Quick Election Analysis
Well, it may not have been the blue tsunami that many were hoping for, but it was a big enough wave to at least give our democracy a chance at survival. The overarching goal of this election was for Democrats to win the House and at least provide some degree of oversight and check to the lawless and criminal Trump administration that was poised to gut the New Deal protections with the help of its Congressional GOP sycophants.. That goal was achieved by winning the districts we were supposed to win, splitting the true toss-up seats, and stealing a handful of races in which Republicans were favored. In the end, it looks like the Democrats will end up somewhere around 230 seats, providing a relatively comfortable double digit majority. And all this was done in the face of what is, at least statistically speaking, one of the strongest economies in decades.
As expected, it was a banner year for young Democratic talent and especially for women. Some notable firsts for the House are the first two Muslim women, the first two Native American women, the first black woman Representative from Massachusetts and Connecticut, and the first two Latina women from Texas. As I wrote in an earlier pre-election post, the Democratic party became a lot younger and a lot more diverse last night and probably reflects the actual voters within their coalition more than at any other time since the civil rights era of the 1960s.
The Senate was always going to be a tough task this year with so many red-state seats to defend. It was tough to see Heitkamp and McCaskill go down and worse to see Nelson, Tester, and Synema in trouble. But Democrats have to face the fact that the Senate will always be tough for them as the urban/rural demographic divide increases and because of the undemocratic nature of the body where one vote in Wyoming or North Dakota equals six or seven votes in California or New York. But, because of the tribal nature of the Republican party, especially under Trump, it is clear that running as a Republican-lite is no longer an option for Democrats in these red states, as Joe Manchin’s closer than expected race in West Virginia shows.
The defeat of O’Rourke and Gillum, along with Stacy Abrams hanging by a thread, will depress progressives. But, in fact, those three might show the way forward for Democrats in the red states by actively campaigning in every area of the state and trying to expand the electorate rather than sway in increasingly shrinking pool of persuadable voters. O’Rourke and Abrams in particular outperformed by a wide margin what any other recent Democratic candidate had done. And they did while still espousing solid Democratic values.
In fact, progressives ought to be heartened by some other results in red states. Utah, Idaho, and Nebraska all adopted Medicaid expansion and with Democrats winning the gubernatorial race in Kansas and Maine made Medicaid expansion likely in those states. And, even in defeat, progressive candidates put Medicare-for-all squarely in the health care policy debate and still managed to run highly competitive races, as Kara Eastman, in Nebraska of all places, illustrates.
Another reason for optimism was the success of electoral reform. In Florida, voters passed an initiative to restore voting rights to convicted felons which will effect over 1 million residents, including around 20% of the black males in the state. That potential addition to the electorate represents more than 10% of the votes that were cast last night. In addition, Colorado, Michigan, Missouri, and possibly Utah approved independent redistricting commissions. Of course, it will be up to the states’ governors and legislatures to actually competently institute these reforms. Finally, youth vote was up by multiples from prior years and it appears this group will being staying involved, driven by gun control and voting rights and representation.
In addition, there were some sweet victories for Democrats in general, with Scott Walker, Kris Kobach, and Dana Rohrabacher all going down chief among them. My personal favorite was Dave Brat who showed up on MSNBC way too often to spout the same discredited supply-side drivel that the GOP has been shoveling for nearly forty years.
The real tsunami for Democrats took place at the state level. Of the 900 legislative seats Democrats lost during Obama’s tenure, Democrats won back one third of them in one night. Democrats also won both the governorship and legislature in seven states, Colorado, Illinois, Maine, Nevada, New Mexico, Connecticut, and New York. In addition, they broke up that total Republican control in four other states, Kansas, Michigan, New Hampshire, and Wisconsin. In New York, there was a complete GOP wipeout and it now seems possible that Republicans in that state could become as irrelevant as they are in California. And we should not overlook how Beto O’Rourke might have rejuvenated the Democratic party in Texas where Democrats flipped eleven seats in the Texas House.
Yes, there were some stinging defeats last night and Trump showed that he could rally his red-state base with racism and xenophobia. But the reality is that the GOP got older and whiter and the Democratic party got younger and more diverse, both of which will only bode well for the future. While the massive blue wave never materialized nationally, it did crest at the state level, another good sign for the future.
But, as I said at the top, the overarching goal of this elections was achieved. Democrats won the House. The GOP legislative agenda is dead. There will be a check on Trump. The excesses and illegality within his administration will be exposed. It will be messy and nasty. But, as our nation’s history shows us, fighting for our democracy is never easy.
I’ll be back later with another post about the legislative and oversight strategy going forward.