The 115th Congress, dominated by the Republican Party, has failed to repeal Obama Care, pass tax reform or pass infrastructure legislation and will soon have to face their voters back home. Potentially leaving Washington with few campaign promises fulfilled, many expect the Republican Congress to sustain heavy losses across the country. Combining the lackluster pace of congress with unprecedented disapproval ratings, Democrats are aiming to take back the House and Senate in 2018. And typically, it is the party in the White House which loses seats in Congress. Following the first two years of a President’s term, their popularity drops significantly. The result of the President’s decrease in support leads to “Wave Elections” where the party of the President loses seats in Congress. Though, it is important to note that with all things ‘Trump’, this election will be anything but typical.
To retake control of the Senate, the Democratic Party must retain control of all twenty-three of their seats up for re-election and simultaneously flip three senate seats represented by Republicans, assuming Senator Angus King (I-ME) and Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) continue to caucus with the Democrats. The two Republican held seats in the Senate Democrats are most likely to win are Dean Heller’s seat in Nevada and Jeff Flake’s seat in Arizona. Nevada has endured a strong liberal tide recently, with Nevada going to Democratic presidential candidates for the past three elections in a row and Senator Catherine Cortez-Masto defeating Rep. Joe Heck (R-NV) in a 2016 Senate Race. With a potential primary fight on the Republican side, it is not inconceivable that Rep. Jacky Rosen (D-NV), the Democratic challenger, could win. In Arizona, Senator Jeff Flake’s (R-AZ) announcement that he will be stepping down at the end of his term clears the Republican primary for State Senator Kelli Ward to be the Republican nominee. However, should Dr. Ward be the Republican candidate, there is concern that her past controversial statements could pave the way for Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ).
However, President Trump has already started building a large impediment to potential Democratic gains in next year’s midterm elections. While visiting states like Indiana, Missouri and Joe North Dakota, the President has already begun trying to turn the voters who delivered Trump electoral wins in 2016 against their popular Democratic incumbent: Senators Joe Donnelly (D-IN), Claire McCaskill (D-MO), and Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND). Should any of these incumbent Democratic Senators from red states be defeated in 2018, Democrat’s path to retaking the Senate becomes very improbable.
While the Senate map offers a structural advantage to the Republican Party with nearly two-thirds of the seats up for re-election being democrats, the Gubernatorial elections present the inverse. Several Republican Governors are term limited which offers Democrats several opportunities to win back control of the states. In blue states like New Mexico and Maine, Republican Governors Susana Martinez and Paul LePage are all term limited, respectively. Over the past few months, the Cook Political Report has rated these races as moving from favoring the Republican nominee to a toss up in Maine and “Lean Democrat” in the cases of New Mexico. Retaking the Governor’s mansion is a crucial part of controlling the redistricting process in 2022 for the U.S. House of Representatives which is used to gerrymander districts in favor of a given party.
In terms of taking back the House, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is targeting several Republicans whose districts were won by Hillary Clinton in 2016. While there was many instances of ticket splitting, there are not enough of such cases to make Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), the Democratic Leader in the House, Speaker again. The most promising news as of late for Democratic prospects of regaining a majority coalition would be that so many Republicans are retiring providing open races in battleground districts.
Overall, the Democratic prospects of retaking control of Congress seem dim. While there is a lot of time to cover ground and catch up, Republicans are structurally favored to retain control of both the House, Senate and a majority of the governorships.
Stay tuned for more election updates with the Northeast State Election Updates.