The Wind Is At The Democrats' Backs

[ Posted Wednesday, August 24th, 2022 – 14:26 UTC ]

The wind is now at the Democrats' backs. The "red wave" everyone's been predicting for November may turn out to be no more than a pinkish ripple... or perhaps it won't even occur at all. Of course, we're still more than two months away from the election, and unexpected events could intervene, but right now everything seems to be moving in the Democrats' direction.

President Joe Biden and the Democratic Congress have been chalking up a lot more wins than expected, which certainly helps. From finally getting serious about climate change to lowering prescription drug prices to boosting competitiveness with China to helping veterans sickened by burn pits, Congress has been on a roll of late. Gas prices have dropped $1.20 over the course of the summer, and are continuing to fall. Inflation may have peaked. And today, Joe Biden announced that up to $20,000 in student loan debt (for students who qualified for Pell grants) will be forgiven. Biden promised a lot during his campaign, and he's now delivering on major portions of his agenda. Democrats aren't seen as powerless to get much of anything done anymore, which is a big shift in attitude from where we were at the beginning of the summer.

Democratic voters are motivated, too. Turnout has been up in key races. Rather than being lackluster, Democrats are voting in droves. The trend is the exact opposite of what was expected -- that Republicans, being the "out" party, would be far more motivated to vote. So far, that just isn't happening. The opposite is.

The big race everyone was watching last night showed this. Pat Ryan, the Democratic candidate for a special election in upstate New York, summed it up after his surprise victory: "The Democratic energy was huge. The Republican energy was very low." He won by two points in a district Joe Biden had carried by 1.5 points. Republicans poured a lot of money into the race because they thought it'd be the start of their red wave. But Ryan outperformed Biden's 2020 showing.

This hasn't been the only special election Democrats have outperformed in, either. Here's a quick rundown of the last four special elections which have taken place:

  • In Nebraska's 1st Congressional District in late June, a 15-point Biden loss was shrunk to a five-point Democratic loss -- a gain of 10 points.
  • In Minnesota's 1st District this month, a 10-point Biden loss became a four-point Democratic loss -- a gain of six points.
  • In New York's 19th on Tuesday, a 1.5-point Biden win stretched modestly to 2.2 points, as the results stand.
  • In New York's 23rd on Tuesday, an 11-point Biden loss will shrink, with the Democrat currently trailing by 6.6 points -- a gain of more than four points.

There's a fifth race, too, which won't be decided until the end of the month. A special election was held for Alaska's only House district, and so far the Democratic candidate is winning -- beating Sarah Palin and another Republican. When the votes are all counted, they will then be recounted (using their new ranked-choice system) after the third-place finisher drops off. Democrat Mary Peltola is currently up by 7.5 points (her lead increased last night, as another tranche of votes were counted). Whether Palin wins in the end or Peltola manages a big Democratic upset, the Democratic vote share is almost surely going to outperform Joe Biden's numbers, though.

As you can see, the promised red wave simply doesn't seem to be appearing. Quite the opposite, in fact. Furthermore, the NY-19 race was won by focusing on the single issue of abortion. The Supreme Court's Dobbs decision might actually be the biggest motivator for Democratic voters in this election cycle (and perhaps beyond). Here is how Pat Ryan talks about his campaign:

"We centered the concept of freedom," Ryan told me in an interview. "When rights and freedoms are being taken away from people," he said, they "stand up and fight." Ryan said that for voters, the decision "ripping away reproductive rights from tens of millions of people" was "visceral."

. . .

Underscoring the point, Ryan said that at a recent event involving voters from two of the district's more rural counties, audience members were asked to submit questions. "The number one question people asked was about choice," Ryan, the Ulster County executive, told me. He said voters regularly brought up GOP calls for a national abortion ban "unprompted."

I asked Ryan if the Democratic Party should full-throatedly argue that electing Democrats is essential to getting abortion rights codified in federal law. He said it should, while suggesting Democrats should link this to "the fight for freedom on multiple fronts," under an umbrella argument that Republicans will make us "less safe" and "less free."

Ryan suggested Democrats should also try to reclaim the idea of patriotism. "Patriotism to me means, when your fellow Americans' rights are being taken away, you stand up and fight, not just for yourself, but for them as well."

That is how he won. When the Dobbs decision was handed down, Republicans engaged in some wishful thinking. They optimistically told themselves: "People won't actually vote on the issue, the economy will be a much bigger deal." The Republican in the NY-19 race tried to make the economy the biggest deal while downplaying the abortion issue... and he lost. Inflation comes and goes, but losing fundamental rights is a much bigger motivating factor, it seems.

Even on the economy, Democrats have a good case to make. Democrats are the ones lowering prescription drug prices and capping seniors' drug costs and fighting climate change and protecting veterans and going after tax cheats. Biden just gave up to $20,000 debt relief to tens of millions of students. That means millions of American families are breathing a gigantic sigh of relief right now.

What are Republicans' plans for any of this? They don't say, because they don't have any. Republicans want to make a big deal out of high inflation? Well, where is their inflation-fighting plan? Where is their brilliant idea for solving any of the nation's problems, economic or otherwise? Democrats have solid results to show, and Republicans can't even muster a counterargument, other than: "Everything Joe Biden does is bad!"

Republicans are running several complete nutjobs for important (and possibly winnable, for them) Senate seats. Absolute lunatics will be on the ballot in many places with an "R" next to their names, for many various offices. Republicans have become not just a far-right party but an extreme-right party. So extreme they are becoming deranged, in fact. Voters look at them and foresee nothing but chaos if they are elected. Voters can compare that to the Democrats' record of getting things done, without all of the melodrama and tantrums.

Of course, it is easy to get carried away by optimism. This is a midterm election, and history shows that the "out" party almost always makes gains. But it is looking more and more like a small ripple of gains rather than a red wave of them. Democrats are still likely to lose control of the House, although they may wind up actually picking seats up in the Senate. Still, the political landscape is shifting, as the special election results have shown. The Dobbs decision fired up voters, Congress is actually getting large and significant things done, the price of gas keeps falling, inflation is receding, and Joe Biden just completely wiped out student debt for millions of people. It's hard not to get at least a little optimistic with all that wind at the Democrats' backs.

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


4 Comments on “The Wind Is At The Democrats' Backs”

  1. [1] 
    John From Censornati wrote:

    I ? abortion.

  2. [2] 
    John From Censornati wrote:

    I heart abortion.

  3. [3] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    When the Dobbs decision was handed down, Republicans engaged in some wishful thinking. They optimistically told themselves: "People won't actually vote on the issue, the economy will be a much bigger deal."

    How is that Democrats ALLOW Republicans to get away with believing that the GOP knows what is best for the economy.

    I just don't understand it ... and am close to giving up on the matter, completely. Soon I'll be saying that Dems deserve to lose on the economy as they don't seem capable of lifting even a finger to stop R's in their tracks on the economy. Whatever.

  4. [4] 
    nypoet22 wrote:


    Ha. Very few people actually like abortion, they just like government imposed forced birth even less.

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