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Happy Tuesday morning.
It is Election Day in America. So let the finger-pointing begin!
With Democratic losses expected in the House and possibly the Senate, Washington is about to kick off a sacred rite of the post-election season – deciding who to blame for the party’s misfortunes.
We’re going to talk this morning about who’s getting tagged and why. This is, of course, based on the assumption that Democrats lose. We had conversations with a number of Democrats across the party over the last week to discuss the potential fallout.
President Joe Biden: Whether the White House likes it or not, Biden will be the face of this defeat. Just like Barack Obama in 2010 and Bill Clinton in 1994. Biden embraced a decidedly progressive agenda once in the Oval Office, endorsing trillions of dollars in new spending in the most aggressive effort to expand government since the Great Society. Not just the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, but the American Family and American Jobs Plan, which came in at a staggering $4 trillion-plus when proposed. The $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure law. A student loan debt forgiveness plan that will total over $400 billion.
Should the White House have been more cautious on inflation, which Biden and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen downplayed as “temporary” and “transitory” in mid-2021? High inflation and economic fears are the top issues for voters, and the effects of soaring prices will be felt for years to come.
The White House never came up with any plan to deal with the unprecedented wave of migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border, or an effective message to counter GOP attacks. The disastrous U.S. pullout from Afghanistan damaged Biden’s approval ratings, and record-high gas prices crushed them.
Biden was hired by the American people to return things to normal after the joint chaos of the Trump era and the Covid-19 pandemic. Normal hasn’t happened, and it may never. Biden has had a solid record of legislative success, and the White House has pushed that message. But that hasn’t sunk in for voters. Will that change in 2023? Can it?
On that note: Obama called his party’s 2010 defeat a “shellacking.” George W. Bush called the Republicans’ 2006 election a “thumpin’.” The White House wouldn’t commit to Biden holding the traditional post-election news conference. The president will leave for a trip to Egypt, Cambodia and Indonesia Thursday evening.
Speaking of Obama, many Democrats have complained to us that the party’s best messenger was nowhere to be found until the last few weeks. Had Obama been out there earlier driving the party’s message, could that have changed things?
The Democratic Party: There’s a widespread recognition that Democrats set expectations too high coming into the 117th Congress. Trying to appease the left, they made the American Rescue Plan too large, possibly helping jump-start the inflationary cycle the country finds itself in.
Democrats spent this entire Congress fighting with each other – the left versus the moderates, the House versus the Senate, the Senate versus the White House – and struggled to present a cohesive, unified vision. We covered this in-depth last week.
Many in the party hoped running on abortion rights in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision and as a counter to Republican extremism post-Jan. 6 would give them an edge this cycle. But economic concerns carried the day for voters.
Democrats passed several major pieces of legislation with one of the slimmest congressional majorities in recent history. But they could never figure out how to talk about their victories in a way that resonated with the public.
The American Rescue Plan may have helped the country pull out of the Covid malaise it was in, yet voters don’t know enough about how it impacted them. The bipartisan infrastructure bill, while wildly popular, has yet to take hold around the country. Only a quarter of voters knew it had even become law in a poll released this summer. The bipartisan CHIPS legislation will create lots of jobs, although it hasn’t had a significant impact yet. And the key provisions of the Inflation Reduction Act are years from taking effect. Not to mention the fact that just two Democratic candidates have even run ads directly mentioning the bill, as we wrote last week.
In and around the leadership, Democrats acknowledge that the flood of migrants at the southern border combined with the “defund-the-police” rhetoric, crime and inflation made Americans feel insecure and unsafe.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi: You must say this about Pelosi – she wears her strategy on her sleeve. Pelosi is a firm believer in using the majority she was given instead of trying to preserve it for the future. An honest assessment of her legislative prowess during this Congress would lead anyone to believe that Pelosi got as much done as possible.
The criticism of Pelosi will be that she went for broke at the expense of her moderates. But that’s a lazy criticism, considering many of her moderates voted for what she proposed.
DCCC Chair Sean Patrick Maloney: Depending on the scale of Tuesday’s losses, SPM could come in for a big part of the blame here, fairly or not. Maloney angered many in his party by announcing he was going to run in the district represented by Rep. Mondaire Jones prior to the redistricting process. Jones ended up losing in a primary in New York City, far from his political base.
Republicans have poured millions into the district in an effort to knock off SPM, forcing Democrats – including the campaign arm – to spend big to defend the seat. Several Democrats, particularly Frontliners, have privately complained about the party having to spend to save Maloney.
