Naked Politics Blogger
By now, you have seen and digested the headlines relating to the US midterm elections: Democrats win the House of Representatives while suffering setbacks in the Republican-controlled Senate.
Emerging Democratic superstars Beto O’Rourke (Texas), running for the Senate against Ted Cruz, and Andrew Gillum (Florida) running for Governor against Ron DeSantis in the face of a Trump-like campaign, fell short in their races. For the former, despite an incredible fundraising operation and a campaign that generated favourable headlines, it was always an uphill battle to try and wrestle a Senate seat away in conservative Texas. For the latter, it was a disappointing result. The wind seemed to be at Gillum’s back, though polling always had the race within the margin of error.
Both candidates lost close, but in losing close in a statewide race in Texas – a state that is becoming something of a white whale for modern Democrats eager to take advantage of electorally-favourable demographic changes – O’Rourke retained his fanbase within the party, compelling some to wonder out loud if O’Rourke losing was actually a good thing: he could now focus on a presidential run in 2020.
For Gillum, who is certainly young enough to bounce back from a close loss, it is a more stinging defeat that has prompted some to wonder about the role race continues to play in American elections.
This is not to say that Democrats underperformed. Though some races are still – yes, still – being counted, Democrats look set to take roughly 34 +/- seats in the House, giving them a comfortable majority.
Democrats were defending far more vulnerable seats in the Senate this cycle than their GOP counterparts, so a big Democratic night was always going to come in the form of winning House seats, knocking off GOP Governors, winning state legislatures, and winning critical ballot questions. In that regard, the party romped.
Back in June, I covered the seats that Democrats would need to win. Most proved to be the difference in the election, but there were some shockers, as well.
In Oklahoma, one of the most conservative states in the country, Democrat Kendra Horn defeated GOP incumbent Steve Russell in the state’s Fifth district, a result few national prognosticators thought possible.
In South Carolina, following a GOP primary that saw incumbent Republican Rep. Mark Sanford lose his party’s nomination for the First district to Trump’s prefered candidate, Katie Arrington, Democrat Joe Cunningham wrestled the coastal district away from Republicans (this author listed it was a possible win for Democrats in the aforementioned June piece, in spite of long odds).
Democrats retired GOP Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin, long a thorn in the side of labour unions and a favourite of conservative mega-donors the Koch brothers.
The party also seemed to reverse its fortunes in the Midwest in states like Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Minnesota. Places that some thought were moving away from Democrats. Instead, in addition to Walker, Democrats rolled in multiple races.
There are three major takeaways, though, in the story of the 2018 Midterms…
First, Trump and his White House now have a check and the GOP legislative agenda is likely DOA (dead-on-arrival). This was most apparent at Trump’s now infamous press conference the day after the elections that featured the President more (somehow) irritable and aggressive than in past exchanges with the press corps.
House Democrats now have the power to, for example, request Trump’s long sought-after tax returns and to re-open the House investigation into potential crimes relating to the 2016 election. In short, Trump could be feeling the heat turning up.
Second, there was a calcifying of the geographical divisions that plague modern American politics. Democrats lost mostly in rural districts. Republicans lost in the cities. The suburbs decided many of these races – and the suburbs very clearly pushed back against Trump by sweeping Democrats into the House majority.
Nevertheless, flipping the Senate may remain a Herculean task for Democrats going forward as its makeup ultimately gives rural voters in scarcely populated states greater weight. The divide also leaves lingering questions about how likely it is that urban-and-suburbanites might see eye-to-eye with their rural neighbours in the near future.
Idle comparisons to the first midterm results in previous presidential terms take no account of this shifting political landscape, but do they provide an indication of the task that faces the next Presidential challenger?
Third, and more optimistically for the political health of the country, Democratic voters (in particular) have elected a diverse set of candidates around the US.
For the first time in American history, over 100 Members of the House will be women. In Massachusetts, Ayanna Pressley will become the first African-American woman to represent that famed Congressional delegation in Washington. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez (New York), Abby Finkenauer (Iowa), and Katie Hill (California) are 29, 29, and 31, respectively – all are going to the House. Minnesota and Michigan are sending the first two Muslim women ever elected to the House in Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, respectively. Colorado elected Congressman Jared Polis as its next Governor, making Polis the first openly gay man to ever be elected Governor of any state. There are more, and there will be more in future elections – one hopes that a diversity of views based on a variety of backgrounds and upbringings will foster greater cross-cultural understanding, beginning in Congress.
Was it a wave? Was it a ripple? However you classify it, it was a bad night for Donald Trump and a good one for the Democrats!