The Map, the Issues and the Incumbency Favoring Democrats

Democrats won the governorship in Arizona in 2022. And while they lost the governor’s race decisively in Georgia, they eked out the Senate contest between the incumbent Democrat Raphael Warnock and the Republican, Herschel Walker.

Those recent electoral successes point to the other major factor that appears to be playing in the Democrats’ favor: the issues. The erosion of abortion rights in the wake of the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade has continued to dominate electoral outcomes in key states like Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania. And abortion is not fading, in large part because the socially conservative core of the Republican electorate keeps driving red states and conservative judges forward on abortion restrictions.

The tragic drumbeat of mass shootings has kept gun control high on the political agenda as well, an issue that Democrats believe will help them with suburban voters in key swing states and will trap Republicans between a base of voters who want no compromise on gun rights and a broader electorate that increasingly favors restrictions.

Republicans have issues that could favor them, too. Crime helped deliver House seats in New York and California, which secured the narrow House majority for the G.O.P. And transgender politics might help Republicans with some swing voters. A poll for National Public Radio last summer found that 63 percent of Americans opposed allowing transgender women and girls to compete on teams that align with their gender identity, while broader support for L.G.B.T. rights has only gained ground.

But a hotly contested primary is likely to drag the eventual nominee to the right, even on issues that could otherwise favor his party. Mr. DeSantis, widely seen as Mr. Trump’s most serious challenger, signed a ban on abortion in his state after six weeks, a threshold before many women know they are pregnant.

And at some point, Republicans’ drive against transgender people and their fixation on social issues may appear to be bullying — or simply far afield from real issues in the lives of swing voters, said Ms. Caprara, the chief of staff for the Illinois governor.

“There’s this toxic soup between abortion, guns, gay rights, library books, African American history,” she said. “It just comes across to people as, ‘Who are these people?’”

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