HUFFMAN: The blue mirage?

Pa. Lt. Gov. and senatorial candidate John Fetterman speaks to a crowd gathered at aa United Steel Workers of America Labor Day event with President Joe Biden in West Mifflin, Pa., just outside Pittsburgh, Monday Sept. 5, 2022. (AP Photo/Rebecca Droke)

It is often the tradition of both parties when facing down a midterm pounding to find green shoots of hope to cling to. In 2014, Republican summer struggles saw doubts of whether Thom Tillis would defeat Kay Hagan and whether Republicans would retake the Senate take hold. In 2010 then Vice President Joe Biden proclaimed a summer of recovery that would turn the tide on Tea Party enthusiasm. And in 2006 moments of progress in Iraq gave Republicans hope that the eventual “thumpin” would be averted.

In every case these mid-late summer predictions gave way to the roof caving in on the pollyannish views of the party in power. To be certain the Democrats have had a good summer. Bipartisan legislation on gun control and the CHIPs Act, combined with the partisan skinny version of Build Back Better helped infuse new enthusiasm into Democrat ranks. Most ominously for Republicans has been the post Dobbs fervor that led to the Pro-Life ballot initiative in Kansas getting swept away like Dorothy’s house while Republicans lost a key bellwether special election in NY-19. Democrat ad spending has outpaced Republicans by a 5-1 clip over the summer, and recent polls have shown that even the Tedd Budd/Cheri Beasley match up may be more competitive than once thought.

I concede that Democrats are staring at the possibility of bucking history color me skeptical that they’ll salvage their majorities in Congress while avoiding losses down ballot. Inflation remains at an all-time high and tossing another $300 billion on the national credit card for student loan forgiveness does little to alleviate it. The Federal Reserve is continuing to flash signs that sustained action to rein in inflation will cause economic pain, causing the stock market to erase its summer gains in what has already been a miserable year for investors and individual’s 401Ks. Throw in a housing market that has dramatically slowed from last year’s white-hot status and you find fewer pieces of good economic news to boost the Democrats.

On the practical political side, the Dobbs decision and their status as the party in power has allowed the Democrats to build up a large fundraising advantage. But a quick peek at ad reservations for the fall reveals that the bulk of Republican outside spending has not come into play yet, meaning that just as voters are making decisions GOP candidates will be close to parity rather than the one-sided pounding we have seen over the summer. Polling in key battleground Senate seats reveal that despite the summer woes that in the majority determining races that Republicans are very much in the hunt. In key governor’s races in perennial battlegrounds like Wisconsin Democrat incumbents find themselves in a political knife fight just to hang on.

The bottom line is that with just over 2 months to go the Democrats have done what they should’ve done last year in passing whatever practical pieces of legislation could’ve attracted Republican votes, and worked with Manchin instead of strong arming him into voting for an Bernie Sanders/AOC wish list. This plus unplanned events somewhat going in their favor have given them an extra spring in their step. But the flood of Republican spending and the inevitable gas price spike as we shift to winter blend fuels just prior to election time makes me believe that Team Red still takes the decision on Nov. 8.