Saturday, March 31, 2018

Why Dems Should Be "Cautiously" Optimistic About Midterms

With wins in Virginia, Alabama and Pennsylvania, Democrats are feeling pretty good about their chances of taking back the House and maybe even the Senate this November. And based on the generic Congressional polling they should. At present, Republicans are at a negative 7.1 percent according to the RCP average. That's up from a low of negative 12.2 percent back in January, the lowest any majority party has polled since 1946.

To put that in perspective, when Democrats took both Houses of Congress in 2006, Republicans were polling at negative 10 percent. And when the GOP took the House in 2010 and later the Senate in 2014, Democrats were polling at negative 2.4 and 1.7 respectively. And in 1994, the GOP swept the midterms despite the Dems polling at a positive 2.5 percent. In other words, on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being "nothing to see here" and 10 being "holy shit," Republicans are having a Spinal Tap moment.

But if I were the Democrats, I'd hold off on the celebration. As any baseball fan will gladly tell you, pennants are won in September not April or May. Many a team has sprinted out to a huge lead in the Spring, only to collapse down the stretch. And when it comes to collapses, the Democrats are the political equivalent of the 1964 Phillies.

Let's take a look at the House first. This is the chamber I think Democrats have the best shot at retaking. With the recent special election in Pennsylvania, Republicans hold 238 seats, Democrats 194, with 3 vacancies. To regain the majority Dems need to net 23 seats. Even with gerrymandering, I like their chances. Here's why.

Of the total number of Republican districts, 23 went for Hillary Clinton in 2016. That's a huge advantage going into a midterm against a sitting president who's polling as low as Donald Trump. If all they do is run the table, they'll flip the House. Granted that's easier said than done, but given they picked up a seat in a district that went for Trump by 20 points, it's not completely out of the question.

In perennial Blue states like California, New York and New Jersey, there are Republicans who are in danger of losing this November. Some are trailing their Democratic rivals while others are ahead by only a few percentage points. In all I count nine seats in California, eight in New York and five in New Jersey that could well flip. If you're counting that's twenty-two seats changing hands, only one shy of the number needed for a majority.

And that's just three states. Imagine what could happen when we get to states like Washington, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Illinois and Minnesota. And Pennsylvania, keep in mind, just had its districts redrawn to make it more competitive. My point is that there are quite a number of paths to 217 for Democrats. When middle-class voters - especially those in higher-taxed states - figure out how badly they got screwed with the new tax law, an awful lot of Republican Congressmen are gonna have their hands full trying to wipe the egg off their faces. When you factor in the plethora of House Republicans who have either "retired" or are "retiring" - the count now stands at 38 - we could be looking at a fairly significant blue wave.

Granted, the above scenario paints a rosy picture. 270 to win looked at all the competitive House races for 2018 and found 16 seats that are currently controlled by Republicans that are now in the tossup column compared with 5 controlled by Democrats that are now tossups; a net gain of 11. That isn't to say that number won't go up as we get closer to November. It's worth noting that at this point in 2010, Democrats were still expected to hold the House and we all know what happened.

When it comes to the Senate, the climb for Democrats get a little steeper. The unexpected pickup in Alabama, coupled with some favorable polling out of Nevada and the announcement that Jeff Flake will not seek reelection in Arizona, has the party flirting with the idea that retaking the majority is within its grasp. Assuming they flip both seats AND hold all their own seats, Democrats would end up with a 51 - 49 majority.

But even if Dems manage to flip both Arizona and Nevada, holding serve in all 24 of their seats will be a tall order, especially since 10 of them are in states Trump won. The most vulnerable seats are in Indiana, Missouri, Montana and North Dakota. The likelihood is that they'll lose at least two of them, meaning Dems will be fortunate if they keep Republicans from adding to their majority.

And finally, there are the gubernatorial races where Democrats have a chance to pickup as many as six state houses. That would increase the total number of governorships under their control to 22 with one independent. Not since 2010 has the party seen such good fortune at the state level.

But, as the wise man once said, no good deed goes unpunished. Remember we're talking about a party that could screw up a sunset. Already there are signs that a fracture is forming between the party's two wings: progressives and centrists. The former sees an opportunity to take advantage of the enormous unpopularity of this president to advance their agenda, while the latter longs for a return to a time when Democrats were truly a big tent party.

The problem is that while all the energy may reside on the Left; the Center is where all the recent gains have come from. Ralph Northam, Doug Jones and Conor Lamb are liberals the way I'm an NBA center. In other words, they're anything but. In fact had any of them run on a truly progressive platform they most likely would've lost, especially Jones and Lamb.

Getting progressives to acknowledge this will a herculean task. Just the other day Claire McCaskill chided Hillary Clinton for disparaging Trump voters. For her efforts she was skewered by liberals as some sort of traitor, when all she was doing was pointing out that not every one who voted for Trump was "backwards" as Clinton claimed.

In New York, actress Cynthia Nixon has decided to challenge Andrew Cuomo in the upcoming Democratic primary because, according to her, he's a "wannabe Republican." Look, Cuomo may not be the liberal icon his father was, but if Nixon really thinks he isn't a true Democrat she's seriously delusional.

The sad part is she's not the only one. There are rumblings that some establishment Democrats could get primaried because they're viewed as not being tough enough. Anyone who doesn't pass some kind of purity test might be targeted for elimination. We saw this same kind of purge happen in the GOP back in 2010 and the result is a party so dysfunctional it can't govern even with both houses of Congress AND the White House under its control.

Whoever said two wrongs don't make a right never ran for political office. That's why I'm cautiously optimistic about Democrats' chances this fall. Yes, they should do well, but then I seem to remember a lot of smart people predicting a Clinton landslide in 2016.

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