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Democrats Sense a Shift within the Political Winds, but It May Not Be Enough

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Energized abortion-rights voters. Donald J. Trump back within the highlight. Stronger-than-expected special elections, including a surprising win early Wednesday in Latest York.

Democratic leaders, once beaten down by the prospect of a brutal midterm election in the autumn, are daring to dream that they will maintain control of Congress this November.

An unexpected victory by Pat Ryan, a Democrat, in a special House election to fill a emptiness in Latest York’s Hudson Valley offered Democrats solid evidence that their voters were willing to come back out and that their message was resonating. It followed strong Democratic showings in other special elections, in Nebraska, Minnesota and upstate Latest York, because the Supreme Court repealed Roe v. Wade. Mr. Ryan placed abortion rights front and center while his Republican opponent, Marc Molinaro, sidestepped the problem to deal with the issues his party still believes will drive voters — inflation, crime, the economy. It didn’t work.

“Kevin McCarthy made an enormous mistake by measuring the drapes too early and doubling down on Trumpism, and it’s proving to be fatal,” said Representative Hakeem Jeffries of Latest York, the chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, referring to the House Republican leader.

However the House map in 2022 favors Republicans, due to Republican-led redistricting and a slew of retirements of Democratic lawmakers. Meaning the shifting political winds usually tend to merely blunt any Republican wave within the House moderately than save the Democratic majority.

Primary races and special elections, which fill seats which might be vacated before the top of a lawmaker’s term, usually are not necessarily reliable predictors of general election turnout, Republicans note.

“Majorities are won in November, not August,” said Michael McAdams, the communications director for the National Republican Congressional Committee, the House Republicans’ official campaign arm. “We sit up for prosecuting the case against Democrats’ failed one-party rule that’s left American families worse off.”

That endeavor is becoming harder. Falling gas prices have robbed Republicans of the starkest visual evidence of inflation. Passage in recent weeks of laws to regulate prescription drug prices, tackle climate change, extend medical insurance subsidies, bolster domestic semiconductor manufacturing and impose tighter gun controls on teenagers and the mentally ailing have given Democrats achievements to run on while countering accusations of a do-nothing Congress.

And the F.B.I.’s seizure of lots of of highly classified documents from Mr. Trump’s Florida home has put the previous president back into the highlight as Democrats press their efforts to solid Republicans as extremists and make the November election a selection between the 2 parties, not a referendum on President Biden.

For the primary time because the fall of 2021, polling averages indicate a narrow majority of voters who say they like Democratic over Republican control of Congress.

Even some Republicans come clean with nervousness.

“It looks like troubling clouds on the horizon to me,” said Representative Billy Long, a Republican from Missouri. “The Republicans have to heed Satchel Paige’s advice of ‘Don’t look back. Something could also be gaining on you.’”

And yet, for all of the trend lines tilting toward Democrats, there remains to be the unavoidable math of the midterms.

Republicans need a mere five seats to win a House majority — and their candidates are in strong positions to win the majority of nine districts that Mr. Trump would have won easily two years ago if the brand new maps had been in place. Seven of those nine seats shouldn’t have a Democratic incumbent to defend them. Republicans might need their pick of one other seven Democratic seats that Mr. Trump would have won in 2020, though by narrower margins. 4 of those don’t have any incumbent to defend them.

The nonpartisan Cook Political Report rates 10 Democratic seats as leaning toward or prone to be Republican, against three Republican seats that lean Democratic. That works out to a Republican majority.

“The Republicans don’t need a wave to win back the House,” said Nathan L. Gonzalez, a nonpartisan House election analyst. “There will probably be some Democrats who win in Trump districts, but they will probably be the exceptions, not the rule.”

Still, greater than a dozen interviews with Democratic candidates illustrated the consistency of their optimism. All of them saw Democratic and independent voters as newly energized by the abortion issue. They believed recent Democratic achievements had modified their image as an ineffectual majority to an efficient one. And so they detected real fear amongst voters of a resurgent, anti-democracy right wing, abetted by the Republican leadership.

How Times reporters cover politics.
We depend on our journalists to be independent observers. So while Times staff members may vote, they usually are not 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.

“You’ve got Democrats delivering and Republicans seemingly obsessive about banning abortion, attacking the F.B.I., prosecuting their culture wars and playing their grievance politics,” said Representative Tom Malinowski, Democrat of Latest Jersey, whose redrawn district leans Republican but who insists he has the momentum in his bid for re-election.

Representative Elissa Slotkin, Democrat of Michigan, whose redrawn district is more Republican and more rural, said she couldn’t count the variety of Republican women who had pulled her aside to specific their fears of an abortion ban. That feedback, on top of the local projects she has won for Central Michigan and the overall turmoil within the state’s G.O.P., has her confidence significantly up, she said.

“There’s a path to holding the bulk,” she said. “It’s a narrow path, but there may be a path. In case you asked me six months ago, I’d have said there was no path.”

