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Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

Inflation, rising crime and the border surge are positioning Republicans for even bigger midterm gains than they'd imagined just months ago.

Why it matters: President Biden has preached bipartisanship. Strident Democrats are pushing for hard-left positions enacted through their control of Congress and the White House. But the daily headlines are boosting the GOP's arguments as it seeks to regain control of at least one chamber in 2022.

  • One early salvation for Democrats — their handling of the coronavirus pandemic — is turning into a liability as the Delta variant threatens school reopenings, a return to mask mandates and a new wave of shutdowns.
  • "This administration has mismanaged the economy, mismanaged the border, mismanaged crime in the cities, and people are noticing and are very disturbed by it. Take a look at any of the poll numbers," Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), chairman of the Senate Republican Conference, told Axios.
  • Barrasso said he circulated internal polling data on these issues during a conference meeting last Tuesday. Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), chairman of the National Senatorial Campaign Committee, told Axios his group's internal polling shows similar results.

What to watch: These issues are dominating headlines as members of Congress are heading home to campaign in their districts during the August recess.

  • At the forefront is the Democrats' plan to use their majorities to pass a $3.5 trillion "soft" infrastructure bill on top of a $1.2 trillion bipartisan "hard" infrastructure bill.
  • The monster spending is really resonating with voters — in a bad way, spokesmen for the GOP's House and Senate campaign arms tell Axios.
  • Both organizations say this should be the No. 1 issue Republicans talk about over August break.

The Washington Post's Paul Kane reported Saturday that Democrats are being sent home "with just three bullet points: middle-class tax cuts; an infrastructure plan to create jobs; and lower health-care costs."

  • "Republicans have spent the last six months peddling the same extremist rhetoric that led to the Jan. 6 insurrection and spreading COVID disinformation," said Chris Taylor, spokesperson for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
  • "Our bet is that voters know they can count on Democrats to deliver for their families.”

At-risk Democrats are already starting to worry their messaging isn't sticking, though.

  • Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.), who chairs the DCCC, was quoted by CNN last week as saying, “If the election were held today, we would lose."

What they're saying: “Every single American is paying higher prices for everyday goods because of Democrats’ reckless spending," NRCC spokesman Mike Berg told Axios in a statement.

  • His comments are backed up by internal surveys showing how fearful Americans are of the rising costs of health care and daily goods.

Rising crime is also increasingly gaining national attention. One study found a 16% spike in homicides in large U.S. cities for the first half of 2021 compared to 2020, which was already up more than 30% from the year before.

  • Republicans aim to tie this to progressive cries to "defund the police" last year.

In addition, there's has been relatively low public support for the president's handling of immigration — a critical issue especially with moderate, border Democrats like Rep. Vicente Gonzalez (D-Texas).

  • Government data to be released this month is expected to show another record month at the border for July.

Go deeper

Nov 14, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Poll: Biden approval numbers hit a new low

As President Biden hits a new approval low in the Washington Post-ABC News poll, Republicans enjoy their largest midterm lead over Democrats in the 40-year history of the poll.

Why it matters: Sinking sentiments among Democrats and independents are behind the falling numbers, which come despite a majority of Americans supporting the key pieces of Biden's agenda — the bipartisan infrastructure package and $2 trillion social spending bill.

Nov 14, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Progressives fearful as Biden plan pushed into December

Photo: Alex Edelman/AFP via Getty Images

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s decision to take up the National Defense Authorization Act this week likely will push Senate consideration of President Biden's Build Back Better social spending plan into December, piling more anxiety onto progressives.

Why it matters: Liberal Democrats already were worried that House moderates' commitment to vote on the BBB (estimated at $1.75 trillion) was less than ironclad after the passage of the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill, which Biden is to sign Monday.

First look: Republicans eye Latinos to unseat Kelly

Sen. Mark Kelly. Photo: Mandel Ngan/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

The National Republican Senatorial Committee has hired its first full-time Hispanic communications and political team as it targets Latino voters and tries to unseat Sen. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.), Axios' Sarah Mucha reports.

Why it matters: A large bloc of Latinos voted for President Biden in Arizona in 2020. Republicans have started focusing on this group not just in South Texas, as Axios earlier reported, but now, Arizona.