Midterms Mayhem Episode 2: Key Congressional races to track in the midterms

by Emma Gao, Ella Yee, and Anika Maji

This is the second installment of Midterms Mayhem, a podcast where Aquila staff members discuss the 2022 midterm elections with upper school community members. In this episode, Aquila reporters Ella, Emma and Anika talk with history teacher Byron Stevens, Kashish Priyam (10) and Naiya Daswani (10) about some of the key races in the midterm elections. 

Ella: Welcome to Midterms Mayhem, our podcast about this year’s midterm elections. 

Emma: I’m Emma.

Anika: I’m Anika.

Ella: I’m Ella.

Emma: And our second episode, Close Races, focuses on the House and Senate elections, zooming in on a few key races.

Anika: Today we’ll be hearing from Mr. Stevens as well as sophomores Kashish Priyam and Naiya Daswani.

Ella: Before we jump into the questions, could everyone introduce themselves briefly?

Stevens: Hi, I’m Mr. Stevens. I teach [AP European History].

Kashish: Hi, I’m Kashish. I’m a sophomore.

Naiya: Hi, I’m Naiya and I’m in tenth grade.

Ella: Awesome.

Anika: Currently, the Democrats hold the majority in the House with 220 seats to the Republicans’ 212. So what’s the forecast for what party will control the House after the midterm elections?

Kashish: I can start. I think the major forecast is that the Republicans are going to take over the House, even though some political analysts disagree. It’s mostly because there’s a statistic that in midterms, meaning between the presidential elections, the party of the president loses around 20 seats in the House solely because of the fact that disapproval of the President and what he’s doing is associated with the party. And considering Biden’s approval rating, and the fact that Democrats only hold a five seat majority in the House, it seems likely that the Republicans are going to sweep over in the House races.

Stevens: Even if the President’s approval rating is higher, still it’s just historically, the party in power always loses seats in a midterm election. It was predicted though [that] it was going to be worse for Democrats say like a year ago, [in terms of] the projections, the number of seats they would lose. So things have happened this year where the loss won’t be as bad, but it does matter because once you lose the majority, then you lose control of the agenda. So yeah, it’s gonna be pretty impactful. 

Emma: So given these forecasts, what do you think are the implications if the Republicans gain the majority in the Senate or the House?

Stevens: I think the first thing that will happen is the January 6 investigation is just gonna come to a grinding halt. The Republicans will likely take control of the hearing process to investigate Democrats for any and everything, whether or not there’s any there there. And I don’t want to sound partisan here, but whatever they find to investigate will not come near the attempted overthrow of the United States Congress that we saw on January 6. So even if you are kind of not gung ho or not in favor of the January 6 hearings, whatever is going to replace them after the midterm elections could be really scary. It’s going to be like Benghazi on steroids.

Kashish: I second everything that Mr. Stevens said, but also, if we look at it at a wider scale, if they lose either [the] House or the Senate, this could have major implications for the 2024 presidential election, especially because not only is former President Trump implying that he will be running, but there’s division in the Democratic Party [on] whether Biden should reseek election or if a new person should go up. Because of this, if nothing is majorly possible, because of the policy, and the fact that Republicans will hold one of the chambers, then it will show a huge amount of inaction from the Democratic Party. And because of the very polarized state of our country that might lead to further issues. 

Stevens: Yeah, I agree. What’s the expression? Elections have consequences. This could be a very consequential midterm election. And what’s even more consequential in addition to the national that we always pay attention to, the House and the Senate races, [is] what’s going on individual states. The number of election deniers, people who don’t think that the 2020 election was valid or that Joe Biden was actually elected and believe whatever kind of conspiracy theories, those people are on the ticket for major party [seats] and running to control things like the Secretary of State position, which runs elections in individual states, or they’re going to be part of the state legislatures and so they might not certify the actual winner of elections in those states. And so that, for me, is what is truly scary and could be the beginning of a period of non-democratic rule.

