After last night’s stunning Democratic upset victory, the promised ‘red wave’ has ebbed

After last night’s stunning Democratic upset victory, the promised ‘red wave’ has ebbed

Conventional wisdom says the party that holds the White House is fated to suffer midterm losses. It’s tough to come out ahead when the election is framed as a referendum on the sitting president, in a political system that guarantees no president can get his agenda through Congress unscathed. 

With Democratic President Joe Biden’s approvals in the 30s and Republicans ahead on generic congressional ballot polling, it might’ve seemed that Republicans were headed toward another 2010-style blowout win. Yet if you were paying attention, and I mean really paying attention, it was fated to be more complicated than that.

How can you have a referendum on a sitting president, when the old one won’t go away? No one motivates the progressive base like Donald Trump. (All the crime-ing is just a bonus.)

But more importantly, we knew the Supreme Court was slated to axe Roe v. Wade. Had Chief Justice John Roberts had his way and merely half-killed it, perhaps things might still be looking up for Republicans. But the High Court’s conservative wing went full reactionary with Dobbs, and the results was a devastating loss of rights. 

You can’t turn away. Roughly 50% of Americans officially became 2nd class citizens when Roe ended, losing rights to bodily autonomy and self determination. Only a bunch of cisgender male pundits/operatives could have looked at that and said, meh, historical trends matter more.

— Kerry Eleveld (@kerryeleveld) August 24, 2022

The party in the White House also does poorly in the midterms because its supporters are either deactivated (“We won! Wake me up in four years…”) or frustrated and demotivated by the lack of legislative progress. Meanwhile, the opposition party is fired up—there’s little more motivating than being disenfranchised. 

Republicans still feel that way, for sure, but given the Supreme Court’s overreach, so do Democrats. No one wants to lose their rights, and the conservative Supreme Court has asserted itself as the highest authority in the land. Democrats may have the White House, but we are functionally in the minority.

my think piece on tonight is that i think women would like to have rights

— Clare Cons (@macrotargeting) August 24, 2022

As a result of Dobbs, the entire election climate has shifted. Here are the amazing numbers

In 2021 elections, Republicans outperformed their 2020 numbers by an average of six points. Remember how we lost in Virginia, and almost lost in New Jersey. Things looked rough, for sure. 

Things got even worse in early 2022, when Republicans were overperforming their 2020 margins by nine points. Those “cisgendered male pundits and operatives” had some supporting evidence that a Red Wave was in the cards, even if they couldn’t fathom how Trump and abortion would impact the election.

After the Dobbs decision was initially leaked, there were 11 special elections leading up to last night, and Republican advantages suddenly evaporate. Suddenly, practically overnight, Democrats were outperforming their 2020 margins by three points—a massive 12-point shift. 

And since the Dobbs decision was officially released? 

Democrats have now outperformed Biden’s numbers in each of the four U.S. House special elections since the Dobbs decision in June.#NE01 – Trump +15 -> R+5#MN01 – Trump +10 -> R+4#NY19 – Biden +1.5 -> D+2.2#NY23 – Trump +11 -> R+6

— Ryan Matsumoto (@ryanmatsumoto1) August 24, 2022

As I put this story to bed late Tuesday night, the margin in NY-19 has stretched to D+3.8. Average it all out, and Democrats are now outperforming Biden’s 2020 margins by an amazing average of 5.8 points since Dobbs. Three weeks ago I wrote here about the effect abortion was having on campaigns, and if anything, the effect is accelerating.

Writing about the Minnesota special election, David Nir said, “it’s […] hard to square this result with a political environment that’s as harsh for Democrats as typical midterm patterns—buffeted by high inflation and low presidential approval ratings—would suggest.” Still, David was cautious, and asked us to wait for the NY-19 special election to get a better read on the climate:

The most telling of these will be the race for New York’s 19th District, where Democrat Pat Ryan has put abortion front and center and called his race a “referendum” on the issue. The DCCC just got involved in the contest, jointly airing a new ad with Ryan to attack his GOP opponent, saying Marc Molinaro “oppose[s] a woman’s right to choose” and warning that Republicans in Congress “will vote for a nationwide abortion ban.”

