SOUTH BEND – Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the impact here and around the world will have an effect on our crucial congressional elections. Although final answers won’t come until voting in November – and much will happen before then – we can ponder questions about possible effects.
Q. With President Biden’s approval ratings edging up and former President Trump’s prestige going down, does that mean Democrats will retain control of the House?
A. No. For reasons of history, math and Democratic blundering last year, it still appears that Republicans will win the House, although perhaps not with as big a margin as previously forecast.
Q. How about the Senate?
A. Democrats have a fighting chance of retaining control at least through another Senate tie. The chance improves, but future events, including Republican primaries, will be important.
Q. Why did Biden’s approval ratings go up, with a big bounce of eight points in a Marist survey and up some in almost all polls after the State of the Union address?
A. His call for support of Ukraine and repudiation of the brutal aggression of Vladimir Putin, drawing repeated applause on both sides of the aisle, was the main reason. He also spelled out specific popular proposals instead of talking about a “Build Back Better” package, undefined for much of the public and appearing as an overreach even Democrats couldn’t agree upon.
Q. Did Trump’s strange bromance with Putin, continuing with praise for Putin’s “genius” in moving to claim more of Ukraine, affect public opinion?
A. Yes. As Putin demonstrated his murderous intent, Trump’s praise of him as a strong, smart leader hurt Trump’s prestige. It brought back memory of Trump holding back defense armaments from Ukraine, his surrender of influence in Syria to Putin and his threats to pull out of NATO. When Trump looks silly, Biden looks better.
Q. Will Biden keep that approval bounce?
A. Probably not. After a big positive bump, ratings tend to settle back down, but maybe not as far down as they were. He has a chance for more positive ratings if he can keep European allies united against Putin and keep Americans convinced that some sacrifices at home are worth it to stand with Ukraine, stand against Putin.
Q. But Democrats still couldn’t keep control of the House?
A. It can be argued that almost anything is possible in politics these days, but Democrats have history against them, with the long trend of a new president’s party losing seats in the first congressional elections after inauguration. Expectations are usually unrealistically high for a new president, and failure to meet expectations brings a backlash. Math is against Democrats in the House after defeats in 2020 left only a slim margin. And Democrats blundered in all the squabbling over what to include in a package that never had a chance with such slim control.
Q. Why do Democrats have a better chance to retain a Senate tie and keep control?
A. Senators are elected in statewide voting, not in gerrymandered House districts that keep incumbents safe. In key states, Trump is supporting super-loyal Trumpsters for Republican nominations for the Senate. If they win and turn out to be Putin apologists or nutty conspiracy theorists, Democrats will have a better chance to win in those states.
Q. Did Biden’s approval rating go up enough?
A. No. Even in the impressive bounce in that Marist poll, his approval rating was only up to 47%. Significant, however, is that it has been edging up in most polls, with Democrats now again solidly behind the president.
Q. How steep is Trump’s drop in prestige?
A. Steep enough that Mike Pence, long so differential to Trump, so afraid of saying anything critical, would dare to declare: “There is no room in this party for apologists for Putin.” 

Colwell is a columnist for the South Bend Tribune.