Are California and Texas The GOP’s Congressional Bulwark?

Republicans are in trouble and they know it.  Hot off the heels of several stunning high profile losses in Alabama (Senate special election), Wisconsin (state senate) and now Pennsylvania, the party is reeling.  The party’s tried and true tactic of turning Nancy Pelosi into a boogeywoman failed last week and neither trumpeting tax reform or stressing law and order themes picked up the slack.  So Republicans are doomed to lose the House right (though not the Senate for reasons laid out here)?

Well, not so fast.  Recent events indicate the GOP might have an expected bulwark in Texas and an unexpected one in the heart of anti-Trump fervor.  California?  You would be forgiven if you are confused on the latter (more on this in a second).

The results of the Texas primaries on March 6th had to be a huge relief for the GOP and a massive letdown for Democrats.  Keep in mind ever since Wendy Davis in 2014 Democrats have talked of turning Texas blue.  Recent electoral results and the March 6th primary results put a dampener on that.

Democrats are targeting a number of Congressional seats in the state that swung hard for Clinton (TX-7, TX-23 and TX-32).  The 7th district is a suburb of Houston, the 23rd is a massive rural district which stretches all the way to the outskirts of San Antonio (Bexar county) and the 32nd is a suburb of Dallas.  In addition, Democrats are optimistic they can mobilize suburban and Hispanic voters around the Senate candidacy of Congressman Beto O’Rourke.  Reality is not as pretty as hope.

In the primary, Beto O”Rourke garnered 700,000 less votes than Senator Ted Cruz.  Supposedly Cruz is vulnerable this cycle but he sure did not show it.  Total Democratic turnout in their contested Senate primary lagged the GOP’s by almost a cool half a million voters.  In the Democratic contested 7th and 32nd district primaries GOP turnout still exceeded Democratic turnout (and these were uncontested primaries).  The only bragging rights Democrats could take away from the night was their turnout vastly exceeded the GOP’s in the 23rd (again, a largely uncontested primary).

Setting aside the strictly numbers based argument the party came away with some less than stellar winners.  DCCC targeted progressive Laura Moser advanced to a runoff.  O’Rourke’s subpar showing leaves him weakened and vulnerable and the Democratic gubernatorial primary heads into a runoff between the state’s activist wing (Lupe Valdez) and the party’s business/centrist wing (Andrew White).

Texas is a red state with a burgeoning minority population but Democrats have several problems in conquering the state.  First, the districts that swung for Clinton still elected Republican Congressmen and they did so by strong margins suggesting down-ballot loyalty is deep and real.  The primary results only confirm this.  Secondly, despite the growing minority population of the state many of these individuals are either non-citizens or too young to vote.  The same cannot be said for the GOP base.  And while Democratic turnout eclipsed their 2014 turnout by about 50 percent (keep in mind an abysmal year for the party), GOP turnout exceeded it by about 15 percent (a great year for the party) so the GOP base is growing even in the age of Trump.

But that is Texas.  California is a different beast.  Whereas Texas shifted solidly red in the 90’s the Golden State went the opposite route and only looked back with the Terminator in 2003 and 2006 (hardly a modern Republican).  Since the Terminator, California has not voted for a Republican for statewide office (2006-current) rivaling Texas’s record (1994-current) for supporting any and all statewide Republicans.

Indeed, California has only shifted leftward while Texas has moved to the right.  While Democrats gained four districts in 2012 the GOP gained an equal number in Texas (redistricting played a big part here).  But, California introduces a new variable into the equation and it is the one scaring the shit out of the party.

In response to the state’s 2000 redistricting scheme where dozens of incumbents protected themselves (only a single seat shifted in the Democratic waves of 2006 and 2008), voters ratified a Constitutional Amendment in 2010 creating a jungle primary system.  Under this system (also currently utilized in Alaska, WA State and Louisiana in regularly scheduled elections), all candidates for an election run on the same ballot (regardless of political party) and the top-two vote getters advance to the November (or special election general) ballot.

The consequences have been less than stellar for the dominant Democratic Party.  Now, the party worries it could allow California to be the unexpected place where a Democratic wave crests.

In 2016, Clinton won the state by a whopping 30 percent and 3.3 million votes.  She also carried 46 of the state’s 53 Congressional districts including 7 of the state’s 14 GOP held districts.  Nowhere has this had a bigger impact than in formerly ruby-red Orange County.  The locale where Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and Pete Wilson got their political start is now purple trending blue.  Clinton was the first Democrat to carry the area since FDR in 1936.

Republicans hold four of the county’s six congressional seats.  Ed Royce, the quintessential Southern California Republican, is retiring after 26 years on the job. To his southeast, Mimi Walters is facing the fight of her political career. To her west lies Dana Rohrabacher. And, down the coast, voters are saying good-bye to Darrell Issa, who’s ditching Congress after barely squeaking by to re-election in 2016.

The region, like much of the country and California is changing.  Almost half of residents have a college degree or greater, a third of the region’s denizens are Latino and almost a quarter Asian-American.  Whites make up less than half the population compared to 90 percent in 1980.  All this has Democrats smelling blood.

