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With 201 days away from the midterm elections that will determine which party controls the U.S. Congress for the next two years, the process of deciding who will be on the ballot kicks into high gear in a matter of weeks with primary battles in several key states.
We are just 201 days away from the midterm elections that will determine which party controls the U.S. Congress for the next two years.
But the process of deciding who will be on the ballot kicks into high gear in just a matter of weeks, with primary battles in several key states.
For a look at what's ahead, we turn now to two party insiders. Faiz Shakir is a Democratic political adviser who was the campaign manager for Bernie Sanders' 2020 presidential campaign. And Glen Bolger is a Republican strategist and co-founder of Public Opinion Strategies, a pollster for many Republican candidates.
Welcome to you both. Thanks for being here.
Faiz, I want to start with you and something that's been making a lot of headlines recently, which is where President Biden's approval ratings are. And I want to ask you what they mean for other candidates. But let's just take a look at some of those numbers to set the table here.
When you look at some of these approval ratings among key groups, since Biden took office to March 2022, we have seen some big drops. He's down 10 points overall. Among people of color, he's down 12 points. Among young Americans, Gen Z and millennials, down 17 points, down 10 points with independents
Faiz, how does he get those numbers back up? And, if he can't, how concerned should Democratic candidates be?
Faiz Shakir, Democratic Strategist:
Well, he's been dealt to a series of tough cards. And I understand that the legislative agenda has been stalemated, often by corporate Democrats who have stood in his way. He's got some foreign policy crises to deal with.
I think that the struggle for him is that, for some of these young people who got involved in politics, they had some high ambitions of what could get done. And, obviously, some of those things are not going to happen. But they still want to see a president who's fighting for them, who's animating the fight, who's wielding authority and power in as aggressive as way as possible.
And I think that that's where sometimes they — people are getting, I think, depressed that, is the president kind of going to bat for the working class, taking on corporate power, taking on corporate Democrats where they stand in his way? And I think this is — the White House has often tried to have a return to normalcy, a turn away from Trump, and they have not wanted to kind of engage in the heated battles that I think sometimes is required, not all the times.
But, sometimes, you do have to pick a fight, and you have to show that you really are animated by fighting for working-class people.
So, Glen, obviously, the White House says there's time before the midterms, we're going to show people we're doing the work, especially on the economy, which we know is a top issue for both Democrats and Republicans.
If people see the work getting done, if things start to improve when it comes to cost of living and so on, and people feel better about the economy, is that a tougher argument for Republicans?
Glen Bolger, Republican Strategist and Pollster: Look, that's an unlikely, very unlikely scenario.
The last time you the party in the White House — in control of the West White House didn't get spanked and midterm election was 2002, and largely because of what had happened on September 11, 2001.
It's too late for the White House and the Democratic Party to turn things around for this election. Every four years going into the midterm, you hear the same thing: Oh, we have got time. We can turn it around.
But it never gets turned around in time. It certainly — look, what happens in 2022 is not a predictor for 2024. There's plenty of elections — Barack Obama's reelection in 2012, after getting spanked in 2010, is pretty strong evidence of that, Bill Clinton in 1996, after getting spanked in 1994.
So, look, independents are who decides elections, especially wave elections. And when there's a wave election, 2018, voting against Republicans and Donald Trump, independents went double digits for the Democratic Party. In 2014 and 2010, they went double digits for the Republican Party.
Right now — and I understand what my counterpart is saying about disaffected Democratic base progressives, but the real problem the Democrats have is, they have lost the trust of independent voters. And you're not going to get it back between now and November.
Well, let me ask you about November, and those looming midterms. If history is a guide, it will likely be good for Republicans. They need a net gain of five seats if they're going to win back control of the House.
But I want you both to take a listen to what the NRCC chair, Tom Emmer, said about his predictions back in January. Take a listen.
Rep. Tom Emmer (R-MN):
We're going to make sure that we work hard over the next nine to 10 months and make that a reality, a Republican majority in the House. And if we do our job, John, I believe we will have a Republican majority in the Senate again as well.
So, Glen, do you agree with that? Both chambers are up for grabs by the Republicans?
