Aug 5, 2022 - Podcasts

The new Senate landscape for the midterms

Five states held primaries this week in a big test for Trump’s political power. In Kansas, the abortion rights victory is cementing Democrats abortion focus ahead of the midterms.

Guests: Axios' Margaret Talev and Josh Kraushaar.

Credits: Axios Today is produced by Niala Boodhoo, Sara Kehaulani Goo, Alexandra Botti, Nuria Marquez Martinez, Lydia McMullen-Laird, Alex Sugiura, and Ben O'Brien. Music is composed by Evan Viola. You can reach us at [email protected]. You can text questions, comments and story ideas to Niala as a text or voice memo to 202-918-4893.

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NIALA: Good morning! Welcome to Axios Today!

It’s Friday, August 5th.

I’m Niala Boodhoo.

Today: an abortion rights victory is changing the game for Democrats.

The new Senate landscape for November, that’s today’s One Big Thing.

NIALA: Five states held primaries this week in a big test for former President Trump's political power. In Kansas, the abortion rights victory is cementing Democrats focus on abortion ahead of the midterms. Here's president Biden

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: The voters of Kansas sent a powerful signal that this fall, the American people will vote to preserve and protect the right and refuse to let them be ripped away by politicians. And my administration has their back.

NIALA: Axios’ managing editor for politics, Margaret Talev and Axios senior political correspondent Josh Kraushaar are here to talk about this week in politics. Margaret, let's start with the aftermath of that Kansas vote. How much does this victory for abortion rights give Democrats new confidence for November?

MARGARET TALEV: Niala, it gives them huge new confidence and I'll tell you why. This was an 18 point loss for the other side. This turned out long lines of suburban women voters, crucial in swing races. And what these voters were saying was that when it comes to an absolute, like a ban on abortion, which is what this would've paved the way for, that they were willing to turn out for a primary in a midterm year, when turnout is normally very low, near historic turnouts. That could have implications well beyond Kansas into crucial states that will decide control of the Senate that could pave the way for the 2024 presidential contests. We're talking about Michigan, Pennsylvania, Arizona, Georgia. And these are all places where Democrats have worried about their ability to hang on. And now this gives them clear new reason to believe that they can message around something that's not inflation and that they can get their own party to be excited about turning out and swing voters and perhaps some Republican voters also turning out on behalf of Democrats.

NIALA: Josh let's talk about Arizona because the other thing we saw this week was how many Trump backed candidates did go through for the primaries.

JOSH KRAUSHAAR: Right. Arizona was the apex, the epicenter of the MAGA movement in that Republicans, almost in every contested primary, that Trump endorsed a MAGA candidate prevailed. Arizona is probably home to one of the more extreme Republican electorates, but the state itself is trending more to the middle. And Democrats hold both of the state's Senate seats and voted for Joe Biden, clearly in 2020. So it'll be very, very interesting to watch how these MAGA candidates do in the general election. Trump may have won the battle in the Republican primaries in Arizona, but the war between these candidates and, and Democrats in November might end up being more instructive.

NIALA: Right. So Josh, what does this look like in a place like Michigan, where representative Peter Meijer lost? Was that a surprise?

JOSH: It wasn't a huge surprise. Trump endorsed his, uh, challenger, John Gibbs who won narrowly in the primary. But again, Michigan is a state that's lean democratic in most of the recent presidential elections. So you're seeing a Republican party that seemingly hasn't learned lessons from the recent general elections where, you know, mainstream, moderate candidates on both, within both parties tend to do better than folks on the extremes. In Michigan, like Arizona, you have a slate of statewide officials. The Attorney General, Secretary of State hailing from the Trump wing of the party. Tudor Dixon, the gubernatorial nominee perhaps not quite as extreme, but on abortion republicans are, are already worried about her stance hurting her in a general election. So yeah, like in swing states where independents and moderates and suburbanites make the difference in close races, there's a real concern in Republican circles that candidates too far to the right, too extreme could cost the party winnable races.