But the variable Democrats cannot control is the deleterious impacts of the jungle primary on a massive field of candidates.  While Democratic turnout and candidate recruitment has been a boon to the party almost everywhere in California it has forced the party to worry endangered Republican incumbents (many in Orange County) could squeak by November without having to face a Democratic challenger.

After the filing deadline closed last Wednesday, state party efforts to woo several candidates to drop out of contested primaries failed.  The glut of Democrats running for Rohrabacher’s, Issa’s and Royce’s seats all threatened to derail the party’s chances this fall.  Only in Walter’s district is a Democrat guaranteed to advance to the November ballot.

These factors all but ensure the DCCC will have to get involved to preserve their party’s chances in November.  If a wave develops, depending on its size and what happens in the Midwest (and Texas), these California seats could make or break a Democratic majority making California an unexpected GOP bulwark.




Democrats Still Looking For First Special Election Congressional Win

March may be do or die time for Congressional Democrats.  Democrats ended the year on a high note with their surprise victory in Alabama but that was against possibly the worst Republican you could screenplay for electoral theater.  And Democratic victories in Virginia, New Jersey and legislative special elections across the country occurred in either blue/ing states or at a time when the Trump White House was largely in disarray.  Now, reports indicate that is not going to the case for 2018.

March’s contest will occur in a ruby red district in Pennsylvania once represented by Representative Tim Murphy.  Murphy resigned after reports surfaced stating he urged a woman with whom he had an affair to get an abortion.

The contest features two military veterans, 33 year old Democrat Conor Lamb and State Rep. Rick Saccone.  Due to state rules both candidates were not chosen by their parties voters but rather party committees meaning they are both still introducing themselves to the districts voters.

The race for Democrats presents an opportunity to actually compete or steal a seat in the Midwest and Rust Belt that swung heavily for Trump last year.  If Democrats can do so here then the sky may be the limit for the party next year.

In actuality, it is critical Democrats do well here if they have any hopes of retaking the House.  While 23 Republicans sit in districts Clinton won and the generic ballot decisively favors the party, history tells us it is extremely difficult to dislodge incumbents even in swing districts.  More so, 11 Democrats sit in Trump districts and more than half our in the Rust Belt.  If Democrats cannot make inroads here, how can their incumbents hold onto their heavily pro-Trump districts?

Focusing back on the Pennsylvania race, the district is a mix of working class rural areas and affluent suburbs populated mostly by white voters.  Historically, the district was a haven for conservative Democrats who were pro-life and pro 2nd Amendment.  This shows by the district having more registered Democrats than Republicans.  But, since that time, both the affluent suburbs and rural areas have moved red as the national Democratic party has tainted the local Democratic brand there.

Republicans are bracing for a tough race in the district while national Democrats seem to not understand how important the contest is for their Congressional chances.  The Cook Political Report has the race as “Leans Republican” while Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball has Republicans favored.

But who wins may not be as important as how Lamb and Saccone do.  Lamb is running as a centrist Democrat (ask Jon Ossoff how that worked out) while Saccone is running as a Trump type candidate.  Saccone, on a radio show, famously said, “I was Trump before there was Trump.”

This sets up an interesting dynamic in the district.  The district’s affluent suburbs take up most of the Southern portions of Allegheny County.  The rest of the district is made up of the largely rural Washington and Beaver counties.  Trump won the district by 20 points and took even the suburban portions of the district but the suburbs are exactly where is unpopular nationally.  Lamb’s centrist strategy seems tailored to appeal to these voters but in turn lessen worry among rural voters.

Lamb is sure to outrun Clinton in the district but the data will tell the tale of where and by how much.  By themselves, suburban voters cannot give the race to Lamb and Saccone is specifically appealing to rural, pro-Trump voters with his pitch.  It might cost him suburban voters to so closely tie himself to Trump but he seems to have some leeway with the district’s partisan lean.

Of course, there is also the caveat March is almost three months away.  Current economic projections look rosy, especially among blue-collar economic sectors and tax reform will have started to be felt in voters paychecks by February.  And Trump can cause a storm with his tweets, a international crisis could occur or a dozen other unknown variables could swing the race.

The candidates also matter and how well they match up with the district.  Lamb, running as a centrist, has chosen to emphasize local issues such as fighting the opioid epidemic and his criminal justice record.

Avoiding the hot button issues of guns and abortion is crucial for Lamb.  Lamb has chosen to simply say “choice is the law of the land” and his website says he supports gun rights.  It is not hard to see Saccone tying him to pro-choice, pro-gun control national Democrats.

“This district as a whole is a pro-life, pro-Second Amendment type of place and the Republican nominee is kind of standard issue conservative Republican on those issues,” said Christopher Nicholas, a Republican political consultant based in Pennsylvania. “The district is not going to elect someone who can’t tell you where they stand on abortion and isn’t a strong Second Amendment supporter.”

Saccone is certainly pro-life and pro-2nd Amendment.  He is trying to make his record as a legislator an asset by arguing he knows how to get things done, knows how to represent the district and Lamb is unprepared for the job.  Unsurprisingly, Saccone identities as a low-tax Republican and stands with the GOP’s tax reform success and stronger military priorities.  In an effort to reach out to affluent suburban swing voters he says he will work to fight for all his constituents in a bipartisan fashion.

