Special Report

Midterm Elections 2018

For Democrats, a Mixed Success in 2018 Midterms

Democratic Donkey and Republican Elephant Icons


Tuesday’s midterm elections were not the stinging rebuke of the Trump Administration that Democrats had been hoping for. The party has retaken the House of Representatives, gaining at least 27 seats. Despite this success, Democrats lost ground in the Senate, and the House results were not as clear-cut a victory as rosier projections had expected. These mixed results make the election difficult to categorize overall. More than anything, the election shows a country that is drifting ever further apart politically.

In the House, the results largely conformed to pre-election polling. According to FiveThirtyEight, Democrats won the majority of seats that leaned toward their party, Republicans won most GOP-leaning districts, and Democrats clinched a slight majority of the races pegged as tossups.

At the state level, Democrats saw gains in several key states. Pennsylvania stands out in particular, with Democrats gaining four seats in the wake of a court-ordered redistricting that made the state more competitive. In New Jersey and Virginia, Democrats built on existing advantages, winning three seats in each. Meanwhile, Democrats won two seats apiece in Florida, Iowa, Michigan, and Texas.

Overall, the House races accentuate the existing trend of urban-rural polarization. The three most surprising Democratic victories, NY-11, SC-1, and OK-5, all came from urban communities. The same applies to Georgia’s 6th District, which Republican Karen Handel narrowly won in last year’s special election. On Tuesday, the district voted in Democrat Lucy McBath after a hard-fought contest. Also, the two House seats Democrats won in Florida were centered on Miami-Dade County. These results suggest that the divide between urban and rural voters are only intensifying under the Trump Administration.

One other noteworthy trend in last night’s House races is the success for minorities in key races. The 116th Congress will see Native American and Muslim women to join its ranks for the first time. Native American candidates Sharice Davids of Kansas and Debra Halland of New Mexico won their races Tuesday. Two Muslim candidates also won, with Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar scoring victories in Michigan and Minnesota. Democratic socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez also made history – at 29, she is the youngest woman ever be elected to Congress.

In the Senate, the Democrats faced an uphill battle to retake the chamber this year, with 26 seats up for reelection to only nine for the Republicans. With so many incumbents facing challenges, many of them in heavily conservative states, Democrats were unable to avoid significant losses. Joe Donnelly of Indiana fell behind early in the night and never recovered, while North Dakota’s Heidi Heitkamp and Missouri’s Claire McCaskill also lost decisively. Bill Nelson in Florida held on more stubbornly, and is currently seeking a recount.

Meanwhile, the Democrats saw little success from their limited opportunities to flip Republican seats. Beto O’Rourke suffered a narrow defeat in his challenge to Ted Cruz in Texas. Tennessee’s election was more clear-cut, with Marsha Blackburn besting Democrat Phil Bredesen. The race to replace Jeff Flake in Arizona has not been called, but Kyrsten Sinema trails Martha McSally. The sole Democratic Senate victory came from Nevada, where Dean Heller was ousted by Jacky Rosen.

Despite the mixed victory for Congress, last night’s most promising gains for Democrats came at the state level. Democrats won seven Governor’s races, as well as winning legislative chambers in at least six states. The gubernatorial victories ranged from bluer states like Illinois and Maine, to swing states like Wisconsin and Nevada, to a surprise victory in highly conservative Kansas.

The common thread across many of the gubernatorial races was dissatisfaction with unpopular incumbents. Illinois and Kansas voters blamed incumbents Bruce Rauner and Sam Brownback for catastrophically damaging the two states’ finances. Wisconsin’s Scott Walker and Maine’s Paul LePage alienated voters with their abrasive approaches to governing. And in Michigan, Governor Rick Snyder has suffered for his mishandling of the water contamination in Flint.

Democrats also enjoyed two historic successes in last night’s Governor’s races. In Colorado, Jared Polis became the first openly gay man to be elected to a Governor’s mansion. And in New Mexico, Michelle Lujan Grisham became the first Latina woman to get elected Governor as a Democrat.

Not every Governor’s race went well for the Democrats, however. Andrew Gillum narrowly lost his race in Florida, and Richard Cordray was bested in Ohio. Stacey Abrams hasn’t conceded defeat in Georgia, but she trails Georgia Attorney General Brian Kemp by 1.6 points. The loss in Florida is especially critical – Republican success increases the danger of favorable redistricting after the 2020 census, putting Congressional victories in the state even further out of reach for Democrats. This is less of a concern for Ohio, where voters approved rules for a bipartisan redistricting process earlier this year.

All in all, Tuesday’s results should still be considered a success for Democrats, albeit a qualified one. Republican control of the Senate will only exacerbate conservative influence in the judiciary branch, possibly for years to come. However, seizing the House of Representatives will let Democrats conduct investigations into Trump Administration misconduct, which may cripple the White House. Also, the House is responsible for the first drafts of all spending bills, giving the Democrats considerable sway over the federal budget.

Moreover, the Democratic success at the state level will improve their national prospects in future elections – many Congressmen begin their careers in state legislatures. The Trump Administration no longer has free rein to push its agenda, but that may prove the least of their worries.




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