As the coronavirus pandemic eases and Americans anxiously watch the war in Ukraine, Democrats and Republicans are honing their pitches to voters in this year’s critical midterm elections.
The outcome of elections hinges on message, momentum and money.
Both parties, particularly their incumbents, will have the resources needed to compete in the general election. So the money factor will likely be a wash.
But Republicans have history on their side. The party that controls the White House routinely suffers catastrophic losses during midterm elections. With President Joe Biden struggling in the polls, Democrats are bracing for the prospect of losing the House, and perhaps the Senate.
Since the money game is a push and momentum is currently on the side of the GOP, the message Democratic and Republican candidates deliver to voters could determine not only November’s general election, but which party has the driver’s seat going into the 2024 presidential contest.
“We have to carry the message that we’re here to ensure safe communities,” said U.S. Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Pilot Point. “We want an economy that’s secure and prosperous. We’d like to see success for our kids in schools. Our government needs to be accountable to the people.”
Democrats control the White House and both chambers of Congress. They acknowledged that they need to improve their messaging to voters to be successful in November.
“We do need to talk about what we’ve done and the legislation that we have passed,” said Rep. Colin Allred, D-Dallas. “That legislation is so big, like the American Rescue Plan and the bipartisan infrastructure bill, that people sometimes forget what was in it. You have to actually go through and kind of tell people why this legislation is important.”
Republicans this year need to pick up five seats to take control of the U.S. House. The GOP needs a net gain of one seat to take control of the Senate, as they currently hold 50 seats. Democrats have nominal control of the 50-50 chamber because Vice President Kamala Harris can cast tiebreaking votes.
The outcome of midterm elections is typically predictable. The president in power is almost always humbled.
In 2018, when Donald Trump was president, Democrats rallied voters angry that Republicans were trying to repeal the Affordable Care Act. They picked up 41 seats to seize control of the House.
While Trump suffered a midterm meltdown in 2018, Barack Obama presided over defeats during the midterm elections during his presidency, including the 2010 contests in which Republicans picked up 63 seats to win the House.
The last time the party in power held serve was in 2002, when President George W. Bush and Republicans managed to hold the House and win the Senate. Only four times in history (1902, 1934, 1998 and 2002) has the president in power picked up House seats in a midterm election.
“The magnitude of the Republican victory this November could be so large, and it could carry over into 2024 for whoever is the Republican nominee for president,” Burgess said.
But Republicans are at a slight risk of being tripped up in November by Trump, a bugaboo from 2020.
Trump wants GOP candidates to acknowledge his grievances, notably the unfounded claim that the 2020 election was stolen from him.
Earlier this month, he rescinded his backing of Alabama Rep. Mo Brooks, a Senate candidate who said the former president can’t move past the 2020 elections.
“President Trump has asked me to rescind the 2020 elections, immediately remove Joe Biden from the White House, immediately put President Trump back in the White House, and hold a new special election for the presidency,” Brooks said in Hueytown, Alabama.
Trump said Brooks had joined the “woke” crowd.
Burgess warned against party squabbling.
“We have an opportunity to put the brakes on the bad stuff and bring it back to the center,” Burgess said. “We can’t squander it. We can start aiming at each other, but then we won’t accomplish what history is now making available to us to accomplish.”
It’s possible for Republicans to bash Biden, offer a conservative agenda and mollify Trump all at once.
But the notion of a Trump comeback could chase away general election voters who are otherwise not thrilled with Biden.
For their part, Democrats have to aggressively explain their accomplishments. And they need to address the rising cost of goods and services, including food and fuel.
“We have to acknowledge the pain that some folks are going through with the increased costs because so much of this has been driven by the pandemic,” Allred said. “[Candidates] have to acknowledge that and make sure people understand what the drivers are, and then talk about what we’re doing to actually fix it.”
Allred praised Biden’s first term.
“When you look around, unemployment is low and we’re getting the pandemic under control,” Allred said. “It’s because of the bills that we passed.”
Allred said Democrats could prevail in November.
“Republicans don’t have a plan,” Allred said. “They just want to criticize us for things that are outside of our control.”