MARGARET: Niala, the Tuesday night contest simultaneously empowered Trump again within his own party, kind of, they underscore his standing, his continued grip on the party, but it also ratchets up the stakes for the former president, right. If the midterms come and go and Republicans lose contests that they should have won because of the Trump back nominees that disempowers him. And so, what are November's contests gonna be? There'll be a battle for control of the House and the Senate, for sure. But they're also the prelude to the 2024 campaign that will start like literally weeks later. And former President Trump's standing inside what is expected to be a contested Republican primary, is gonna hinge very much on what his activism ultimately did to the balance of power for the Republicans.

NIALA: Okay, a quick pause and then we're back on a moment with more on this week in politics.

NIALA: Welcome back to Axios Today. I'm Niala Boodhoo. We're talking with Axios’ Josh Kraushaar and Margaret Talev about what this week's primaries mean for Republicans and Democrats ahead of the midterms. Josh, so we expected Republicans to have the edge going into the midterms. Does this week change that?

JOSH: Republicans still have the edge, especially when it comes to house races. The environment is tough. President Biden's job approval rating below 40% on average. The economy, inflation, still dominant issues. But in races where Republicans nominated candidates outside the political mainstream and abortion is one way that Democrats can highlight that point, they'll have a chance to win despite the unfavorable political environment for their party. The Senate races in particular are looking like real problems for Republicans. Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell went on Fox this week and even suggested that Democrats could hold their, their Senate majority, which is something pretty notable, given that he's been more optimistic months past.

MITCH MCCONNELL: I think when this Senate race smoke clears, we're likely to have a very, very close Senate still with either us up slightly or the Democrats up slightly.

JOSH: There are other candidates in Arizona, Blake Masters, Pennsylvania, Dr. Oz, Herschel Walker in Georgia. All that have underperformed where Republicans should be performing right now in the congressional ballot in the polls. And abortion look is a key, key, key through line in all of those races.

MARGARET: History says that the Democrats are poised to lose the House. And there's nothing in Tuesday's contest that suggests that there would be that much of a sea change. The issue really is, and has always been control of the Senate. And after this past week, Democrats are feeling a lot better about where they stand.

NIALA: We're just a few months away from the November general election. What are you watching for in these next couple of months?

MARGARET: You know, President Biden has actually had a series of what in normal political times would be high profile victories, everything from the killing of Ayman al-Zawahiri in recent days to some good economic numbers and the potential for a breakthrough with Joe Machin if Kyrsten Sinema goes along, on a deal for climate. But we have not yet seen the president really get a political bump, political credit for that. Abortion potentially could help turn that dynamic around. Democrats are looking for anything to turn Joe Biden's dynamic around and they're keeping him at arm's length in the meantime. You've seen all these conversations in recent days about would you support President Biden for a second term and many Democrats saying no, or like hedging, which is even worse than saying no. And what happened in the vote in Kansas on Tuesday is a potential game changer for a dynamic that has just been almost entirely negative up until now.

NIALA: Margaret Talev Axios’ managing editor for politics. Josh Kraushaar is Axios’ senior political correspondent. Thanks guys.

MARGARET: Thanks Niala.

JOSH: Thanks Niala.

NIALA: One last thing before we go today – we’ve been collecting your messages about rising rents across the country.

GARRETT: My rent increased $300 in the month of June.

AMANDA: One of the reasons I've stayed here my whole life is it's a really cheap and good place to live, but the area has been outpacing the rest of the country in housing costs and scarcity.

NIALA: On Monday we’ll talk to Axios’ Emily Peck about the data and what’s driving this trend so keep sending your voice memos to us at (202) 918-4893. Tell us where you are and if high rent costs are affecting you or making you rethink where you live.

That’s it for us this week.

We’re produced by Nuria Marquez Martinez and Lydia McMullen-Laird. Our sound engineers are Alex Sugiura and Ben O’Brien. Alexadra Botti is our supervising producer. Sara Kehelani Goo is Axios’ editor in chief. And special thanks Axios co-founder Mike Allen.

I’m Niala Boodhoo. Stay safe and enjoy your weekend.

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