Voters May Punish Both Biden and GOP Governors Over COVID During Midterms

As President Joe Biden continues to face the weight of crises home and abroad amid a stalled legislative agenda, his party could be headed for a wipeout in the midterm elections, a fear Democrats recently shared with Newsweek.

With a new Long Island University Hornstein Center national poll out last week showing the COVID-19 pandemic is the second-most important issue for voters after the economy, it's clear voters will be basing their votes at least partly on how the coronavirus is handled from now until next November.

But it would be a mistake to think Biden and Democrats will be the only ones punished at the polls over COVID.

Republican governors Greg Abbott of Texas, whose state is leading the nation in deaths, and Ron DeSantis of Florida, who is continuing a fierce fight against school mask mandates despite a record 5,721 coronavirus deaths in August, may find that voters aren't buying what they're selling regarding the pandemic.

"Voters still don't like the GOP's answer to the coronavirus. It's the most important issue and the GOP still hasn't found a response voters like," CNN's data reporter Harry Enten wrote on Twitter. "Over and over again GOPers have argued for looser restrictions on COVID, and again and again voters say they don't like that."

He added that it was like living in a "bizarro world."

"The voters are so clear on this," he wrote. "We see it on mask mandates in schools. Voters/parents overwhelmingly support them. GOP thinks somehow parents, as a whole, don't."

Former Florida congresswoman Debbie Mucarsel-Powell told Newsweek that Republican governors like DeSantis and Abbott will be held accountable by voters because they are "now the face of the Republican Party after Donald Trump," and are competing to see who will have the most "Trumpian profile."

While DeSantis' approval rating has dropped as he continues to fight Florida schools over mask mandates, despite school children in his state having died from the virus in recent months, Mucarsel-Powell said there is another consequence of the pandemic fight that no one is talking about: the economy.

She said the Delta variant spike has led organizations to cancel their upcoming large events in September in Florida, pointing to a large show at Art Basel in Miami and a general manager's conference that was also slated for this month.

Like DeSantis, Abbott appears to be serving up red meat for his base for a re-election campaign that may also lead to a presidential run. But groups like The Lincoln Project are hoping to use his provocative policies against him.

Their TV ad released last week, titled "Abbott's Wall," is not about the border wall Abbott wants to build, but their claim that the 60,475 Texans who have died from COVID-19 represent 85 miles of lumber used to make caskets.

"If Governor Abbott wants to build a new wall, tell him to stop building this one," the ad states.

One Texas Republican who lost family members to the pandemic told Newsweek there has been a lack of leadership in both parties. But the source said Americans are not happy with the way the virus has been politicized, including Abbott's handling of the virus.

"When you had a reopening in June 2020, a lot of people were looking to his leadership for guidance," the source said, noting that Americans were nervous and wanted to be led by a "servant leader" who wasn't poll conscious. "Leaders have a role to give the best information to the citizenry."

But John Wittman, Abbott's former communications director, told Newsweek the midterms results will be what everyone is beginning to expect, as Biden's presidency has hit a rocky patch in recent weeks.

"It will be a historic backlash against the party in power," he said. "There are a lot of issues that are top of mind for voters from border security, to COVID, and the economy."

Regarding Abbott, he said that of the candidates declared or running for governor, "he's in the best position to win."

Peter Jeffrey Kuznick, a professor who specializes in 20th- and 21st-century presidents at American University, told Newsweek that "the problem Biden is facing is there are so many crises at once, which seem to be eroding his main selling points of competency, credibility, and compassion."

Those include "foreign policy blunders" like the Afghanistan withdrawal, but also COVID, where Biden began a push for vaccine boosters for all Americans, on which the FDA and CDC have yet to follow suit, Kuznick said.

Fernand Amandi, Obama's former pollster on the Latino vote, said the uncertainty of the pandemic makes analysis of next November difficult.

"The problem with 2022 is it's still a lifetime away, both in terms of COVID and the election," he said. "If we're still looking at death counts and infection rates at this time in 2022, the states where COVID is still a problem will see state leaders like DeSantis held accountable."

However, Amandi said that in states where COVID was handled well yet economic struggles continue, Biden could still bear the brunt of the blame.

"They may look at national considerations," he said, and ask, 'Why weren't you able to handle this problem?'"

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US President Joe Biden alongside Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (L) speaks about the collapse of the 12-story Champlain Towers South condo building in Surfside, during a briefing in Miami Beach, Florida, July 1, 2021. Biden and Republican governors like DeSantis may be punished by voters in the midterms if the pandemic stretches on to 2022 without much change. Saul Loeb/AFP