The Senate and governors editor for The Cook Political Report told The Star News Network the collapse of popular support for President Joseph R. Biden Jr., was one of the critical factors driving the political prognosticating site’s decision to move Senate races in Georgia, Arizona and Nevada to ‘Toss Up.’
“We never start an incumbent out in ‘Toss Up,’ until they have an opponent,” said Jessica Taylor, about the changes to move the three Democrats, Arizona’s Sen. Mark A. Kelly, Georgia’s Sen. Raphael G. Warnock and Nevada’s Sen. Catherine M. Cortez-Mastro from the presumption that they were favored for reelection.
The Cook Political Report rates races on a seven-grade scale, Solid, Likely and Leans for Republicans and Democrats with Toss Up in the middle.
In the 2022 Senate midterms, Democrats are defending 14 seats, while Republicans are defending 20 seats. Cook rates 10 Senate Democrats as Safe and one as Likely, New Hampshire’s Sen. Margaret C. “Maggie” Hasson.
Hasson beat Republican Sen. Kelly A. Ayotte by .14 percentage points and by 1,107 votes in 2016.
“We did not move New Hampshire yet, and that’s simply because that with Governor Sununu passing on running, there is no challenger yet, that is no competent challenger running yet,” Taylor said. “We’re still watching that, but Senator Hassan won by just over one thousand votes in her race; she’s very vulnerable as well.” Gov. Christopher T. Sununu took himself out of the Senate race November 9.
Taylor said one of the lessons of the 2021 off-cycle elections, specifically in Virginia, is that President Donald J. Trump and Trump voters are not going away.
“We clearly saw in Virginia, the red areas from Trump can get redder with the right kind of candidate,” she said.
If there were a problem for Republicans, she said it would be in the primaries, such as Arizona’s.
The four major Republican candidates competing in the August 2 primary are: Attorney General Mark Brnovich, Thiel Foundation President Blake Masters, retired Air National Guard Maj. Gen. Michael “Mick” McGuire and solar energy businessman Jim Lamon.
“In Arizona, I would not say there is a clear front runner right now,” Taylor said. “Brnovich has the name ID, but you have both Masters and Lamon, who are going to spend a ton of money – and that is a late primary as well, not happening until August, so that is a little dicier for Republicans, I think.”
Trump supporters have hostility towards Brnovich because of his reluctance to challenge the 2020 presidential tally and the Maricopa County audit, she said. “Brnovich is going to have trouble with the base, and he is not raising money.”
PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel backs Masters, and Lamon has pledged to spend $50 million on his own money, she said.
Even if Arizona Republicans nominate someone more conservative than Republican Sen. Martha E. McSally, who lost twice in 2020 and 2018, in wave election, there is a political environment that allows lesser quality candidates to succeed, she said.
There are still a lot of unknowns in the GOP primary in Arizona, she said. “I think that one’s just too early to tell right now.”
In Georgia, 1982 Heisman Trophy recipient Herschel Walker, and in Nevada, Attorney General Adam P. Laxalt have established themselves as favorites. In fact, Walker has secured the endorsements of both Trump and Senate Minority Leader A. Mitchell “Mitch” McConnell (R-KY).
Taylor: Biden is hurting down-ballot Democrats
“You also have added in there that we’ve clearly seen President Biden’s approval ratings in states that he very narrowly won in 2020 take a precipitous drop, and with the kind of shifts that we saw in New Jersey and Virginia – double-digit shifts in both states – it’s very clear these states were ones that Biden very narrowly won,” said Taylor.
These three states were among the five slimmest margins for Biden, with the man in the White House winning Georgia by 11,779 votes, or by .24 percentage points; Arizona by 10,457 votes, or .31 percentage points; and Nevada by 33,596 votes, or 2.39 percentage points.
Taylor said it does not help the three Senate Democrats that each of them are freshmen, with both Kelly and Warnock having just faced the voters in 2020 so that they have not had time to build up a reservoir of support with voters that would help them survive a wave election going against their party.
Kelly and Warnock also won their seats in 2020 in two of the three closest Senate races, Kelly with 51.2 percent of the vote and Warnock with 51 percent, she said. “They are having to run again because they were running in special elections.”
Given the current national political environment and the close margins in their first races, Cook could no longer rate these three Senate Democrats as favorites, she said.
“That’s why we moved them to ‘Toss Up,’” Taylor said.
“There is a national mood, but we are seeing in The Washington Post-ABC News poll that came out a few weeks ago that tested Biden’s approval ratings in the swing states, and it was in the low 30s,” she said.
“I’m not sure if it is that low, but if it is in the low 40s nationally, and these are states that he just won narrowly, you gotta think that it’s not in great territory, and for a president’s midterm election, probably the best indicator we have is where the president’s approval rating is heading into a midterm year,” she said.
Taylor: Biden has not delivered the ‘normalcy and competence’ he promised
The Cook Senate and governors editor said that with a year to go, things could still change.
“Can things turn around for Democrats? Yes, but when we look at where everything is right now: rising inflation, higher gas and grocery prices, decreased consumer confidence—you know, they got the infrastructure bill now, and they’re hoping to get the Build Back Better through, but those are things they’ve got to sell to the American people,” she said.
“I would say there’s a loss of confidence in this White House that was elected on large part based on a return to normalcy and competence,” she said.
“Normalcy and competence are what Biden ran on, but voters are not seeing that right now—they are not seeing the results almost a year into his presidency,” Taylor said. “It’s very likely that when we look at historical trends, especially, that incumbent Democrats and the party are going to pay for that.”
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Neil W. McCabe is the national political editor for The Star News Network. Follow him on Twitter: @neilwmccabe2.