Political observers say this week's elections will serve as a sort of voters' report card on the president's team and agenda, as do many midterms. Those are the elections held between presidential election years. Scott Thuman says the bottom dollar is the top issue.
The following is a transcript of a report from "Full Measure with Sharyl Attkisson." Watch the video by clicking the link at the end of the page.
The pathway to power in Washington is by controlling Congress. And there is one driving force that often delivers votes more than any other. As James Carville, the former strategist to Bill Clinton, so bluntly put it in 1992: it’s the economy, stupid. Meaning voters better have stable bank accounts if a candidate is going to bank on their support.
Nordlinger: Presidential elections are always about the future. Midterms are always about the past.
Gary Nordlinger is a political and communications consultant. He teaches at the George Washington University.
Nordlinger: It's about what people think of the first two years of the president and the president's party in Congress.
Scott: And when it comes to how they feel right now, when they are looking at their bottom dollar, how do they assess Washington?
Nordlinger: I think they're assessing Washington as not being responsive to their needs.
The parties know it. Two successive quarters of negative growth, inflation at a 40-year high, groceries up 11%, and gas up nearly 50 cents from this time last year. President Biden hoping it won’t mean a repeat of what happened under his former boss when he was vice president.
The recession that hit during President Obama’s first term cost Democrats dearly those midterms, losing a record 63 seats in the House and six in the Senate.
With voters picking the economy as the top issue this year, the president and Democrats campaigning on a message that tries to minimize the effect of inflation.
President Biden (August 10): I just want to say a number: zero. Today we received news that our economy had 0% inflation in the month of July.
Focusing instead on the economic data point that’s positive.
President Biden (October 21): 10 million jobs created, a record for any administration at this point in the presidency. Three-point-five percent unemployment, 50-year low, 50-year low.
The question: will voters give Democrats any credit, as they watch prices keep rising?
Scott: Do you think anything keeps a politician who's trying to hold onto office awake at night more than a bad economy?
Nordlinger: Nothing would keep me awake more at night unless we've gone to like nuclear alerts and stuff. Nothing would keep me more awake at night as a politician than the economy.
We asked the top House Republican, Kevin McCarthy, if a bad bottom dollar means a good election night for them.
Scott: Do you think that you can take the House just on economy alone? Just that issue alone?
McCarthy: You know, the Democrats believe that they’re going to win seats. Nancy Pelosi says that, the DCCC. Nobody gives you a majority. You have to earn it. So it’s going to be a hard-fought battle.
To capitalize on the country’s economic woes, Republicans just released their "Commitment to America," a throwback to Republican Newt Gingrich’s 1994 "Contract with America" — written promises to lower taxes and shrink government. In other words, the allure of a fatter wallet for voters that helped Republicans flip both the House and Senate, with Gingrich becoming the new House leader. By the way, Gingrich released his contract six weeks before the election. McCarthy, also, six weeks.
McCarthy: You just lost one month of your wages because of the Democrats' policies that brought inflation. You pay more at the gas pump because they picked one form of energy over another. We’ll lower the gas pumps. We'll make America energy independent...
Scott: You want to stop a lot of the spending?
Mccarthy: Oh yeah, to stop this growth in inflation. They have spent more than any Congress in this amount of time.
Pundits say the GOP's best chances are in the House. It’s less clear in the Senate — which, right now, is a 50-50 split, with a slight edge for Democrats, since Vice President Harris serves as tie-breaker.
Senator Joni Ernst is a Republican from Iowa.
Sen. Joni Ernst: We continue to see inflation go up with no relief in sight. This is the administration that said this inflation will be transitory. Here we are a year later, and inflation is no better. It is much worse.
And some economists will tell you a key driver of inflation is government spending. Maya MacGuineas, President of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, says Biden’s borrowing could make a bad situation worse.
Maya MacGuineas: It's easy to talk about fiscal responsibility. We see this all the time. What's happened in practice is that the Biden administration has overseen a tremendous amount of borrowing since it's been in office. By our calculations, it's $4.8 trillion, and that may well be conservative. That is a huge amount of borrowing.
By comparison, President Trump’s administration borrowed $7.5 trillion over its 4 years.
Scott: If you are a voter, and you see your stocks down, your 401(k) down, gas costs more, milk costs more, does it matter who's in charge? Either way, are you saying, "I want something different, I want someone new"?
Nordlinger: Well, you just sometimes vote to fire a complaint.
And whichever party can best tap into those voter complaints and ease concerns may have the inside track to taking Capitol Hill.
Sharyl (on-camera): What happened to those Democrats' hopes that this divisive Supreme Court decision on abortion — leaving it up to the states — would be enough to help them hang on?
Scott: Well it did help to some degree, but not with as many people as they'd like, and not for as long. And as we just saw, no issue comes anywhere close to the economy when you start to rank voters' priorities.
Sharyl: Just a couple of days away. Thanks, Scott.
Watch story here.
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