In this edition: Our divided country as seen from the states; the worst takes about what happened; the Bernie Sanders prognosis.
I really thought south Florida would have figured out how to design ballots by now, and this is The Trailer.
It sounds like a cliche, but it’s true: The 2018 elections are revealing just how divided the country is and how much the divisions have widened.
That’s not to say that nothing budged since 2016. Across the country, with just a few exceptions, Republicans fell back from the highs they’d attained from 2015 to 2017. Every Senate race saw incumbent Democrats run ahead of the party’s 2016 ticket, even when they lost; in the two Minnesota House seats that Republicans appear to have flipped from blue to red, Democrats nonetheless ran five to 10 points ahead of Hillary Clinton.
But the result of those changes across the country has been Republicans making gains in rural America and Democrats making gains everywhere else, their progress slowed only by gerrymandering. Democrats who assiduously appealed to rural voters ran only marginally better than Democrats, like Clinton, who were seen to have ignored them. The party noticed that.
“I think the most important one — of the most important reasons — to have a 50-state strategy is the United States Senate,” Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez told reporters today at a breakfast sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor. “If you cede 20 to 25 states to the other side, it’s very hard to sustain a Democratic majority in the U.S. Senate.”
Yet prized Democratic recruits in the Senate and the House, such as Tennessee’s Phil Bredesen and Ohio’s Ken Harbaugh were, shellacked with rural white voters. Harbaugh, for example, spent $2.7 million in a red Ohio district where the last Democratic nominee had spent less than $8,000. The result? Republican Rep. Bob Gibbs’s total vote inched down from 64 percent to 59 percent.
In the states, the result of all this is that Democrats gained hundreds of legislative districts but only occasionally knocked Republicans out of power. The reason? Mostly, a continued sorting effect, which saw Democrats make huge inroads in suburbs and lose ground elsewhere.
Here’s a rundown of state legislative outcomes in all 50 states:
Alabama. Democrats improved their margins in a number of suburban seats but lost ancestral districts that had grown more Republican: the 3rd House District in northwest Alabama, the 28th House District in northeast Alabama, the 65th House District in the southwest.
Alaska. Perhaps you heard about the plucky independents who flipped control of the state House? They lost, and most tellingly, an incumbent independent lost by 19 points in the rural Kenai peninsula. The state seems to have reverted to voting for true Republicans, who may take control of the state legislature — the only state legislature they have a chance of picking up.
Arizona. There’s plenty left to count, but Democrats appeared to have come closer, without flipping strongly Republican districts in the Phoenix metro area.
Arkansas. Republicans took over the rural 61st state House seat for the first time, while Democrats flipped the 84th in suburban Fayetteville.
California. Democrats appeared to be on the cusp of regaining a supermajority in the state Senate, with leads in the 12th and 14th districts; both are semirural, but with huge numbers of Latino voters turned out by competitive House races.
Colorado. Democrats picked up the state Senate by carrying districts in Denver’s suburbs, especially the 16th District in Golden. Narrowly won by Republicans in 2014, it swung by 16 points to Democrats.
Connecticut. Republicans had hoped to gain the state Senate and governor’s office here; instead, the suburban 13th, 24th and 26th state Senate districts all went blue, locking in a Democratic majority.
Delaware. Democrats, for the first time in generations, wiped out every Republican running for statewide office and picked up one seat in both houses of the legislature; both are in the suburbs of Wilmington.
Florida. Democrats expected to do better, but they flipped at least two House seats in the suburbs of Orlando.
Georgia. Democrats grabbed at least two state Senate seats in metro Atlanta while losing at least two state House seats in rural Georgia.
Idaho. After bottoming out in 2016, Democrats gained House seats in Pocatello and suburban Boise.
Illinois. Democrats continued to grow their dominance in the suburbs, winning the 48th and 61st House districts in the greater Chicago area and leading in other suburban seats.
Indiana. On a terrible night for Democrats at the top of the ticket, they gained the 29th state Senate district in Indianapolis’s suburbs.
Iowa. Democrats flipped a Senate seat in Sioux City while losing one in rural northeast Iowa; at the same time, they appeared to gain nearly every House seat in the suburbs of Des Moines.
Kansas. Even while losing the governor’s mansion, Republicans gained some rural seats, and Democrats rolled over them in the suburbs of Kansas City; where for years House districts had sent moderate Republicans to Topeka.
Kentucky. Republicans knocked out the Democratic chair of their state Senate caucus in rural western Kentucky, while Democrats flipped a House seat near Louisville; they were struggling to take back seats lost in the 2016 wave.
