OAKLAND, Calif. - Labor Day is in the rearview, meaning the sprint to the November midterms begins. Democrats hold slim majorities in the House and the Senate is split 50-50 with Vice President Kamala Harris, the tie-breaking vote.
History and early forecasts told us to expect a massive red wave, with Republicans expected to pick up dozens of seats. The predictions fueled by President Biden’s low approval ratings and record inflation. But, nine weeks out from the election, experts say the landscape has changed.
"This theme of chaos, and don’t forget about Donald Trump and what could happen, along with the Dobbs decision, that’s weighing down Republican fortunes," said David McCuan, Sonoma State political science professor. "Democrats are seeing some momentum, even though it’s not enough to blunt the loss of the House."
Republicans need to flip five seats to claim the House majority. Political experts, polling and recent special elections have shown the Supreme Court’s overturning of the federal right to abortion, has motivated Democrats.
"Women are registering to vote in such high numbers, the gender gap in registration is huge," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi at a recent event in San Francisco. "This will have an impact in November. Women will save democracy, and that’s what’s at risk."
While Democrats focus on the abortion fight and recent legislative wins for the White House, Republicans have focused on "kitchen-table" issues like inflation and the economy. Republicans have a plan for a new direction that will get our country back on track," said House minority leader, Rep. Kevin McCarthy. "Our plan is a commitment to America."
Democrats are also focusing their message on former President Trump and his power in the GOP.
"If you’re Joe Biden and Democrats, what are you going to do?" said McCuan. "You’re going to talk about Mar-A-Lago, the chaos of Trump, you’re going to bring up former President Trump early and often."
President Biden has stepped up his travel ahead of the midterms, especially in swing states, trying to make that case.
"It's clear which way the new MAGA Republicans are," Biden told a crowd at a recent stop. "They're extreme. Democracy is really at stake."
"Mr. President, I have news for you, Americans don’t want to change the subject, they want to change the leadership in Washington," said McCarthy at a pre-buttal to Biden’s recent primetime remarks in Philadelphia.
With 52 representatives, California congressional races will have a major impact on the direction of the House. While California’s statewide races don’t provide a lot of excitement, McCuan says Republicans will look to win a statewide office for the first time since 2006.
"Republicans are going to look for surprises in these down ballot, in these statewide constitutional offices like for example the Attorney General’s race and for example with Lanhee Chen in the Controller’s race."
Much of the focus and the money on the California ballot, going towards seven propositions. There is a measure to enshrine the right to abortion in the state constitution, voters will decide on kidney dialysis clinics again, but the biggest fight is brewing over legalizing sports betting.
McCuan says more than half a billion dollars has already been spent by competing camps for Proposition 26 and 27. One would legalize sports betting in tribal casinos only, the other clearing the way for online betting. Industry experts say the big spending makes sense because the Golden State is a huge prize.
"This is one of the largest untapped markets in the country so of course your Draft Kings, Fan Duels, they’ve invested millions in supporting Prop 27," said Robert Linnehan, a sports betting regulation expert and editor at XLMedia.
"On the flip side of that, you see the tribes they view these outside sportsbook operators as a major threat to their business, so they’re funneling millions into support of Prop 26."
Election Day is November 8, but mail-in ballots will be sent to all registered voters in the state before October 10.