It can never be emphasized enough that in the U.S. Senate split 50-50, Democrats only have a majority because Vice President Kamala Harris serves as a tie-breaking vote. While some outgoing Republicans could be replaced by Democrats, it nevertheless could be a fragile path for Democrats to hold onto the majority. The grim possibility is highlighted by a poll for Senate Majority PAC, which is aligned with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY).
POLITICO'S Chris Cadelago and Sam Stein were able to obtain a copy of a poll summary from the group and in their Wednesday reporting they note "‘We are sleepwalking’: Senate Dem operatives privately warn about rough road ahead."
There's no easy way to say it. As they warn:
President Joe Biden’s numbers across Senate battlegrounds have eroded dramatically in recent months, according to a summary of the poll for the Senate Majority PAC, the group aligned with Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer. Making matters worse, Biden is struggling with so-called persuadable voters — those who are on the fence but could be convinced to vote Democratic.
Despite the millions of jobs added and growth in the GDP under Biden, a majority of voters (53 percent) say the economy has gotten worse while just 30 percent of voters say it’s improved, the poll showed. Perhaps more troubling for Biden and Democrats, who are trying to maintain their razor-thin Senate majority in 2022, is the pessimistic view of the “persuadable” camp. Just 18 percent of those voters say the economy is getting better.
“We are sleepwalking. We are so focused on getting these deals done, but in the grand scheme of it we have to be focused on Republicans. That’s the key here. They’re getting a free pass,” said one Democrat who was shown the numbers. “It’s going to be really rough, and I really worry about some of our senators.”
Overall, the survey paints a bleak picture for Democrats, who have struggled to get credit for the economic improvements since taking power and then winning a pair of Senate seats in Georgia. Inflation concerns topped the list of the most pressing economic issue, with 56 percent of persuadable voters listing it as the top priority. The slides did show that a plurality of voters believe the situation with Covid-19 has improved since Biden took office.
On the whole, the numbers appear strikingly similar to the troubles former President Barack Obama encountered over his first two years in office after helping to jump-start the economy only to see his party crushed in the 2010 midterms.
When it comes to the breakdown of the poll's findings, Senate Democrats may be hit particularly hard by President Joe Biden's poor approval ratings. In Senate battleground states, Biden is underwater by double digits, with a 41 percent approval rating and 52 percent disapproval rating. With "persuadable targets," Biden is especially underwater. Twenty-seven percent approve of Biden's job performance while 57 percent disapprove. Perhaps the grimmest warning from Caelago and Stein is that "[f]ew Senate races in the modern political era tilt against how voters view the president. So if Biden is underwater heading into the election year, holding a 50-50 Senate will prove to be a tough proposition for Democrats."
The poll was conducted in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Florida, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Georgia, and Nevada.
For context, Democrats indeed got "crushed in the 2010 midterms," resulting in a gain of 6 seats in the Senate and 63 seats in the House, giving GOP control of the latter by 242-193.
Earlier in the week, Andrew Prokop for Vox bluntly asked "How screwed are Democrats in the Senate?" In it, Prokop analyzes not only 2022, but 2024 as well, as he refers to a sense of "impending Senate doom" and warns that "Democrats’ main problem is that they’ve been doing poorly among white voters without a college education, who are spread out across many states, while Democrats’ voters are concentrated in fewer, bigger states."
Prokop breaks senators into different categories, including "the close states," for which he writes:
It’s also useful to break these down by cycle. In 2022, Kelly (Arizona), Warnock (Georgia), and Cortez Masto (Nevada) are up for Democrats; Rubio (Florida) and the retiring Burr (North Carolina) for Republicans, plus Johnson and Toomey, Republicans in states that Biden won. That’s a relatively balanced map, meaning that Democrats’ biggest problem will be defying historical trends that the president’s party tends to lose voter support in the midterms. A bigger shift, or unique circumstances specific to the candidates, could also put other races in play.
But 2024 could be an utter debacle for Democrats in the Senate if the election goes poorly for them. Sinema, Baldwin, Casey, Rosen, and Stabenow are all up, along with the Trump-state Democrats Manchin, Tester, and Brown. Meanwhile, Rick Scott is the only Republican in a close state up that year.
Prokop had also referenced an opinion piece earlier this month by Ezra Klein for The New York Times, "David Shor Is Telling Democrats What They Don’t Want to Hear."
"We’re screwed in the Senate, he said. Only he didn’t say 'screwed,'" Klein notes about Democratic data scientist, Shor.