Pessimistically Optimistic for the Midterms

Democrat Conor Lamb’s upset win last week in Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional District has led many observers to claim an electoral tsunami is about to hit Republicans. Perhaps it will, but that is far from clear now. Lamb’s performance is unlikely to be the norm for Democratic candidates this fall for a host of reasons. Republicans may lose the House, but they are not likely to lose the 50-60 seats so many prognosticators suggest the Lamb victory implies.

Huge gains in the House normally occur when one party holds many seats that the other party’s presidential candidate carried in the previous election. The 2010 “wave” election is a case in point. The Republicans gained 63 House seats that year, but almost all of them were in the 48 districts that Democrats had held but were carried by John McCain in 2008. Republicans currently hold only 25 seats that Hillary Clinton won in 2016, and over half of those had been carried by Mitt Romney just four years earlier. That simple fact makes massive Democratic gains much less likely without extraordinary circumstances.

Democrats argue their strong showing in special elections during the Trump era demonstrate those circumstances exist. Democrats have thus far captured 42 state legislative, gubernatorial, or federal seats from Republicans since 2017 while Republicans have only gained four from the Democrats. Democrats also gained 15 State House seats in Virginia’s regularly scheduled fall elections and three seats in New Jersey’s legislature. That clearly indicates a turn against the GOP in those states.

Democrats are even more excited about how far ahead of Hillary Clinton their candidates are running in many of these races. The best way to assess the magnitude of partisan gains is to compare a winning candidate’s margin to the margin obtained by a candidate of the same party in a presidential election. Conor Lamb’s narrow win, for example, was roughly 20 percent ahead of Hillary Clinton’s more than 19 percent loss to Trump in 2016. According to statistics compiled by the progressive website Daily Kos, Democrats ran 10 percentage points ahead of the presidential margin in all 2017 special elections and an amazing 24 percentage points ahead in specials held so far this year. If Democrats do anything close to that in the fall midterms, Republicans are facing a tsunami of epic proportions.

There’s good reason, however, to think those figures won’t hold. Special elections, especially for smaller state legislative races, are much like presidential caucuses: low-turnout affairs where the most motivated voters determine the outcome. In caucuses that means the party ideologues, left and right, normally prevail. In specials, it normally means the party out of power has the edge. That’s especially true this cycle because Donald Trump enrages Democrats across the board. For them, every election is a rerun of 2016 and every Republican is really named Trump. Looking only at special elections, therefore, exaggerates the advantage they will likely possess in November.

Last fall’s regularly scheduled statewide elections in Virginia and New Jersey provide a better guide for midterm turnout patterns, and those races tell a more optimistic tale for Republicans. Democratic victors for governor only outran their party’s presidential margin by about  3.6 points in Virginia and did not exceed it at all in New Jersey. Some of the Virginia candidate’s gain was attributable to local factors, too. Democrat Ralph Northam represented the populous Virginia Beach region in the State Senate for years before becoming Lieutenant Governor. He outperformed Clinton on the margin by between 10 and 19 percent in this area, well ahead of his statewide performance. Most Democratic candidates this fall will not have a similar regional home field advantage.

The massive gains in Virginia’s House of Delegates also do not point to a blue wave. Clinton carried 14 of the 15 seats Democrats gained, and Trump won the other seat by a mere half a percent. The Democratic delegate candidates ran behind Clinton’s margins in nine of those seats, including two where they ran behind her by 10 or more points. Their marginal gain was five or six points in only two seats; in the other four, they ran roughly even or only slightly ahead. In Virginia, when the GOP had everything on the line Democrats performed nowhere near well enough to produce an epic fall landslide.

New Jersey’s election saw similar results. Democrats took away two seats from Republicans in both the Senate and the Assembly. (A popular GOP state assemblyman took a heavily Democratic state Senate seat away, running 19 points ahead of Trump’s losing margin.) Clinton carried each of those seats, and the Democratic victor either ran behind or even with her margin in three of them. In the fourth, the winner only outpaced her by less than 5 percent. Again, even in deep blue New Jersey a general election effort dramatically reduced the scale of Democratic gains.

