Axios Sneak Peek
October 27, 2022
Welcome back to Sneak. Smart Brevity™ count: 1,010 words ... 4 minutes.
1 big thing: Dems grasp for third rail
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.
- His comments come as Democrats have begun hammering the issue non-stop on the campaign trail — running ads and hosting press events, tying opponents to efforts to gut the programs, and touting endorsements from seniors groups.
- House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has also leaned heavily on entitlements, blasting out a press release on Oct. 18 titled, "Leader McCarthy's Threat: Slash Medicare & Social Security or Tank the Economy."
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.).
2. 👀 Part II: Don't look back
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.
3. ☀️ Dem flips socialist charge in Little Havana
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.
4. 📺 Spot du jour: Fetterman's consolation prize
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?"
5. 🇮🇱🇺🇸 Parting shot
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.