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Voter sentiment towards Democrats is shifting in the run-up to the midterm election

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Midterm elections are traditionally considered a referendum on the president's performance. That can make the party in the White House feel vulnerable. For most of this year, it was thought President Biden's low approval ratings pushed down by the hasty U.S. departure from Afghanistan, high prices at the gas pump, and stubborn inflation would lead to significant losses for Democrats. But now, just two months from Election Day, maybe things have shifted. Amy Walter, editor-in-chief of the Cook Political Report, joins us. Amy, thanks so much for being with us.

AMY WALTER: Happy to be with you, Scott.

SIMON: The president remains unpopular among registered voters, according to polls. Yet voters also say they're still likely to vote for a Democrat in the midterms. What accounts for this?

WALTER: I think it reflects a couple of things. The first is that this is a president who was elected, for many people, more as a vote against Donald Trump than a vote for Joe Biden. The other is that, you know, you have a lot of voters right now, as you pointed out, who are frustrated with the state of the economy, who maybe think that this president hasn't gone far enough on certain issues they would have liked him to tackle. But they also know that they do not want to see a Republican.

Now, the big question is, No. 1, do these voters stay as committed to Democrats as they say they are? And No. 2, do these voters actually show up? What we know about these kinds of voters is that they tend to be younger. Right now, they're very much undecided. So when I'm talking about saying they're more likely to vote for Democrats, it's still a pretty low number. And for the next two and a half months, will a focus on President Biden and the economy by Republicans push these voters who already don't feel great about Biden into the arms of Republican candidates?

SIMON: What issues seem to be most important to a lot of voters?

WALTER: Well, if you ask Republicans what their top issues are, it looks very different from what Democrats say their top issues are. For Republicans - the economy, inflation, immigration. For Democrats - abortion, climate change and guns. Independent voters, though - and these are the key group of voters that I'm paying attention to - they do put the economy and inflation much higher than they do abortion. And that's why Republicans still feel pretty confident that they are going to have a successful midterm though it may not be as successful as it was looking to be before we had the Dobbs decision on the Supreme Court and before we had a focus, an almost singular focus, on Donald Trump and Donald Trump's legal troubles and his influence on what happened on Jan. 6.

SIMON: Amy, there are a couple races you can tip us off about that you were watching and we might watch as some sort of indicators.

WALTER: Absolutely. Actually, we're going to get a pretty good idea this next week about one race in particular that I'm watching. And that's the New Hampshire Senate race. Now, New Hampshire is a state that, at least at the presidential level, has been going blue for some time. But it has a Republican governor. But this is the kind of place where Republicans had felt very optimistic about their chances. But as we've seen in so many other primaries, the candidate who many sort of traditional-establishment Republicans say is too far out, too far on the extreme, is ahead in the polling. If that candidate wins the primary, that's going to make it a lot harder for Republicans to pick up a seat that they had very high on their list. So that's one to watch.

And then, I'm paying a lot of attention to a race in - on the House side in Virginia down in Newport News. The incumbent, Elaine Luria, Navy veteran - she's being challenged by a Republican who's also a Navy veteran - and the issue of abortion now taking center stage. This is a district that got a little more Republican under redistricting. So it's a very marginal seat. Republicans continue to be very bullish on picking up a seat like this in a midterm election. But Luria is trying to use the issue of abortion to draw a contrast with her opponent and hoping that this issue is going to resonate with voters in this district.

SIMON: Amy Walter of the Cook Report, thanks so much.

WALTER: You're very welcome. Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.