The biggest worry for Republicans here is not where the suburbs go (though they should keep an eye on it) but rather turnout.  Democratic victories nationally have been fueled not by convincing Trump voters in massive numbers to swing their way but rather not to come out and vote.  In Democratic victories in Oklahoma and New Hampshire legislative contests, GOP turnout has dropped more than 50 percent from 2016.  In Alabama the GOP drop in turnout was a whopping 51 percent compared to 7 percent for Democrats.

The media is largely characterizing the race as bellwether for 2018 and they are right.  But for the wrong reasons.  The district is more Republican than many swing districts up for grabs next year but the mix of suburban and rural areas with a large number of white voters is similar to many Midwest swing districts.

By the media hyping the contest as a bellwether Democratic chances might sink further.  Democrats running in special elections have performed best when their contests fly under the radar.  For example, in June, Jon Ossoff raised $30 million for a competitive GA special election Trump won by one point.  Ossoff lost by four points.  Archie Parnell, running in a South Carolina district Trump won by over twenty points, raised barely anything and lost by three points.  Parnell’s race received little attention while all eyes were on Georgia and yet he lost by the narrowest margin of any Democratic Congressional candidate this year.

Parnell’s narrow loss was driven by a sharp drop in turnout among Republicans and it was a warning sign for the GOP.  The same dynamic could be at play in Pennsylvania unless the GOP finds a way to motivate its base (tying Lamb to Pelosi would be a start).  Democrats should not expect to win this contest but they should expect to make inroads.  It is where these inroads are and how GOP turnout is that will indicate for both parties where 2018 is headed.


On an unrelated note: Happy New Year!


Where The Action Is Tuesday

A smattering of elections on Tuesday will tell the nation and politicos where the nation stands one year after the election of Donald Trump.  From the East Coast (Virignia) to the West Coast (WA State) a series of elections are taking place that will help set the stage for next year’s midterms.  So, without further ado let’s take a look at them shall we?

Virginia Governor: Virginia has a unique election schedule where the gubernatorial elections always fall a year after the Presidential election, all House seats are up every two years and all Senate seats are up every four years in the year before the Presidential election.  Further, Virginia’s Governors can only serve a single term ensuring every gubernatorial election does not feature an incumbent.

Since 2004 , Virginia has trended blue, the only blip being in 2009.  Outgoing Governor Terry McAullife is popular and has anointed Lt. Governor Ralph Northam to be his successor.  Ironically, Republicans in the era of Trump nominated the least likely Trump-like candidate in former lobbyist and RNC Chair Ed Gillespie.

In a state Hillary Clinton won by five points, Trump garnered less than 45 percent of the vote and has horrid approval ratings it should be a cakewalk for Democrats.  Instead, Gillespie has kept it close by sending cultural appeals to Republicans in the West of the state while talking up traditional conservative beliefs in NoVA and the Richmond suburbs.  Northam should have this race in the bag but his lack of flash and appeal have helped keep it close.  Likely, if Northam goes down, so do the Democrats for Lt. Governor and Attorney General.  If Gillespie goes down, as is likely, so go down the other statewide Republican candidates.

Gubernatorial and Legislative

Virginia State House: The Virginia State House is up every two years and has been a bastion of conservatism in the state even as it has trended left.  In 2009, the GOP gained seven seats and after redistricting, in 2011, gained nine seats due to a favorable GOP controlled drawing of the legislative lines.  Since then, the GOP has had a stranglehold on the chamber.  In the less favorable 2013 and 2015 legislative elections the GOP only lost a single seat in each cycle.

This election, the GOP is defending their 66-34 majority and odds are good Democrats will gain a minimum of three seats in the NoVA suburbs.  That said, it is hard to see Democrats gaining the 17 seats, or even coming close, to gaining the majority.  The party holds out hope though considering they are challenging so many GOP held seats and Clinton actually carried exactly 17 GOP held House seats.

Democrats are hoping for a big night at the top of the ticket to help carry them down-ballot.  But if Gillespie is close it means he is over-performing in either NoVA or the Richmond and Tide water areas (all the regions Democrats see the biggest opportunity in for legislative gains).  For a more specific rundown of individual legislative races check here.

Georgia:  Yes, yes, I know.  The big event in Georgia is officially non-partisan, the Atlanta mayoral race, but another main event is.  The election for the 6th Senate District.  Held by Republicans, the seat became swung hard to Clinton last year 55-40.  If Democrats gain the seat they will officially break the GOP’s two-thirds supermajority in the legislature and can block the party from voting to put Constitutional Amendments on the ballot.  Five Republicans and three Democrats are running and if nobody gets 50 percent of the vote a run-of will be held in December.  Due to the number of candidates running, it is possible two Democrats or Republicans could face off in December but smart money is on a traditional, partisan two-way race emerging in December.

WA State: Despite being a blue state, WA State has been under divided government since 2013.  In 2012, two Democrats crossed the aisle and joined a coalition of Republicans in the State Senate.  One of those Democrats has resigned and a Republican was defeated in November, meaning the GOP’s majority is a single seat.