Even Democratic candidates who many thought didn’t have a likelihood earlier this yr are campaigning hard and expressing confidence. Representative Tom O’Halleran, Democrat of Arizona, whose vast recent district includes greater than half the state and is solidly Republican, emerged from a town-hall meeting on Tuesday night to scoff on the prognosticators who put his seat within the Republican column.

“The extent of enthusiasm is comparable to the last cycle, once we had an enormous turnout,” Mr. O’Halleran said. “My name recognition is incredibly high, I actually have the facility of incumbency and nearly all of the brand new district was where I used to be a state legislator for six years.”

For House candidates like Mr. O’Halleran, broader political forces could also be lifting them up. Senator Mark Kelly, an Arizona Democrat, was expected to have one in all the hardest re-election races in his country, but his huge war chest and centrist campaign have given him a measurable lead over Blake Masters, a Trump-backed political newcomer who overtook more experienced Republicans.

A heated governor’s race has also supercharged the Arizona electorate. Katie Hobbs, the Democratic secretary of state who certified Mr. Biden’s 2020 victory in Arizona, is facing Kari Lake, a Trump-endorsed former television news personality who ardently denies Mr. Biden’s victory and falsely claims that Mr. Trump was the winner.

Similar statewide races could also be helping Democratic House candidates in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Florida and possibly Texas, where Trumpism and abortion have raised the stakes and boosted voter enthusiasm in normally sleepy midterm elections.

“It’s palpable, actually in the bottom, nevertheless it goes beyond that,” said Representative Charlie Crist, a Republican-turned-Democrat who won the Florida primary on Tuesday to challenge Gov. Ron DeSantis in November.

Data backs that feeling up. A poll released Tuesday by the Pew Research Center found that 56 percent of registered voters said the problem of abortion can be very essential of their midterm vote, up from 43 percent in March, with nearly all of that increase coming from Democrats. Virtually the identical percentage of Democrats — 69 percent against 72 percent of Republicans — now say it “really matters” which party controls Congress. That’s up nine percentage points for Democrats and barely modified amongst Republicans.

None of that surprises Simon Rosenberg, the founding father of Latest Democrat Network who helped propel Democratic candidates within the wave election of 2018. Republican leaders made two starkly bad decisions this yr, Mr. Rosenberg said. They rushed to embrace Mr. Trump’s political movement, even after it had suffered consecutive losses in 2018 and 2020, and so they opted against putting out a platform to run on, believing the 2022 election would hinge on an unpopular president and Democratic control.

“It’s the MAGA hangover,” he said. “Numerous persons are disenchanted in Joe Biden, but that doesn’t mean they’d turn around and vote for Republicans, a celebration that has been overtaken by extremism.”

Republican voters have helped the method. When the Republican-controlled legislature in Ohio redrew congressional maps, the party hoped to oust Representative Marcy Kaptur, a Democrat, by turning her blue-collar manufacturing district red with rural voters west of Toledo. Then those voters nominated J.R. Majewski, a conspiracy theorist who has repeatedly shared material related to the outlandishly false QAnon movement. Even Republicans give Ms. Kaptur a fighting likelihood.

A redrawn district around Grand Rapids, Mich., had already turned a longtime Republican seat right into a tossup. But then primary voters ousted Representative Peter Meijer for his vote to question Mr. Trump and selected a Trump acolyte as an alternative, John Gibbs.

“We’re running against someone who won’t admit that Joe Biden is the duly elected president of the USA,” said Hillary Scholten, the Democrat now favored in that race in November. “It’s deeply, deeply concerning for a lot of, many citizens on this district.”

Republican legislators in Tennessee redrew Representative Jim Cooper’s long-held district around Nashville to dilute the facility of the growing Democratic city, chasing him into retirement while hoping to bequeath the newly Republican district to Beth Harwell, the primary female speaker of the State House of Representatives. Then she was beaten in the first by a rather more Trump-aligned conservative, Andy Ogles.

On Monday, the Democrat within the race, State Senator Heidi Campbell, released an internal poll indicating that if the election were today, she would win 51 percent to 48 percent. Many have dismissed it, but almost nobody thought there can be a race in any respect.

“Persons are bored with the divisive politics,” Ms. Campbell said Wednesday.

Whatever the dynamics in individual races, control of the House will still be shaped by district lines, lots of which simply is probably not winnable for Democrats.

Representative Al Lawson, a veteran Black Democrat in North Florida, saw his solidly Democratic district turn shiny red after the governor, Mr. DeSantis, pushed the state legislature and the courts to win approval of an aggressively gerrymandered map that would cost Democrats 4 seats. Mr. Lawson appealed to the courts to save lots of the one district that will represent Black Floridians within the state’s north, but he was unsuccessful.

Mr. Lawson said Wednesday that he was campaigning hard, but even he didn’t predict he could beat one other incumbent, Representative Neal Dunn, a Republican who has the strong backing of Mr. Trump.

“I sit up for the challenge,” he said.

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