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Politicians and strategists consider soaring inflation's effects on midterms

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

More than 8%, inflation's the worst it's been in more than 40 years, and some economists predict a global recession before the end of the year. But how will the spike in consumer prices affect mid-term elections? Charlie Cook is a political analyst who founded and contributes to The Cook Political Report with Amy Walter.

Charlie, all right, let's jump right into it. How do you think this inflation experience is going to shape political futures for both parties?

CHARLIE COOK: Well, inflation has an enormous, enormous impact on people that - you know, Democrats tend to point to and focus on unemployment and - which is certainly important to the people that are unemployed and their families and communities and things. But that's usually - you know, the difference between low unemployment and high unemployment is maybe four percentage points. But the difference - but 100% of people are affected by inflation, and so you could actually argue that it's like 25 times more. So Republicans will be trying to argue that - will be pointing out, you know, the administration said there would - not going to be inflation, it would just be transitory, and now we have it. And Democrats are going to be arguing, we hear you, we see you, we're doing everything we possibly can. And hopefully - you know, hopefully for them, inflation will get blamed on somebody else.

MARTINEZ: So, Charlie, I'm imagining someone waking up on November 8 with a checklist of things to do. They're going to go to the supermarket in the morning, they're going to gas up the SUV, and then they're going to go hit a voting center. I mean, how might that affect what they do in that voting center, once they get gouged at the supermarket and then at the gas station?

COOK: Well, it's - people tend to - if they are - if voters are mad about one thing or mad at a president about one thing, it tends to contaminate everything else. And so no matter what a president's doing that might be good, it doesn't mean as much if voters are really mad at you about whatever it is that they're most interested in - most involved in. And as I said, inflation is something that just cuts through like a knife and has an enormous, enormous impact. So this is - in midterm elections, it's about, you know, how big a turnout can a president's party get, knowing that they're - usually you're a little bit disillusioned, disappointed or complacent come midterm election time, and the party out of power is usually hypermotivated. They're angry. They want revenge. And then there's the little 10% in the middle that's the truly independents. And, you know, they tend to get buyer's remorse in these elections.

MARTINEZ: When a political party, though, Charlie, controls the White House, the House and the Senate, how often does that contamination that you mentioned filter down to the other two?

COOK: A lot. Well, the contamination - people will vote on - they'll sort of rifle-shot their vote on that, so that, you know, it doesn't - wouldn't matter how great a job President Biden is doing on handling Ukraine or the coronavirus. If voters are mad about the economy in general and inflation in particular, then that's the rifle-shot vote, and that's what Democrats have to really worry about.

MARTINEZ: Midterms, historically, have almost been like a progress report for the governing party, forecasting what the presidential election year report card may be. So, Charlie, given how polarized the country is, is there any chance for a reversal in the short and the long term?

COOK: Well, we learned in 2016 - you know, you never can say no chance of anything, but I don't see much on the horizon that could reverse the course. I mean, this thing may get - it could get worse for Democrats. It could get a little less worse, but it's not likely to reverse course. Perhaps, maybe, if Roe v. Wade is just completely overturned, that - you know, that could galvanize Democratic voters. But this is - you know, this is likely to be a pretty ugly election, and the only question is - for Democrats, the only question is, like, how ugly will it be?

MARTINEZ: And how much - and you mentioned, you know, how it doesn't matter, you know, if a president is doing well, say, in foreign policy matters as, you know, if things at home aren't going the way that Americans want them to. But when it comes to, say, something like Ukraine - if there is significant progress, and it looks like Biden undeniably can be credited for turning things around there, I mean, could that be something that he uses, even if inflation is still at the rate that it's at?

COOK: Well, the president and Democrats can try, but, generally speaking, foreign policy in general - and unless - you know, unless we're having heavy casualties, it just doesn't weigh into voting decisions. It just never has, and that would be hard to imagine - that if they think you're doing a good job on one thing, then they start focusing on something else. But, you know, it's not likely that the economy is going to turn around enough or that the inflation is going to come down enough, I think, by November for this not to be a headwind for Democrats. And the question is just how - you know, how strong of a headwind will it be?

MARTINEZ: And with predictions servicing of a recession, maybe, in the next couple of years, I mean, what does the Biden administration need to do right now to respond?

COOK: Well, and a recession could string over or start coming out of 2022, going into the 2024 election. So it's just paddle like - you know, just paddle, like, as fast as you can. We're doing everything. We're focusing. We're doing everything humanly possible. We're not ignoring this. We hear you.

MARTINEZ: Political analyst Charlie Cook, thanks a lot.

COOK: Thank you, A. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.