Wednesday, June 19, 2024

In final lap of US midterms, Republicans edge ahead

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after an intense weekend of campaigning by both parties, and amid a wider sense that Republicans have surged ahead in the final lap of the elections, America will hold its midterm elections on Tuesday.

Voters are all set to elect all 435 members of the House of Representatives, 35 members of the Senate, 36 state governors, 30 attorney generals and 27 Secretaries of State, besides other state and local races in an election that will determine the future of the Joe Biden presidency and set the stage for 2024.

The Senate landscape

In recent weeks, Republicans have seen a jump in their prospects with polls suggesting they are about to win control over the House of Representatives. They have also gained momentum in the battle for the Senate.

At the moment, the Senate is evenly divided 50:50, with Vice-President Kamala Harris’s vote giving Democrats a majority, but the flip of one seat will put this majority at risk.

n Pennsylvania, a Republican senator retired – opening room for Democrats to make a bid for the seat. But while party candidate John Fetterman started out with an advantage, a stroke raised doubts about his health. The Republican candidate, Mehmet Oz’s fierce attacks on Democrats on crime has also given the Republican ticket momentum. Saturday saw a rare confluence of three presidents – Biden and Obama for Democrats, and Trump for Republicans – campaigning in this key battleground state.

In Georgia, Democratic senator Raphael Warnock is defending his seat against a challenge from Republican Herschel Walker, a former football star and Trump acolyte, who has got embroiled in a range of personal scandals. In Nevada, Arizona, and New Hampshire, Republicans have mounted an offensive against Democrat incumbents, while in Wisconsin, Democrats are hoping to make inroads and take a seat held by a Republican.

he Republican momentum for the Senate race is a wider reflection of how the midterm battle has evolved over the year.

Earlier in the summer, the Republicans began with a clear advantage. The American exit from Afghanistan in 2021 had given the Grand Old Party a momentum on national security issues, reflected in the party’s win in Virginia’s gubernatorial race last year. The battle between progressives and Democrats had held legislation in the US Congress hostage. And as the pandemic-induced supply chains disruptions continued, amid an infusion of liquidity in the economy, inflation began to emerge as a key concern among voters.

Republicans also picked on key culture war issues, particularly education which they framed as an issue of “parental control” and built a campaign against the pedagogy on race and sexuality in school. The perception of Biden being too old for the job, and seemingly without control of his own party, added to the Republican push.

n late summer, the momentum appeared to shift back to Democrats.

On national security, Biden and his team began to campaign around the transatlantic coalition they built up against Russia’s war in Ukraine. The president also managed to get a raft of legislations through in the Congress – on climate, domestic American manufacturing especially with regard to semiconductors, and lowering prescription drug prices and other social welfare benefits in addition to an infrastructure investment act that he had pushed through the Congress last year.

But for Democrats, the ray of political hope came from the Supreme Court verdict on abortion which overturned Roe v Wade and made abortion a state subject. With polls repeatedly showing that most voters were against a ban on abortion, Democrats hoped to capitalise on the anger against the extremism which had resulted in Trump’s judicial nominees overturning the national right to abort. The fact that many of the Republican Senate candidates were Trump-backed candidates who were seen as extreme, and potentially alienating suburban voters, also encouraged the Democrats. A series of high-profile gun violence cases also seemed to shift public mood in favour of tougher gun control measures, a theme that resonates with the Democratic platform.

But as elections approached, Republicans once again gained ground.

The single most important issue for voters was the economy in general, and cost of living and inflation in particular. Voters increasingly told pollsters that they saw Republicans as better equipped to deal with these issues than Democrats, even as Biden deployed policy instruments, including the release from America’s strategic petroleum reserves, to lower the price of gas. The administration’s effort to blame Vladimir Putin for inflation didn’t seem to have enough buyers, neither did its effort to waive off student loans partially win it the additional support that it was hoping for. And abortion, it appeared, may not be as big a mobilisational issue as the party had hoped.

Republicans also focused on the issues of crime and immigration – there is a widespread perception of an increase in crime rates and illegal immigration for which voters blame the Biden administration. And they returned to the issue of “parental control” on education, once again harking back to what Republicans alleged was the teaching around “critical race theory” and what they claim is the encouragement to children to explore their sexuality. Despite the fact that critical race theory isn’t taught in the way Republicans suggest, Democrats have struggled to counter the narrative on education on race.

This momentum has allowed the Republicans to make a push in two unexpected ways.

One, the party is investing resources in areas which have traditionally been as Democratic bastions – this is most clearly reflected in the race for the governor of New York, a traditionally blue state which is witnessing Republican candidate narrow the gap against Democratic incumbent, Kathy Hochul. Biden campaigned New York on Sunday to campaign for Hochul, while Bill Clinton, a resident of the state, campaigned for her on Saturday.

Two, Republicans are also seeking to win over constituencies which have been traditionally seen as allied to Democrats, particularly Hispanics. Ever since Trump’s election in 2016, there has been a sharper shift in the nature of the vote base of both parties, with Republicans continuing to build on the substantial inroads among white working class voters, another constituency that was seen as more aligned with Democrats in the past.

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