Maine. Democrats wiped out Republicans in suburban seats, taking both houses of the state legislature for the first time in a decade.
Maryland. Republicans actually did worse with Gov. Larry Hogan winning reelection than they’d done four years earlier, when he narrowly won; in suburban counties, Republicans lost ground and fell short of breaking the Democrats’ supermajority.
Massachusetts/Rhode Island/Vermont. The pattern was consistent across these states, where Democrats have basically maxed out their legislative control; some blue gains in the suburbs and some weakness or losses in areas won by President Trump in 2016.
Michigan/Ohio/Wisconsin. These states showed the limits of Democratic suburban strength on maps drawn by Republicans; they also found Republicans gaining back ground in rural areas, even where they had lost special elections. Earlier this year, Democrats had seized Wisconsin’s 1st state Senate district; they lost it on Tuesday by nine points. They lost ground in rural eastern Ohio, where John Boccieri, a former state senator and congressman, lost the district he used to represent.
Minnesota. The results here mirrored the federal election, with Democrats winning far into the suburban counties that used to be split between the parties, and by margins that won them the state House.
Missouri. Democrats had hoped that without Trump on the ballot, they could gain back ground; they did so by only inches. The party was leading in uncalled races for state House seats in the Kansas and St. Louis suburbs, but it failed to flip some high-profile races with strong challengers; a cousin of former congressman Ike Skelton lost by a landslide in a district that included some of his old territory.
Montana. Democrats did make gains here after years of decline, but only in Democratic strongholds: a Senate seat in Gallatin County, two house seats in Cascade County.
Nevada. No state was stronger for Democrats relative to their 2014 performance; here, the party’s surge in Clark County continued, leading to Senate gains. In the 20th District, one Democrat is within 28 votes of gaining a seat that had gone red by 21 points in 2014.
New Hampshire. Democrats flipped the entire state legislature in their best electoral year since 2012. They did so by flipping four Senate seats, all in increasingly blue areas around Manchester and the seacoast.
New York. Democrats won the state Senate outright by taking eight seats, giving them their biggest majority in decades, by wiping out Republicans in the New York City suburbs.
North Carolina/South Carolina. Democrats made meaningful gains in the North Carolina suburbs, breaking a supermajority; they gained one seat in the Charleston, S.C., suburbs as they picked up the Charleston-area 1st Congressional District.
North Dakota/South Dakota. One of the Democrats’ favorite recruits of the cycle was South Dakota State Sen. Billie Sutton, who ran for governor from a red rural district. Sutton lost his race; Democrats lost his district. North Dakota Democrats gained a Senate seat in the suburbs of Grand Forks.
Oklahoma. Just as they were taking the 5th Congressional District, Democrats made gains in state legislative races in the same area, around Oklahoma City.
Oregon/Washington. Democrats continued to push Republicans into irrelevance in the Pacific Northwest by gaining seats in both houses, making their majority in Oregon into a supermajority. In both cases, that was powered by gains around the biggest cities.
Pennsylvania. Democrats gained a net 15 seats here, at least, while losing one they’d picked up in a special election.
Tennessee. Democrats picked up the 56th state House district, vacated by former state speaker of the house Beth Harwell; a telling sign of how the Nashville suburbs have moved. They gained a seat in suburban Knoxville, too. But they never came close in the ancestral Democratic areas that Democrats had hoped Senate candidate Phil Bredesen could carry.
Texas. The Beto effect was real, pulling down Republicans in seats that had been gerrymandered to elect them in suburban seats until at least the end of this decade. That helped them break a supermajority Republicans seemed to win in the Senate after they had picked up a rural seat in a September special election.
West Virginia. Democrats lost both legislative chambers here in 2014 and have not come close to gaining them back. But they appeared, by Thursday, to have seized state Senate seats that cover Wheeling and Charleston, and state House seats around Morgantown, the least-rural parts of the state.
Wyoming. Republicans gained a rural Senate seat; Democrats were on the verge of flipping one rural state House seat.
If you’re noticing a pattern, it’s that Democrats had a good election night, but with very few dramatic gains in the states. Where they gained, it almost always came in suburbs that had been trending blue in a way Republicans did not expect when the maps were drawn, years before the Trump candidacy and presidency. And as Republicans boasted on Thursday, 10 seats in Trump country that had gone blue in special elections flipped back to Republicans.
