- - Tuesday, October 4, 2022

The midterm elections are quickly becoming a tragedy of lost opportunity for the Republicans in a year that was ripe for huge gains.

Inflation is raging, the southern border is more porous than a colander, crime bedevils American cities and schoolchildren have been terribly set back in math and reading thanks to teachers unions forcing schools closed for too long during the pandemic.

Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia Center for Politics rates 215 House seats as safe, likely or leaning Republican and only 196 going to the Democrats. Barring a political earthquake, whatever switching occurs should even out or favor the GOP.

Of the remaining 24 seats, Republicans should be able to win at least three. But in a midterm election with the above-mentioned conditions, they should be doing better.  

The Senate has gone from the Republicans likely winning control, to a toss-up to code red. Mr. Sabato and his colleagues put 49 in each party’s column and rate Georgia and Nevada as toss-ups.

In the Peach State, Herschel Walker has been inclined to gaffes and has had trouble raising enough money. In the latest polls, incumbent Raphael Warnock has opened a small lead.

Overall, money is a big problem for the GOP. In six of eight races likely to determine the balance in the Senate, Democrats are significantly outspending Republican rivals.

In Nevada, Adam Laxalt is doing better. He has overcome Catherine Cortez Masto’s early lead but is on the defensive on what has emerged as the defining issue nationally — abortion rights.

The GOP, as with so many issues like student loans, can’t seem to recognize that ideology must be tempered on matters of conscience or judgment by what most voters believe is right, fair or simply necessary.

When Roe v. Wade was the law of the land, it was easier for Republican candidates for the House or Senate to be pro-life to attract conservative Christian voters. Effectively, the issue was out of congressional hands and could be discounted by swing voters when choosing among congressional candidates.

Since Dobbs, Democrats have painted Republicans as extremists on abortion. And on the campaign trail, they proffer the specter of GOP majorities in the House and Senate ramming through a national abortion ban, perhaps with exceptions for rape, incest and the life of the mother.

That’s absurd. The GOP is unlikely to attain 60 votes in the Senate over the next several cycles. That means Dobbs puts the regulation of abortion firmly in the hands of the state legislatures to address.

Still, conservatives have badly misread the tenor of the times.

The Kansas referendum that would have excluded abortion rights from the state constitution lost badly and hardly helped the GOP‘s image.

In the August special election for the House seat from New York’s 19th District, signs reading “Choice Is on the Ballot” were ubiquitous. And Democrat Pat Ryan won in what should have been a good opportunity for a Republican pickup.

The Arizona Senate seat held by Mark Kelly should be a good target for a Republican gain, but as of this writing, Blake Masters trails the incumbent by about 6 points. Overcoming that advantage by Election Day will be difficult.

Mr. Masters has scrubbed “I am 100% pro-life” from his website, now claims to be someplace in the middle and ran an ad to that effect.

GOP candidates should be hammering the economy, inflation, gas prices, the border crisis and the like, not playing defense on the Democrats’ wedge issue. When you are doing that, you’re losing.

Republican woes go well beyond abortion rights. The GOP has no coherent platform other than it is against the Democrats, and absent a clear identity, President Biden has been happy to assign one.

Mr. Biden paints supporters of Donald Trump as semi-fascists. And without a clear GOP rejection of Mr. Trump’s voter fraud claims, all Republican politicians become Trumpsters to those who don’t know them well.

While the GOP offers no solutions to inflation, Mr. Biden is pursuing a “buy votes now, pay with more inflation later” strategy.

Before it’s all done, his student loan forgiveness will cost the Treasury $1 trillion — the printing presses at the Federal Reserve could blow up enabling that kind of reckless spending.

Mr. Biden is dumping into markets huge amounts of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve and has driven down gas prices since June.

Of course, what we do when the SPR is needed for a real crisis is another matter. And his virtual shutdown of new oil leases on federal lands will become quite significant next year as small independents are running out of places to drill on private land.

The future be damned — our president has an election to win.

• Peter Morici is an economist and emeritus business professor at the University of Maryland, and a national columnist.

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