WinRed, alarming Republicans who expected growth as election nears.
Democratic donations surged 21% as GOP cash sagged.
The result: Democratic online money edge widened by ~$100 million~ from Q4 2021.https://t.co/RGOKNdfYK0
— Shane Goldmacher (@ShaneGoldmacher) July 26, 2022
Without exception, the Senate battleground primaries have resulted in the nominations of Trump’s preferred choices of candidates, whether it was one also favored by the Republican establishment — such as Nevada’s Adam Laxalt and Missouri’s Eric Schmitt — or not — like Ohio’s J.D. Vance and Pennsylvania’s Mehmet Oz. The slate is largely what Trump would have chosen, even if his endorsement only really cleared the field in Georgia with Herschel Walker. This is not a cycle where blame for future losses can be easily laid at the feet of Mitch McConnell or the donor class (though some people will certainly try).
You can already see how that will play out given the dynamics in the Senate, where Democrats have without question had several great weeks, pushing through legislation on guns, microchips, and now a massive climate, health care, and tax package. One critical vote in September will be on gay marriage, favored by many GOP senators but with the potential to undermine the motivation of their culturally conservative base. Should this legislation end up as anything beyond a simple codification of gay marriage, should it extend in any way into “you will bake the cake” compliance, cultural conservatives will feel betrayed. This has the makings of a significant enthusiasm gap now and in the future.
Inflation concerns and economic uncertainty are still top of mind for most voters, to such a degree that Kevin McCarthy and House Republicans — who have enjoyed an excellent recruitment cycle — can remain very confident in their chances headed into November. Republicans have a great story to tell on energy and they’re telling it. And while it may have been a good run for Democrats, it hasn’t been a great couple weeks for Joe Biden. How can it be when he remains so depressing and unpopular, AWOL with Covid, and under fire from his own party?
Of course, the ground still favors Republicans. Yet shrinking, fragile Joe Biden isn’t on the ballot this time, and there is no clear and present legislative threat like Obamacare in 2010. Yes, people are furious over the direction of the country, and GOP candidates seem poised to reap the votes of millions of Hispanics fed up with Democrats’ cultural extremism. But Dobbs has still given Democrats fresh motivation and money.
After all their declarations of a red wave, it’s very possible the GOP overshot their limits in the Senate this cycle. A rising Republican tide that covers up a multitude of defects — automatically lifting weak, damaged candidates with less money to spend after fractious primaries to victory in November — seems increasingly less likely. Democrat enthusiasm is real, the fundraising gap is likely to increase, and the red wave is not happening in a vacuum.