Politico

‘We are sleepwalking’: Senate Dem operatives privately warn about rough road ahead


In a private presentation to allies this week, Senate Democrats’ main super PAC offered ominous warnings about the political climate the party faces.

President Joe Biden’s numbers across Senate battlegrounds have eroded dramatically in recent months, according to a summary of the poll for the Senate Majority PAC, the group aligned with Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer. Making matters worse, Biden is struggling with so-called persuadable voters — those who are on the fence but could be convinced to vote Democratic.

Despite the millions of jobs added and growth in the GDP under Biden, a majority of voters (53 percent) say the economy has gotten worse while just 30 percent of voters say it’s improved, the poll showed. Perhaps more troubling for Biden and Democrats, who are trying to maintain their razor-thin Senate majority in 2022, is the pessimistic view of the “persuadable” camp. Just 18 percent of those voters say the economy is getting better.

The Senate Majority PAC showed Biden’s approval rating across the Senate battlegrounds at 41 percent, with 52 percent disapproving — numbers that are roughly in line with recent national polls. Among persuadable targets, however, just 27 percent say they approve of the job the president is doing while 57 percent disapprove. The group’s private poll from May had Biden well above water, with 49 percent approving and 43 disapproving. Few Senate races in the modern political era tilt against how voters view the president. So if Biden is underwater heading into the election year, holding a 50-50 Senate will prove to be a tough proposition for Democrats.

“We are sleepwalking. We are so focused on getting these deals done, but in the grand scheme of it we have to be focused on Republicans. That’s the key here. They’re getting a free pass,” said one Democrat who was shown the numbers. “It’s going to be really rough, and I really worry about some of our senators.”

The poll was conducted among voters in Senate battleground states: Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Florida, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Georgia and Nevada. It was presented to consultants and allied organizations. A person who obtained the slides of the presentation said they did not believe White House officials attended this particular session.

“The tenor was straight forward and focused, but it was clear that there is reason to be concerned,” the source said.

The Senate Majority PAC declined to comment.

Overall, the survey paints a bleak picture for Democrats, who have struggled to get credit for the economic improvements since taking power and then winning a pair of Senate seats in Georgia. Inflation concerns topped the list of the most pressing economic issue, with 56 percent of persuadable voters listing it as the top priority. The slides did show that a plurality of voters believe the situation with Covid-19 has improved since Biden took office.

On the whole, the numbers appear strikingly similar to the troubles former President Barack Obama encountered over his first two years in office after helping to jump-start the economy only to see his party crushed in the 2010 midterms.

A silver lining for some briefed on the Senate poll was that favorable ratings of Democratic incumbents were net positive. But even that could be at risk: The last slide in a deck reviewed by POLITICO showed that one of the party’s most popular policy planks remained allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices.

“And we are going to end up leaving [that] out of the [reconciliation] bill,” the person said.

Natalie Allison contributed to this report.

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