In a recent political ad titled “Blame Washington,” a Senate hopeful places the blame for economic woes on politicians who “set the rules, weakened the supply chain and spiked inflation.”
The ad was not from a Republican, but from Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, the Democratic candidate running for Senate in the midterm elections. His ad, which blames politicians, Washington, and even the Democratic Party currently in control of Congress and the White House, is far from an outlier in recent political advertisements.
Over a dozen political ads from across the country reviewed by Fox News Digital show Democratic candidates campaigning as being independent of their own party leaders, with some even highlighting how they opposed President Biden’s agenda.
“I stood up to some in my own party and pushed to cut the gas tax, and to hire more police officers,” Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Mich., says in an ad that launched in July. Kildee, like others, votes with Biden 100%, but his ad and others indicate a trend many Democrats are taking headed into a midterm cycle which historically does not favor the party in power.
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“I don’t know how to interpret that other than that’s how they’re hedging their bet that Biden’s numbers are not going to improve,” veteran GOP political advertiser John Brabender told Fox News Digital.
Biden’s approval ratings have been low since the start of the year, and though there are still months before election day Nov. 8 for recent legislative successes on the PACT Act, the CHIPS and Science Act, and the climate, Medicare and tax bill known as the Inflation Reduction Act to potentially win back his popularity.
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Brabender thinks most Democrats will not discuss the Inflation Reduction Act unless economic prospects improve dramatically. “The legislation only matters if people see immediate impact, and if they don’t people are going to say ‘what legislation?'” Brabender says.
Inflation is a common theme among many political ads. Rep. Jared Golden, D-Maine, pitched himself in an August ad as “an independent voice,” who was “the only Democrat to vote against trillions of dollars of President Biden’s agenda, because I knew it would make inflation worse.”
Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., similarly highlighted fiscal responsibility in a recent ad, touting that she balanced New Hampshire state budgets while cutting taxes, and even “worked with Republicans to cut billions in wasteful spending.”
The independent tack many Democrats are taking should not be surprising, according to Democratic strategist and Fox News contributor Ken Walling.
“In every election cycle, you’ll see many incumbent Democrats and Republicans running against Washington,” Walling told Fox News Digital. “There’s a reason why Congress’ overall approval rating hovers around dentists and exterminators as a profession, while individual Members of Congress have higher individual approval ratings in-district.”
Walling also sees the messaging as a return of the Democratic populist — after years of former President Trump communicating a message of the Washington, D.C., “swamp” that makes the lives of every day Americans worse.
“I think what you’re also seeing are Democrats taking back the populist message from their GOP counterparts — something Donald Trump ran on in 2016, becoming a perceived champion of working class Americans despite being a billionaire,” Walling said.
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Fetterman and Ohio Democratic Senate nominee Tim Ryan are most effective at this, according to Walling, “painting their GOP senate challengers as out of touch millionaires, really striking that populist tone when it comes to inflation and jobs.”
Ryan has captured headlines all summer for running ads touting his agreement with Trump on a few issues, like trade and reinvigorating American manufacturing — something similar to Fetterman’s proposal to fix the economy: “Make more stuff in America.”
Democrats playing up their work with Republicans may help to prove they are independent minded. A recent ad from Rep. Kim Schrier, D-Wash., shows two mayors, a Republican and a Democrat, voicing their support for the incumbent, who has voted with Biden 100% of the time: “She had five bills signed into law by Biden, eight by Trump.”
“They can’t exactly say that they’re in sync with Republicans, but they certainly say a lot that they’re bipartisan and independent, and put their state and their districts first. And that’s code for, ‘I’m not running with Biden’ for sure,” Brabender said.
In a recent spot, Rep. Sharice Davids, D-Kan., highlights how she “stood up to her own party” to prevent pay raises for members of Congress, and how she “worked with Republicans and Democrats to stand up to China and curb inflation.”
Perhaps the strongest ad voicing opposition to Democrats and Biden himself came from Rep. Nancy Kaptur, D-Ohio, Friday, where a narrator states: “Joe Biden is letting Ohio solar manufacturers be undercut by China, but Marcy Kaptur is fighting back.” The narrator declares that Kaptur is not working for Biden, but is “working with Republican Rob Portman, protecting our jobs.”
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The strategy of running against the national party, while still aiming to keep that party in power, is not new — and could help to bring over voters in the middle, who are not solid Democrat or Republican voters.
“Politics is a game of addition, not subtraction so if Team Blue candidates can appeal to the middle and bring over independents and soft Republicans, something they did in 2018, you could see a very different election night that the prognosticators are predicting,” Walling said.
Brabender, however, is skeptical that attempts to distance the individual Democrat from the national party will work, especially if voters are generally dissatisfied with the economy. It amounts, in his mind, to a message of “don’t hold me hostage to Biden and the Democrat agenda.”
“We’re going to find out if people believe them or not. I think what’s going to happen is that 80% are going to vote the way of the generic ballot,” he said. It’s the “red wave” effect where voters may choose to reject the Democrats because they are currently in power.
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There has been good news for Democrats in recent weeks, following the successful passage by Democrats of several large pieces of legislation. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) in particular has touted the Inflation Reduction Act as a win for Americans. Walling believes Democrats down ballot should certainly run on the success in the act, pointing more to the medical savings portion of the bill.
“Democrats should absolutely campaign on the Inflation Reduction Act, and you’re going to see the president, his cabinet and Democratic House and Senate leadership take that message out on the road in the coming days and weeks. It matters to 13 million Americans that Democrats single-handedly extended their ACA subsidies, saving them on average $2,400 a month. It matters that for the first time ever Medicare can negotiate the cost of drugs and that Americans will never pay more than $2,000 a month for their prescriptions. It matters that Democrats are actually cutting the deficit, something former President Trump and Republicans never did when they were in power,” Walling said.
As for the more controversial portions of the bill, Democrats on the campaign trail have defended the controversial IRS provision that provides $80 billion to the agency, in part to hire 87,000 more agents and employees over the next decade.
To Brabender though, the IRS portion of the bill has a lot of fodder for Republicans, and he is doubtful that Democrats will be touting the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act in advertising.
“They can give it that name all they want, but they better see better economic numbers,” Brabender said.