Afew short weeks ago, the conventional wisdom concerning the 2022 midterm elections seemed to be coalescing around a split decision — that Republicans would retake the House with a small majority and Democrats were slight favorites to hold onto the Senate.
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If that seemed a little too neat — and I guess, looking back, it did — it’s because in midterm elections, we all know that the party in power nearly always loses seats, particularly when inflation is high and the president’s approval ratings are low.
So, as I sat down to write this, the conventional wisdom is suggesting a larger GOP majority in the House and a tossup in the Senate. If you trust the polls, momentum seems to have shifted, and Democrats are starting to fear a scarier-than-Halloween Red Tide, and with absolutely no candy treat to sweeten the result.
But you don’t have to be conventional or wise to know that, whatever happens, remotely close elections will be litigated until the end of time — or, as Lauren Boebert would say, “End Times” — because that’s where the political world is today. So, we probably won’t know the full results any time soon.
And then there are the wild cards: What will the reaction be, if any, to the savage beating of Nancy Pelosi’s husband and the potential for the speaker to have been kidnapped and knee-capped? Will there be any blowback for the ugly tweets commenting on the attack from, say, Donald Trump Jr. or, yes, from the new Twitter owner, Elon Musk?
I mean, it’s bad enough that Musk wants to fire much of his staff and also to charge $20 for the verifying blue check mark. As Stephen King, and others, have said: Bleep that.
I have my own take, of course, on election predictions. And my take is that it’s a fool’s game to pretend to be confident about any of this because, well, since Donald Trump came down that escalator to enter the presidential race in 2015, predictability has taken nearly as bad a beating in America as democracy has.
Unless, of course, you live in Colorado. The Democratic New York governor may be in trouble — certainly the Dems there are panicking — and Dems are even worried about solid blue Oregon. But Jared Polis seems to be cruising against Heidi Ganahl and her furry friends, leading the polls by double figures. And Sen. Michael Bennet, whose seat once seemed like a possible GOP pickup, is leading by 7-8 points in the polls.
I’m not suggesting polls are perfect or even close. But if you trust them at all, it looks like our former swing state has become dependably blue, even as so much is undependable in a host of other states.
While Trumpists were winning Republican primaries across the country, Colorado’s GOP rejected most of the craziest of the crazies. So, why does Joe O’Dea’s attempt to run as a semi-moderate, non-election-denying Republican Senate candidate seem not to be gaining traction? It can’t just be that in a recent debate with Bennet that O’Dea’s answer to virtually every problem, pretty much including world peace, was to produce more fossil fuels.
Outside Colorado, much of the political prediction world has turned upside down. Let us count the ways.
Almost no one predicted Trump’s win in 2016. Almost no one predicted that nearly two years after the fact, two-thirds of Republicans would say they believe Joe Biden’s 2020 victory over Trump was rigged.
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Almost no one — OK, maybe a few people — predicted that Trumpists would storm the Capitol on Jan. 6, intent on hanging Mike Pence, calling for Nancy Pelosi and attempting something between an insurrection and a coup. I guess we should have known that Trump would take hours before taking any steps to stop the violence. But who had in their poll that Pence would be the hero of the day?
And I still find it hard to believe that a dynastic Republican — Liz Cheney — would heroically lead, at the cost of her House seat, the apparently losing fight to undo the damage that Trump has done to the Republican Party.
And if a lot of people predicted the Supreme Court would, in fact, overturn Roe v. Wade, it’s still pretty damn hard to take in that the Trump/McConnell Court risked its reputation by abandoning what is called super precedent when approximately 70% of Americans disagreed with the ruling.
So, where does that leave us? Let’s just say it’s tougher to be a political pundit these days than it is to work for Musk’s new slash-and-burn Twitter regime. (Easy prediction, by the way: Musk will reinstate Trump’s Twitter account. Tougher prediction: Will Trump abandon Truth Social to go back on Twitter? He says he won’t.)
According to the people who are supposed to know, the Senate majority will be decided by five states — all tossups — or maybe just three utterly and completely unpredictable tossup states, all with Trump-backed GOP candidates.
At last check, fivethirtyeight.com has each party with a 50-50 chance to take the Senate. A few weeks ago, Democrats were a 67% favorite. Real Clear Politics has the GOP leading 48-45, but with seven tossups, including the surprise entry of Patty Murray, the seemingly safe Dem from Washington who was first elected to the Senate in 1992. And The Cook Political Report just moved Arizona from Lean Dem to a tossup, adding even more unpredictability into the mix.
Let me give you a quick example as to why everyone seems confused. If you didn’t watch the John Fetterman-Dr. Oz debate for the U.S. Senate seat from Pennsylvania, you almost certainly saw the clips.
And you could say that Fetterman, the Democrat, lost the debate because, while recovering from a stroke, he clearly, and painfully, had trouble communicating his thoughts. Who knows how long it will take him to fully recover?
Or you could say that Fetterman became a sympathetic character in bravely bringing his speech issues to such scrutiny, and that could help in the election.
Or — yes, so many possibilities — you could say Dr. Oz blew the whole debate with one cringe-producing answer on abortion, saying that the decision belonged to the woman, her doctor and, um, “local political leaders.” Oz says he was taken out of context — that he wanted the states, and not the federal government, to determine abortion rules, but even though that’s a typical GOP talking point, the damage has been done. See Alexandra Petri’s hilarious column in the Washington Post on befuddled “Greg,” the locally elected register of deeds, having to decide whether a woman can get an abortion and you’ll see Oz’s predicament.
It’s not hard to spot the trends. So, why don’t we see them in Colorado in an election year that would seem, at minimum, to give Colorado Republicans a real shot at turning around their fortunes? Of course, even if Polis and Bennet were to win, Republicans could still make progress in the state.
The easy answer for the Senate race, assuming Bennet does win, is that Colorado voters apparently must understand the stakes in this election. But if that were the case, why wouldn’t everyone else?
Mike Littwin has been a columnist for too many years to count. He has covered Dr. J, four presidential inaugurations, six national conventions and countless brain-numbing speeches in the New Hampshire and Iowa snow.
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