Could Three Upcoming Special Elections Portend a Bloodbath for the GOP in the Midterms?
As soon as I wrote that headline, I regretted it, because I immediately remembered predictions of a bloodbath for the GOP in Senate in the 2016 election (and even some hope that Dems could take back the House in 2016). We obviously should not get cocky.
That said: By now, we know the stats. Since 1946, if a President is above 50 percent approval, his party loses on average 14 seats in the midterms. If the President’s approval is below 50 percent, his party loses, on average, 36 seats. There’s no chance in hell that President Trump will be above 50 percent. While gerrymandering remains an issue, it’s one that’s being slowly fixed in the courts right now, and according to a recent study, it’s not as big a problem as we (or John Oliver) make it out to be, anyway.
In other words, history would be on the Democrats’ side in 2018 even if Trump weren’t President, but with him as the President, it looks even more favorable for Team Blue, especially if three upcoming special elections are any indication.
First off, in Kansas, there is a special election today between Democrat James Thompson, a Wichita civil rights lawyer, and Republican Ron Estes, to fill the seat vacated by Mike Pompeo, now Trump’s CIA head. Chances are, the Democrat is going to lose this election, but it’s likely going to be closer than anyone could have anticipated. Donald Trump won this district by 27 points just a few months ago. However, Estes is leading by only single digits according to the latest polls, and both Mike Pence and Donald Trump are making robocalls to ensure a GOP victory. Ted Cruz even had to come out yesterday for a last minute rally to stave off Democratic competition in a district where the national Democratic party has barely put any effort into the race because they assumed it was too far out of reach. Now, it is within reach, and while I wouldn’t get my hopes up, it is a special election where turnout will be key. Anything within 10 points might be seen as a moral victory for Dems.
Meanwhile, in Georgia, there’s a special election scheduled for next Tuesday to replace Tom Price, now the Health and Human Services Secretary. In that race, 30-year-old political newcomer Jon Ossoff has raised $8.5 million, and he actually holds a commanding lead in a field of 18 candidates. It’s a weird “jungle election,” however, because if no candidate reaches 50 percent, there will be a runoff in June between the top two vote getters. Ossoff has an outside chance of reaching the 50 percent mark next week, which would be great, because it would be a much more challenging race for the Democrat against a single Republican challenger in June. Again, this is a district where Price won 62 percent of the vote, so — win or lose — a great showing by Ossoff would portend good things for the Democrats in next year’s midterms.
Finally, in May, there’s another special election in Montana to fill its one House seat, which has been held by Republicans since 1997. However, a Montana folk singer backed by Bernie Sanders, Rob Quist, is making a great showing there, where his rallies have been attended by “hundreds” (in a sparsely populated rural state of only one million people, “hundreds” is a solid showing). The Republicans have already spent $700,000 trying to slow down Quist, but according to a poll from March, he has about a seven-point lead over his Republican challenger. He could very well take it.
Keep in mind, too, that in all three cases, these are heavily Republican districts. Democrats are not only making a solid showing, but could peel off one or two of those seats. If this trend holds, and if Democrats can field some quality candidates in 2018, the party of Blue could make a killing in swing districts. As importantly, fear of losing their jobs might help to moderate the existing Republican leadership in Congress ahead of the midterms.
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