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WHAT I’M WATCHING
The vote counts in Arizona, Georgia, and Florida. Democrats have not conceded four of Tuesday’s biggest races; the gubernatorial elections in Georgia and Florida, and the Arizona and Florida races for U.S. Senate.
Republicans have declared victory in all but the Arizona race; Democratic election attorney Marc Elias is working both that and the Florida battle between Gov. Rick Scott (R) and Sen. Bill Nelson (D). In a call with reporters today, and a subsequent run of tweets, Elias predicted that both Nelson and Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D) would be in the Senate next year.
At this point, what the parties and politicians say hardly matters, though — what matters is the vote count. In Arizona, Democrats argue that the outstanding absentee and provisional ballots might add up to a win for Sinema. In Florida, they argue that a combination of uncounted provisional ballots and irregularities in the count so far could overwhelm Scott’s lead, which as of writing is less than 18,000 votes out of more than 8 million cast. Democrats are spending the rest of the day encouraging voters to trace their absentee ballots, some of which have not been reported counted by the state. (The race for governor is not as close as the Senate race, but Democrat Andrew Gillum, who conceded Tuesday night, is calling for all the ballots to be counted.)
Georgia is another case, one where Democrats deeply believe that former secretary of state Brian Kemp — he resigned just today — suppressed turnout to put himself ahead of Democrat Stacey Abrams. In that state, Democrats suggest the presence of enough outstanding ballots to push Kemp’s total below 50 percent, which would trigger a runoff, 26 days from now.
“We’ve got folks on our voter protection team right now, chasing provisional ballots,” Perez said. “They claim there are something like twenty-two or twenty-five thousand provisional ballots still out in Georgia. I’ll be honest with you; I don’t believe them. I think there’s more. The problem is that the fox is guarding the henhouse; the person who wants to be governor is overseeing the integrity of the election.”
Tulsi Gabbard. Jim Rubens, a former Republican state senator in New Hampshire who’s become a post-partisan soothsayer, emailed his supporters to say he had a productive meeting with Gabbard about a potential presidential bid. “Now slotted as a progressive Democrat, but hard to label, I’d call Gabbard a pragmatic, populist, left-libertarian,” he wrote.
Eric Swalwell. He’s reportedly exploring a run for president, after a successful cycle of campaigning for young Democrats in House races. The tension between thirtysomething and fortysomething Democrats, and better-known but elderly Democrats, has come into view very quickly.
EVERYBODY IS WRONG
Where there are elections, there will be takes, and many of those takes will be wrong. Take-writing is, of course, mostly subjective; however, some takes ignore the clear facts about the election, and those are objectively wrong. To handle just two of them:
The Democrats didn’t get much of a wave because they ran on “resistance.” This is the case made by Bret Stephens, which due to the vagaries of election counting, understates the party’s House gains by at least seven and perhaps nine seats. That matters: The Democrats’ gains in 2018 amounted to the biggest swing away from Republicans, in House races, since the post-Watergate election of 1974. Democrats probably won the popular vote by around 7.5 points, about as big as their victory in 2016.
More than that, they made those gains in something close to an ideal scenario for the governing party — 3.7 percent unemployment, lower in many swing states, with a pre-election jobs report suggesting that wage growth finally surpassed inflation. There’s really no explanation for that without the presence of an unpopular president who Democrats urged voters to put a check on. A mistake Stephens makes, which many analysts made all year, is that Democrats “grew more concerned with the question of how much Trump did not pay in taxes than with the question of how much you pay in taxes.” In fact, Democrats ran against the tax law, arguing that it helped the wealthy more than average voters, and that it put entitlements at risk, as part of a comprehensive case for why Trump had to be resisted.
Progressives won where moderates couldn’t. As Alex Seitz-Wald reports, progressive groups badly wanted this to be a story of 2018: not just that they had won primaries, but that they had run ahead of centrist and center-left candidates. The Progressive Change Campaign Committee’s Adam Green told Seitz-Wald that Democrats “saw red-state (Democratic) senators sadly go down to dramatic defeat after hedging on economic populist and racial justice issues” while “progressive senators Sherrod Brown and Tammy Baldwin both won reelection by large margins in Trump states by keeping it real.”
This is specious. First, the losing Senate Democrats did something that PCCC-backed stars in House races did not: They ran ahead of the party’s 2016 margins. Missouri’s Claire McCaskill ran 7.6 points ahead of Hillary Clinton, while Indiana’s Joe Donnelly ran 6.8 points ahead and North Dakota’s Heidi Heitkamp ran 17.4 points ahead. The PCCC’s star candidate, Nebraska’s Kara Eastman, ran just 2.4 points ahead of Clinton in the state’s 2nd Congressional District; Randy “Ironstache” Bryce got the same vote share, 42.3 percent, that Clinton had in his Wisconsin district two years ago. Those numbers are even worse when you consider the spill-off for third parties in 2016; both Republicans who beat Eastman and Bryce ran ahead of Trump’s 2016 numbers in their districts.
