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A nail-biter

Nov 07,2022 - Last updated at Nov 07,2022

This election will be a nail-biter, with polls suggesting that Democrats will have difficulty maintaining their slim control of both houses of Congress. In addition to the president’s low approval ratings, an indicator of a dissatisfied electorate, there are other issues at work.

In the House of Representatives, Democratic prospects never looked promising. The decennial redistricting congressional maps eliminated some Democratic seats and created enough new safe Republican districts to give the GOP a structural edge in the House. Despite some expressions of Democratic hope or bravado, their retaining House leadership is quite unlikely.

The Senate is a different story. Of 34 seats being contested, 13 held by Democrats, 21 by Republicans, 10 are considered vulnerable, five in each party. With an evenly split Senate, all Democrats must do is break even to maintain leadership.

Two months ago, Democrats appeared to have an advantage, with stronger Senate candidates and polls showing that their issues were resonating with voters. Republicans had nominated a few far-right, Trump-endorsed election deniers with less-than-exemplary resumes. Democrats seemed likely to hold onto four of their five vulnerable seats, while flipping one or two currently Republican seats.

In recent weeks, however, the situation has changed and polling shows tightening contests.

Hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent by campaigns, parties, and outside groups, painting these elections in the starkest terms, with both sides preying on fear and blame. For Republicans: fear of inflation, blaming Democrats for high gas and food prices; fear of crime, blaming Democrats for criticisms of policing; and fear of out-of-control immigration, blaming Democrats for supporting open borders and the undocumented.

For Democrats: Fear that Republicans will ban all abortions; blaming Republicans for blocking gun control legislation; and fear that democracy is at risk from election-denying Trump supporters defending the January 6th insurrection and making it harder to vote.

The obscene amounts spent advertising these messages nationwide have deepened the partisan divide, exacerbating our polarised political environment, and played to the advantage of Republicans.

Two recent polls are instructive. The first, from NYT/Siena College, showed that since July “the share of voters citing the economy, inflation, crime and immigration as the ‘most important problem’ facing the country increased to 52 per cent, up 14 points” and abortion, democracy, or guns dropped to 14 per cent from 26 per cent”.

The second poll, released by the Democratic Party, outlined their strategy focusing on abortion as the key issue to turn out voters in November. The presentation argued that key Democratic voters (i.e., young voters, educated women, and minority communities) all supported abortion rights. What it ignored is that abortion is currently an important priority for only 5 per cent of all voters.

Democrats are focused on defending abortion rights and losing ground, while Republicans are railing against the increased cost of living and high crime rates. And in contests across the country, Republicans are either pulling ahead of Democrats or catching up with them, because, even if disapproving of their party’s nominees, they’ve decided to come home.

It is not that abortion rights, the threat to democracy, or the epidemic of gun violence are not critical issues facing the nation. But, though important, they aren’t the top issues on voters’ minds. As my father, a small grocer, said: “Listen to your customers or you might lose them to someone who will.”

With one week to go and most key races too close to call, it will be a nail-biter. An unexpected wind blowing in either direction could move the electorate one way or another. But it seems probable that Democrats will maintain control of the Senate, while Republicans will assume leadership in the House.

With such an outcome, the good news for Democrats is that the president will continue to have judges and other appointments confirmed. The bad news for the country is that’s about all that will happen. Congress will be paralysed, and government shutdowns due to lack of agreement on funding are probable. The Republican Party’s far-right will challenge their leadership, demanding Benghazi-style hearings on any number of issues and maybe even attempt impeachment. It will be two nightmarish years of polarisation and dysfunction leading up to the 2024 national election, when we do it all over again.


The writer is president of the Washington-based Arab American Institute

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