MIDTERM ELECTIONS: THE BIG PICTURE
On Tuesday Americans went to the polls to cast their ballots in support of candidates running for local, state and federal office. Although winners have yet to be declared in many races, including key Congressional and gubernatorial contests, we know that Democrats have taken control of the House of Representatives while Republicans have increased their advantage in the Senate.
So, what does all this mean? Well, to even begin a discussion about the implications of the election results we must review the (reasonable) expectations each party carried heading into midterms.
RealClearPolitics used a “no toss-ups” Senate map — they predicted a winner for each of the 35 available Senate seats this cycle — to forecast the balance of power in the Senate after the midterms. After the latest update on Monday, in which they projected US Rep. Martha McSally (R-AZ) to defeat fellow congressional representative Krysten Sinema (D-AZ) for the seat being vacated by soon-to-be-retired Jeff Flake, RealClearPolitics predicted the GOP to achieve a net gain of two seats in the Senate.
For the House, the Monday update from RealClearPolitics nudged the status of two district races, Kentucky’s 6th and New Hampshire’s 1st, slightly towards Democrats, changing the races from “Leans GOP” to “Toss Up” and “Toss Up” to “Leans Dem,” respectively. This led to their calculation that the Democratic pickup would total 27 seats, four more than necessary to gain control of the House.
SMALL COMFORT FOR REPUBLICANS
New York Times reports that after all votes are tallied, Republicans are most likely to end up with a total of 53 Senate seats.
By winning key Senate races, the GOP has averted a potential disaster — losing control of the Senate to Democrats and the two Independents who caucus with them. Of particular importance for Republicans was keeping seats the party already held, particularly in Tennessee, where US Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) has defeated former Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen, and Texas, where Republican incumbent Ted Cruz overcame a strong challenge from Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-TX).
This, while flipping seats in Missouri and North Dakota, means Republicans should be eased, not elated. Not everything President Donald Trump touches turns to gold. Republicans running for the House have only managed to flip three districts while losing 30 and counting. Accordingly, he and fellow Republicans would be well-served to both pump the brakes on declarations of triumph and hold off plans for any politically aggressive behavior like this.
The greater than expected Republican losses in the House suggest the President should rethink his tone, message and overall political strategy. After all, from a Democratic point a view, these midterms began with a Senate map which presented too many hazards and not enough opportunities for success.
BUT MOSTLY GOOD NEWS FOR DEMOCRATS
In the Senate, Democrats started these midterms behind the eight ball. Of the 35 Senate seats contested during the midterm elections, Democrats were defending 26 of them, including 10 seats in states Trump won during the 2016 general election. Those states include Missouri where Trump won by 19 points and North Dakota where Trump won by 26 points.
Conversely, Republicans defended just nine seats and only one such seat was in a state which went for Hillary Clinton in 2016.
As a result, Claire McCaskill (D-MO) and Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) were expected to lose their Senate seats (which they did).
Even if Republicans end up victorious in still too close to call contests in Arizona and Florida, as well as the Mississippi runoff between appointed incumbent Republican Cindy Hyde-Smith and Democrat Mike Espy, Democrats should still be thankful for maintaining seats in West Virginia and Montana, despite the fact that in 2016 Trump won Montana by 21 points and carried West Virginia by over 42 points, the largest margin in the state’s history.
Further helping Democrats, incumbent Dean Heller (R-NV) was beaten by 3rd congressional district Rep. Jacky Rosen (D-NV), losing one of the nine Republican-held Senate seats in play, yet the only one in a state that went for Hillary Clinton. But the House was where the blue wave was expected to make the biggest splash.
On Monday the Cook Political Report rated 30 House races as toss-ups, with 29 of these seats held by Republicans. RealClearPolitics concluded the average gain for Democrats in the House would be 27 seats. However, Democrats seemed to have surpassed expectations.
The most probable outcome for Democrats is 229 seats, eleven more than the 218 needed to control the House and seven more than estimated by RealClearPolitics. Democrats should be more than pleased with their performance, even as elections results are still pending in over a dozen districts.
Trump won Texas by 9 points in 2016 but with 99.96 percent of the precincts reporting as of Thursday 6:58 am EST, Senator Ted Cruz has won reelection by less than 3 points over well-funded challenger Beto O’Rourke. The decreased margin of victory for Republicans between these two state-wide elections is cause for concern in the GOP.
For the two major parties, changing demographics in Texas tell us the Lone Star state should turn blue at some point in the not too distant future. But, although it seems Democrats are closing the gap, for now, this is simply a Democratic fantasy.
O’Rourke has a head start on the 2020 Democratic nomination for president because he is clearly very popular with the base, has shown he can outraise an incumbent and has a substantial sum left over to start campaigning whenever he chooses. Although O’Rourke has said he won’t run, there’s no denying the appeal of an unapologetically liberal politician whose fundraising prowess is matched by few, if any, who has even impressed his opponents.
The 116th Congress will have no less than 123 women. According to the Center for American Women and Politics, this number “includes the 118 (100D, 18R) women who have already been declared winners, as well as guaranteed seats for women in all-female contests in the House (4) and Senate (1) that have yet to be decided.”
Additionally, we will see “a record total of at least 40 women of color in the House.” And of the women of color who have already been declared winners in their races, “21 (21D) are Black women, 10 (10D) are Latinas, 6 (6D) are Asian/Pacific Islander women, 2 (2D) are Native American women, and 1 (1D) is a Middle Eastern/North African woman.”
Deb Haaland (D-NM) and Sharice Davids (D-KS) are the first Native American women elected to Congress while Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) and Ilhan Omar (D-MN) are the first Muslim women to achieve the same.
Three states will send their first women of color to Congress: Connecticut (Jahana Hayes), Massachusetts (Ayanna Pressley), Minnesota (Omar), and Kansas (Davids); and Veronica Escobar and Sylvia Garcia will become the first Latinas to represent Texas in Congress, a state that is nearly 40 percent Hispanic. All these women are Democrats.
Moving forward, Republicans cannot afford to allow Democrats to be the one party of inclusion. If Republicans want to retake the House, defend that hard-won Senate majority (in what should be a much more balanced Senate map), and keep the White House, between now and 2020 they will have to figure out how to appeal to an audience significantly broader (read: more diverse) than their current base.