Axios Sneak Peek

The back of a propped up cardboard cut-out of the U.S. Capitol.

Welcome back to Sneak. Smart Brevity™ count: 1,010 words ... 4 minutes.

1 big thing: Dems grasp for third rail

Illustration of a shield surrounded by abstract ballot shapes.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

In a Hail Mary bid to dent Republican credibility on the economy, Democrats are escalating attacks related to Social Security and Medicare in a final midterm stretch dominated by signs of a growing red wave, Axios' Andrew Solender reports.

Why it matters: The strategic shift comes after Democrats spent the better part of the summer and early autumn campaigning on a heavily abortion-focused message that polls suggest is now falling flat compared to issues such as inflation.

  • "Democrats have no unified economic message, it just doesn’t exist. There's no agenda," said one Democratic strategist working on House campaigns.
  • "In [the] absence of saying, 'Here’s what we stand for' … your only choice is to attack what the other side has."

Driving the news: In a speech at the DNC on Monday, President Biden used the phrase "Social Security and Medicare" 11 times — seizing on reporting that some Republicans want to use the debt ceiling to extract entitlement cuts.

Behind the scenes: The DCCC has sent House campaigns message-testing from Data for Progress showing that Social Security "is one of the best-testing issues for Democrats," according to emails shared with Axios.

  • "We've been pushing this issue, I think, since July," Data for Progress spokesperson McKenzie Wilson told Axios. She said it's "mildly frustrating" entitlements are only now figuring prominently in Democrats' messaging: "I wish it had been picked up earlier, but I'm glad campaigns are doing it now."
  • The Democratic strategist working on House campaigns told Axios: "I never said the word ‘Social Security’ in a press release, in a statement, before three … [or] four weeks ago."

Zoom in: House Republicans' rollout last month of the "Commitment to America," which includes a vague pledge to "save and strengthen Social Security and Medicare," was an inflection point, according to Rep. Angie Craig (D-Minn.).

  • Democrats have also pointed to Senate GOP campaign chief Rick Scott's (R-Fla.) agenda, which proposes sunsetting all federal legislation after five years, and the Republican Study Committee's budget proposal, which suggests raising the ages of eligibility for Medicare and Social Security.

2. 👀 Part II: Don't look back

Mentions by Democrats in Congress
Data: Quorum. Note: Data gathered daily digitally from official press releases, newsletters, floor statements, and social media posts and analyzed weekly. Chart: Tory Lysik/Axios Visuals

Democrats' economic messaging has largely focused on their legislative record — emphasizing their accomplishments, such as the Inflation Reduction Act, rather than offering a clear forward-looking platform, Andrew writes.

  • It was only days ago that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi provided a rare glimpse into Democrats' policy agenda if they keep the majority.
  • "Our message is that we're going to build on what we've already done," Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.) told Axios, pushing back on the notion that voters have been left guessing about Democrats' economic vision.

Between the lines: Seasoned Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg told Politico that touting those accomplishments is the party's "worst performing message," given the acute economic challenges many Americans are still experiencing.

By the numbers: Congressional Democrats' mentions of inflation, drug pricing, and Social Security and Medicare in official communications spiked in August as Congress was voting on the IRA, according to data from Quorum.

  • The legislation included a provision allowing Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices, which was heralded by Democrats as a major victory.
  • After the bill passed, mentions of all three issue areas dropped precipitously. But — unlike the others — references to Social Security and Medicare began to spike again in October, suggesting Democrats have rallied behind it as their most potent closing message.

Share this story.

3. ☀️ Dem flips socialist charge in Little Havana

Annette Taddeo and Maria Salazar
Democratic challenger Annette Taddeo (L) and Rep. María Elvira Salazar (R-Fla.) Photo: Manny Hernandez/Getty Images; Bonnie Jo Mount/The Washington Post via Getty Images

A Democratic challenger in a crucial South Florida U.S. House race is accusing her Republican opponent of embracing socialism by pushing to ban books and abortion — flipping the script on an attack typically leveled against her own party, Axios' Russell Contreras reports.

Why it matters: Perceptions of a soft or sympathetic stance toward socialism carry extra punch in Florida, an increasingly red-leaning state where communities of Cuban and Venezuelan expatriates represent a significant voting bloc.

What's happening: Freshman GOP Rep. María Elvira Salazar (R-Fla.) is still favored to win in Florida's 27th congressional district, but is on the defensive after missteps, exaggerations, and charges of hypocrisy led to a polling surge for her Democratic opponent, state Sen. Annette Taddeo.

  • "This election will determine if we remain a beacon of freedom or we become a socialist dictatorship," Tadeo said in an ad last month, in which she cited her family's escape from Marxist guerrillas in Colombia.
  • The GOP's Congressional Leadership Fund has spent $2 million on TV advertising to defend the seat, making it one of the super PAC's priciest reservations.

Keep reading.

4. 📺 Spot du jour: Fetterman's consolation prize

Screenshot of Dr. Oz
Screenshot: Fetterman ad

John Fetterman's halting performance in the Pennsylvania Senate debate last night was — by virtually all accounts — Democrats' worst nightmare.

  • But one viral sound bite from Republican Mehmet Oz — in which the celebrity doctor said abortion decisions should be left to "women, doctors, local political leaders" — has handed Fetterman a golden cudgel to wield in TV ads for the next 13 days.
  • President Biden even got in on the action, tweeting: "If Dr. Oz gets his way, where does this end? Would he recommend local officials make decisions about cancer treatments? Colonoscopies? Or is this kind of scrutiny reserved just for women?"

💰 Fetterman's campaign says it's raised more than $2 million since the debate, while Oz today poured an additional $2 million of his own cash into his campaign account.

5. 🇮🇱🇺🇸 Parting shot

Isaac Herzog and Biden
Photo: Israeli Govt Press Office (GPO)/Handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

President Biden met with Israeli President Isaac Herzog today at the White House, less than a week before Israel's latest elections.

  • Both men are proud sons of Ireland: Herzog's grandfather, Yitzhak HaLevi Herzog, was the first Chief Rabbi of the Emerald Isle.

📬 Thanks for reading. This newsletter was edited by Zachary Basu and copy edited by Patricia Guadalupe.