President Joe Biden was back in battleground states this week to tout the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure deal, hoping to stem his party's political hemorrhaging before the 2022 midterm elections.
Republicans have the advantage heading into 2022, according to political commentator Costas Panagopoulos. Democrats govern the House with an eight-seat margin and only control the Senate because of Vice President Kamala Harris's tiebreaking vote.
"White House worries about a red wave in 2022 are certainly justified, but the truth is Republicans don't need much given Democrats' razor-thin majorities in both chambers of Congress," Panagopoulos, Northeastern University's politics chairman, told the Washington Examiner. "A red ripple may be all the GOP needs to tip the partisan balance in its favor in 2022."
BIDEN FEELS LEFT-WING PRESSURE AGAINST RESTING ON INFRASTRUCTURE LAURELS
History is against the White House and congressional Democrats, according to former political consultant Christopher Hahn. In fact, the president's party has shed an average of 27 seats in the midterm election cycle since World War II.
"The pendulum almost always swings away from the party in power, so of course the White House and Democrats from coast to coast should be concerned about 2022," he said.
Democrats were particularly vulnerable to economic forces out of their control, according to Hahn. But the Aggressive Progressive podcast host insisted inflation was "transitory," a White House message, citing low unemployment and interest rates, as well as rising wages and a high stock market.
"11 months is an eternity in politics, so buckle up," he added.
Regardless of history, polling suggests the country is "discontent," and Republican-dominated statehouses are favorably redrawing congressional districts after last year's decennial census and a successful down-ballot 2020 campaign season, according to Barry Burden, the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Elections Research Center director.
"The public generally has an unfavorable attitude toward all political leaders and both major parties, but it is more consequential for the Democrats because they control the presidency and both chambers of Congress," he said.
Democrats may hold their own in their Arizona, Georgia, New Hampshire, and Nevada Senate races and flip Republicans' North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin seats, according to Burden, because the chamber is "more idiosyncratic."
"But the best Democrats can do in the House and state races is to minimize their losses," he said. "Promoting the popular elements in the infrastructure bill and emphasizing its bipartisan nature could help reduce the sting for Democrats next year."
A majority of the public disapproves of the job Biden is doing as president, according to RealClearPolitics's polling average. Most voters disapprove of Biden's handling of the economy, foreign policy, and immigration issues after record inflation and migrant surges, as well as his botched withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan. And a plurality, 49%, disapprove of his COVID-19 response, his No. 1 campaign platform.
The infrastructure deal may stabilize Biden's and Congress's "dropping" approval ratings, according to Quinnipiac University polling analyst Tim Malloy, because people "enthusiastically" support it.
"It is, however, the only current bright spot in voters' overall perception of the Biden administration," Malloy said.
The problem for Biden will be the infrastructure deal's slow rollout. Headlines regarding the deal have been tied to intransigent Democratic squabbling over the roughly $2 trillion social welfare and climate spending bill, with House liberals delaying a vote on the deal for almost three months for leverage in negotiations over the larger framework. And Democratic strategists such as Simon Rosenberg are already managing expectations, noting many of the projects will not start in 2022.
For Rosenberg, New Democrat Network and New Policy Institute's founder, next year will be defined by COVID-19 and the economy. The upside of the infrastructure deal's postponement is that it bolsters Democrats' contention that it and the social welfare and climate legislation will not contribute to inflation, even though West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin disagrees.
"Most Democrats don't view, and I'm happy to say this on the record, don't view the Manchin argument about inflation to be dispositive," Rosenberg said.
Biden this week flew to New Hampshire and Michigan, home to a handful of competitive House races, to tout the infrastructure deal.
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"Folks, it’s not hyperbole to say that your delegation is laser-focused on your needs — the people of New Hampshire — the concerns that are discussed around our kitchen tables," he said in Woodstock. "This isn’t esoteric. This isn’t some gigantic bill — it is. But it’s about what happens to ordinary people."