In the spring of 1992, James Carville, then the political strategist for the ultimately successful presidential candidate, Bill Clinton, hung a sign in his office, “It’s the economy, stupid.” The message: The state of the economy is the most significant and decisive issue in a federal presidential campaign. The ultimately victorious Clinton campaign would focus almost exclusively on the recessionary state of the Bush 41 economy.
Three years later, America’s leading political demographer, the late Ben Wattenberg, would author a book, Values Matter Most. This classic on American politics vigorously disputed the Carville thesis that the Bush recession enabled Clinton to prevail in Campaign 1992. Instead, Wattenberg attributed the Clinton 1992 victory to four values issues that attracted the support of Reagan Democrats, namely, crime, education, welfare, and affirmative action.
Since the publication of Values Matter Most, political professionals have intensely debated the question of whether economic or values issues are the more determinative of election outcomes. The election of 2022 is likely to signify a split verdict in this debate.
The major economic issue in the 2022 federal campaign is the devastating inflation. The electorate blames President Joe Biden and the Democrats for the inflation, although somewhat unfairly, in my view.
Perception becomes reality, however. The issue of inflation will enable the Republicans to capture control of the US House of Representatives from the Democrats.
Yet during the last week, a values issue has emerged that is at least likely to be equally determinative of the 2022 federal elections as the economic issue of inflation. That issue is the US Supreme Court, specifically their rulings of the past week on abortion choice (reversal of Roe v. Wade) and guns (declaring unconstitutional the New York statute limiting the carrying of guns in public).
These rulings are directly contrary to the values of the vast majority of the American electorate. A Gallup poll taken before these two decisions reported confidence in the Supreme Court to be at a new 50-year low.
The electorate overwhelmingly will blame Republican presidents, particularly Trump, for appointing these justices and the Republican Party, whose Senators voted to confirm them. To the vast majority of the American electorate, these decisions on guns and abortion choice are repulsive to their basic values.
And while American voters will elect a Republican House of Representatives because of the economic issue of inflation, they will simultaneously vote for a Democratic US Senate because of the values issue, the reactionary Supreme Court.
Now ultra-partisan Republican journalists and media personalities will contend that abortion has not been a voting issue in the past and is not likely to be in this election. If the elimination of reproductive freedom in the past was not then a voting issue, it was because pro-choice voters never took seriously the possibility that Roe v. Wade could be reversed by a Republican appointed and confirmed Supreme Court. Now that leading Republicans like former Vice President Mike Pence are calling for a Congressionally-enacted national ban on abortion, the prospect of an end of reproductive freedom in America is truly the Republican elephant in the room.
The elimination of reproductive freedom in America is now likely to be a top-tier issue in elections for years to come. The possibility of this issue doing significant harm to the outlook for GOP candidates this November is being recognized privately by none other than Donald Trump himself, the man who made this situation a reality.
Yet the most compelling evidence for the likelihood of Democratic retention of US Senate control can be found by an examination of the electoral political math.
The Democrats and Republicans each have 50 US Senators. The Democrats have control of the US Senate by virtue of the tie breaker, Democratic Vice President Kamala Harris.
In the forthcoming November elections, it is becoming most likely that Democrats will capture two seats currently held by Republicans: 1) the seat currently held by departing Republican Senator Pat Toomey, with Democratic Candidate John Fetterman holding a lead over Republican Mehmet Oz in virtually all published polls ; and 2) Wisconsin incumbent Senator Ron Johnson, whose diminishing reelection chances were further damaged by allegations raised during the House Committee on January 6 that his chief of staff was complicit in the “fake elector” conspiracy.
The capture of these two seats by the Democrats would require the Republicans to wrest from the Democrats three seats in order to achieve Senate control. There are only three vulnerable Democratic senators (Georgia, Nevada, and Arizona), and it is very unlikely that the Republicans will be able win all three of these seats.
In Georgia, former Georgia football star Republican Herschel Walker appears to have a slight edge over incumbent Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock, Jr., but in Nevada, incumbent Democratic Senator Catherine Cortez Masto has the advantage over Republican challenger Adam Laxalt. And in Arizona, incumbent Democratic Senator Mark Kelly has a lead over all prospective challengers https://www.newsweek.com/arizona-senate-race-polls-mark-kelly-blake-masters-mark-brnovich-jim-lamon-1712606?amp=1and is only considered vulnerable by virtue of the GOP registration advantage and the fact that they held the seat for so many years.
So the outlook is improving daily for the Democrats to retain US Senate control. That will be very good news for Joe Biden regarding his ability to gain Senate confirmation of his appointees. If he had a choice for the Democrats to only control one house of Congress, the Senate doubtless would be his selection.
Alan J. Steinberg served as regional administrator of Region 2 EPA during the administration of former President George W. Bush and as executive director of the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission.