Dual-referendum election brings diverging midterm paths: The Note

There are 64 days until the midterms.

September 6, 2022, 6:04 AM

The TAKE with Rick Klein

It might be that this year's midterms are neither a choice nor a referendum so much as they are a choice between referendums.

To the extent that there's agreement surrounding the stakes of 2022, it coalesces around the notion that the other party represents a wrong and even dangerous path for the nation.

That leaves the putative party standard-bearers in the odd situation of making cases that many who are running in congressional or statewide races -- those who need crossover voters -- might frame another way.

PHOTO: President Joe Biden speaks during an event at Henry Maier Festival Park in Milwaukee, Sept. 5, 2022.
President Joe Biden speaks during an event at Henry Maier Festival Park in Milwaukee, Sept. 5, 2022.
Susan Walsh/AP

President Joe Biden's stark attack on "MAGA Republicans" last week and people he called "Trumpies" on Monday was met primarily by silence from Democrats in battleground states who will need at least some Trump voters to win. As his Labor Day appearances in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania made clear, Biden is not being avoided, but neither is he being embraced by Democrats across the board.

Former President Donald Trump's latest attack on Biden as an "enemy of the state" marks a typically aggressive attempt to channel GOP anger at Democrats. But his focus on personal grievances -- up to and including those stemming from the FBI search warrant carried out at Mar-a-Lago -- threatens to obscure the forward-looking messages even some of his endorsed candidates would rather run on.

A case in point comes in Pennsylvania, where both Biden and Trump have spent time over the past week. Senate candidate Mehmet Oz appeared at Trump's Saturday rally in Wilkes-Barre but is not playing up his connections to Trump nearly as much as gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano and others who embrace the "MAGA" label.

Oz would rather a race about Biden and his leadership, just as Democrat John Fetterman would prefer a race about Trump and his followers. The Fetterman campaign called Oz and Trump "two desperate and sad dudes" after the former president attacked Fetterman with baseless and personal allegations Saturday night.

As USA Today's Susan Page put it on ABC News' "This Week" Sunday, "The two parties want this to be a referendum -- but on the other guy's president."

The RUNDOWN with Brittany Shepherd

With 64 days to go until the midterms, Vice President Kamala Harris offered a preview of the punchiness of her political messaging at a Labor Council Breakfast in Boston yesterday.

During her marks, Harris echoed warnings senior White House officials -- and President Biden -- have outlined over the past several weeks: Democrats' grip on majority power in Washington is in danger of loosening, thanks to "extremist, so-called leaders" who are "fighting to turn back the clock."

PHOTO: BOSTON, MA - SEPTEMBER 05:  Vice President Kamala Harris speaks at the annual Greater Boston Labor Council breakfast at the Park Plaza Hotel on September 5, 2022 in Boston, Massachusetts.
BOSTON, MA - SEPTEMBER 05: Vice President Kamala Harris speaks at the annual Greater Boston Labor Council breakfast at the Park Plaza Hotel on September 5, 2022 in Boston, Massachusetts.
Scott Eisen/Getty Images for SEIU

After touting administrative wins on infrastructure, Harris painted Republican policies regarding gun ownership, health care, and education as "extremist" and dangerous for growth, a conclusion shy of the controversial line between Trump-aligned policies and fascism President Biden drew last week, but not completely without bite.

"But instead of standing with working people to lower the price of healthcare, education, and childcare. These extremist, so-called leaders prioritize breaks for big corporations and the wealthiest one percent. But together, we are fighting back," Harris told the group.

Her less-aggressive but still pointed shots at "extremist, so-called leaders" could serve as a preview on how the vice president hopes to compliment Biden's message on the campaign trail – a softer warning focusing on White House policy wins and potentially GOP rollbacks as Biden rails against MAGA-ism in the abstract, and the dangers of Trump in particular.

The TIP with Hannah Demissie

The Massachusetts gubernatorial race is the best chance for Democrats to pick up a governor seat this election cycle.

All eyes will be on the state's GOP gubernatorial primary as former state Rep. Geoff Diehl faces off against political newcomer Chris Doughty.

Diehl is supported by former President Donald Trump and the state's GOP.

In recent gubernatorial primaries such as Maryland and Illinois, the Massachusetts governor's race is the latest example of a Trump-like candidate seeking the GOP nomination in a deeply blue state.

Doughty has positioned himself as the moderate in the race, focusing on lowering taxes, keeping the statehouse balanced, and making Massachusetts affordable for people.

During his campaign run, Diehl has focused on upgrading Massachusetts infrastructure, supporting law enforcement and expanding housing.

Even though Massachusetts is considered a Democratic stronghold, the state has a long history of electing moderate Republican governors. The current governor, Republican Charlie Baker, popular in the state, decided not to seek a third term and has not endorsed either candidate in the race.

Whoever is victorious in the primary will face off against the state's Attorney General Maura Healey, who cleared the Democratic field. If Healey wins in November, she would be Massachusetts first elected female governor and openly gay governor.

NUMBER OF THE DAY, powered by FiveThirtyEight

1 in 2. That's the number of Americans who will have at least one candidate on the ballot this fall who denied the legitimacy of the 2020 election, according to an analysis by FiveThirtyEight. FiveThirtyEight reached out to every single Republican nominee running for House, Senate, governor, secretary of state and attorney general and asked them whether they thought the 2020 election was legitimate. What we found was the majority of Republicans seeking office in 2022 do not think the 2020 election was fair. Read more from FiveThirtyEight on where these candidates are running, and more importantly, where they might win.


ABC News' "World News Tonight" anchor David Muir is in Kyiv, Ukraine, with an exclusive interview with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Ukraine's president accused the Russian military of using the massive Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant as a "weapon" in Moscow's invasion.

"You see, they occupied our nuclear station, six blocks," Zelenskyy told Muir from the Ukrainian presidential office.. "The biggest in Europe. It means six Chernobyls; it means the biggest danger in Europe. So, they occupied it. So that is-- means that they use nuclear weapon. That is [a] nuclear weapon," Zelenskyy added.

Read the entire interview.


ABC News' "Start Here" Podcast. "Start Here" begins Tuesday morning with ABC News' Jenny Wagnon Courts and Ismael Estrada reporting from Uvalde on students and teachers facing a new school year –after the massacre there just over three months ago killed 19 students and two teachers. Then, ABC's David Muir breaks down his exclusive interview with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. And, Jackson State football wins big despite its home city's water crisis. http://apple.co/2HPocUL


  • President Joe Biden holds a cabinet meeting at 1:15 p.m. ET.
  • White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre holds a press briefing at noon.
  • Polls for primary elections open in Massachusetts at 5:45 a.m. ET and close at 8 p.m. ET.
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    The Note is a daily ABC News feature that highlights the day's top stories in politics. Please check back Wednesday for the latest.

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