Earlier this year, Senate District 4 became open when State Senator Andy Hill died of lung cancer after being narrowly reelected last year.  The seat backed Clinton 65-28 and should be an easy takeover for Democrats but the GOP is stronger here down-ballot (like in the rest of the state).  In August, Democrat Manka Dhingra led Jinyoung Englund 51.5-41.5 in the August top-two primary for this seat and it’s likely she wins Tuesday.

But, the race has ultimately come down to both Dhingra and Englund distancing themselves from their parties with Dhingra saying she would be an “independent voice”  in Olympia while Englund has said she did not vote for Trump.

Dhingra’s impending victory has Democrats dreaming of creating a united West Coast wall against Trump and enacting a massive, visionary progressive agenda.  That would be great except Democrats majorities in both chambers will rest on a mere three seats and pushing an income tax or other taxes will likely be unpopular in conservative Democratic seats (they do exist).  In reality, whatever happens here won’t change much.

New Jersey Governor and Legislature: This year, there is not much excitement in the Garden State.  Governor Chris Christie, who was reelected in a landslide in 2013, is so unpopular he probably could not be elected dog catcher.  This is dragging down Republican Lt. Governor Kim Guadagno.  Democrats nominated some rich dude Phil Murphy, a former Goldman Sachs executive and ambassador to Germany.  He has crushed Kim in every poll and the only question is how much he wins by.

Democrats already have strong majorities in both chambers of the legislature and most Republicans and Democrats are likely to win reelection despite what happens at the top of the ticket.  One note of excitement might be in Senate Majority Leader Steve Sweeney’s (D) 3rd District in South Jersey.  Sweeney has angered the NJEA for backing pension reform in 2011 and has spent heavily to elect Republican Fran Grenier.  Grenier has run on a traditional, conservative platform and largely avoided saying much about pension reform. Sweeney’s mostly rural district did back Trump and Democrats have diverted millions to defend him so might we see a surprise Tuesday night?

UtahDemocrats wish they had a shot in the very red 3rd CD of former Congressman Jason Chaffetz.  Republican candidate and former Provo Mayor John Curtis, is well ahead of Democrat Katie Allen and it would be somewhat of a surprise of Curtis wins by less than 20 points.

Michigan: Democrats are hoping to flip HD 109, a seat that backed Obama in 2012 but backed Trump last year.  The seat, located in the reddening Upper Peninsula, is a test case for Democrats in the state legislature who have been locked out of power since 2011.

Mayoral Contests: (skipping Atlanta, Seattle and Minneapolis contests because the only suspense is how progressive the ultimate winning candidates are).

Charlotte: The biggest mayoral contest of the night in North Carolina is Charlotte.  Despite the city’s blue tint, Republicans held the office until 2009.  No Republican has won since.  Despite this, Democrats have not had an easy time running the city.

Incumbent Mayor Jennifer Roberts lost earlier in the year and Mayor Pro Tem Vi Lyles is running against Republican Councilman Kenny Smith.  Lyles may still be weighed down by Roberts while Smith is far, far more conservative than Republican Ed Peacock, who lost two narrow races in 2013 and 2015.  A Survey USA poll found the race deadlocked statistically speaking at 41-40 in October.  There is another contest in Raleigh but the only question is what Democrat leads the urban enclave.

St. Petersburg: A number of mayoral races are occurring in Florida but the most interesting by far is in St. Petersburg.  Democratic Mayor Rick Kriseman is being challenged by former GOP Mayor Rick Baker.

Baker left office in 2010 to sky-high approval ratings due to his strong approval among black voters.  In August, the two finished the primary neck and neck though Kriseman over-performed relative to what pre-election polls showed.  Kriseman has tried to make the race a partisan affair by tying Baker to Trump.  Baker has attacked Kriseman for inept management of the state’s ailing sewage system.  If the race hinges on Trump then Kriseman wins but if local management matters the most to voters the race will be a nailbiter.

Manchester: In 2015, GOP Mayor Ted Gatsas won reelection with an unimpressive 85 votes.  His opponent, Joyce Craig, is back for a rematch and she won the nonpartisan primary in September 53-46.  In her last go-round, Craig lost the nonpartisan primary.  Ultimately, Democrats claiming this office will be a talking point but little else.  However, it could set Craig up to be a force in state politics into the future.

Statewide Initatives:

Maine: GOP Governor Paul Lepage has vetoed several legislative efforts to expand Medicaid in the state.  Progressives responded by putting expansion on the ballot in the form of Question 2.  Legislators have split on the question while unsurprisingly, LePage has opposed it.

There have been nil reliable polls on opinion about the question but it will probably be decided along partisan lines.  Likely correlating with partisan opinion on the question Maine Senator Susan Collins decided to stay in the US Senate and not run for governor because few state Republicans had a favorable opinion of her after she helped defeat GOP efforts to repeal the ACA.

New York State (including county races): New York City has a mayoral race but Bill de Blasio could probably shoot somebody and be reelected.  In other words, there is no excitement in the race.

In Nassau County, Democrats are trying to retake the county executive post lost in 2009.  Republican Ed Mangano was indicted last fall on corruption charges and the county GOP flocked to former State Senator Jack Martins.  Democrats support Nassau County based legislator Laura Curran.

