Oct 23, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Red tsunami watch

Animated illustration of a red wave dying the Captiol dome red.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Polling, spending trends and conversations with leading Democratic and Republican strategists suggest it's now very possible House Republicans win back the majority on Nov. 8 with more than 20 House seats — once the upper range of most analysts' projections.

The big picture: Two weeks out from the midterms, evidence points to a re-emerging red wave that could sweep in GOP control of both chambers. In the Senate, Republican officials are now bullish they'll gain at least the one seat necessary to regain the majority.

Why it matters: The national political environment shapes the trajectory of all the battleground races, meaning a big enough wave could touch some of the bluest districts.

  • There's also an outside chance it sweeps in flawed Republican Senate nominees in Georgia and Arizona — despite their underwhelming campaigns against battle-tested Democratic incumbents.

How we got here: Inflation, inflation, inflation. Abortion may have peaked too soon as a motivating issue (the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June) to give Democrats a maximum boost in November. The late timing of gas prices' rebound, conversely, puts more wind in the GOP's sails.

  • Biden delivered a speech Tuesday pledging to codify Roe as his first act if Democrats elect more senators and keep the House. But there's worry in Democratic circles that abortion-centric messaging is keeping candidates from talking about the economy.
  • A new Monmouth poll found 63% of respondents wish Biden would give more attention to the "issues that are important to your family" — including 36% of Democrats.

What we're watching: The latest public polling shows Republicans pulling ahead on the generic ballot. The Monmouth survey showed the GOP with a six-point advantage among registered voters (50%-44%), with more Republicans "extremely motivated" to vote (64%) than Democrats (59%).

  • A Pennsylvania Senate poll conducted this month for the AARP by Biden pollster John Anzalone and Trump pollster Tony Fabrizio found Democrat John Fetterman's lead shrank to a statistical tie against Republican Mehmet Oz. Independents now back Oz by a seven-point margin.
  • The Cook Political Report's House editor David Wasserman said this week many of the 15 Democrats in "lean Democratic" seats are "teetering on the edge." That's atop 30 Democratic-held seats already in "toss-up" or worse territory.
  • Wasserman name-checked House Democrats' campaign chief Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.) and progressive star Katie Porter (D-Calif.) as two prominent Dems — both in double-digit Biden districts — who are in danger.

What we're hearing: House Dems are triaging resources to defend candidates in solidly blue territory. Last week, the Democrats' House Majority PAC moved funds from an Oregon district Biden carried by nine points to salvage a suburban Portland district Biden won by 13 points.

  • One national Democratic official told Axios they're "very pessimistic" about the prospects of Oregon Democrat Jamie McLeod-Skinner, who ousted moderate Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.) in the primary. In 2020, Schrader won re-election by six points.

Between the lines: "We’re still winning independent women but not by much," said one Democratic strategist involved in top congressional races. "Six weeks ago, we were winning them by double-digits. Now it's close to 50-50."

Our thought bubble: It's telling that Biden isn't holding any big campaign rallies for Democrats while Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is a top Democratic closer in Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Sanders' rallies may help turn out younger progressives — but it could come at the cost of alienating some swing voters.

Reality check: Far-right Senate candidates are still a drag on the GOP. The Mitch McConnell-aligned Senate Leadership Fund announced Friday it was cutting $5.6 million intended to help Republican Don Bolduc in New Hampshire, earmarking it for other Senate battlegrounds, according to an SLF spokesman.

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