So far, Republicans have put far more muscle into the effort, though, with about $715,000 in outside spending, most of that from the NRCC. Democrats have yet to engage similarly (coordinated expenditures like the DCCC’s are limited to just $55,000). But unlike the 1st Districts in Nebraska and Minnesota, New York’s 19th is a Democratic-held seat that narrowly voted for Biden by half a point. If Democrats can move the needle here the way they have elsewhere, they’d be able to hang on to this seat and deny Republicans a pickup opportunity. And if nothing else, we should learn a great deal more about what Dobbs might mean for November.

The Conventional Wisdom was that Republican Marcus Molinaro would win this, perhaps easily. While this was a Democratic-held seat, it was only a 50-48 Biden seat—the kind of terrain Republicans need to take if they want to retake the House. If this was a typical midterm climate, it wouldn’t be close. A DCCC poll just last week had the Republican leading by three, 46-43. Democratic pollster Data for Progress (foolishly?) released a poll Tuesday morning giving Molinaro an eight-point lead, 53-45. 

None of that seemed surprising. Molinaro wasn’t some random Q-loving nut. He was quite literally the best Republican House recruit in the entire country. He ran for governor in 2018. And while Andrew Cuomo stomped him statewide, 60-36, Molinaro actually won this district. It was supposed to be his people, and especially so in this “red wave environment.” Instead, the Democratic victory gave them the biggest jolt of good news the entire cycle. 

Political observers and analysts are all taking note. This tweet came earlier in the evening, but the expected margin is notable:

Just a reminder about NY-19: anything under Molinaro +3 was considered to be a bad result for the GOP going into the night Still a ways to go but something to keep in mind

— Blake Allen (@Blake_Allen13) August 24, 2022

Plus-three was the margin of that DCCC poll, so maybe that’s where his baseline came from. But whatever the details, the sentiment was widespread. Here’s a prominent partisan conservative hack: 

NBC calls NY-19 special for Democrat PAT RYAN. Huge win for Dems that cements analysis that R wave subsiding, post-Dobbs.

— Josh Kraushaar (@JoshKraushaar) August 24, 2022

Another Republican: 

It doesn’t really matter what happens in NY-19 tonight — Molinaro is an A+ recruit and isn’t supposed to run just a few points ahead of Biden. Most of the other special elections we’ve seen have some sort of asterisk but this is an unambiguously good result for Ds.

— Sean T at RCP (@SeanTrende) August 24, 2022

And another Republican:

This is a disaster for the Republican party. These results in NY-19 are not representative of a red wave year. At this point, we have to be seriously contending with the fact that this will be a neutral or even blue-leaning midterm, and the House is a Tossup.

— Political Election Projections (@tencor_7144) August 24, 2022

Amy Walter is editor in chief of the respected Cook Political Report: 

WATCH: Pat Ryan leads in the polls ahead of Marc Molinaro in the NY-19 special election. The race has been framed as a test of the political energy ahead of November.@amyewalter: “It’s not going to be much of a red wave at all if Republicans can’t win in districts like this.”

— Meet the Press (@MeetThePress) August 24, 2022

Here’s some nice math:

Couple things on Dem’s victory in #NY19 tonight: 1. There are 222 House seats better than NY19 by Biden performance 2. Republicans spent heavily to lose 3. This is the 4th House special election in a row where Dems have outperformed Biden Congrats @PatRyanUC

— Karen Defilippi (@kadefilippi) August 24, 2022

(Remember, Democrats need 217 for the majority.)

Meanwhile, there are voter reinforcements headed our way. In all the battlegrounds, voter registration numbers are just jaw-dropping. Like Pennsylvania: 

Starting in PA, where women have accounted for >56% of new registrants in that time period. Those women new registrants are 62%D to 15% R and 54% are under the age of 25. Compare that to men new registrants at 41% <25 and 43% D, 28% R.

— Tom Bonier (@tbonier) August 19, 2022

I’m swooning over those under-25 numbers! How about Ohio?

They are more likely to be Dems. Ohio doesn’t have party registration, so we model party. The women new registrants in Ohio in the ’20 cycle were modeled to be +5 GOP. The women new registrants since Dobbs? They are +15 Dem.

— Tom Bonier (@tbonier) August 24, 2022

Just go down Tom Bonier’s timeline. It’s like that in state after state after competitive battleground state. 

And one final chuckle to close this out: 

After the Mar-a-Lago FBI raid, I saw takes speculating that GOP anger/turnout about that might match Dem anger/turnout about the Dobbs decision. If you bought into that, please seek treatment for Beltway Brain.

— David Weigel (@daveweigel) August 24, 2022


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