Progressives: They complained Democrats didn’t go big enough when they had the chance – on ARP, infrastructure or the Inflation Reduction Act. Ask many on the party’s left flank and they’ll say too many Democrats are afraid to embrace the big, bold policies that voters crave and more concerned with Republican attacks than anything else. Yet this is also true – a Democratic defeat today could set their cause back years.
Moderates: For moderates, their progressive colleagues were more concerned with party purity and picked fights at every turn. Not just over the major pieces of legislation – although they fought there too. House moderates maintain progressives refused to even allow them small wins on the floor, particularly when it came to immigration or crime and safety. These were victories mods said they desperately needed to fend off Republican attacks in their districts. Now the whole party will be in the minority.
Media: The one thing that will probably unite Democrats is blaming the media if the party suffers major losses tonight. The media holds Democrats to a different, often higher, standard than Republicans, they say. The media is too focused on intra-party Democratic fights and not a potentially crumbling U.S. democracy, they add.
What they’re saying:
Biden was asked last night if Democrats could keep the House. Here’s what he said: “I think it’s going to be tough but I think we can. I think we’ll win the Senate. I think the House is tougher.”
Pelosi to CNN’s Anderson Cooper:
“I have heard from at least 50 of our candidates in races that are, shall we say, in some view, too close to call, in our view, ours. And I feel optimistic, it just depends on turnout. And I’m a former party chair. And I’m always about owning the ground and getting out the vote. And I feel confident that we’re in that position. Their races are close. Some of them could go one way or another. We could split it. We’ll see. But it’s up to the people. And whatever happens, we will respect the results of the election.”
– John Bresnahan, Heather Caygle and Jake Sherman
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Pelosi says her political future is impacted by assault on husband
The amount of tea-leaf reading going on right now in House Democratic leadership is dizzying. Speaker Nancy Pelosi finally addressed her future in the House during an interview last night with CNN’s Anderson Cooper. This was her first interview since her husband, Paul Pelosi, was brutally attacked in their San Francisco home.
Here’s how it went down:
Cooper: “I know – there’s obviously been a lot of discussion about whether you’d retire if Democrats lose the House. I know you’re not going to answer that question. So I’m not going to even ask that question.”
Pelosi: “Oh good, I’m glad.”
Cooper: “But I will ask, can you confirm that you’ve made a decision about what you would do?”
Pelosi: “That’s like asking the question, isn’t it?”
Cooper: “No, I’m not asking what the decision is. I’m just asking, have you looked ahead? And have you made the decision in your mind, whatever that decision might be?”
Pelosi: “Well, I have to say my decision will be affected about what happened the last week or two.”
Cooper: “Will it be – will your decision be impacted by the attack in any way?”
Cooper: “It will?”
Pelosi: “Yes. And it will be impacted by, well, let me just say this. I have been blessed by my colleagues. As whip first, then leader, and then speaker of the House for four terms. That’s a great honor. Greatest honor I have, though, is to represent the people of San Francisco. To walk on the floor of the House – every time I walk on, I think, ‘They chose me to be the one to speak for them.’”
Sometimes it’s worth taking an answer at face value. Pelosi says her decision on whether to stay in Congress will be impacted by the fact that her husband was assaulted with a hammer, had skull surgery and will have what she has described as a “long” recovery. But have no doubt: Pelosi will go when she is ready – and not before then.
– Jake Sherman and John Bresnahan
The stakes are high for Senate Democrats
We may not know who controls the Senate for days or even weeks, but this midterm election is incredibly important for Democrats. If they fail to retain the majority, Senate Democrats are looking at a difficult map in 2024, a presidential election year.
Consider some of the 24 Democratic senators up in two years. This map is potentially a nightmare for Democrats:
Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.). Sinema will be running in a competitive state where it seems certain she will attract a Democratic primary challenge from the left.
Sen. Jon Tester (Mont.) will be 68 in 2024, and he’s made his frustration with the Senate no secret. Republicans tried to beat him in 2018, but fell short.
Sen. Sherrod Brown (Ohio) has been a political survivor. But Ohio is more of a red state now than ever before. And in a presidential year, expect it to be hotly contested.
Sen. Joe Manchin (W.Va.) is the big question mark. Does he run for the Senate again? Does he run for governor? Does he hang it up? Manchin will be 77 in 2024. He’s been in public office his entire life.