Well, I think House is all but a done deal. I mean, people still have to vote, but that's highly likely.
I think the Senate is likely. But there's certainly an easier path for the Democrats to retain control of the Senate than there is for them to retain control of the House, even though the Senate is 50/50. Just the state landscape is not as promising for Republicans as it will be, for example, in 2024.
So I think it's more likely than not that Republicans take control of the Senate. But I'm not as — quite as wildly optimistic as I am about the House.
Faiz, what about you? You agree with that?
Well, the question is just how many — how much turnout do Democrats get? And if we can increase turnout, we can mitigate some of the things that Glen is talking about.
I think my view would be, right now, elections are always about choices. And you have to make clear that, what is the choice? What is on the Republican agenda? Right now, most of the Republicans are running on no agenda, right? They'd rather not talk about agenda. You heard Senator Mitch McConnell say that. Like, this is just a verdict on Joe Biden.
I think it's the obligation of Democrats to both say, here's what we're for, what we have put on the table. We wanted to reduce prescription drugs. We wanted to make the wealthy pay their fair share. We wanted to expand Medicare, but there were certain people who stood in our way, namely, Republicans, and look at their agenda offered by Rick Scott that wants to cut Social Security, cut Medicare, increase taxes on working-class Americans.
It is one that is completely not responsive to the wealth and income inequality that we see in America. They would do nothing to confront corporate power. And I think that those arguments would have resonance with independent voters, with young voters.
But we do have to crystallize those choices. Otherwise, if this just becomes a referendum on Biden, I think it goes in the direction that Glen's talking about.
Well, Faiz, we have already seen some Democratic candidates making a little bit of distance between themselves and the president.
Specifically, I'm thinking about issues like immigration, where you have seen Democratic senators who are going to face voters in November criticizing some of the policies. Are we going to see more of that?
Yes, I mean, it's natural that, in each of these races, particularly when you have a head of the party that's struggling a little bit politically, as Joe Biden is, that each of the candidates can try to distinguish themselves.
And part of the ways they distinguish themselves is sometimes to say, here's where I'm different from the head of the party. That's — in my mind, that's fine and appropriate. I would ask them to pick fights that are very popular, like, instead of trying to run away from the most — the popular agenda.
I mean, we — the things that have failed, right, that Democrats haven't yet gotten across the finish line, are incredibly popular, and Joe Manchin, Senator Sinema, and others stood in the way. That would have been cutting prescription drug prices. That would have been making the wealthy pay their fair share.
If you go out and talk about raising the minimum wage to a living wage, those are really popular items. And I think it really also makes the case, by the way, that that agenda still can get done. If you put more people in the Senate, we can move the needle on this agenda. You put more people in the House, we can move the needle on this.
The problem for the president was that he had basically 95 percent-plus of the Democratic Party, but not 100. So let's give him some more support. And I think — I do think that those issues still play very well for us and should be talked about.
Glen, I will give you the last word here. You're giving a couple of lines of advice to a Republican candidate out there who's in a crowded primary. What do you tell them? What do they do?
Look, crowded primaries are pretty — pretty much a crapshoot. It's a roll of the dice.
So, what you have to do is get your name I.D. up. You have to get your favorables up. And, if need be, you got to create some elbow room, a little bit of space between yourself and your opponents, because — and, by the way, one of the reasons that Republican primaries are so crowded this year is, a lot — people see a lot opportunities.
When things are bad, like in 2018, you don't get that many candidates running. Here, Republicans, just like in 1994 and 2010, they look and see, oh, this is a very good year to win. I mean, candidates aren't stupid, even if you disagree with some of the things they say or a lot of things they say. They know what a good political year looks like and what a bad one looks like.
This one is still looking good. So there are a lot. That's why so many candidates are running and it's crowded primaries.
And just over 200 days to go until those midterm elections and a lot of primaries before then.
Glen Bolger, Faiz Shakir, thank you so much for your time.
Watch the Full Episode
Amna Nawaz joined PBS NewsHour in April 2018 and serves as the program's chief correspondent and primary substitute anchor.
Matt Loffman is the PBS NewsHour's Deputy Senior Politics Producer
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