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4 Weeks Out, Senate Control Hangs within the Balance in Tumultuous Midterms


Exactly one month until Election Day, Republicans remain favored to take over the House in November, but momentum within the pitched battle for the Senate has seesawed forwards and backwards as a multimillion-dollar avalanche of promoting has blanketed the highest battleground states.

For nearly 20 years, midterm elections have been a succession of partisan waves: for Democrats in 2006, Republicans in 2010 and 2014, and Democrats again in 2018. Yet as the primary mail-in ballots exit to voters, the final result of the 2022 midterms on Nov. 8 appears unusually unpredictable — a reason for optimism for Democrats, given how severely the party that holds the White House has been punished lately.

Three states particularly — Georgia, Nevada and Pennsylvania — which are seen because the likeliest to alter party hands have emerged because the epicenter of the Senate fight with an increasing volume of acrimony and promoting. In some ways, the 2 parties have been talking almost entirely past one another each on the campaign trail and on the airwaves — disagreeing less over particular policies than debating entirely different lists of challenges and threats facing the nation.

Republicans have pounded voters with messages in regards to the lackluster economy, frightening crime, rising inflation and an unpopular President Biden. Democrats have countered by warning in regards to the stripping away of abortion rights and the specter of Donald J. Trump’s allies returning to power. Each parties are tailoring their messages to achieve suburban voters, especially women, who’re seen as probably the most prized and persuadable bloc in a polarized electorate.

The 12 months has progressed like a political roller coaster. Republicans boasted that a typical wave was constructing within the spring, and Democrats then claimed the momentum after the Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe. v. Wade galvanized progressive and independent voters. Now the pendulum seems to have swung back.

“I wish the election was a month ago,” conceded Navin Nayak, a Democratic strategist and the president of the Center for American Progress Motion Fund. He was heartened, nonetheless, to see his party with a fighter’s probability, adding that Democrats had “no business being on this election.”

The challenge for Democrats is that in addition they don’t have any margin for error. Clinging to a 50-50 Senate and a single-digit House majority, they’re looking for to defy not only history but Mr. Biden’s unpopularity. “Even the slightest tremor goes to place the Democrats within the minority,” as Peter Hart, a longtime Democratic pollster, put it.

Come November, whichever party’s issue set is more dominant within the minds of the electorate is anticipated to have the upper hand.

“The Democrats’ message is, ‘Elect Republicans and the sky may fall!’” Paul Shumaker, a veteran Republican strategist based in North Carolina, said, referring to rhetoric around abortion and Trumpism. But he said that voters “see the sky is falling — all due to Joe Biden’s bad economy. The rise in prices on the food market is an on a regular basis fact of life.”

With the primaries over, each parties are shifting their focus to the overall election on Nov. 8.

  • Standing by Herschel Walker: After a report that the G.O.P. Senate candidate in Georgia paid for a girlfriend’s abortion in 2009, Republicans rallied behind him, fearing that a break with the previous football star could hurt the party’s probabilities to take the Senate.
  • Wisconsin Senate Race: Mandela Barnes, the Democratic candidate, is wobbling in his contest against Senator Ron Johnson, the Republican incumbent, as an onslaught of G.O.P. attack ads takes a toll.
  • G.O.P. Senate Gains: After signs emerged that Republicans were making gains within the race for the Senate, the polling shift is now clear, writes Nate Cohn, The Times’s chief political analyst.
  • Democrats’ Closing Argument: Buoyed by polls that show the tip of Roe v. Wade has moved independent voters their way, vulnerable House Democrats have reoriented their campaigns around abortion rights in the ultimate weeks before the election.

Republicans are bullish on taking the House. Representative Elise Stefanik of Latest York, the chair of the House Republican Conference, predicted a “red tsunami” in an interview. “I feel we will win over 35 seats, which might give us the biggest majority for the reason that Great Depression,” she said.

Republicans, in truth, need only a red ripple to take the gavel from Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s current threadbare 220-member majority. For Democrats to keep up power, they would want a near sweep of the battleground districts, winning roughly 80 percent of them, in accordance with political analysts who rate the competitiveness of races.

As Dan Conston, who heads the Congressional Leadership Fund, the super PAC aligned with the House Republican leadership, sees it: If Republicans win every seat that Mr. Trump carried, plus every seat that Mr. Biden won by five percentage points or less, they are going to secure 224 seats, a narrow six-seat majority.

“The political environment has moved in multiple ways this cycle and has more contrasting issues which are keeping either side engaged and energized,” Mr. Conston said.

It’s Republican super PAC spending that has frightened House Democrats most in recent weeks.

“We all the time knew this is able to be tough,” Representative Sean Patrick Maloney of Latest York, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said in an interview. Of the super PAC money deficit, he said, “We just need enough.”

Within the Senate, the battlefield has been shaped by powerful crosscurrents and has swelled to as many as 10 states — and if a single state flips to the Republicans, they’d control the chamber.

Republicans have improved their standing in several key Senate races — including those in Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — by pummeling Democrats over crime. But those gains have been offset partially by the struggles of several Republican nominees, including those in Arizona and in Georgia, where Herschel Walker’s campaign has been engulfed by the allegation that he financed an abortion for a former girlfriend.

