Carl P. Leubsdorf: Ron Johnson unforced errors, others hurt GOP bid to retake Senate | split



Democrats face an uphill battle to maintain their tenuous hold in the US Senate, but they’ve had unexpected help in recent weeks — from Republicans.

Unenforced GOP blunders include a proposal that would raise taxes for half of all Americans and another to restart the Republican fight to scrap the increasingly popular Affordable Care Act.

Still, President Joe Biden’s negative approval rating does not bode well for his party. The Senate is currently split 50-50, with Vice President Kamala Harris having the casting vote.

Republicans retaking the Senate would likely stall Biden’s efforts to transform the federal judiciary and complicate most struggles in Congress over state funding and other issues over the next two years.

To further up the ante, bipartisan strategists and independent analysts expect the GOP to win back the House of Representatives, despite a better-than-expected performance by Democrats in redrawing post-census congressional district lines.

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More than 30 incumbent House Democrats are retiring, weakening the party’s prospects of holding several tightly separated districts. Republicans only need five seats to win the majority.

But wide-ranging triumphs in Congress have not always led to similar Senate outcomes. In 2018, when the so-called “blue wave” allowed Democrats to flip 41 seats and win the House of Representatives, Republicans won two Senate seats.

Ironically, this year’s most damaging GOP misstep came from the man leading the party’s Senate campaign, Florida Sen. Rick Scott, who chairs the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

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Scott ignored Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell’s advice to focus the GOP campaign on the shortcomings of the Biden administration and issued an “11-point plan to save America” ​​that listed dozens of Republican goals.

“Americans deserve to know what we’re going to do if they get a chance to govern,” said Scott, who is widely believed to harbor presidential aspirations for 2024. His platform was an expansive conservative wish-list that included completing former President Donald Trump’s border wall, scrapping federal programs that “can be done locally,” passing term limits on congressional and federal bureaucrats, re-funding police, and stopping ” left-wing efforts” involved rigging elections.”

Buried in a vow to “stop socialism” and slash the federal workforce by 25% was a suggestion that “all Americans should pay some income tax to have a piece of the game, even if it’s a small amount.” . Currently, more than half of Americans pay no income tax.”

That last statement is true. The percentage even rose to 61% during the pandemic. But it’s misleading because it only applies to those Americans who don’t pay federal income taxes: mostly lower-income Americans, but also millionaires who take advantage of tax breaks.

“Federal income taxes do not include payroll taxes,” notes the impartial Tax Policy Center. It said only 20% paid no federal income or payroll taxes, and “almost everyone” paid some form of property, sales, or use tax.

Hands on Wisconsin: Johnson's

Scott’s proposal, reminiscent of a controversial 2012 comment by then-GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney, would raise taxes for half of all Americans. That’s a non-starter politically, and the Democrats jumped on it immediately.

“Republicans are rallying around plan to raise taxes and rip healthcare away from millions of Americans,” was the headline of a typical Democratic National Committee publication citing Scott’s platform and Ron Johnson’s call from Wisconsin GOP Sen. Ron Johnson to repeal Obamacare .

Speaking to the right-wing Breitbart News, the Wisconsin senator, who is seeking a third term this year, said if Republicans win back Congress in 2022 and the White House in 2024, they could “actually catch up on what we’ve identified as our priorities” like the repeal and replacement of Obamacare.

In 2017, they unsuccessfully tried to abolish Obamacare when they controlled the White House, House of Representatives and Senate. The poll by the nonprofit Kaiser Family Foundation shows support for the health care law among all Americans has risen five points to 58% in the past two years.

As Democrats try to wrap Scott and Johnson’s statements in the GOP, other Republican candidates are struggling.

A verbal duel between two GOP Senate candidates erupted in North Carolina when former Gov. Pat McCrory accused Rep. Ted Budd of being “friendly” to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Budd, who Trump endorsed in the race, called Putin a “very intelligent actor,” although he also said he was “evil.”

North Carolina is a state where Democrats are hoping to flip a GOP seat, along with Pennsylvania and Ohio. In the latter, at least five Republicans are competing for the May 3 primary, with four of them seeking Trump’s support.

Meanwhile, Democrats have their own problems, starting with Biden’s low job approval.

A recent poll in Georgia found likely Republican nominee Herschel Walker, the former University of Georgia football star recruited by Trump, is four points ahead of freshman Sen. Raphael Warnock. Biden’s Georgia registration is in the mid ’30s.

Handicappers rate at least three other Senate seats held by Democrats as tossups: Arizona, where former astronaut Mark Kelly is seeking a full term; Nevada, where Catherine Cortez Masto is seeking re-election; and New Hampshire, where Maggie Hassan is seeking a second term after winning by just 1,017 votes in 2016.

Historically, the same party tends to win all close Senate races. The current political climate suggests the Democrats face an uphill battle to hold their 50 seats. But in an unpromising year, a little GOP help could prove to be a huge benefit.

Leubsdorf is the former Washington bureau chief of the Dallas Morning News: [email protected]


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