If Democrats are to keep control of the U.S. Congress in this year’s midterm elections, moderates in highly competitive districts, such as Representative Elissa Slotkin of Michigan, must hold on to their seats.
Yet Slotkin and two fellow Democratic lawmakers who were part of the 2018 Democratic “blue wave” that helped the party retake the U.S. House of Representatives say continuing fights within their own party over President Joe Biden’s agenda risk dooming them to devastating losses this year.
The three congresswomen – Slotkin, Virginia’s Abigail Spanberger and Iowa’s Cindy Axne – told Reuters in recent interviews that they believe Democrats achieved great things during Biden’s first year in office, but too many voters only see a party fighting with itself.
Voters turn on the television and see “Democrats complaining about fellow Democrats,” they see Democratic lawmakers “whining, blaming another Democrat” Spanberger said. “There’s a negativity that I don’t ascribe to. It’s unfortunate because we have a good record.”
Slotkin, who like Spanberger and Axne faces a tough Nov. 8 re-election battle, said: “I just talk to a lot of people who feel like Washington is so broken. And the only way to prove to people that our democracy still works is by governing effectively.”
Biden carried Slotkin’s Michigan district by 2 percentage points, while former President Donald Trump narrowly won Axne’s in Iowa by less than half a percentage point. Biden won Spanberger’s Virginia district by a more comfortable 6 points, but the state went on to elect a Republican governor in 2021.
Rising inflation and voter exhaustion over the COVID-19 pandemic have created stiff political headwinds for Democrats, who control the White House, Senate and the House.
Independent analysts and historic patterns favor Republicans’ changes of regaining control of at least one chamber of Congress in November, which would all but kill Biden’s domestic agenda. The Senate is split 50-50 while Democrats hold a narrow 222-212 House majority.
Slotkin’s newly redrawn district sits in the heart of battleground Michigan, a Midwestern mix of industry – General Motors Co (GM.N) operates plants in the Lansing area – and farmland.
‘DISAPPOINTED IN BIDEN’
In interviews with 20 voters around Lansing, people were evenly split between Democrats and Republicans, but two who voted for Biden and Slotkin in 2020 say they now have their doubts.
One of them is Ahmed Khan, 48, a small-business owner.
“I had a lot of high hopes, but I’m disappointed in Biden. I don’t see the economy turning around. People are too afraid to spend. A lot of shops are closing down. The economy, the virus situation, inflation, this is what matters most,” Khan said. “If I believe a Republican can do a better job, absolutely I will vote for them this November. I’m going to vote for somebody who’s going to look after me.”
Anthony Whalen, 31, a software developer, said he’s tired of the rancor in Washington.
“My leanings in voting are Democratic but it’s not a party I’m proud of,” he said.
The concerns are underscored by a new Reuters/Ipsos poll. One in four Democrats think the party underachieved last year because they were too busy fighting each other or unwilling to force legislation through.
Democratic dissatisfaction also shows up in Biden’s polling, with just 43% of U.S. adults approving of his performance in a Feb. 7-8 poll.
The Democratic lawmakers are particularly dismayed by what they see as missteps by party leaders over Biden’s $1.75 trillion “Build Back Better” legislation, which failed to pass in January after Democratic Senator Joe Manchin pulled his support.
Biden also failed to pass federal voting rights legislation last month, again after Manchin and another Democratic senator, Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, refused to change Senate rules to overcome Republican opposition.
Slotkin conceded that millions of Americans feel insecure because of rising prices and the ongoing impact of the coronavirus pandemic, now in its third year.
Like Spanberger and Axne, she hailed Biden’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan that passed Congress in 2021, which bailed out families and businesses from the COVID-19-hit economy and lifted millions of children out of poverty.
The lawmakers also pointed to Biden’s $1 trillion infrastructure bill as a landmark achievement that will repair roads, bridges, expand broadband internet across the U.S. and create jobs.
They say party leaders should have broken up the “Build Back Better” bill and tried to pass smaller, more targeted spending measures rather than one colossal package that voters did not understand.
Dave Wasserman, a political analyst at the non-partisan Cook Political Report, said Biden’s low polling numbers and voter anxiety about inflation, COVID-19 and the economy, means Democrats face “an exceptionally difficult year.”
He added: “Biden and the Democrats’ legislative agenda is not only stalled, but voters see it as disconnected to their day-to-day lives.”