Media tout Democratic prospects, but is the GOP wave really receding?

Media tout Democratic prospects, but is the GOP wave really receding? thumbnail

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The media are all excited about the latest primaries, touting some promising omens for the Democrats.

I’m just going to throw a cautionary flag.

When your analysis is based on one obscure district in New York’s Hudson Valley, in a special election in late August, the tea leaves may be muddy.

I have no doubt that abortion rights are a motivating factor for pro-choice voters in the wake of the Supreme Court throwing out Roe, and Democratic candidates who don’t use it would be guilty of malpractice. But the fundamental picture hasn’t changed, and Republicans are overwhelmingly likely to take over the House in November. 

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The chamber of the House of Representatives is seen at the Capitol in Washington, Feb. 28, 2022.

The chamber of the House of Representatives is seen at the Capitol in Washington, Feb. 28, 2022.
(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

“Democrats Gain Momentum,” says a Politico headline yesterday, the story declaring that “predictions of a red wave may be overblown.”

The Washington Post says “the results were a welcome sign for Democratic leaders seeking to rally the party base behind its incumbents and find ways to motivate voters to cast ballots against Republicans.”

The New York Times says that “two months after Roe v. Wade was overturned, the matter of abortion rights is helping Democrats close what had been a devastating enthusiasm gap.”

First Lady Jill Biden and President Biden together.

First Lady Jill Biden and President Biden together.
(AP/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

All this may be true – and maybe the Dems will lose fewer seats than anticipated–but this “momentum” may prove to be ephemeral. With President Biden just returning from vacation yesterday – during which the Trump drama dominated the news and the climate/health care bill was blown off the radar–his approval rating has barely budged. And that’s an albatross for his party.

Pundits always look for bellwether races, and that’s fine. For the moment it’s New York’s 19th congressional district, which Biden barely won in 2020.

Democratic candidate Pat Ryan, who made abortion the core of his campaign, beat Republican candidate Marc Molinaro by a couple of points. Since Molinaro was expected to win, the upset is the lead of just about every analysis.

In Florida, former governor Charlie Crist beat a more liberal candidate for the right to challenge Ron DeSantis. Crist, now a congressman, faces a long-shot race against the Republican incumbent and possible 2024 contender.

Crist said in a round of TV hits that he’s the candidate of love and DeSantis the candidate of hate, but he’s a former Republican governor who switched parties – and once described himself as pro-life. Plus, DeSantis, whose endorsed candidates won Tuesday, has a huge war chest, and Crist is urging Biden to campaign for him, perhaps to help him raise some money.

In the other Florida race, Marco Rubio, who has literally said he’s begging for funds, now faces Rep. Val Demings, who would be the state’s first black senator. That looks to be highly competitive. 

The most vicious race, by far, was between two liberal House Democrats who found themselves put in the same Manhattan district. Jerry Nadler, a bigger name because of his Judiciary chairmanship, easily beat Carolyn Maloney. But for lawmakers who have been friends for 30 years, it was appalling to see him play the Jewish card, her play the gender card, attack the “boys club,” accuse Nadler of being lazy and suggest he’s senile.

Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY) holds a campaign rally on the Upper West Side of Manhattan on August 20, 2022, in New York City. 

Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY) holds a campaign rally on the Upper West Side of Manhattan on August 20, 2022, in New York City. 
(David Dee Delgado/Getty Images)

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There’s a low barrier to entry in the political speculation game. If you’re wrong, no one remembers it after Election Day. And I could be off base: maybe we’ll look back and say these were the first signs that the Republican tide was receding.

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Other X factors: Biden’s student loan forgiveness program, announced yesterday, has been opposed even by some Democrats (although the Bernie wing wanted a much bigger package). While the move may well motivate younger voters, it’s already being attacked as inflationary and forcing taxpayers to bail out more affluent students who had promised to repay their loans.

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The other wild card is the Senate: With a few hard-right Trumpian nominees off to a shaky start, the Democrats need just a net pickup of one to control the upper chamber.

But it’s safe to say that most of the media, for the moment, are on board with the Democratic optimism.

Howard Kurtz is the host of FOX News Channel’s MediaBuzz (Sundays 11 a.m.-12 p.m. ET). Based in Washington, D.C., he joined the network in July 2013 and regularly appears on Special Report with Bret Baier and other programs.

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