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Why the Soothsayers Are So Puzzled by This Year’s Midterms

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Doug Sosnik is the kind of political analyst who likes to figure out the results of the next election well in advance — it’s just how he’s wired.

But even Sosnik, a former adviser to President Bill Clinton who now tries to forecast elections as a hobby, is stumped about the 2022 midterms.

“I can’t figure this one out,” Sosnik said on Monday, a day after Democrats passed Build Back Better — whoops, pardon me, the Inflation Reduction Act, a woolly mammoth-size package that aims to shrink both the deficit and the risk of catastrophic climate change.

The bill’s passage is one of a string of recent victories for beleaguered Democrats, who have spent the past 18 months squabbling among themselves and fretting about the coming elections. Gas prices are ticking down. Jobs are plentiful, with the unemployment rate at a 50-year low.

Congress also passed the bipartisan CHIPS Act, a bill that would provide $52 billion in subsidies and tax credits to companies that manufacture chips in the United States and would add more than $200 billion for applied scientific research.

Even President Biden, whose age and concern about the virus forced him to spend much of the 2020 presidential election campaigning from his home in Wilmington, Del., managed to shrug off 18 days of coronavirus-induced quarantine.

As Ethel Merman might say, everything seems to be coming up roses for Joe and the gang in recent weeks, despite widespread predictions that Democrats are likely to lose the House and possibly the Senate.

According to the usual logic Sosnik uses to make predictions, Democrats should expect a “blood bath” in the fall. But he’s not so sure anymore and is questioning everything he knows about the deeper patterns of U.S. elections.

He is puzzled by one thing in particular: Which past elections offer a guide to 2022?

The question doesn’t have an easy answer, in part because times have changed — there was no recent assault on the Capitol with the partial backing of one particular party in the 1982 midterms, for instance — and in part because the nature of political partisanship has changed.

That latter point makes it really hard to compare today’s approval ratings to the past; back in, say, the 1960s, voters were much more inclined to give the president the benefit of the doubt. Today, far fewer partisans are willing to give the other side an ounce of credit or respect.

Midterms are completely different animals than presidential election cycles, too: Fewer voters turn out, and the electorate tends to be older and more Republican.

Historically, or at least since World War II, the party in power has lost seats in every midterm election but two: 1998 and 2002.

The first came as Clinton skillfully exploited the unpopularity of congressional Republicans, whose impeachment drive backfired. The second came after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, when patriotic sentiments were still running high.

But these midterms are structurally different from many others. For one thing, many of the Democratic House members in battleground districts — the Cindy Axnes and Elissa Slotkins of the world — were elected in the anti-Trump wave of 2018. Those who held onto their seats in 2020, a good year for Republicans in Congress despite Trump’s loss, may know a thing or two about staying in office.



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We rely on our journalists to be independent observers. So while Times staff members may vote, they are not allowed to endorse or campaign for candidates or political causes. This includes participating in marches or rallies in support of a movement or giving money to, or raising money for, any political candidate or election cause.

So they weren’t elected on Biden’s coattails, unlike many of the Democrats who took power after Barack Obama’s commanding win in 2008 but who then lost in the 2010 midterms.

That said, most of the indicators warning of a shellacking for Democrats are blinking red:

Hence Sosnik’s confusion. What he’s wrestling with is the seeming dissonance between the rotten mood of the country, and all the red blinkers, on the one hand, and the string of recent Democratic victories.

You can see some of this nuance reflected in the so-called generic ballot, an average of survey responses to the question of which party voters would like to see represent them in Congress. Right now, the generic ballot is basically tied.

One historical clue is the fate of Lyndon Baines Johnson, who rammed his “Great Society” programs through Congress during his first few years in office, only to see voters punish Democrats at the polls in the 1966 midterms. Republicans picked up 47 seats that year.

Two years later, Johnson announced that he would not seek another term — hobbled, unquestionably, by the war in Vietnam.

Johnson’s average approval rating during his first term was 74.2 percent, according to Gallup. That’s a number Biden would love to have. And even his overall average approval rating, which dipped below 40 as the war dragged on, shrank only to 55.1 percent by the end of his presidency.

The point being: If even Johnson, the “master of the Senate,” couldn’t profit from passing landmark legislation, how can anyone expect Biden to fare better?

“We’ve been engaged in a battle all along,” said Representative David Price, a Democrat of North Carolina and a political scientist for many years at Duke University who wrote his dissertation about Johnson’s Great Society. “The counternarrative always was one of inflation and economic distress, and of course that’s a real challenge.”

But even Price, who said he thought many analysts were underrating Democrats’ chances of retaining the House, acknowledged the difficulty of the endeavor. “I don’t think I have a good answer, and I don’t think anybody does as to how to break through,” he said.

