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MILWAUKEE—Sarah Barber admits she lives in a liberal and privileged bubble in Milwaukee’s Riverwest neighborhood. Her customers where she tends bar share her progressive hopes, her classmates in her graduate program generally agree when the 37-year-old speaks up in their psych courses, and she doesn’t regret moving here from Michigan. She is still disappointed when she begins to consider national politics.
“Shit’s not getting done,” she says as she’s wrapping up her Sunday afternoon caffeine fix at a hip coffee joint. “There’s no accomplishments. There’s no accountability. There’s nothing to show for having the House, the Senate, and the White House.”
It’s a common refrain among voters this cycle. In July, shockingly 75% of Democrats said to pollsters that they would prefer Joe Biden to be the nominee for 2024. A full 27% of Democrats say they disapprove of Biden’s performance these days. Strategists have to go back to Jimmy Carter to find an incumbent President with worse polling than Biden’s at the same point in their terms. Washington is stuck in park.
But Barber’s comments last Sunday were particularly noteworthy because the Senate had JustThe entire night was spent preparing legislation to address fairness in tax codes, fight climate change and allow Medicare to negotiate drug pricing. Barber had decried the inaction of others. The final vote was set for that very day. Washington was at its best with the Inflation Reduction Act. It had a catchy title and was not communicated well.
The landmark bill has been sent to Biden by the House Democrats. The votes represent major Democratic wins in an election environment that even the most partisan liberal will admit isn’t great.
But, the significant victory wasn’t top of mind in the heartland. And most of the country’s journalists have their attention spans glued to the Strangelove-esque revelations coming out of Mar-a-Lago. As November nears, all of this should concern Biden and the other Democrats.
“People are reluctant to bash [Biden] because he’s our team,” Barber says. “We knew this was the sacrifice we were making when we nominated him, but he got Trump out. I just don’t know how anyone defends him now.”
She then utters the words that haunt the empty-benched Democrats: “Let’s hope he doesn’t run again.”
Biden, along with his colleagues Democrats, are fighting for the narrowest majority in Congress this year. Republicans will need only to win one seat in 50-50 Senate. Democrats hold a 10-seat lead in the House. Polls show Republican voters are more interested in this fall’s contests, but that, too, changed after the Supreme Court reversed RoeThe Democrats were suddenly able to see the significance of June’s school shooting in Uvalde (Texas) (Specific candidates can also make a difference.
It may not be wise to run the tape before Nov. 9. Incumbent Democratic Senators are consistently posting better fundraising numbers than their Republican challengers, and Democratic candidates are keeping the numbers competitive despite donors’ skittishness. A handful of important races are where Democrats may have either engineered their way or luck to get some troublesome GOP nominees. Biden’s poll numbers seem to have steadied, and the generic ballot question has trended into Democrats’ favor since Roe Uvalde
While economic issues remain top of mind for voters and signs are pointing to an increase in inflation, unemployment is low. It is finally starting to fall in gas prices. A summer of revenge has brought relief to families that had been living in fear for two years.
We may now be at an inflection moment in our campaign cycle. Biden is starting to celebrate the turn on the economy and will soon sign a piece of legislation many—myself included—thought dead as negotiations lumbered on. These results could buoy Biden, particularly among Democrats looking for signs of life.
Or not. The 2023 election for control of Congress feels more uncertain than it was a few months ago. How that dynamic shifts, or doesn’t, in the coming days will be revealing.
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