with research by Caroline Anders
Shifts in the political landscape over the summer have reinforced an anything-can-happen dynamic that has Democrats shedding some of their Eeyore tendencies 60 days from the midterm elections, while the GOP looks for something of a public-relations reset.
Inflation fears have waned. Gas prices, while still higher than when President Biden took office, are down (and, more importantly, appear to have slipped out of local news broadcasts). Jobs growth has been solid. Americans feel generally better about the economy.
Just two months ago, Biden’s job approval had slipped to 38 percent, according to Gallup, far from his peak of 57 percent in April 2021. It’s now 44 percent — still not great, but not as dangerous for Democratic House, Senate and gubernatorial candidates.
A few months ago, Biden’s domestic agenda looked stalled. But Democrats had a surprisingly productive summer, capped with once-in-a-generation measures to combat the climate crisis and bipartisan passage of major legislation to promote semiconductor manufacturing in America and to help veterans exposed to toxic “burn pits” in Afghanistan or Iraq.
Meanwhile, Republicans have seen predictions of a “red tsunami” in November shrink to a red wave and now, while still favored by strategists in both parties to retake the House, face something of a coin-flip when it comes to recapturing the Senate.
Fortunes that shift one way over two months can shift back. Public opinion polls can get things wrong. My colleague Jeff Stein chronicled some of the dangers the White House foresees from the war in Ukraine, notably from Russia expanding its use of energy exports as a weapon of war against Europe.
“Seeking to punish Russia for the invasion of Ukraine and force a retreat, Western allies have moved to set a cap on what buyers pay for Russian oil. [Russian President Vladimir] Putin last week said Russia would retaliate by cutting off gas and oil shipments, which could devastate Europe’s economy and hurt the United States by sending global energy prices soaring,” he reported.
“U.S. officials believe Putin’s bellicose rhetoric is at least partially a bluff, as Russia needs revenue from energy exports to finance its war effort, even at lower prices. But aides to President Biden have in recent days reviewed their efforts to export liquefied natural gas to Europe, aiming to see if there’s any way for American producers to help. (Nearly 40 percent of the natural gas Europe uses for heat and electricity came from Russia before the war started.) And while White House aides do not believe a recession in Europe would necessarily cause one here, a complete shutdown of Russian oil exports would seriously harm the U.S. economy, according to economists, energy analysts and internal White House assessments.”