Former U.S. president Barack Obama has some startling advice for Wisconsin Democratic candidate Mandela Barnes should he become the state’s first Black U.S. senator after Tuesday’s midterm congressional elections.
“Get ready to dig up that birth certificate,” Mr. Obama quipped while stumping last week for Mr. Barnes and other Democrats in swing states, referring to the “birther” conspiracy theories (perpetuated by Donald Trump and others) that once dogged him. “Remember when that was the craziest thing people said? ... Now, it doesn’t even make the Top-10 list of crazy.”
Crazy does not begin to describe this U.S. midterm election campaign, which has seen Republicans nominate some of their most unhinged candidates yet – which is saying a lot – including countless MAGA disciples who insist Mr. Trump won the 2020 election.
“That is a path to chaos in America. It’s unprecedented, it’s unlawful, and it’s un-American,” President Joe Biden warned Wednesday in a last-ditch effort to dissuade voters from supporting 2020 election deniers, some of whom have refused to recognize the midterm results if they lose. “As I’ve said before, you can’t love your country only when you win.”
Yet, the odds are so stacked against the Democrats that such warnings are likely to have no impact on the outcome of the midterms. Indeed, some Democrats wish the unpopular Mr. Biden had just stayed out of the campaign altogether.
Republicans are poised to take back control of the House of Representatives on Tuesday and stand a better-than-even chance of winning the Senate, turning Mr. Biden into an even lamer duck than he already is for the rest of his first (and likely only) term in the White House.
With inflation running at a four-decade high, and Mr. Biden’s midterm approval rating below that of any president since George W. Bush in 2006, no amount of stumping by Democratic all-stars such as Mr. Obama can likely save the President’s party from its fate.
Fully 49 per cent of Americans polled recently by Gallup described the state of the U.S. economy as poor. Only 14 per cent said it was good or excellent. “The 35-point gap between positive and negative evaluations of the economy is the worst Gallup has measured at the time of a midterm election (with trends going back to 1994), surpassing the minus-31 gap in 2010.”
Back then, Mr. Obama suffered a stunning setback, with Democrats losing a whopping 63 House and six Senate seats, only two years after sweeping both houses of Congress in the 2008 election that put the first Black president in the White House. That defeat was the worst for an incumbent party since 1938. The economy, still reeling from the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, was not the only factor weighing against Democrats then. Mr. Obama’s health care reform law was broadly unpopular with middle-class voters.
If there is any consolation for Democrats now, it is that it is virtually mathematically impossible for their party to experience the same “shellacking” (that was how Mr. Obama described it) that it faced in 2010, when the party was seeking to defend big majorities in Congress. Democrats barely won the House in 2020 and currently control the 50-50 Senate only thanks to Vice-President Kamala Harris’s tie-breaking 51st vote. There are fewer competitive races now, so there are fewer seats up for grabs.
Still, most analysts predict Republicans will pick up between 15 and 25 House seats on Tuesday, though what appears to be a late campaign swing to the GOP could lead to bigger Democratic losses. Democratic strategists have expressed surprising concerns about the number of Black and Hispanic men who appear to have been drawn to GOP messaging on the economy and crime, which could upend the party’s hopes of holding on to Senate seats in Nevada and Georgia.
A victory in Georgia by Republican Senate candidate Herschel Walker, the former pro-football star who has run up more controversies during this campaign than yards during his 12-season NFL career, would validate almost every hypothesis about the relationship between economic fundamentals and midterm election results. Accusations that anti-abortion Mr. Walker paid for an abortion for a woman he impregnated – in other words, that he is a giant hypocrite and liar – have had little impact on the race.
The Georgia race, which could decide control of the Senate, might still end up going to a run-off next month if neither Mr. Walker nor his Democratic rival Raphael Warnock gets more than 50 per cent of the vote on Tuesday. A run-off might be the best news Democrats get all night.
A Republican-led House loyal to Mr. Trump would likely launch a series of investigations into the Biden administration, and could try to impeach Attorney-General Merrick Garland, as it seeks to pave the way for the former president’s return to office in 2024. None of it will be pretty to watch. But such is the midterm curse and there is probably not anything the Democrats could ever do about it.