Curran has made the contest a referendum on corruption and former GOP Senate Leader Dean Skellos (whose conviction was overturned by an appeals court).  Martins has responded by trying to make the race about law and order and portraying Curran as soft as crime.  The most recent poll gave Martins a tiny edge and the county has a history of supporting down-ballot Republicans but anything can happen.

In Westchester County, which backed Clinton by 33 points last November, GOP incumbent Rob Astorino is running an uphill race against State Senator George Latimer (D).  Astorino was his party’s gubernatorial nominee in 2014 and has heavily outspent Latimer.  If not for the outside spending of GOP supporter Rob Mercer he probably would have no shot.  Latimer has tried to tie Astorino to Trump while Astorino has made the race about local issues.  A local poll found the race a dead heat.

Now, onto the weirdest feature of NY’s elections.  Under state law, a question appears on the ballot every twenty years asking voters whether they want to hold a constitutional convention.  At this convention changes could be made to the state constitution.  If the measure passes, delegates would be elected in 2018, followed by the convention in 2019.

While few New Yorkers love their state government, even fewer seem willing to take the risk of a convention.  Liberal labor, reproductive rights and environmental groups and conservative groups oppose the “con-con,” arguing special interests could hijack the delegate elections.  Liberals fear conservative delegates being elected utilizing state senate lines while conservatives fear liberals taking control of the convention and ramming their beliefs down state voters throats.  If a recent Siena survey is accurate, voters will once again reject the “con-con.”

Thanks for reading!



Do Democrats Have A Chance In Tennessee?

Democrats are currently celebrating they get to face Roy Moore in December in Alabama but they also are debating how much of a shot they have to flip Bob Corker’s ruby red Senate seat.  On Tuesday, Corker announced he would not seek reelection.  Though he had been toying with the idea for months, few thought he would.

It is important to consider looking at recent elections to assess Democratic chances in the state.  The last Democrat to win a partisan statewide election was Governor Phil Bredesen,  He was term-limited out in 2010.  The same year, Bob Corker won a narrow reelection with almost 51 percent against Harold Ford who received 47 percent.  The best a Democratic Senate candidate has done since then is 32 percent.

Of course, this is now an open seat so Democrats can probably do better.  They also have an appealing candidate reminiscent of Ford in James Mackler, a veteran who has raised almost $500K.  His biography is appealing to voters of many different ideologies.

Corker had attracted the ire of the Steve Bannon and Breitbart.  Bannon had vowed to spend heavily to defeat Corker.  But, Corker had hinted for some time he was considering leaving and his decision this early opens up the floodgates for more established candidates to decide.

The top candidate currently considering is Marsha Blackburn.  Blackburn currently represents the Central Tennessee based 7th District in Congress and has never faced a serious reelection.  She’s conservative, a woman, and would be hard to beat in a GOP primary or general election.

The outsider candidate supposedly credited with driving Corker out was the former state head of the Americans for Prosperity is Andy Ogles.  While he has outsider backing to date he has received little outside support and has limited electoral backing.

As indicated above, Democrats have had a tough time in Tennessee of late.  The last Democrat to carry it at the federal level was Bill Clinton in 1996.  Like many Southern states, Democrats maintained a majority in the state legislature until the late 2000’s.  But, like many other states, the shift to the red team down-ballot came quickly.

In 1996, Republicans narrowly took control of the state senate even as Bill Clinton was carrying the state.  Democrats would retake the chamber in 1997 and hold it narrowly until 2005 and have held it since (a nominal Independent split the chamber in 2006 and 2008).

The State House was the foundation of Democratic dominance in the state.  Until 2008, the party had a healthy majority in the chamber.  But as successful as 2008 was for Democrats in Tennessee the GOP took the State House for the first time since 1969.  However, in a strange turn of events, Kent Williams colluded with Democrats to be elected Speaker over another opponent and gave Democrats plum committee assignments.  In turn, he was stripped of his party affiliation and nominally became an Independent.  In 2010 and 2012, the GOP expanded their majorities to 30 plus seats.

As for the Congressional delegation, after 2010 redistricting the state has settled into a 7R-2D House delegation.  Redistricting is not to blame for the shift though as long-time moderate Democrats retired and their districts turned redder in the age of Obama.

All this paints a grim picture for Democrats next year.  Especially when one considers the party has better targets in Nevada, Arizona and arguably Texas.  Plus, Democrats will be spending quite a bit of money playing defense.  All this seems to indicate Democrats wound need everything to break their way for success even with Corker retiring.

Democrats Face The Most Unfavorable Congressional Map In 100 Years

In legislative special elections Democrats are vastly outrunning President Clinton’s performance last November.  They even have done better in Congressional special elections.  But, even so, it might not be enough to overcome the record setting bias of the US Senate map.  Indeed, the US Senate map has never been so tilted toward the GOP since the direct election of Senators in 1913.

Consider this fun fact.  If, “Democrats were to win every single 2018 House and Senate race for seats representing places that Hillary Clinton won or that Trump won by less than 3 percentage points — a pretty good midterm by historical standards — they could still fall short of the House majority and lose five Senate seats.”  Yes, that is how bad it is for the party out of power.