This fall’s midterms will look much more like last fall’s races than special elections. Forty-seven states will have full general elections with either a gubernatorial or senatorial race at the top of the ticket. Only Kentucky, North Carolina, and Louisiana will not have a statewide race, and Kentucky and North Carolina will feature a general election for all state house seats. Thus, GOP efforts—and, likely, GOP turnout—will resemble the Virginia and New Jersey races more than they will resemble PA-18.

That still doesn’t mean the GOP won’t face strong headwinds. If the results this fall resemble what happened in those two states, GOP House control will be endangered and the party will lose many governorships. If instead Democratic performance looks like something in between the specials and last fall’s general election, the Democrats will take over the House and very few GOP gubernatorial candidates will triumph in any state that has been closely contested in the last decade. But even those gains are likely to fall well short of the sort of predictions many Democratic partisans are spreading.

Even the most positive outlook, however, cannot be viewed as good for Trump partisans.

One cannot make America great again if most Americans don’t agree with you. President Reagan had a similarly poor midterm, but that occurred during the then-worst economic downturn since 1938. When the economy recovered so did the Gipper. This political downturn is occurring during an unprecedentedly long recovery, one that is gathering steam rather than slowing down. If Americans don’t like what they see when times are good, we can only imagine what they will think when times, inevitably, get worse.

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63 responses to “Pessimistically Optimistic for the Midterms”

  1. Losing the House would be unfortunate.
    Losing the Senate would be a disaster. Trump will exercise MAGA executive policies come Hell or high water. But Trump won’t get judges who obey the law not their personal politics unless the Republicans keep the Senate.

    • It will be a disaster also because if they gain the House the Democrats will almost assuredly impeach President Trump. Loss of the Senate might, (but not likely because of the 2/3 vote) remove him from office. Given a choice of poison I’d much rather lose the House as impeachment is not removal and the Dems know it.

      • If the Dems take the House Trump will be impeached immediately. Especially if Mueller comes back with more. That doesn’t guarantee his removal, but with Mueller digging into his business dealings and convictions already as well as folks turning witness it would look very bleak for Trump.

      • It supposedly has looked bleak for Trump from the moment he descended the escalator at the Trump Tower in May of 2015. And he we are.

      • Dollars to donuts it’s money he made in deals with Russians. Maybe even money laundering for the Russians.

      • Ken: The IRS knows. And with the proven bias in the IRS during the Obama years, you know that if there were any dirt it would have come out by now.

      • It seems Mueller has given up on collusion with the Russians (which wouldn’t be a crime anyway unless they colluded to do something illegal), and is now focusing on the firing of Comey. If that is all there is, impeachment will be a completely political prosecution on a tangental issue. At least that is how history will see it; another milepost in the decline of the American Republic.

      • Strange that you would rely on Mueller’s “digging into his business dealings.” I thought he had a mandate to look for Russian collusion.

      • His financial dealings were always going to be part of it because he has had so many deals with Russians.

    • Also, the Dems will take the Senate. The House will be more difficult.

      • I submit you have that backwards, as I’m sure most readers will agree.

      • It is hard to say. Individual races have more of an effect on Senate control, since there are less of them and the Senate is divided 51-49. The law of averages is more applicable in the House. It is entirely possible that the Dem efforts in the House could fall short, but a few strong Dem candidates in red states can win the Senate. Not likely, but possible.

  2. The Democrats still have a white problem and not talking about it is not going to make it go way.

    • The Reagan analogy misses the fact that in 1980 we were a white country that was divided by class and ideology. Today and moving forward all divisions in politics will be based solely on race. The health of the economy will not have much of an impact on Trump’s standing either way, just as it didn’t with Obama either.

      • Yep, you and the Leftist Cult Movement [democrat party and everything else the Cult controls] have indoctrinated most minority people…..but, there are still many Hispanics and Asians who don’t believe in your Idiotology BS.

  3. I suspect that the GOP will lose a handful of House seats, but still retain control.
    The big elephant in the room, however, is the Senate, where the GOP is looking to gain up to 10 seats.