Sen. Jacky Rosen (Nev.) will be up for another term. Just look at Nevada this cycle. It’s quite competitive, to say the least.
Sen. Martin Heinrich (N.M.) will be up in a presidential year in a state that Republicans are competitive in this year.
Sen. Bob Casey (Pa.) will be running in a swing state that both parties desperately need to win the White House.
Sen. Tammy Baldwin (Wis.) will be up in another 2024 presidential swing state. If Republicans win the gubernatorial and Senate race this year, they’ll focus on beating Baldwin next cycle.
Sen. Debbie Stabenow (Mich.): Stabenow has a strong legislative record and serves in the leadership. But like Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, the Wolverine State will be a top target for Republicans in the presidential race.
Sen. Angus King (I-Maine): King will be 80 in 2024. Will he run again?
– Jake Sherman and John Bresnahan
Where top Republicans and Democrats will be on election night
Here’s a cheat sheet, detailing where the top Republicans and Democrats in Congress will be tonight for election night:
Speaker Nancy Pelosi is back in D.C. She’ll have a luncheon with DCCC supporters today.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer will stop by a party for Democrat Wes Moore, who is expected to win the Maryland governorship by a wide margin. He’ll then head back to D.C.
House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn will be in Santee, S.C.
House Democratic Caucus Chair Hakeem Jeffries will be doing GOTV in Brooklyn and broader New York City.
Assistant Speaker Katherine Clark will be in Massachusetts, which is expected to elect Maura Healy, the first female governor in the state’s history.
Rep. Pete Aguilar, the Democratic Caucus vice chair, will be in his district in California after campaigning for Democrats in Las Vegas last week.
DCCC Chair Sean Patrick Maloney will be in his reelection campaign office in New York.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy will be in D.C. His political team has rented out a large hotel ballroom for the evening.
House Minority Whip Steve Scalise will be taking in election results in Louisiana.
House Republican Conference Chair Elise Stefanik will be in her district in New York.
NRCC Chair Tom Emmer will be at committee headquarters and then at McCarthy’s party in downtown D.C. Should Republicans win the majority, Emmer will work on his whip race from Washington.
Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.), a candidate for GOP whip, will be at home in Fort Wayne, Ind. Banks will spend the week whipping votes for his whip race (if Republicans win) before driving back to D.C. this weekend. He’s driving back to D.C. so he can make calls for the whip race.
Rep. Drew Ferguson (R-Ga.), the chief deputy whip and a candidate for whip, will be in Georgia.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer will be in New York. Schumer is up for reelection and is expected to cruise to a fifth term.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell will be in D.C.
– Jake Sherman, Heather Caygle and John Bresnahan
PRESENTED BY COMCAST
Comcast is bringing Internet into community centers nationwide through more than 1,250 Lift Zones, providing students and families with free WiFi outside the home.
Here’s a new ad from Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.), with supporters saying it’s time to let their voices be heard. Warnock, of course, is in a tough race against Republican Herschel Walker.
— Jake Sherman
PRESENTED BY COMCAST
9:30 a.m.: President Joe Biden will get his daily intelligence briefing.
Vice President Kamala Harris is in California and will appear on “political radio interviews.”
“While candidates make their final appeal to voters, Trump grabs the spotlight,” by Jonathan Weisman and Alyce McFadden
“Emboldened GOP makes closing pitch as Democrats try to head off big losses,” by Colby Itkowitz, Annie Linskey and Hannah Knowles
“With her political future unclear, Nancy Pelosi stares down another midterm,” by Paul Kane and Marianna Sotomayor
“Candidates Make Last Pitches in Final Hours of Midterms Campaigning,” by Eliza Collins in Phoenix and Joshua Jamerson in Atlanta
“Philly is considering a last-minute change that will slow down the counting of votes,” by Jonathan Lai and Jeremy Roebuck
PRESENTED BY COMCAST
This Veterans & Military Families Month and all year round, Comcast is working to ensure veterans can take full advantage of all that the internet has to offer. Comcast recently announced WiFi-connected and laptop-equipped Lift Zones in Houston to provide veterans and military families with internet access and support to enable them to participate in workforce development, telemedicine, and more.
Lift Zones are part of Comcast’s continued dedication to supporting veterans and their families across the country. Since 2011, Comcast has donated more than $197 million in cash and in-kind contributions to military community organizations. Learn more about Comcast’s commitment to supporting the military community and keeping them connected.
Editorial photos provided by Getty Images. Political ads courtesy of AdImpact.
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