The Morning Dispatch: Previewing Senate Predictions
Chris Stirewalt breaks down the 2022 map.
Happy Friday! We had a bunch of Dispatch all-staff meetings yesterday, so today’s TMD is on the shorter side. But there are lots of exciting things coming, and we’ll be back with our regularly scheduled programming on Monday!
Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories
U.S. District Court Judge Aileen Cannon issued a pair of rulings on Thursday, appointing Raymond Dearie—a senior federal judge in New York—special master to review the documents the Justice Department seized from Mar-Lago last month for potentially privileged material. Dearie has reportedly accepted the position.
The bipartisan group of senators leading efforts to pass legislation codifying the right to same-sex marriages into federal law told reporters Thursday they would delay a vote on the bill until after the midterms in the hopes of securing more Republican votes.
The Commerce Department reported Thursday that U.S. retail sales rose 0.3 percent month-over-month in August, rebounding from July’s 0.4-percent decline as consumers continued to spend online, in stores, and at restaurants despite inflationary pressures. The statistic is not adjusted for inflation, however, so higher prices likely accounted for some of the increase.
The average number of daily confirmed COVID-19 cases in the United States declined about 33 percent over the past two weeks according to the CDC, while the average number of daily deaths attributed to the virus—a lagging indicator—fell 19 percent. About 27,900 people are currently hospitalized with COVID-19 in the U.S., down from approximately 31,900 two weeks ago.
The Labor Department reported Thursday that initial jobless claims—a proxy for layoffs—decreased by 5,000 week-over-week to a seasonally adjusted 213,000 last week, the lowest level since late May. The figure has now fallen for more than a month straight, signaling the labor market remains tight.
Get Dispatch Politics for the Home Stretch
With Labor Day in the rearview mirror and the final slate of primary elections behind us, it’s time to turn our attention to the general election. Has persistent inflation already doomed Democrats’ chances to keep either chamber of Congress, or did the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision throw them a political lifeline? Will Republicans be able to capitalize on President Biden’s lagging approval numbers, or have GOP primary voters saddled the party with too many candidates who can’t win?
There will be a lot of people trying to answer those questions over the next several months, but few will do so with the intellectual honesty and rigor that you’ll find in our Dispatch Politics vertical. In The Sweep—emailed to Dispatch members every Tuesday—Sarah draws on her experience working on multiple presidential campaigns to provide insight into why candidates and operatives are doing what they’re doing. And later in the week, Chris Stirewalt publishes Stirewaltisms, a look at the latest news cycles and polling that shape how we think about the midterms. Plus, Andrew, Audrey, Harvest, Price, and others will regularly drop in to provide on-the-ground reporting from key battleground states.
Chris’ latest newsletter will be coming out later today, but we have an early preview in today’s TMD—alongside a reminder to check your subscription settings and ensure you’re signed up to get it in your inbox.
Stirewalt’s Senate Projections
There are 35 Senate seats in all in front of voters, but only 10 of those look like they will really be competitive. At the start of the cycle, the map favored Democrats but the climate tilted toward Republicans. The map is still good for the blue team: the GOP is defending 21 seats, including six in which the incumbent is not running, compared to 14 seats and just one retirement for Democrats. The climate, however, has shifted. As we discussed last week, you’d still have to say that the Republicans have the edge as the party out of power at a time of high voter dissatisfaction. But it's also true that Americans aren’t as dissatisfied as they were before and that Republicans have struggled to present themselves as a safe option for fed-up voters to express their dissatisfaction with one-party control in Washington.
First, some caveats.
The Senate is less closely tied to the national political climate than the House, which means candidate quality matters quite a bit more than it does in the lower chamber. Republican Susan Collins represents a state that went Democratic on the presidential level by 9 points in 2020, while Democrat Joe Manchin represents a state his party lost two years ago by almost 40 points.
State-level polling is … problematic. Senate polling in 2018 actually performed pretty well, but 2020 delivered another round of cattywampus state-level surveys. Part of the challenge here, aside from the well-established difficulties with Republican voters' low response rates to polls, is that turnout levels have been very high by historical standards in the past two cycles. With the volume turned up so high, it's hard to set the levels. It seems so far like voter intensity in both parties remains sky-high, but it's also very possible that we will see more typical midterm turnout this year of 37 percent, like 2014, than the 50 percent of 2018. Accordingly, in making these assessments we are only lightly leaning on horse-race polling. But that doesn't mean those polls aren't useful in making assessments directionally. A poll that misses the real shape of the electorate can still capture movement in voter attitudes. That, combined with historical performance and voter demographics, gives us a good place to start.