On the Senate side, the timing of the Inflation Reduction Act might be especially helpful for Democratic incumbents in Arizona, Georgia, Nevada and New Hampshire. They are preparing to unleash hundreds of millions of dollars of television ad spending, playing up the prescription drug benefits in the new law along with what proponents say are other provisions intended to help Americans pay for household expenses.

Chris Hartline, a spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, argues that Republicans still have plenty to work with.

The G.O.P. is skilled at exploiting the other party’s major legislative deals for political gain. In addition to hitting Democrats on the overall price tag, the party’s opposition researchers comb through the bill text and find provisions that can be weaponized into talking points and television ads.

“In response to record inflation and two quarters in a row of negative economic growth, Democrats just passed a trillion dollars in new spending that even Bernie Sanders admits won’t have any impact on inflation but will raise taxes on middle-class families and American manufacturers,” Hartline said.

He also pointed to Democrats’ positions on crime and expanding domestic energy production, two issues Republicans have been hammering on amid an uptick in violent crime in cities across America and soaring gas prices.

“Senate Republicans have decided that their platform is opposing lowering costs for Americans’ prescription drugs,” countered David Bergstein, communications director for the Democrats’ own campaign arm. “That’s a deeply unpopular position that will lead their campaigns to defeat.”

  • Donald Trump’s supporters in Wisconsin have turned the misguided belief that the results of the 2020 election can be nullified into central campaign issues in the state’s Republican primary for governor, Reid Epstein writes.

  • And in Wisconsin’s Senate race, Mandela Barnes, the state’s lieutenant governor, has consolidated Democrats in his bid to take on Ron Johnson, one of the most vulnerable Republicans in the Senate. Jazmine Ulloa takes a look.

— Blake

Is there anything you think we’re missing? Anything you want to see more of? We’d love to hear from you. Email us at onpolitics@nytimes.com.

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The F.D.A. Now Says It Plainly: Morning-After Pills Are Not Abortion Pills

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The F.D.A. said it made the change now because it had completed a review of a 2018 application to alter the label that was submitted by Foundation Consumer Healthcare, a company that in 2017 bought the Plan B brand from Teva Pharmaceutical Industries. Agency officials said the pandemic delayed the review process and that the timing was not motivated by political considerations.

A spokeswoman for the company, Dani Hirsch, said in an interview that for its 2018 application, the company had not conducted any new studies but had submitted “what was already out there.”

In a statement, the company’s marketing director, Tara Evans, said “the misconception that Plan B works by interfering with implantation can present barriers to broader emergency contraception access. The Plan B labeling correction will help protect continued over-the-counter emergency contraception access and reduce confusion about how Plan B works and further clarify that Plan B does not affect implantation.”

Plan B One-Step and its generic versions — including brands like Take Action, My Way and Option 2 — contain levonorgestrel, one of a class of hormones called progestins that are also found at lower doses in birth control pills and intrauterine devices. The pills are most effective in preventing pregnancy if taken within 72 hours of sexual intercourse, although they can sometimes work if taken within five days.

Another type of morning-after pill, marketed as Ella and containing a compound called ulipristal acetate, is only available by prescription and is not affected by the F.D.A.’s label change. There has been less research on this type of pill, but studies suggest that it is highly unlikely to prevent implantation of a fertilized egg. In 2009, after months of scrutiny, Ella was approved for sale in overwhelmingly Catholic Italy, where laws would have barred it if it had been considered to induce abortions.

According to data published in 2021 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly one-quarter of women of reproductive age who have sex with men answered yes to the question: “Have you ever used emergency contraception, also known as ‘Plan B,’ ‘Preven,’ ‘Ella,’ ‘Next Choice,’ or ‘Morning after’ pills?” The agency did not break down the data by the type of pills taken.

As far back as the 1999 approval process, the maker of Plan B — Barr Pharmaceuticals, later acquired by Teva — asked the F.D.A. not to list an implantation effect on the label, The Times reported in 2012.

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Who are Caroline Ellison’s parents? Fraudster’s mom and dad are MIT economists

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This apple fell far from the tree.

Caroline Ellison — who pleaded guilty to fraud charges related to her role in the FTX cryptocurrency scandal, which led to the extradition of Sam Bankman-Fried this week — is the daughter of high-profile economists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

According to his curriculum vitae, Ellison’s father, Glenn Ellison, was educated at Harvard, Cambridge and MIT before becoming the Gregory K. Palm (1970) Professor of Economics at the latter. 

In addition to coaching youth softball and his daughters’ middle school math teams, he writes “Hard Math,” a series of textbooks and workbooks about teaching arithmetic to younger students.

Glenn Ellison is also an Elected Fellow of the Society for the Advancement of Economic Theory and American Academy of Arts & Sciences.

Caroline Ellison’s parents, Glenn and Sara Ellison, outside their Newton, Mass., home in early December.
Robert Miller

Ellison’s mother, Sara Ellison, is also an accomplished academic. Armed with an undergraduate degree from Purdue University and a mathematical statistics diploma from Cambridge University, her profile shows she completed a doctorate at MIT in 1993. 

