The usual summer lull in political activity has turned out, this year, to be more of a spike. Democrats, having entered the humid season deep in a funk, now sense that because of a series of transformative events, their future political prospects may be far less dire than most of them had imagined before the summer began. Both in the state of North Carolina and from coast to American coast, the Democratic party looks as if it may well have the power to blunt Republican momentum and sustain a smaller blow to their majorities than almost everyone in the political class had confidently predicted at the nadir of Joe Biden’s troubles.
Both Tar Heel and generic-elephant Republicans once were giddy over a wave election that they firmly believed was coming. For example, North Carolina GOP operative Dallas Woodhouse has predicted for months that Republicans will “easily” (his exaggerated dictional choice) reclaim the veto-proof majorities that allowed GOP legislators to transform the state in the last decade. Kevin McCarthy and other U.S. House Republicans adopted the jaunty stance so familiar from their machismo-soaked party. For their part, Democrats did little to resist this narrative, because most had resigned themselves to believing it.
Circumstances have flipped in reverse since the political class collectively concluded that Democrats were doomed. The most challenging headwinds Democrats faced, inflation and within that particularly the price of gas, have begun to abate, with gas prices falling by a full dollar in the last month-and-a-half and continuing to plummet everyday without exception. In a country where the vast majority of commuters rely on automobiles, the price of gasoline has an enormous effect on ordinary Americans’ political mood. It was $100-per-barrel oil that first allowed Barack Obama to build a lead over John McCain in 2008. Furthermore, Democrats have passed an agenda that made them look less feckless, and addressed the climate crisis in an effort that may revive some enthusiasm among dispirited Democratic base voters. This reversal of key disadvantages has the potential to turn what could have been a devastating midterm into something that could be, at the least, tolerable for the party.
The United States House may still be lost. But the Democratic Senate majority looks eminently defensible. The greatest reason for this by far is that the debt Republicans’ Faustian bargain with Donald Trump is beginning to come due. Endorsed by the Donald with all his fascistic preferences, candidates like Dr. Oz in Pennsylvania, Herschel Walker down in Georgia, and the egregious J.D. Vance in Ohio are running snakebitten campaigns in key Senate races. Pennsylvania and Ohio are actually pickup opportunities for Democrats, and it is almost impossible to conceive of a scenario in which Republicans lose some seats and win a majority.
What does all this mean for North Carolina? Personally, I would be extremely cautious in trying to foretell the results in this purplish-red state. Over the last several cycles, the course of state elections has banked dramatically in unexpected directions, often at the last minute after conventional wisdom had congealed among state observers. But I do believe two suppositions–each favoring the Democratic Party–can be counted as valid. First, Cheri Beasley has a very legitimate chance of winning the first U.S. Senate election in the state that Democrats will have enjoyed since the halcyon days of 2008. And second, the veto-proof majorities Republicans so covet are far from guaranteed to restore their unchecked reign over Raleigh. That said, North Carolina has eluded Democrats year after year, and progressive North Carolinians would be well served not to mistake this ray of hope for a full sunrise.
Alexander Jones is an original contributor to PoliticsNC.