In a news release, the PCCC counted down the Democrats who had won in 2018 with liberal agendas; six winners in swing districts, for example, backed “Medicare-for-all.” That’s notable, but many candidates who were attacked as liberals, and won, had prevailed in primaries over even more-liberal candidates. New York’s Antonio Delgado, for example, pushed past some challengers who warned that he was not a true “progressive,” yet in a pre-Tuesday memo, the Working Families Party included Delgado in a list of eight “races the DCCC would never have considered viral.” That wasn’t true, as Democrats had always intended to contest Delgado’s 19th District. What was true? The other seven candidates on the WFP’s list lost, and the progressive-backed challenger there in the 2016 election had lost, too.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) traveled more widely, and to more races, than any sitting senator of either party. His record of endorsements, like everyone’s, was mixed. In Michigan and Colorado, he campaigned with Democratic gubernatorial candidates who led blue waves; in Florida, Georgia, and Maryland, he endorsed and campaigned with three high-profile African American candidates for governor, who lost or appear to be losing.
In interviews this week, Sanders has suggested that Andrew Gillum, Stacey Abrams and Ben Jealous suffered at least in part because of their race. “I think you know there are a lot of white folks out there who are not necessarily racist who felt uncomfortable for the first time in their lives about whether or not they wanted to vote for an African-American,” Sanders told The Daily Beast. “I think next time around, by the way, it will be a lot easier for them to do that.”
In an interview with The Washington Post, Sanders struck a more optimistic tone, describing 2018 as a great year for the progressive movement that he’s tried to build up for two years.
“Hold onto your hat, because the freshman class of the U.S. House is going to be the most progressive class in history,” Sanders said. “There are incoming members who ran on agenda that includes Medicare-for-all, raising the minimum wage, making colleges tuition-free, making the wealthy pay a fair share of taxes. They ran on that, and they won.”
In the wake of the elections, however, some liberal writers, with varying degrees of panic, have asked whether any ideal legislation can be passed if the Senate grows out of reach for Democrats. Sanders had two answers to that. One: The Democratic House could test the bounds of liberal policies by passing bills and seeing how the Senate responded. Two: A president seeking reelection might even want to sign their bills.
“I want to see Republicans in the Senate voting against lowering the Medicare eligibility age from 65 to 55,” said Sanders. “That’d be a more unpopular vote than when they were attempting to repeal the Affordable Care Act. If McConnell and friends want to oppose it, they can try, but you have president who is totally nonideological; he can change his views tomorrow. Would I be totally shocked if this president would sign a bill like that?”
Asked how the results influenced his thinking about whether to run for president, Sanders said they had clarified which states the next Democratic nominee would need to win.
“I think as we look at the next presidential race, it is pretty clear that any half-decent Democrat will win every state Clinton won, and the election will once again come down to 10 or 12 battleground states,” Sanders said. “What I want to see is that we nominate the strongest candidate that we have, one that can defeat Trump, and we’ll have to take a hard look at which candidate will do best once we get to the primaries.”
Sanders suggested that he could be one of those candidates. “I’ve got to be talking to a whole lot of people about it,” he said.
“Election Day in Georgia reveals voters who trust neither their government nor the other party,” by Greg Jaffe and Jenna Johnson
If you want to know why a year when people seemed to lose faith in politics resulted in record high turnout, read this.
“‘Soul crushing’: Trump wave bewilders Florida Democrats,” by Marc Caputo
Florida Democrats remain hopeful that they will flip one or more statewide races after recounts, but that’s worse than they expected to do this year, and that’s heightened the existential dread about the appeal of the president’s politics for a once-sleepy base of rural white voters.
The tumble that put Ruth Bader Ginsberg in the hospital today reminded liberals of yet more reasons for existential dread: The possibility of a conservative judicial system dismantling social programs that Republicans will likely never have the votes (or political capital) to take on. One thing to watch here is whether House Democrats reestablish the ACA’s mandate in their first budget, a move that would create ping-pong with the Senate, but would knock the legs out from the latest ACA lawsuits.
… 19 days until Mississippi’s Senate runoff
… 26 days until Georgia’s runoff for Secretary of State