Tennessee Democrat Rep. Jim Cooper has 32 years in Congress, representing two different districts. He’s in great health and he knows the political ropes in the nation’s capital as well as anybody in the House of Representatives.
But “Blue Dog” moderate Cooper is calling it quits. Tennessee’s Republican governor and state legislative majority redrew his mostly urban/suburban congressional district in a way that left him seeing no way to win another term.
Democratic presidential contenders have carried Cooper’s present district solidly for years, but the new boundaries likely favor the GOP.
The redrawn district, however, wasn’t the sole factor in Cooper’s retirement decision, as he made clear in a recent interview with a local media outlet. The 67-year-old, who was born in Nashville but grew up in more rural Shelbyville, isn’t happy with the direction of his party.
“What outreach do we have to Republicans and independents? Most of the rhetoric you hear is, ‘Let’s double down, let’s force it down their throats.’ That’s not the way to win votes. You have to have mutual respect and trust. First, that takes familiarity,” Cooper told Nashville Scene.
“What Tennessee Democrats need is a strategy to win. We’re addicted to telling other people what to think. You can’t really win many elections if you’re that self-righteous.
“It’s important to be in communication with your constituents, not to be their boss. You’re their representative. We’ve got to get this formula right. The Democratic Party in Tennessee is basically facing extinction.”
Prospects for Democrats elsewhere aren’t quite that bad, but the party that controls the White House and both chambers of Congress, if only barely, goes into the 2022 midterm congressional campaign facing three daunting problems.
First, President Joe Biden’s approval ratings are in the midst of a historic plunge, dropping to 39.8 percent on Feb. 9 in the RealClearPolitics running average of 10 major presidential job surveys.
More shocking was the result of a CNN survey covering the first two months of 2022 that found 58 percent of respondents disapproving of Biden’s performance as president, and 56 percent of those saying they can think of “nothing” he has done well for them.
Second, those low ratings aren’t likely to be transitory, either, because the key issue driving Biden’s plunge is inflation, which the Department of Labor announced on Feb. 10 hit an annual rate of 7.5 percent for 2021, the biggest jump since 1982.
Voters are feeling it in their pocketbooks, according to multiple surveys such as the University of Michigan’s Survey of Consumers.
“Sentiment continued its downward descent, reaching its worst level in a decade, falling a stunning 8.2 percent from last month and 19.7 percent from last February,” the survey’s chief economist, Richard Curtin, wrote.
“The recent declines have been driven by weakening personal financial prospects, largely due to rising inflation, less confidence in the government’s economic policies, and the least favorable long-term economic outlook in a decade.”
And, as PunchbowlAM, a heavily congressionally focused media outlet, recently noted, Gallup’s respondents say they expect inflation to get worse in the months ahead, and in the key state of Georgia, with two competitive Senate and governor’s contests heating up, Biden’s approval rating “has fallen off a cliff.”
Third, there appears to be little agreement about how best to respond to Biden’s dismal ratings and the inflation driving them, according to PunchbowlAM, as seen in the responses of multiple Senate Democrats.
“What’s most surprising to us is their responses were kind of all over the place. They don’t have a unified message. Compare that to the GOP message (accurate or not)—the government is causing inflation by spending too much money—which is easily understood and digested,” PunchbowlAM reported.
Among the ideas “Democrats proposed to deal with inflation: Pass the Build Back Better Act (not possible right now); enact the expanded Child Tax Credit; cut prescription drug prices; beef up the supply chain and slash shipping costs; somehow rein in corporate profits; suspend the federal gas tax; grow more food; or even push through immigration reform. Democrats seem to lack ideas that can be quickly put into action or will have an immediate impact on inflationary pressures, as far as we can tell,” PunchbowlAM wrote.
Democrats control the Senate only by virtue of the fact Vice President Kamala Harris presides over the chamber and casts the deciding vote when there is a tie, which isn’t unusual with 50 Democrats (including two independents who caucus with the Democrats) and the same number of Republicans.
On the House side, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who, at 81, is seeking her 19th two-year term in office, has a razor-thin majority that can be lost if only five of her 221 Democrats vote with Republicans.
The party in power typically loses House seats in the first midterm election after a new president takes office. With terrible presidential approval ratings and inflation spiraling to 40-year highs, however, Republican talk of a “Red Wave” in November could underestimate what’s ahead for Biden and the Democrats.