Some Lessons From The Mid-Terms

We are on the eve of the Mississippi Senate runoff. The last few 2018 races are yet to be called but enough of the dust has settled to derive a lot of lessons. Let’s explore.

I feel reasonably comfortable to make a prediction in the last unsettled Senate seat in Mississippi – Cindy Hyde-Smith will be returned to the Senate. That is a sad observation on America in 2018. Senator Hyde-Smith did all but campaign wearing a white robe with a burning cross in the background. I don’t believe in slips of the tongue as much as I do in dog whistles. Racism is a winner in Mississippi in 2018.

Assuming I’m correct that will give the Republicans a 53-47 edge in the upper chamber; a pick-up of two seats. I don’t follow the House as closely, but it appears there is still a race or two to be called and the Democrats will pick up 40 seats or just a hair short of that number. Trump can spin those numbers any way he wants but when you trade two Senate seats for about 40 House seats and control of the lower chamber you got beat badly! (If I’m wrong it’s even worse since Trump’s “prize” was a lone Senate seat.)

Again, all the numbers are not in but turnout percentage was the best for a mid-term in over 100 years. That is great for small “d” democracy! Although at about 50% it shows you how dismal mid-term turnout usually is in America; (28.5% in 2014.)

With how close the Texas Senate and Georgia Governor’s races were it really illustrates the value of high turnout to Democrats in what have for years been safe Republican states. (It also shows that candidates matter; Beto O’Rourke and Stacey Abrams were exciting candidates.) In the much more gerrymandered House races turnout wasn’t always enough. Without major redistricting I feel we may be headed toward a new status quo in the House. Urban/suburban districts will lean heavily Democratic while exurban/rural districts will be red. Having spent considerable parts of my adult life in suburban, exurban and rural areas I know the differences only too well. Many feel it centers on guns but it goes well beyond that. There are a plethora of good people in all three areas but the stereotypical outlooks and value systems have several major differences. Too many people are simply locked into voting the Party regardless of the individual or their record. (Remember, Roy Moore almost won the Senate seat in Alabama.)

This divide portends problems for both parties. How do you recruit a quality candidate to run in a race that is seemingly impossible to win? How do you convince deep pocketed donors to back them? How do you convince the national or state party to allocate resources to those races? How do you convince foot soldiers to volunteer in that race? The list goes on and the net result is low quality representatives who do little to serve the people and are held almost unaccountable with the result of general elections being a foregone conclusion. That will generate voter apathy and with it low turnout. Gerrymandering is something we need to address!

For at least the time being Trump is part of the American political landscape. As zany as he may be he does have a loyal following. His base showed up in 2018. It was only a superior turnout effort by the Democrats – which I feel DNC Chair Tom Perez deserves a lot of credit for – that decided the balance of power in the House and minimized the losses in the Senate (along with winning a lot of down ballot races).

The major difference between 2018 and 2010 is that the Democrats didn’t turn out the vote in 2010 and they did in 2018. In large part the Trump base is simply the so-called Silent Majority (which was and still is much more of a vocal minority) morphed into the Tea Party and now relabeled as the Freedom Caucus and Trump enablers.

While some of the lessons may be somewhat new, the more things change the more they stay the same and turnout will remain the deciding factor in the near future elections. It is just a much heavier lift in some places than it is in others.

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