American voters go to the polls on Tuesday, November 8, 2022, in what’s called the mid-term election, which will see all the seats in the House of Representatives and more than a third of the Senate up for grabs. In this election, however, they will not elect their president, who is voted into power every four years. As such, the mid-term elections, typically, don’t excite most eligible voters to cast their votes. Outside the senior citizens and the retirees, most young voters don’t show up to cast their votes.
Well, this year may be an exception with a record number of people casting their votes. In my more than four decades of living in the USA, I have never seen as much excitement and commotion with the mid-term polls.
The election results will have an enormous influence on the rest of President Joe Biden’s term. Currently, House Democrats have a razor-thin 3-vote advantage. In the Senate, Democrats and Republicans are split 50/50, with Vice President Kamala Harris being the tiebreaker.
As the latest reports suggest, Republicans and Democrats have spent almost $10bn on ads, exceeding even the spending on the 2020 presidential election, and is almost triple the amount spent during the last midterms.
As usual, portraying the opponent in a highly negative way with short punch lines that are mixed with half-truths and lies to scare the voters has been part of this $10bn campaign strategy. Pennsylvania has been a battle state in the 2020 presidential election where Trump narrowly lost. Among the conservatives, he remains a favorite choice to compete in 2024. To this group of die-hard ‘red’ voters, Republican ad campaigns portray Democratic ‘blue’ contenders as ‘progressive’, ‘left-leaning politicians’ who are ‘soft on crime’.
Consider, for instance, the ad materials received in my home mailbox from the America First Legal Foundation, which is run by Stephen Miller (who served as a senior advisor for policy and White House director of speechwriting to President Donald Trump). These accuse the Democratic politicians of ‘pushing radical and irreversible gender experiments on children’, ‘indoctrinating children into believing biological sex is not real’. Another ad from the same group claims, “Joe Biden & his progressive allies in Washington want men to use the girls’ bathroom in grades K-12.” It asks, “Are you uncomfortable with your daughter sharing the bathroom or locker room with men?” and then answers its own question, “Joe Biden wants men in girls’ bathrooms, locker rooms, and sports leagues.” It reads: “Young girls are being traumatized across America, thanks to the Biden Administration’s transgender agenda. Protect our daughters. Every girl deserves a safe childhood.”
According to the Statista, a leading provider of market and consumer data, the major issues in this year’s election are: (1) US economy (inflation/prices and jobs), (2) healthcare (including abortion rights), (3) crime, (4) national security, (5) taxes and government spending, (6) education, (7) gun control and public safety, (8) civil liberties and rights (or democracy), and (9) immigration.
In one of the latest polls, asked about inflation, nearly 7 in 10 voters (68%) nationally agreed with the statement that “inflation is a problem and people will continue to pay more money on everyday expenses unless the government becomes more fiscally responsible.” Taking a cue from Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign slogan, “It’s the economy, stupid,” Republicans have, thus, been pushing to make the economy a central issue in the midterm elections.
In contrast Democrats have prioritized abortion rights as a referendum on reproductive rights. Since the overturning of the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe versus Wade ruling in June, many conservative US states passed restrictive abortion laws, including near-total bans. In response, Democrats have been trying to pass a federal law to protect the right to abortion. Currently, they do not have the numbers in the Senate, where a legislative procedure known as the filibuster requires 60 votes in the 100-member chamber to pass major legislation.
In the last 22 months a record number of migrants and asylum seekers have crossed the southern border. Most recently, Republican governors in Texas, Arizona and Florida have captured national headlines by paying to transport migrants to liberal-leaning northern cities like New York City in what they say is an effort to share the burden. Migrant rights groups, Democratic lawmakers and the White House have denounced the push as “cruel political theatre” meant to curry votes at the expense of asylum seekers. Republicans are turning opposition to Biden’s immigration policies into a political rallying cry.
Many Republicans continue to believe that the 2020 presidential election was stolen, and that Trump has been the ‘real’ winner. Democratic candidates claim that a Republican return to power could fundamentally harm the governing system in the country, especially with the GOP having nominated election deniers to offices up and down the ballot across the country.