This is a most unusual midterm year. These contests are usually both obvious and strong in their orientation, and typically voters have settled into their paces by the time summer is over. As we mentioned above, the climate has changed a few times already, and could change again—maybe more than once—in the next 54 days. The electorate is unusually volatile, so we add to our prerogative to change or expand this forecast a warning: it's weird out there so be ready for an unpredictable fall.
Worth Your Time
As the U.S. increasingly faces cyberattacks against itself and its allies, it’s time to consider what deterrence means in cyberwarfare, David Ignatius argues in the Washington Post, examining a new book written by three Pentagon practitioners. “Two lessons of the Ukraine war is that cyber defenses appear to work better than might have been expected, and that cyber offense works worse,” Ignatius writes. “That’s one explanation for Ukraine’s amazing resilience against the Russian onslaught. The authors offer some suggestions for this new domain: Strategists should have rules for continuous engagement, rather than plan for contingencies; they should prepare for continuous operations not ‘episodic’ ones, and they should seek ‘cumulative’ gains, rather than final victory. As the authors wrote in a recent article in the National Interest: ‘Because of the fluidity of digital technology, security rests on seizing and sustaining the initiative.’ Cyberspace might prove to be the ultimate version of forever war. But if these strategists are right, it could be less dangerous, and ultimately more stable, than the convulsive explosions we’ve known as war for millennia.”
In his latest column for the New York Times, Ross Douthat suggests that considering grey areas in end-of-life care can help us approach exceptions to abortion bans when a mother’s health is at risk. Take, for instance, the legal distinction between assisted suicide and pursuing aggressive pain management that may hasten death, or the decision to discontinue life-prolonging care. “These allowances compromise perfect pro-life consistency, acknowledging exceptional and ambiguous cases even where assisted suicide is banned,” Douthat writes. “As such, they are somewhat analogous to the tacitly pro-choice compromise in life-of-the-mother exceptions to anti-abortion laws. So it’s notable that by the standards of the American culture war, the court’s end-of-life approach has proved relatively workable: Physician-assisted suicide is legal in 10 states and the District of Columbia, but remains illegal in most of the country; that variation has proved politically sustainable; and the laws against assisted suicide don’t generate constant headline-grabbing prosecutions of doctors or hospitals dealing with edge cases and gray areas.”
America’s commercial shipbuilding may be in shambles, but is the solution subsidies? Probably not, Colin Grabow argues in National Review. “One argument put forth in favor of shipbuilding,” Grabow writes, “Emphasizes the advantages of being able to replace wartime losses, or to augment the fleet during conflicts, that domestic shipbuilding would offer. These would only apply, however, if the conflict in question is of sufficient duration. Recent tankers delivered by U.S. shipyards have required an average of 17 months to construct while containerships have averaged 30. Even if built at an accelerated wartime pace, such ships could very well end up being delivered after the fighting had already ceased. … None of this is to doubt that, should we lavish enough taxpayer dollars on the industry, more ships would be built. Whether this would materially improve the country’s national security, or place the domestic shipbuilding industry on a path toward international competitiveness, however, is doubtful. Heavy shipbuilding subsidization is a path the United States has already gone down once. The country should think twice before doing so again and, if it does, then only by considering new and creative approaches that avoid the pitfalls of the past.
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Toeing the Company Line
In Thursday’s edition of The Current (🔒), Klon rounds up his analysis on three topics: India’s plan to require virtual private networks to collect and turn over users’ personal information, U.S. sanctions on Iranian cyberattackers, and the U.S. Army’s decision to buy thousands of Microsoft HoloLens battle goggles.
Meet Sen. Bob Menendez, the “last hawk on the Left.” In a piece on the site Thursday, Danielle Pletka covers Menendez’ impact on U.S. foreign policy, including his steadfast opposition to the Iran nuclear deal and his support for the Taiwan Policy Act, an effort to modernize the U.S.’s relationship with the island democracy.
On the site today, Patrick T. Brown suggests a program for how pro-life conservatives can “advance policies that make life easier for all families,” especially with policies that “address the needs of pregnant and postpartum moms.” And Frederick M. Hess and Hayley Sanon note Americans’ plunging trust in the nation’s teachers and write that, to reverse this trend, “a good place to start would be education leaders and professional associations being the first to call out indefensible conduct.”
Let Us Know
As noted above, Gen. Don Bolduc has flipped from being a 2020 election truther during the GOP primaries to a believer in Joe Biden’s victory now that he’s made it to the general election. He explains the reversal by claiming that he’s looked at the information carefully to support his new conclusion. Do you buy it?