Editor’s Note: Alice Stewart is a CNN Political Commentator and board member at the John F. Kennedy Institute of Politics at Harvard University. The views expressed in this commentary are her own. Read more opinion on CNN.
Every election is a marathon, not a sprint. Over the course of the campaign, candidates cover many miles, face countless challenges, and hope to outrun the competition. We are now in the final leg of the 2022 midterm election and the momentum appears to be on the GOP side. According to a recent ABC News – IPSOS poll, voters trust Republicans more than Democrats on top issues like the economy, inflation and gas prices.
While President Biden has promised to restore the “soul of our nation,” many voters are more concerned about their finances. With Biden’s approval ratings in the low 40s, it’s clear voters feel the President is out of touch with their everyday struggles. Grandiose rhetoric about democracy falls flat when the economy has come close to flatlining.
Let me repeat what I often say: there is no widespread voter fraud in the country, Joe Biden is our duly elected president, having won the 2020 election, and the January 6 attack on the US Capitol was wrong. Those who believe otherwise should face some level of scrutiny. The problem is, people in flyover states can’t afford the luxury of casting a ballot to feed the “democracy is in peril” narrative; they have to feed their family.
As I mentioned this week on CNN, people are more concerned with money in the bank than Democracy on the brink.
In the latest CNN poll, 51% of those polled say economy and inflation will be the key issue determining their vote, followed by abortion (15%), voting rights and election integrity (9%), gun policy (7%), immigration (6%) climate change (4%), and crime (3%).
That means Biden’s speech on democracy this week was a good message but bad timing with just days to go before the midterm elections.
Meanwhile, Republican candidates have focused on issues that are top of mind for families and voters across the country: lowering prices of food and fuel, keeping communities safe, and investing in education.
Sen. Rick Scott of Florida, the head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, made a closing argument on Friday for what a Republican Congress would do about inflation. He said: “Step one, we’ve got to do in government what families do. You live within your means. On top of that, we’ve got to figure out how to produce energy in this country safely.”
Kevin McCarthy also outlined the GOP plan to fight inflation in his “Commitment to America” proposal. His plan includes curbing wasteful government spending, implementing pro-growth tax policies, and making America energy independent to reduce gas prices. McCarthy also outlined a plan to address safety by supporting law enforcement and securing the border to combat illegal immigration.
Given the poll numbers we’re seeing, I expect the GOP to regain both the House and Senate. Some Republican candidates are closing the gap on their opponents in key Senate races. I suspect this is due to the Republicans’ focus on the issues that are top of mind for voters.
In Georgia, Republican candidate Herschel Walker is in a dead heat with incumbent Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock. Walker’s closing ad addresses “massive inflation” and concerns about crime under the current administration. And in a statement to the Washington Examiner, he said, “Raphael Warnock and Joe Biden have made the lives of Georgians worse than they were two years ago.”
In New Hampshire, Republican Senate candidate Dan Bolduc was smart to focus on the “heating and eating” issues that weigh on Granite State voters in the final debate against Sen. Maggie Hassan.
It’s often said that history repeats itself, and I see that this current election cycle is reminiscent of the 1990s. In their book, “Storming the Gates: Protest Politics and the Republican Revival,” Washington Post columnist Dan Balz and CNN Analyst Ron Brownstein wrote about the so called “Republican Revolution” that emerged in the 1994 midterm elections during Democratic President Bill Clinton’s first term. The GOP won control of both chambers of Congress for the first time in 40 years, picking up 54 seats in the House and eight seats in the Senate.
Balz and Brownstein discuss three broad trends that we still see today: “economic stagnation, cultural fragmentation, and political alienation.”
Today we have inflation woes, crime waves, reproductive rights debates, border battles, and racial conflicts. Each issue is intertwined with anxiety for voters and elected officials.
Then, as now, Republicans highlighted the “government is the problem” message to match the growing anti-Washington sentiment. People wanted change and looked to the GOP to provide that in 1994. I expect that to be the case in 2022.
The GOP is poised to win back the House and Senate because they have listened to voters, heard their concerns, and offered solutions. Democrats have been tone deaf when it comes to the real issues impacting Americans, choosing to focus on threats to democracy over everyday concerns about the cost of groceries and gas. This election is about the basic need to feed families, rather than fanning fears of a fallen Democracy.