The US has witnessed an uptick in homicides and violent crime in 2020 and 2021 – a trend that conservatives blame on ‘liberals and progressives’ that had called to ‘defund the police’. Mass shootings by white extremists, or more properly terrorists, since the days of Obama presidency have also gone up alarmingly. Democrats are pushing for tighter gun restrictions, including a ban on assault weapons that are used in such terrorist acts. In contrast, Republicans are vowing to protect gun access and the Second Amendment of the US Constitution, which grants the right to bear arms.
Democrats were once the party favored by voters to deal with issues of education. Not any longer! Now the politics of education has energized Republicans to seize on the issue of critical race theory (although not taught in public schools) to attack Democrats on a range of education-related grievances.
Another set of issues that have risen on the Republican agenda encompass LGBTQ rights. Florida’s Republican Governor signed legislation restricting the teaching of gender identity and related issues to students in kindergarten through the third grade.
In my home state of Pennsylvania, the Republican incumbent Senator Pat Toomey has decided to retire. His vacated seat is now contested between John Fetterman, Lt. Governor of the State Pennsylvania, and Dr. Mehmet Oz, a television presenter, author and retired cardiothoracic surgeon. He is the son of Turkish immigrants, who was raised in Wilmington, Delaware, and graduated from Harvard University and the University of Pennsylvania. He subsequently began his residency in surgery at Columbia University Irving Medical Center in 1986. In 2001, he became a professor of surgery at Columbia University, and later retired to professor emeritus in 2018. He was a regular guest on The Oprah Winfrey Show, making more than sixty appearances. He hosted the popular ‘Dr. Oz’ show on television for 13 years before announcing in 2021 that he would run for the senatorial seat in Pennsylvania. Describing himself as a conservative Republican, Dr. Oz has taken mostly conservative positions since launching his campaign. On April 9, 2022, Oz's campaign was endorsed by Donald Trump. The two have appeared together in recent days in campaign trails.
In recent TV ads, Dr. Oz has tried to portray himself as a “moderate” who will combat the partisanship and “extremism” in Washington, D.C. He also noted on Twitter on September 20, “Inflation is crushing Americans, and it’s disproportionately hurting the most vulnerable. It’s making everyday necessities like groceries cost more. Hurting small businesses. And hitting seniors, many of whom rely on Social Security, when they need every last penny.”
Oprah has endorsed Fetterman.
Although as per latest straw polls, Dr. Oz is in a statistical tie with John Fetterman, it is believed by most neutral poll analysts that he may eventually win the close race. Since his debate with Fetterman, Oz has been gaining support not only amongst the undecided independent voters but also many Democrats who don’t think that Fetterman is ready for the Senate job.
Interestingly, although if elected, Dr. Oz would be the first American Muslim to hold a senatorial seat in the USA, most Pennsylvania Muslims may not vote for him because of his association with Trump, a known bigot with neo-fascist leanings who once said he would ‘strongly consider’ closing mosques in the US.
In 2022, Oz said that Israel is ‘an ally and a vibrant democracy in the world's most troubled region’ and that he opposes the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) Movement, supports keeping the US Embassy in Jerusalem and supports continued military aid to Israel.
When it comes to Israel, as I have noted in my book: Democracy, politics and terrorism – America’s quest for security in the age of insecurity, and many essays and speeches, politicians in the US, Democrats and Republicans alike, with very few exceptions, are mortgaged to the apartheid state. Very few politicians would dare to challenge that mighty power. Period!
Truly, the political views of Dr. Oz on Israel are not too different than those held by Fetterman who said that the U.S.–Israel relationship "is a special one that needs to be safeguarded, protected, supported and nurtured through legislation and all available diplomatic efforts in the region". He supports United States foreign aid to Israel, including Iron Dome funding. Fetterman criticized Congressional Democrats who voted against Iron Dome funding, calling them "fringe" and "extreme". Fetterman has said he supports the right of Israel to defend itself and is "passionate" in his opposition to the BDS movement. He supported a law signed into law by Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf that barred Pennsylvania from entering into contracts with companies that boycott Israel.
Voters have short memories. They have long forgotten about the Biden Stimulus packages and the turn-around, battling the Covid pandemic. Foreign policy about the apartheid state will not be the factor when the American voters cast their votes on Nov. 8. It is the cost of survival that may be the deciding factor as to whom they choose.
The mid-term elections are often harsh to the ruling party. Keeping with the usual norms, Republicans have a strong chance of taking the House but the Senate is a dead heat, or so it seems.