  4. The biggest obstacle for the GOP in the mid-terms, besides themselves, is voter fraud. Remember the Voter Fraud Commission which Trump dismantled because Blue States were refusing to hand over data and suing. The Left created chaos, which they are very good at, and a good idea went the way of the Dodo bird.

    • I totally agree, it may seem silly, but I can’t help but wonder if the “stolen” voting machines in the Georgia special election are being used to manipulate votes in other elections. These machines were never recovered and it was assumed they were destroyed in a landfill because the thief said he tossed them in a dumpster. Georgia, Pennsylvania, and Virginia all use the same voting machines…..

    • Bullshit. There hasn’t been any evidence to support claims of mass voter fraud.

  5. “One cannot make America great again if most Americans don’t agree with you”

    A majority of Americans like the idea. The problem is the front man.

    • Only Trump could have taken on PC and the democrat controlled msm. Only democrats think that giving them the middle finger is a problem.

      • Only untutored fools think “giving the middle finger” is the acme of the art of leadership.

      • Only overeducated elites miss the power of this basic symbol. Or am I giving you too much credit on both counts?

  6. Turnout, turnout, turnout. If the GOP shows up, they’ll win. They didn’t show up in VA, AL, or PA. They did in the landslide GOP win in the TN senate race the same night as PA-18.

  7. Let’s not forget the fact that this fall, Democrats won’t be running a bunch of Connor Lamb clones against a bunch of weak Republican wanna-be’s. The reason… and the ONLY reason… Lamb (barely) won against such a weak Republican candidate is that he ran a decidedly blue-dog race. The Nancy Pelosi Democrats don’t want to acknowledge that fact out loud, but it’s hard to ignore. Unfettered liberalism would have undone Connor Lamb in a heartbeat in that district and EVERYBODY knows that. He didn’t bash Trump, he’s a military guy, he’s pro-second amendment, pro-life (albeit a little on the mealy-mouthed side). He didn’t run on gay rights or anti-law enforcement. He didn’t run on “single payer” healthcare. He didn’t run on the “Republicans are just a bunch of greedy bastards” platform (the old class warfare, victim-hood strategy). No. He ran as a “barely-Democrat” in a state that has had deep Democrat roots (until recently, that is). He is young, good looking, energetic, charismatic and didn’t beat people over the head with ultra-liberal ideology. He talked about jobs, he said he supported many of the things Trump was doing with the economy (or at least he didn’t bash Trump’s more popular agenda items) and he generally didn’t run on the anti-Trump agenda that so many Dems are betting the farm on this fall. If the Democrats retake the House in November, it will simply be because of a very real enthusiasm gap and not that “most Americans” buy into the super liberal anti-Trump message. Apathy, not outrage, will be the Republican’s downfall if the “blue wave” materializes this fall.

      • Trump and the Supreme Court are trying to destroy the union movement. If you are really a teamster, then you’re an assholeteamster.

    • Hey Daddio, not only did Saccone lose in a GOP district, he lost in a district specifically gerrymandered to keep it red. That’s why the GOP is going to take an historical hammering in 2018.

  8. President Trump has the White Working class, but not much else. Elections are won by coalitions and I do not yet see him adding to his. He could go more anti-Elite, focus on reducing imports, and lowering unskilled immigration to the US. With lower numbers of unskilled and an employment program he could reach out to Blacks who work. Add School choice and he might get 20% of them. A lot of legal immigrants do not want more competition from the unskilled illegal immigrant. Single Women want protection; married women have husbands. The Democrats promise the Federal Govt. as a husband. Unless there is a war, this is hard to counter. Or somehow get single women to see other single women as threats. My guess is reduction of imports his his best bet and long as he does not trigger a major trade war against a US exporters.

    • if you are looking for protection, get a gun. That is much better protection than a husband, lol.

      • The US spends $1.1 Trillion/year on Welfare programs to help women and children. 50 years ago these expenditures were the responsibility of husbands. Basically, the government is funding single women to have children out of wedlock. It is almost impossible to get Single Women off their support of the Democrat party that provides these funding streams. We spend another $1.4 Trillion/year on Seniors. Althought these programs are partially funded by their contributions. See: The support of Single Women (who are growing in number) is a strong pillar of the Democrat party. This is why I made the statement that the Democrat party has promised the Governemnt as a husband (to provide financial support).

