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EDITORIAL: Will Biden’s summer swoon lead to historic wins?

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President Joe Biden signs the CHIPS & Science Act in the Rose Garden this summer. Legislative successes like CHIPS may help Democrats this fall. | PHOTO COURTESY OF THE WHITE HOUSE

It may feel farther away, but this year’s midterm elections are now less than 60 days away.

Midterms are always the less glamorous turn to the polls compared to presidential cycles, but frankly they are no less important. Even rarer yet are times when voters head to the polls when one party controls both halves of Congress and the White House. That’s only happened 16 times since the end of World War II, and only five times did the controlling party retain all three.

Jacob Owens
Delaware Business Times

Prevail in the midterms and your party will enjoy two more years of virtually unfettered governance, fail and you’re likely doomed to do very little of any consequence.

With Delaware son Joe Biden in the White House, this year’s midterm election feels even a bit weightier than usual, given the outsized impact it could have on his presidential legacy.

If history is to be our guide, Biden is likely in for a rough November. The president’s party almost always loses congressional seats in midterms – only twice has that not occurred, in 1998 in the fallout from the Clinton impeachment trial and 2001 following the 9/11 terror attacks.

Most pundits and polls anticipate Democrats losing the House this year, as is fairly typical. With Democrats only holding the U.S. Senate via the vice-presidential tiebreaker at the moment, Republicans are holding onto hopes that they can swing the upper chamber as well.

Yet Democrats are suddenly optimistic about their chances of beating history.

Biden has been quite successful in moving his agenda this past summer after 18 months of often frustrating negotiations with just a handful of his Democratic senators who have prevented earlier and greater legislative successes.

I recently spoke with Sens. Tom Carper and Chris Coons, two of the president’s closest confidants, about Biden’s recent legislative successes. They both believe that Biden has the wind to his back in the final weeks until the election.

Carper recounted how he recently shared the story of Ronald Reagan’s presidency with Biden. The Republican lost both the Senate and the House in embarrassing defeats in his first midterm election in 1982, but two years later was re-elected to the White House after winning 49 states in one of the biggest blowouts in presidential history.

“A lot of people said ‘[Reagan’s] done, he’s finished.’ I shared with our current president that story not long ago, and I said, ‘You know, things have a way of turning around’ and boy have they as of late,” Carper said.

Hiring numbers continue to exceed many analysts’ expectations, the average price of gasoline has fallen back under $3.70, the war in Ukraine has begun to swing against Russian forces, and Biden has successfully shepherded several high-profile bills through Congress.

Those wins began last winter when he brokered the trillion-dollar infrastructure bill and picked up again this past summer, when Congress passed the $280 billion CHIPS & Science Act to boost U.S. competition in semiconductor production and research, the PACT Act that expands health care and benefits for veterans exposed to burn pits and other toxic substances, and the Inflation Reduction Act, which is a catchall bill for climate initiatives, tax changes, Affordable Care Act extensions and prescription drug reform.

Perhaps most importantly, Biden has maintained his campaign promise to govern with a more bipartisan appeal, securing Republican support for both the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the CHIPS Act. Carper, who was born and raised in West Virginia, noted that he spent quite a bit of time talking about the bills this year with West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, one of the Senate Democratic Caucus’ major holdouts who practically scuttled the larger Build Back Better Act last year alone. Compromise on methane emissions brokered in discussions between senators helped to move the IRA to the finish line, Carper said.

Coons believes the totality of the investments by the Biden administration in its first two years will help sway the attitudes and beliefs of average voters ahead of the election,  

“They will begin to see significant progress in combating the costs and the issues that confront them day in and day out,” he said. “Frankly, over the last couple of months, we have had some of the most significant legislative accomplishments not just of this administration, but of any administration in the last 20 years.”

With inflation still running about four times higher than the target 2% range, hot-button topics like abortion driving proponents and opponents to the polls and the sway of a 2024 presidential election that has never really faded into the background, Democrats may find again though that history often repeats itself.

We’ll see come Election Day.

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