As featured in Edition 40, available here.
BY JHANVI MEHTA (2nd year - History and Politics - Leeds, UK)
The US midterm elections in November this year are a test as to whether the Democrats can retain their slim majority in both houses of Congress. They are an evaluation of Biden’s presidency and a referendum on the Democrat-controlled government. With the midterms just nine months away, the Democrats are yet to confront pressing questions that urgently need addressing and unequivocally define what their party stands for.
The Democrats were already forecast to oversee a rocky election year, as the party in power traditionally loses seats during the first presidential term. Presidential popularity is also a deciding factor when it comes to losses. The Biden administration’s legislative agenda in the run-up to these crucial midterms is shambolic, with Democrats raising concerns they may witness profound losses if a move in presidential strategy is absent.
Aggravations within the Democratic party range from the liberal faction, which believes it is dejected by the inability to deliver a courageous policy agenda, to the wariness of moderates, who are concerned with losing suburban voters and had been confident of a return to normalcy after the 2020 elections. The Democrats have failed to enact their legislative priorities and Biden’s pledge to transform a broken system, a notion candidates will have to battle with in these elections.
Looking ahead at the current projections of the Democratic party, there are several important races to watch. These include Pennsylvania and Ohio – where there are open US Senate seats to contest, and New Hampshire and Wisconsin – where Sen. Ron Johnson (R) is a key target for Democrats. The governor race is likely to be the centre of political drama in Georgia, though this may uplift the prospects of Sen. Warnock, who is seeking a full term after beating Kelly Loeffler in a runoff last year. A single state can establish whether Democrats retain Senate control following the midterms, a fragile benefit centred on Vice President Harris’s ability to exercise a tie-breaking vote.
Some Democrats accuse Biden of being out of touch with voters by focusing on the climate crisis and voting rights instead of traversing through uncertainties from the pandemic. Rep. Tim Ryan (D – Ohio), who is running for an open Senate seat, has criticised his party for not attending to voter anxieties associated with the pandemic: economic insecurity, school closures, and the failure to provide coherent masking and testing guidance. He furthermore condemned the Biden administration for failing to push through its domestic agenda to bounce back from the devastating consequences of Covid and undo the Trump presidency’s damage. Democrats need to act swiftly on clarifying their intentions.
Recently, the White House failed to push through voting rights legislation, had their vaccine and testing mandate for large employers struck down by the Supreme Court, faced tensions with Russia over a potential invasion of Ukraine, and oversaw inflation rising to a 40-year high. Simultaneously, Biden has been constrained in pushing his domestic priority, an expansive $2.2 trillion spending, tax policy, and climate reform bill, due to opposition from a centrist Democrat and Republicans. This hasn’t set the Democrats up with the best precedent to carry forward into the midterms. Biden’s ambitious policy and spending proposals have been castigated as “reckless spending” and chastised for having a hold on Democrats to push this through. Furthermore, to rub salt into wounds, Republicans have underscored Biden’s major foreign policy setbacks, particularly Afghanistan.
The woes of the Democratic party have delighted Republicans, who grapple with an image problem they seek to rectify following the Capitol insurrection. Republicans are using Biden’s failures to drive their bid to regain Congressional control, with a focus on his crumbling legislative agenda, the failure to tackle Covid anxieties, and inflation. Following months of facing blame for stoking the January 6 riots, and Trumpublicanism’s lies over the 2020 elections, coupled with the growth in right-wing activists who may alienate mainstream conservatives, Republicans see themselves in a position to exploit Biden’s woes and dent his competence, rather than plan a course correction.
Biden gambled his presidency on the notion that voters would commend his party for manoeuvring the nation towards economic progress following a deadly pandemic. Nevertheless, after a year of historical levels of job and stock market growth and wide vaccine accessibility, Biden hasn’t focused on promoting these successes. Democrats insist more needs to be done to market the party’s accomplishments, or risk jeopardising the midterms taking the direction of an off-year election, where Democrats faced a spew of surprise backlash in New Jersey, New York, and Virginia.
Bradley Beychok, from the Democratic group American Bridge 21st Century, insisted it is crucial to sell the party’s successes, rather than focus on loathing, if the Democrats are to be successful in the midterms.
Image - Flickr (COP26)