      • Studies have shown that the lack of a husband and father in the house is a real problem in the minority neighborhoods. A consequence of welfare programs that make it possible.

  9. A lot is going to depend on the resolution of the DOJ Inspector General’s report. If the President’s accusers are discredited , it will take away the Democrat party’s base’s favorite meme and deflate voter enthusiasm.

    • Maybe, but so long as Mueller is going no one on the anti-Trump side is gonna trust a report that comes out of a Trump Sessions DOJ.

      • No one trusts a Mueller report. He is corrupt. His investigation child is illegitimate. Everyone knows it is partisan and begun under false pretenses. Democrats have no intellectual integrity at this point.

      • Mueller has served this country as both a marine and a public servant his whole life, Trump has never served this country or put the country above his own personal desires. Mueller is also a life long Republican, something Trump isn’t. When putting together an investigative team you put together the best team possible and that’s what he did.

      • That’s ridiculous. If you’re in Washington long enough you contribute to political candidates. The fact is these investigators include the cream of the crop from those who went after organized crime to those who were chasing down Al Qaeda to folks who specialize in financial crimes. When putting a group of folks together you get the best people you can and that’s what he did.

      • TJ: Then why not pick at least a couple of prosecutors who contributed to Republicans? And I still have a couple of areas I would like to see cleared up:
        1. What was the insurance policy that Strock referred to?
        2. What was t he complete story behind Comey’s creation of a memorandum for a quick handoff for publication and appointment of a pal as Special Prosecutor?

        Sounds to me like both questions are related.

        I am also anxious to find out what the IG has to say.

        PS. Cream of what crop?

      • He himself is a Republican. The amounts donated really aren’t that much. Strozk’s texts, who knows, him and Page were clearly idiots and I don’t have a problem if they want to dig into it more. Comey, seems like Comey from the start thought the President’s interactions with him were inappropriate. Asking for personal loyalty, things like that. Not surprising because Trump values loyalty to himself, not the country and he is an authoritarian at heart. The cream of the crop being the absolute best investigators from his time at the FBI. The top financial crime guys, the top anti-terrorism guys, and the top organized crime guys. These were the best of the best.

      • The “Republican ” part is irrelevant. Unless you have been on a desert island for the past 3 years, you must understand that some of Trump’s most bitter enemies are Republicans.The McCabe investigation report from the IG does not support your characterization of the “best of the best”, nor does your denigration of Page and Strozk, who were part of that team.

      • Now that’s a conspiracy theory to beat all. An 0bama appointed IG and the head of the Personal Responsibility division appointed by Mueller are conspiring with Trump.Repeat that a few times and hear just how silly it sounds.

    • I tend to doubt this. I think the report will be nuanced and have something for everyone.

    • No it won’t. Remember, female democrats are enraged by the very person of Trump. The will show up come hell or high water. Deflating the Democrat conspiracies may help drive GOP turnout, though.

  10. Wait until Trump starts taking the case to the people to vote Republican. He’ll remind everyone that Democrats are for higher taxes, more regs, open borders, and pervs using the girls’ room.

    • most certainly he will pose it as “us” against “them” like he usually does. What is the word for “not a uniter?” Oh yeah divisive, that’s where we are.

      • Ken: The left has made a career out of divisive politics. So “us” against “them” is an old and familiar refrain. Does t he term “identity politics” ring a bell?

    • it’s as if you think we are going to click on random links, lol

  11. The Democrats have a massive turnout advantage because female democrats are maximally enraged by the very person of Trump. Republican turnout in the VA elections, and the specials has been normal. Wave elections are driven by differential turnout, and normal won’t cut it when your opponents are in a fury. Trump has to do something to drive Republican turnout to counter the Democrats. The only way I can see this happening is if the Midterms are fought over impeachment. Then it IS a presidential election.

  12. These contests hinge on who shows up to vote (although sometimes on who shows up to vote often or whose dead name is forged on a ballot). As crunch time approaches, a lot can happen to sway people. Voters need to be smart, which is a concern.

  13. After the “budget” deal, does it really matter????