There are a number of reasons for this.  Part of it has to due with the nature of Congressional districts: gerrymandering and Democrats clustering in urban areas have helped move the median seat to the right of the nation.  Then some of it just has to do with bad timing.  Democrats had a stellar year in 2006 and had a great year considering the map in 2012.  But, due to this, Democrats have to defend 25 of their 48 seats compared to the GOP’s 8 out of 52.  Worse, many of the seats Democrats are defending have trended rightward and showed their true leanings last November.

The larger trend here should significantly alarm Democrats.  Democrats have made significant inroads in California and NY State; liberal states with massive urban centers giving the party a huge popular vote edge in the Presidential contest.  They’ve even made inroads in red Texas due to urban centers.  But, NY and CA only elect 4 Senators (out of 100) and Texas still has a massive GOP edge in statewide contests.

Meanwhile, the GOP’s edge in rural states like West Virginia, Iowa, North and South Dakota, Arkansas, Louisiana and Montana, has grown exponentially.  Due to the nature of the Senate- these small states wield significant power.

Contrary to the cries of many Democrats, GOP gerrymandering has had little to do with the pro-GOP bias in Congress.  For example, in 2008, under lines drawn by many Democrats, the average Democrat won their House seat by 4.4 points compared to the President’s 7.3 percent victory.  That’s an almost 3 percent bias towards the GOP.

Fast-forward to today and the bias is even worse.  Trump lost the national popular vote by 2.1 percent.  Yet, the average Republican won their House seat by 3.4 percent and Senate seat by 3.6 percent.  That’s a “yuge” gap.  In fact, it’s the widest Senate gap in a century and the largest in a half century (except for 2012) for the House.

There is a fairly easy way to quantify this.  In 1980, there were 18 states that were five points more Democratic at the Presidential level than the nation.  There were 18 states likewise more Republican than the nation with 14 states in between.  Assuming all things being equal, all either had to do was win their friendly states Senate seats and 15 of the 28 Senate contests in the swing states.

Today, Republicans don’t even need to come close to do that.  Fifty-two Senate seats are in states where Republicans won the popular vote for President by five points more than the national result (at least R+2.9).  There are only 28 seats in states where the margin was at least 5 points more Democratic, and only 20 seats in swing states.  And Republicans own several of these swing state seats making the Democratic climb even steeper.

The national political climate, the GOP Senate’s dysfunction and its minimal 52 seat majority make the chamber look competitive.  But a deeper look reveals Democrats hold far more seats in red territory than the GOP in blue states.  The GOP does not hold a single seat in the 14 states that are more Democratic than the nation.  Meanwhile, Democrats hold six seats in states more Republican than the nation.  These Democrats have unique and individual brands but they have largely behaved the same as their liberal colleagues in opposing Trump.  Can they outrun that?

This has repercussions beyond just electoral politics.  Consider, in 2010 Democrats need sixty votes from all Democratic Senators, including 13 from states Obama lost in 2008.  It only took the Iraq War, Hurricane Katrina, a once in a generation political candidate and the strength of individual Senatorial candidates to acquire those sixty seats.  And, oh yes, a razor thin margin in Minnesota and an old GOP Senator in Pennsylvania flipping his allegiance.

It’s hard to see such events occurring today.  But, if the GOP wanted to acquire sixty seats all they would need to do is win all sixty seats in Trump states.  It’s unlikely this uniformity would happen but it showcases just how uphill the Democratic climb is to simply regain the majority in the chamber.

Democrats probably cannot count on a sixty seat majority for a generation or more.  Meanwhile, due to the elimination of the judicial filibuster, lower courts can be filled with conservative jurists without a single, Democratic vote needed.  Even if Democrats win the White House in 2020, they will likely see their preferred nominees blocked and compromise candidates be the only candidates to get through.

This is not even mentioning the Supreme Court.  The increasing polarization of the parties and the public has filtered in the courts (see Merrick Garland circa 2016).  As a result, the GOP could get one or two more jurists on the Court under Trump and then simply hunker down and wait out a Democratic President by using their majority to block his/her nominee/s.

Finally, even if Democrats win the House along with 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue the Senate would likely kill or modify many of their ideas.  Progressive legislation the base is agitating for would likely never see the light of day.  That is what the Democratic Party faces today and if it stops them from having a success 2018 the party will also be locked out of power in the states and Congress for another decade.


New Poll Gives GOP Hope In Virginia And Here Is Why

There is not much good electoral news to be had for Republicans of late.  Sure, the party has held onto every Congressional seat up this year though they occurred in red turf.  But, down-ballot, the GOP has suffered losses in ruby red Oklahoma all the way to a light blue swing state senate district in New Hampshire.  Indeed, this district is a fairly accurate barometer of the political mood and has swung narrowly between the parties.

That said, many of the districts Democrats have been winning are sleepy little special elections with low turnout in an off year.  But, when the spotlight has gotten bigger, none so than GA-6, the party has been unable to cross the finishing line.  Might we be seeing the same thing in Virginia?  Republicans sure hope so and they got some good news on that front today.

