An Early And Incomplete Look At The 2018 Congressional Elections

It’s the afternoon of New Year’s Eve 2017. The guests have all departed. My wife and I long ago passed the point in life where we are going to stay up late to watch a ball drop and I’m back to my version of live blogging. Today I’d like to take a premature look at the upcoming November Congressional elections. Buckle up and let’s explore.

As they are every two years every seat in the House of Representatives is up. The Democrats need a net gain of 24 seats to take control. From the 30,000 foot view that looks doable based on history. I’m not ready to declare or predict victory yet.

In recent polling generic Democrats are beating generic Republicans by over 18 points. Trump’s numbers are in the toilet. The Republican controlled Congress is even more unpopular. That’s all at 30,000 feet.

When it comes to the House all politics is by design at least somewhat local. Voters may have the “they are all bums and throw them all out attitude” but when it comes to their House Representative, he or she is their bum and they often feel a bit apprehensive to fire them.

House districts can be, and in most cases certainly have been, gerrymandered making a Party change extremely difficult. Let’s look at the recent special election in Alabama. Democrat Doug Jones’ upset win was a model in getting out the vote. From the Democrat perspective the turnout was fantastic and a tribute to the ground game. If you distribute those same votes by Alabama’s seven Congressional districts the result would have been six Republicans and one Democrat elected. That is the reality of gerrymandering. Alabama is far from the only gerrymandered state and remember this was a model Democratic turnout.

I’m not saying the Democrats can’t take back the house; I’m just saying keep the champagne corked until the AP calls it Election Night or more likely (at best) the next morning.

Now let’s look at the Senate. It is going to be complicated to say the least. A lot of factors are at play. Normally I follow the Senate races on a single legal pad sheet. A few weeks ago I set up an Excel spreadsheet; this year is going to be much more complex. Again the 30,000 foot view initially looks good for the Democrats. The numbers and the calendar tell a different tale.

The Democrats need a net gain of two seats. That sounds easy until you consider that the Democrats have 26 seats to defend versus eight for the Republicans. It gets worse.

At this point I only see three possible Democratic pickups: Arizona, Nevada and Tennessee. With the retirements of Jeff Flake and Bob Corker Arizona and Tennessee are open seats. Those states tend to elect Republicans but a Democrat winning wouldn’t set off shock waves. While purple, Nevada leans blue and the state Democratic Party is much stronger than the state Republican Party. Dean Heller is far from overwhelmingly popular and has already drawn at least one viable primary challenger.

Then there is the Steve Bannon factor. Bannon has threatened to run a challenger in every Republican primary except Texas. Bannon is definitely from the nutcase wing of the GOP and could he get another Todd Akin type into the general providing a Democrat with a chance of stealing a seat.

We have just entered January which means we are in retirement announcement season for Senators. This is part of why I refuse to make a prediction; we don’t know who the players are yet. In the vein of mystery lineups; what about more shoes falling in the ongoing sexual transgressions scandals? We could see one or more what appear to be locks for reelection either retire or become much damaged goods. I’m convinced there are more vulnerable members of Congress who haven’t been outed yet.

I still harken back to those 26 seats the Democrat must defend. They include Heidi Heitkamp in North Dakota and Joe Donnelly in Indiana. Both won their first terms in 2012 when they got the benefit of a large Democratic turnout and Barack Obama’s coattails. There is no Obama this time around, Democrat traditionally do not turnout as well in mid-terms as they do in Presidential years and those are basically red states.

If when the 2018 baseball season commences this spring a team goes 28 and 6 to start the season I will be willing to bet they make the post-season. We are asking the Senate Democratic candidates to do just that. It is possible, but not easy!

It is early, the field is incomplete and political life will certainly happen between here and November. It is way too early to make predictions other than to say that if you want to ensure a Democratic takeover of Congress you had better be ready to work for it in one or more ways.

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