Democrats Beware Overconfidence
Republicans are vulnerable in 2018, but nothing is assured.
There’s an old saying in politics: “Don’t count your chickens until the bones are in your mouth.” Democrats who are eagerly anticipating the November elections should keep those earthy words of wisdom in mind. Overconfidence can be disastrous.
Nonetheless, optimism is certainly reasonable for progressives looking ahead to the elections later this year. Many signs point to a blue wave in November. For starters, midterm elections, more than anything else, are referendums on the president and Trump’s approval rating is dismal — by far the worst for any president in his first year.
Congressional Republicans are even more unpopular than Donald Trump. A recent poll indicated that only 21 percent of prospective voters approve of the job the Republican Congress is doing. That poll also found voters, by a 17 point margin, prefer Democrats to be in charge of Congress.
Special election results since Trump moved into the White House also point to Democratic victories. Most prominent is the election of a Democratic senator in deeply red Alabama. That outcome could be partially written off to a deeply flawed Republican candidate, but perhaps more telling are the numerous wins for Democrats in legislative elections. So far, 34 seats have flipped from red to blue, most recently in a state Senate district in northwestern Wisconsin. Trump won that district by 17 percentage points, but the Democrat bested the Republican this month by 10 points. Even in seats that Democrats have lost, the Democratic vote percentage is substantially up from 2016. Overall, compared to the partisan split in recent elections, there has been a 12 percentage point shift to Democratic candidates.
However, there are some major obstacles in the way. Because U.S. senators serve six-year terms, the incumbents up for re-election in 2018 were elected in 2012, when Obama was re-elected and Democrats racked up victories in normally Republican states. Ten of the Democratic senators facing the voters this year are from states that Trump won and five are from states that Trump won by more than double digits. There are only a few vulnerable Republican Senate seats up for grabs.
On the House side, gerrymandered districts are a major impediment to Democratic wins. Republicans control the House now because of partisan redistricting. Even if the U.S. Supreme Court does the right thing and prohibits extreme partisan gerrymandering, it is very unlikely that their decision would come in time to give us fairer districts for this election. One bright note, however, is that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ordered a new map in that state, which will reverse one of the worst partisan gerrymanders and will likely lead to several more seats for Democrats.
The Republicans can’t be expected to sit idly by. They will have virtually unlimited funds from the Koch brothers and other billionaires and large corporations to run a full-scale assault of negativity on Democratic candidates. We can also expect their allies, the Russians, to again be actively involved in dirty tricks to advance Republican candidates.
Things look promising for Democrats, but nothing is assured. We’ll have to do all we can to hatch them chickens!
This column was originally published by Madison’s Cap Times.
Spencer Black represented the 77th Assembly District for 26 years and was chair of the Natural Resources Committee. He currently serves as the vice president of the national Sierra Club and is an adjunct professor of urban and regional planning at UW-Madison