Ella: Ok so, moving on. Currently the Senate is split evenly with 50 Democrats and 50 Republicans. At least from the forecast so far, whether either side will take over the Senate seems a bit closer compared to the House. So we wanted to zoom in on a couple of key races. The first one is in Pennsylvania, with Democrat John Fetterman running against the Republican candidate Dr. Mehmet Oz. So what are your thoughts on either predictions or how things are going so far?

Kashish: So I believe that the Republicans should have been able to control the Senate and the House if they had gone with less radical leaders in their party nominations. But specifically in the race that you mentioned with Dr. Oz, I think it is a possibility that it will swing towards Fetterman solely because [Dr. Oz] obviously, to many conservative people, is seen as a radicalist. And even though there are people who support and believe in [Dr. Oz’s] situation, it is creating more and more divide in the party, which might lead to moderates swinging towards Democrats. Additionally, I think that with Fetterman because of his stroke that happened right after the primary, there is a chance that he just has not been able to get as much coverage. And that’s one of the races that’s really instrumental in making sure that the Senate goes either way.

Naiya: Yeah, from what I know, Dr. Oz has typically kind of distanced himself from the idea that the election was robbed from Trump, and recently, he was seen on stage with Trump at one of the recent events and so a lot of voters were not exactly happy to see that given the ideas he had before. That may be another reason why he couldn’t win this one.

Stevens: Yeah, it’s gonna be a tough one. I mean, I think before the stroke, I would have said Fetterman is going to walk away with this. And he’s going to get the moderate swing vote because of the quality of candidate issue that you brought up. I mean, I’m not being disrespectful to [the opposing] point of view but you know, Dr. Oz is not a good political candidate for the U.S. Senate. I don’t know, run for school board or something first, show that you have some political chops, but that model has been broken because we had a real estate tycoon become president of the United States without any military or political experience in the past. So I am afraid of how the recovery from Mr. Fetterman’s stroke will be perceived by the electorate and that could [impact] something that should have otherwise been a safe election for Democrats.

Kashish: Definitely. Adding on to that I think that a lot of the rhetoric around Fetterman is very ableist and we need to be careful about how we talk about the stroke because a lot of conservative media is portraying him as unfit for the role or just unable to function as a person because of his stroke. But I think that most predictions and polls are saying that Fetterman will get a pretty close win on it.

Emma: So the next race we wanted to talk about was the Senate race in Georgia, with Democrat Raphael Warnock going against Republican Herschel Walker. So do you guys have any thoughts on either candidate or predictions on how that’s going to turn out and its implications?

Stevens: I think that Reverend Warnock is going to be reelected in the state of Georgia. And it’s not just because he has not only quickly established himself as one of the most eloquent speakers in the United States Senate, but we have the picture opposite of that, the guy who can’t complete a sentence and just doesn’t make sense when he tries to speak publicly. I think there are a lot of Republicans who are very concerned and embarrassed about the nomination of Herschel Walker in that state, even though he’s quite popular, and we’re in that ‘my team or nobody’ kind of thing. So Republicans are going to turn out and vote for Mr. Walker no matter what, except, and this is kind of general to all the races, but I think it’s going to hold to be true in Georgia, and particularly in Atlanta and Athens around the universities, but the chief pollster at Harvard University, and I embarrassed, I’m forgetting his name, but he’s come out recently talking about his predictions in the polls that they’ve taken. What he is predicting is a Gen Z wave: he’s expecting youth to turn out in a way that’s not being captured by other polls, because typically, youth don’t vote — people 18 to 25 don’t vote — and so the pollsters dismiss their political opinions because they think ‘Well, they may have these views, but they don’t show up and vote.’ He’s thinking there will be a higher youth vote turnout, and that I think, will put Warnock over the edge in Georgia.