One of the significant Senate developments got here in Latest Hampshire, where Republicans nominated Don Bolduc in September despite warnings in Republican-funded television ads that his “crazy ideas” would make him unelectable. In a recent radio interview, Senator Rick Scott, the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, pointedly didn’t include Latest Hampshire amongst his party’s top five pickup opportunities. And late Friday, Mr. Scott’s group began canceling greater than $5 million it had reserved there, saying it was redirecting the funds elsewhere.

Recruiting failures have hampered Senate Republicans throughout 2022, and Senator Mitch McConnell, the minority leader, complained over the summer about “candidate quality.”

How Times reporters cover politics. We depend on our journalists to be independent observers. So while Times staff members may vote, they will not be allowed to endorse or campaign for candidates or political causes. This includes participating in marches or rallies in support of a movement or giving money to, or raising money for, any political candidate or election cause.

But most Senate strategists now see control of the chamber hinging particularly on Nevada and Georgia, where Democratic incumbents are looking for re-election, and Pennsylvania, an open seat held by a retiring Republican. And whichever party wins two of those three could be strongly favored to be in the bulk.

Either side are still looking for to stretch the map. A Democratic super PAC just injected more cash into North Carolina, and Republicans have talked up their probabilities in Colorado. Tens of millions of dollars are funding ads specializing in Republican-held seats in Ohio and Florida, as well.

“That is the strangest midterm I’ve ever been a component of, because you’ve gotten these two things in direct conflict,” said Guy Cecil, a veteran campaign operative who chairs the Democratic group Priorities USA. “You may have what history tells us, and you’ve gotten all this data that claims it’s going to be a really close election.”

Looming over the political environment is the unpopularity of Mr. Biden. Polls show he has recovered from his lowest points over the summer after signing laws that addressed climate change and senior drug prices. A dip in gas prices helped, too.

But his approval stays mired within the low 40-percent range, and gas prices began ticking back up even before the recent decision by Saudi Arabia and Russia to chop oil production.

Democrats have repeatedly framed the election as a alternative and warned that Republican gains would usher within the return to power of Mr. Trump’s movement.

Representative Hakeem Jeffries of Latest York, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, said in an interview that it was an urgent priority to “make it clear that it’s an untenable situation at hand over the keys to the extremists in the opposite party.”

Ms. Stefanik, the No. 3 House Republican, accused Democrats of attempting to distract voters.

“The Democratic Party is attempting to turn this right into a referendum on Trump,” she said. “It will not be. It’s a referendum on Joe Biden.”

Even greater than Mr. Trump, abortion stands at the middle of virtually all Democratic electoral hopes this 12 months. Its persuasive power alarmed Republicans over the summer, especially after Kansans voted against a referendum that had threatened abortion rights within the state and Democrats outperformed expectations in some special elections.

Gov. Roy Cooper of North Carolina, the chairman of the Democratic Governors Association, said the breadth of the abortion decision had taken swing voters by surprise, despite years of warnings from advocates and predictions from Mr. Trump himself that his Supreme Court appointees would do exactly that. The shock, Mr. Cooper said, has not worn off.

“I don’t think anyone thought that after their testimony in committee within the U.S. Senate that they’d actually vote to show it on its head,” Mr. Cooper said of Trump-appointed justices.

Republicans have sought a fragile two-step on abortion, catering to a base demanding its prohibition and to the political center, which is essentially supportive of Roe.

In Nevada, Adam Laxalt, the Republican Senate candidate, is broadcasting television ads proclaiming that regardless of what happens in Washington, abortion will remain legal in Nevada, attempting to pivot voter attention back to crime and the economy.

“Over the past two years, Democrat politicians have done incredible damage to America,” one ad intones. “But one thing hasn’t modified: abortion in Nevada. Why do Democrats like Catherine Cortez Masto only discuss something that hasn’t modified? Because they’ll’t defend all the pieces that has.”

Republican fortunes have improved partially through enormous spending by a brilliant PAC aligned with Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, which is funding a $170 million television blitz across seven states that began on Labor Day and is ready to proceed through the election.

Crime has dominated the Republican messaging in Nevada, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, where the summertime edge held by the Democratic nominee, John Fetterman, over Dr. Mehmet Oz, the Republican nominee, has largely evaporated.

“Dangerously liberal on crime,” says one anti-Fetterman ad in Pennsylvania.

“This campaign weathered an unprecedented six weeks of attacks,” said Rebecca Katz, a senior strategist for Mr. Fetterman. “And never only are we still standing — we’re still winning.”

In a twist for this era of hyperpartisanship, voters could render various split decisions between governor and Senate contests in battlegrounds this fall.

In Georgia and Latest Hampshire, incumbent Republican governors are leading in polls, outpacing the Republican nominees for Senate. The other is true in Wisconsin, where the Democratic governor is further ahead in polling, in addition to in Pennsylvania, where Josh Shapiro, the Democratic governor nominee, is leading.

In a single recent crime ad, Dr. Oz, the celebrity physician, notably drew a distinction between Mr. Fetterman and Mr. Shapiro. He appeared to be trying to find crossover Shapiro-Oz votes.

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