A Bluer Picture – The New York Times

Midterm polls continue to look grim for Democrats, as we explained in a newsletter last week. Inflation and Covid disruptions, along with the normal challenges a president’s party faces mid-term, weigh on the party. As a result, Republicans are heavily favored to regain control of the House.

But the situation in the Senate seems different, underlines my colleague Blake Hounshell.

There are 10 potentially competitive Senate races this year, according to the Cook Political Report, and Democrats need to win at least five of them to keep control of the Senate. The Democrats are favored in two of those 10 races (New Hampshire and Colorado) and Cook rates five others (Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin) as draws.

If Democrats kept the Senate without the House, they still couldn’t pass legislation without Republican support. But the control of the Senate is no less important. This would allow President Biden to appoint judges, cabinet secretaries and other senior officials without any Republican support, as only the Senate must confirm nominees.

I’ll pass the rest of today’s main topic to Blake, who will preview the campaign for control of the Senate.

When asked to share their heartfelt thoughts on the Democrats’ chances of retaining their House majority in the upcoming election, party strategists often use words that can’t be printed in a household newsletter.

But a brighter picture is emerging for Democrats on the Senate side. There, Republicans are assembling what one top strategist laughingly described as an “island of misfit toys” — a motley collection of candidates whom the Democratic Party hopes to cast as out of the political mainstream, personally compromised and too comfortable with Donald Trump.

These vulnerabilities have led to a tough few weeks for Republican Senate candidates in several of the most competitive races:

  • Arizona: Blake Masters, a venture capitalist who won Trump’s endorsement and is leading the polls in the Republican primary, has come under fire for saying that “Black people, frankly” are responsible for most gun violence in the United States. Other Republicans attacked him for earlier comments supporting “unrestricted immigration.”

  • Georgia: Herschel Walker, the GOP nominee facing Sen. Raphael Warnock, has admitted to being the parent of three previously undisclosed children. Walker regularly takes aim at absent fathers.

  • Pennsylvania: Dr. Mehmet Oz, who lived in New Jersey before announcing his candidacy for the Senate, risks appearing inauthentic. Oz recently misspelled the name of his new hometown on an official document.

  • Nevada: Adam Laxalt, a former state attorney general, said at a pancake breakfast last month that “Roe v. Wade was always a joke.” It’s an unpopular position in socially liberal Nevada, where 63% of adults say abortion should be mostly legal.

  • Wisconsin: Senator Ron Johnson made an appearance at the January 6 hearings when it emerged that on the day of the attack he wanted to hand-deliver a fraudulent voters list to former Vice President Mike Pence.

Republicans are hitting back with their own politically powerful arguments, blaming Democrats for the price hike and saying they’ve veered too far left for mainstream voters.

In Pennsylvania, for example, Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman, the Democratic Senate candidate, supports universal health care, federal legalization of marijuana, and criminal justice reform. Republicans have combed through his record and past comments to paint him as similar to Bernie Sanders, the self-proclaimed Democratic socialist.

One factor working in favor of the Democrats is the fact that only a third of the Senate is up for re-election and that many races are in Democrat-friendly states.

Another is the fact that Senate races can be more distinct than House races, influenced less by national trends and more by the personalities of the candidates. Advertising budgets for Senate races can run into the hundreds of millions of dollars, giving candidates a chance to define themselves and their opponents.

Democrats lean heavily on character-driven campaigns, promoting Sen. Mark Kelly of Arizona as a moderate and friendly former astronaut and Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada as an abortion rights fighter, retail workers and families.

“Senate campaigns are candidate-versus-candidate battles,” said David Bergstein, spokesman for the Senate Democrats’ campaign arm. “And while Democratic incumbents and candidates developed their own brands, Republicans offered deeply, deeply flawed candidates.” Bergstein is not objective, but this analysis has some truth.

There are about four months left until Election Day, an eternity in modern American politics. As we saw in the Supreme Court’s decision on abortion and in the explosive allegations that emerged in the latest testimony against Trump, the political environment can change quickly.

If the election were held today, polls suggest the Democrats would be narrowly favored to retain control of the Senate. Republican elites are also terrified that voters could nominate Eric Greitens, the outraged former governor, for the open Missouri Senate seat, jeopardizing an otherwise secure seat.

But the election, of course, isn’t today, and the polls are fallible, as we’ve seen in 2020. So there’s still a lot of uncertainty about the outcome. Biden’s approval rating remains low, and inflation is the main issue on voters’ minds — not the weaknesses of individual candidates.

For now, Democrats are pretty proud of themselves for making lemonade in a decidedly sour political environment.

A programming note: This new sports section is written by the staff of The Athletic.

Domination of New York baseball: For many teams, July 5 will mean 81 games played, the official midpoint of the MLB regular season. No one can top the New York Yankees, a team on course to surpass some of its greatest seasons. Here’s how all 30 MLB teams rank at the midpoint. The Yankees have a local company.

Ronaldo’s next home? This question dominated conversations over the weekend as the soccer superstar signaled an exit from Manchester United. Could Chelsea be Ronaldo’s next team?

The new house of Christian Eriksen: Meanwhile, Manchester United added a player known more for a Euro 2020 scare than for his considerable talents.

To access all athletics items, subscribe to the New York Times All Access or home delivery.

Craft beer and wrestling are starting to become a tag team, as crowds around the United States sip hazy beers and cheer on the action inside the ring.

“Spandex-clad wrestlers with stage names like Manbun Jesus, Rex Lawless and Casanova Valentine performed body slams and jumped ropes, pushing spectators and sometimes inflicting performative injuries with arm twists and traffic barrels” , writes Joshua M. Bernstein in The Times about a recent event in Brooklyn.

“It’s like going to the movies, but it’s an actual performance and you can drink,” said one wrestler. “What’s better than that?”

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