Kashish: Also, I think that Walker with his abortion controversies with two different women alleging that he paid them for an abortion, which is heavily detrimental on top of all the issues that he already represents. Because a lot of the base that’s [supporting] him is the ‘my team, conservative team, we’re going to support this’ might be starting to go away from that. And additionally, he was this big football star in his home state. And that’s one of his biggest “home grown values” type of appeal, and that might start getting hit by that. 

Anika: So as was mentioned earlier, there are more radical Republican candidates that are being nominated for these elections. So what thoughts do you have on that? What effect will that have on future policy and the state of polarization in our country already?

Stevens: I think the concern that I have about it is something that was just brought up sort of about the normalization. Now, there’ll be a lot of hand-wringing and commentary following the election where all these people get elected to state legislatures and Secretary of State positions. But then people will get up and go to work on Wednesday morning, and go on with their lives and things like that. There’ll be normalization like we’re experiencing after the initial shock of the Dobbs decision for so many people, and people won’t be as motivated to be engaged.

Kashish: Yes, definitely. And on top of the radicalization and normalization, there’s this idea called the Overton window in political analysis, which is basically that when we are introduced to a lot of very radical ideas, what we consider normal shifts. For example, this happened a lot during the Trump administration because we would hear these crazy things that we wouldn’t have imagined to ever happen, the things of what was considered normal have increased. And therefore, when we are repeatedly introduced to radical candidates, people doing things which maybe 10 years ago would have been seen as a complete breach of the way our country functions, we are making a future where we are just going to be more accepting of anti-democratic and this kind of radicalized behavior. And that’s extremely dangerous for the situations we’re going into because if we continue like this, there’s no telling of when the switch is going to happen, when we’re going to start being democratic. It’s possible now that we have to discuss it.

Stevens: Yeah, agreed. There’s no one thing that happens. It’s a switch. It’s a slow accretion of things and many have built up already so.

Ella: Another thing we wanted to talk about is maybe not necessarily a close race, but because it’s the Harker community, we wanted to zoom in on California. So what are some of your thoughts [on California]? You could go either with the governor or senators or even propositions. Anything about California specifically?

Stevens: For me, Proposition 1, about a woman’s right to choose, and should that be in the state constitution. Philosophically, regardless of what my opinion is on the topic, or the issue, I was really struck with, like, ‘Wow, is that something that we as voters should be determining? Is it an appropriate thing to be in the Constitution,’ and I’m really struck by that, and I said, I’m just not gonna vote for it. I mean, I’m just not gonna vote either way, I’m just gonna leave that one blank, because I didn’t know if it was the appropriate thing that it be covered by the state constitution, and whether voters should be the ones to determine whether or not it’s in the state constitution without a special convention and things like that. 

Naiya: Yeah, I think I may have a little bit of a different perspective here, but on a local level, I was involved in a campaign by Rishi Kumar for Congress. [When] looking at how you can contribute as a teen who can’t yet vote, [you can do] things like reading up on local councilmen, who will be running for Congress [and] how do you work on grassroots campaign. Whether it’s canvassing or flyers or just talking with others, although I won’t voice a personal opinion, it was interesting to be involved as a teen in an election where I’m not yet at the age where I can vote. And so kind of just being able to find different opportunities like that as a young teen, it was a really interesting experience for me. 

Stevens: Along that line of not only getting involved locally in races, I would recommend [that you] think about when your high school career is going to end and what you might do after that. I had a former advisee, class of 2019, who deferred her acceptance to college for a year, and she went and worked on a political campaign for a year. And that was a great experience before she went off to college. 

Ella: All right. I think we’re gonna wrap it up around now, but thank you all for speaking with us today.

Ella: Thank you so much for listening to our second episode of Midterms Mayhem.

Emma: If you would like to be featured in the next episode, or you know a friend who might be interested, please feel free to send us an email at [email protected]. 

Anika: Thank you again for joining us today, and we’ll see you next time.

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