A brand new, independent survey on the Virginia gubernatorial race from Monmouth finds the Governor’s race tied at 44 percent between Republican Ed Gillespie and Democrat (and former Republican) Ralph Northam.

After the dust had settled from the primary last month, Northam won impressively a contested primary while Ed Gillespie almost blew an easy primary.  As a result, the assumption was between this and Trump there was little shot of a Gillespie win here.  But the Monmouth poll shows he has a very real, albeit narrow path.  Further, despite the natural advantages Northam has with Trump and the blue NoVA suburbs, the state can still see big and unexpected electoral swings.

Per the study’s authors, “The Monmouth University Poll  also found some interesting regional differences in current vote intentions. Northam has a 13 point lead over Gillespie in Northern Virginia (50% to 37%) and a 9 point lead in the eastern part of the commonwealth (50%-41%). The race is virtually tied in the central region (43% Gillespie and 41% Northam), while Gillespie has an 18 point advantage in the western half of Virginia (52% to 34% for Northam). Four years ago, when McAuliffe won a narrow victory, the Democrat had a larger 22 point advantage over his Republican opponent in NoVa (58%-36%). Compared to the current poll, the Democrat had a similar 9 point margin in the east (51%-42%), but also had a 4 point edge in central Virginia (47%-43%). The 2013 Republican candidate, Ken Cuccinelli, won the western region by 21 points (57%-36%) that year, which is similar to Gillespie’s current advantage there. When Gillespie himself lost an even narrower race for U.S. Senate the following year, his Democratic opponent Mark Warner claimed a 17 point advantage in NoVa and a 12 point win in the east (55%-43%). Gillespie actually beat Warner by 6 points in central Virginia (52%-46%) and by 19 points in the west (58%-39%).”

The regional breakdown is interesting here.  The best comparison to this year might be the 2013 Governor’s race and the 2014 Senate contest.  In the latter contest, Gillespie almost upset Warner (if not for Fairfax county).  Current Governor Terry McAuliffe won by a more comfortable 2.5 percent.

McAuliffe’s win was predicated on a better result in NoVA and the eastern portion of the state, home to affluent Democrats and minorities.  Warner, due to his time as Governor, outperformed McAuliffe in the Western portion of the state which helped make up for his poor performance in NoVA.

Gillespie lost to Warner by 17 percent in NoVA and according to this poll he is exceeding it.  This is probably because Gillespie is the type of Republican the more affluent Republicans in the Northern Virginia suburbs can support (ie. Bob McDonnell).  If Gillespie can exceed his numbers in NoVA in the age of Trump he definitely is on target to be competitive (at a minimum).

Northam hails from Eastern Virginia.  Reflecting the shifting preferences of voters, Northam, a former Republican turned Democrat, is winning the region by 9 percent.  However, this is a 3 point drop from Warner in 2014.  Northam will need to pad his margins in the region to win by the mid to high single digits.

Showcasing the differing natures of elections, Warner won Centra VA 52-46 based on his overperformance in Richmond.  Northam is losing it 43-41.  Again, this is probably because Gillespie is a conventional Republican and is campaigning on local and not federal issues.  The exact issues that can still win over fiscally moderate and socially liberal voters repelled by Trump.

Lastly, in Western Virginia, Gillespie has an 18 point edge compared to 19 point win in 2014.  Republicans should be happy with the poll results but by no means rest on their laurels.

This is but one poll and national trends have not been kind to the GOP.  However, as GA-6 showed, the GOP base can be mobilized if given the right incentive.  Secondly, if one digs into the cross-tabs the contours of the race show Gillespie is swimming against the President.

Among the 12 percent of voters who are undecided the President has a 22 percent approval rating compared to 60 percent who disapprove.  Gillespie is fortunate a significant chunk of these voters backed third party candidates last year making their support for Northam less likely against a conventional Republican.

Secondly, among Gillespie supporters 78 percent approve of the President and 18 percent disapprove.  That is a high number and it shows just how much Gillespie has to outperform the President to win.  Among all voters, the President is at 37 percent approval and 57 percent disapproval.  More worrying for Gillespie is a plurality of voters, 35 percent, of voters identified healthcare as the top issue.  If Trump were not a factor in the race (admittedly this is a hypothetical), Gillespie would lead 45 percent to 40 percent though many undecideds would still lean left.

It is not all bad news for Gillespie.  He does enjoy a narrow 42-38 edge among Independents and leads among non-college graduates by a bigger margin than Northam does with college grads.

Still, all in all, the poll is good news for Republicans at a time when they need it badly.  Combined with the Senate GOP finally being able to move Obamacare repeal forward they might say they have some sort of momentum.  It also helps when Democrats unveil a slogan stolen from a pizza company run by a registered Republican.

Virginia, despite trending blue, is showing its swing status.  Republicans hope it holds and this poll and recent political events should give them hope it will continue.




Democrats Still Lack Ideas

It is one of the biggest refrains of Democratic complains about Republicans during the era of Trump; obstruction works!  Republicans tried to block everything he did, never brought ideas to the table and were rewarded at the ballot box. Twice!  Why can’t we do the same?