Sara Ellison is currently a senior lecturer in the department alongside her husband.

“We were definitely exposed to a lot of economics [growing up],” Ellison, 28, once told Forbes.

Ellison, 28, plead guilty to fraud this week.
Ellison, 28, pleaded guilty to fraud this week.
Twitter / @AlamedaResearch
Caroline Ellison's sister, Anna, now lives in the West Village.
Caroline Ellison’s sister, Anna, now lives in the West Village.
BRIGITTE STELZER

Glenn and Sara Ellison were photographed by The Post outside their home in Newton, an affluent Boston suburb, earlier this month. Armed with several bags, they told reporters they were too “busy” to comment on the FTX scandal.

The eldest of three sisters — including Anna, 25, who now lives in Manhattan’s West Village — Ellison distinguished herself as a precocious math whiz at a young age. 

When she was just 8 years old, she reportedly presented her father with a paper analyzing stuffed animal prices at Toys ‘R’ Us.

Sam Bankman-Fried leaving Manhattan Federal Court on Thursday.
Sam Bankman-Fried leaving Manhattan federal court on Thursday.
Matthew McDermott
Both Glenn and Sara Ellison are economists at MIT.
Both Glenn and Sara Ellison are economists at MIT.
Robert Miller

She went on to compete in the Math Prize for Girls while at Newton North High School before studying mathematics at Stanford University, where former professor Ruth Stackman described her to Forbes as “bright, focused, [and] very mathy.”

Ellison and Bankman-Fried, 30, crossed paths at the Wall Street trading firm Jane Street. Bankman-Fried’s parents are also both university lecturers, at Stanford in California. They became good friends and she joined Alameda Research, the hedge fund arm of the FTX crypto exchange, in 2018. She then became CEO in 2021. However, the company remained owned 90% by Bankman-Fried and 10% by another member of his circle.

In addition to documenting her supposed foray into polyamory on Tumblr, Ellison once boasted about drug use on social media.

Sara Ellison completed a doctorate at MIT in 1993.
Sara Ellison completed a doctorate at MIT in 1993.
Robert Miller

“Nothing like regular amphetamine use to make you appreciate how dumb a lot of normal, non-medicated human experience is,” she tweeted in 2021.

Ellison reportedly admitted to Alameda employees that FTX had used client funds to bail out the fledgeling hedge fund during a video call in November. She was eventually terminated as CEO by insolvency professional and current FTX CEO John J. Ray III after FTX and Alameda filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

She pleaded guilty to federal fraud charges on Monday, and has subsequently been released on $250,000 bail.

Ellison was spotted getting coffee in New York City on Dec. 4.
Ellison was spotted getting coffee in New York City on Dec. 4.
Twitter / @AutismCapital

Although she could be sent to jail for up to 110 years for her part in the FTX-Alameda scandal — which has been said by federal prosecutors to have lost between $1 billion and $2 billion of customers’ cash — she is thought to have struck a deal with the feds for a much lighter sentence in return for her cooperation.

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Iran condemns Zelensky’s remarks to Congress as ‘baseless.’

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Iran has condemned President Volodymyr Zelensky’s remarks to the U.S. Congress, warning the Ukrainian leader against further accusing Tehran of supplying weapons to Russia for use in the war.

Mr. Zelensky told Congress on Wednesday that Iranian-made drones “sent to Russia in hundreds” had been threatening Ukraine’s critical infrastructure, a view shared by American and European officials. In Iran, he said, Russia had found an “ally in its genocidal policy.”

A spokesman for Iran’s foreign ministry, Nasser Kanaani, called Mr. Zelensky’s comments “rude” and “baseless.”

“Mr. Zelensky had better know that Iran’s strategic patience over such unfounded accusations is not endless,” Mr. Kanaani said in a statement on Thursday.

Although Iran has officially denied supplying Russia with the weapons since Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, U.S. officials have said that the first shipment was delivered in August.

Mr. Zelensky has said that drones used in Monday’s wave of predawn attacks on Kyiv and other Ukrainian cities were from a batch recently delivered to Russia by Iran. The strikes came after Biden administration officials said that Russia and Iran were strengthening their military ties into a “full-fledged defense partnership.”

The European Union last week condemned Iran’s military partnership with Russia as a gross violation of international law and announced new sanctions against Iranian individuals and entities over their roles in supplying the drones that Moscow has used to attack Ukrainian civilians and infrastructure. That followed a round of sanctions on Iranians over the drone deliveries in October.

Mr. Kanaani “once again emphasizes” that Iran has not supplied military equipment for use in Ukraine, the statement issued on Thursday added, and urged Mr. Zelensky to learn “the fate of some other political leaders” who were happy with U.S. support. It was not clear which other leaders the statement was referring to.

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