Well, I can think of a few reasons why.  Obama’s agenda was politically toxic, he pursued an agenda unrelated to the major issue of the time (the economy) and he ignored any ideas Republicans threw out.  He also ignored the political makeup of his Congressional coalition as he sought to ram healthcare down Americans throats.  The result has been a loss of over 1,000 legislative seats, dozens of Congressional seats and 12 Senate seats. The party’s bench in many states has been decimated to the point they are running political neophytes in the majority of swing states and districts held by Republican incumbents next year.

Democrats, with Trump now in the White House, believe they can harness the power of the “Resistance” and the “Rising American Electorate” by adopting the GOP strategy of the last eight years.  One problem.  While Trump might be personally unpopular and the GOP’s health care plan is not viewed favorably (though topline poll numbers do not tell the whole story), Trump’s agenda is not.

Just look at Trump’s travel ban.  Last week, a Politico/Morning Consult poll found 60 percent of voters approved of Trump’s plan.  A solid majority, 56 percent, of Independents, and even 41 percent of Democrats agreed with the plan.

Maybe this is because Democrats lack ideas on how to deal with the threat.  For example, when we have witnessed terrorist attacks, whether here at home, or witnessed them abroad, the refrain from the Left is we cannot allow ourselves to be terrorized.  Comforting.  But hardly a solution.  Likewise, Bernie Sanders blaming terrorism on global warming hardly offers s solution to Americans who do not want to be killed.

You could argue the ban was crafted sloppily.  You’d be right.  The original rollout was terrible.  The revised ban even had notable flaws though its rollout was much, much smoother.  Yet, compared to arguments global warming causes terrorism it at least seems realistic.

The same dynamic is playing out on immigration.  Building a “big, beautiful wall,” is largely impractical.  But, that said, at least it brings attention to a major problem for border states and towns.

Democrats, on the other hand, talk a lot about compassion and the need to be accepting and progressive.  I can even agree with that sentiment.  But, those are not ideas.  They are feelings.  They do nothing to address the fact states have to spend billions on healthcare to educate and provide healthcare for these individuals.  Every nation on Earth defends its borders.  Why can’t we?

Part of the problem is Democrats know that espousing such a view is an electoral death-knell.  Democrats can’t say they don’t want to enforce immigration laws but they communicate it subtly through inaction.  This wins them an election every now and again but made their grasp on the White House incredibly fragile as Trump showed.

On healthcare and trade Democrats spend an inordinate amount of time calling out Republicans for wanting people to “die” but refusing to make changes to the ACA.  Democrats commonly lash out at big business and banks for having an unfair advantage but then solicit millions in donations and continue to give them favorable conditions through laws and trade agreements to the detriment of Joe and Jane.

It’s common for the party out of power to wander in the wilderness and try to find an appealing new message.  But, the party is increasingly split between big government, populists and identity politick progressives that are pulling the party in different directions.

In this light it is easy to see why party elders (largely part of the identity politick cult) have made the party’s core message “We are not Trump.”  That is fine and all but it does nothing to craft an appealing message, address the issues of the economy, terrorism, or health care, and puts the party at a disadvantage in understanding why the party is so locked out of power.

It’s interesting that when Democrats had a chance to recognize Trump’s appealing message last week they went in the opposite direction.  Speaking in Poland last week, Trump defended Western values and liberals went nuts.  The New York Times and Washington Post both put out articles calling it insensitive and tone-deaf.  Not to be outdone, Vox called it racist.

The Democratic message of today is one of pure opposition.  But the assumption the GOP ran on nothing in 2010 and 2014 is a farce.  Republicans ran on policies of deregulation and lower taxes.  They ran on limiting abortion and slowing destabilizing cultural change.

Democrats are not running on anything similar.  They’re essentially coddling the “resistance” to stay angry at everything Trump does.  This makes the party’s poll numbers look good but they also looked good in 2016.  We know how that turned out.

Democrats need to do more than posturing and virtue signaling.  They actually need to put out some policy ideas.  Better yet, simply signaling they sympathize and understand the problems of Americans outside urban and suburban oases on the coasts would be a good start.

According to a Hill report, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee unveiled its latest proposed bumper stickers for the midterm.  One that was widely mocked read, “Democrats 2018: I mean, have you seen the other guys?”

Yes, apparently voters have.  They seem to like them considering how utterly irrelevant the party is in dozens of states across the country.  In states dominated by Democrats, New Jersey, Connecticut, Illinois and Oregon, to name a few, legislators have so paid off political interests (read: public unions) they are facing daunting billion dollar pension crises.  If Illinois and Oregon are any indication, Democrats don’t have the will or knowledge to address these issues.  Funny, how in the state I live in (Idaho), dominated by Republicans, has one of the healthiest pension systems in the nation (PERSI).

Democrats seem to think outright opposition, laughing at Trump and stoking their base will be enough to win big next November.  Maybe so.  But, right now, even soft Republicans and reluctant Trump backers are sticking with him (see Kansas, Montana, South Carolina and Georgia’s special election results).  Additionally, when Trump’s policies poll well because Democrats lack one voters might be saying, yet again, they are willing to support the party and the guy willing to confront the issues they face everyday.