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Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

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November 13, 2018

Teixeira: Dems Made Midterms Inroads in Rural America

The following article by Ruy Teixeira, author of The Optimistic Leftist and other works of political analysis, is cross-posted from his blog:

Et Tu, Rural Areas?

One week on from the November election, it’s become quite clear that the Democrats had an excellent election–better than it initially appeared on election night. But what of rural areas? The conventional wisdom seems to be that Democrats kicked ass in urban and suburban areas while losing ground in rural America.

Just one problem: It’s not true! While Democrats certainly didn’t “win” rural areas, they didn’t lose ground either. In fact, they gained ground. Consider the following.

1. Yair Ghitza of Catalist has showed that Republican candidates at all levels systematically did worse in rural areas than Trump did in 2016.

2. Researchers at the Atlantic found that Democrats gained more ground (relative to 2016) in pro-Trump manufacturing counties and Obama-Trump counties than they did in majority-minority counties. In fact, Democrats flat-out carried the vote in Obama-Trump counties and were basically back to 2012 levels of support in these counties.

3. Daniel Block on the Washington Monthly site notes that:

“On the whole, Democrats performed better in rural areas during these midterms than in 2016, which helped the party win some of its most consequential victories….

Among Wisconsin counties with fewer than 55,000 residents (a larger number for a much bigger state), Evers lost with 43 percent to Walker’s 55.8 percent. But he would have lost the entire election had he performed as poorly as Clinton, who was defeated in these counties 37.8 percent to 56.5 percent. Matching Clinton’s vote share would have cost him 29,537 votes. If even five percent of these lost votes went to Walker, Evers would have been defeated. If Walker had matched Trump’s 2016 Wisconsin rural showing, he would have won reelection by 2,307 votes.”

So progress was made in rural areas in 2018. Democrats should seek to continue that progress in 2020 and avoid the temptation to write these areas off because that’s the other side’s territory. That didn’t work in 2016 and it won’t work in 2020 either.

Political Strategy Notes

An excerpt from E. J. Dionne, Jr.’s column “What House Democrats need to do” in the Washington Post: “Expanding health coverage, reforming our democracy, restoring upward mobility with well-paying jobs, curbing gun violence and moving to repair our immigration system. Oh, yes, and protecting our constitutional republic from President Trump while rooting out corruption…This should be the agenda of Democrats in the House of Representatives. Already, some pundits are warning that the new majority will “overreach.” But overreach is not the problem for a party that controls only one chamber of Congress…The bigger threat is underachievement. Democrats will squander their victory — their largest gain in House seats since 1974 — if they fail to use their power to show what the alternative to Trumpism looks like…Democrats are also being counseled against becoming the all-investigations-all-the-time party…Committee chairmen should carefully time the inquiries so that scandals don’t push each other aside and thereby fail to penetrate the public consciousness.” The rest of the column merits a thoughtful read by all Democrats.

So how does an African American woman advocate of gun control, Medicaid expansion and other liberal causes get elected in a deep south suburban congressional district that is more than two-thirds white? Daniel Marans and Sarah Ruiz-Grossman explore some answers in their article, “How Lucy McBath Won The Same Georgia District That Jon Ossoff Lost” at HuffPo. Among their observations: “Ossoff’s defeat was not a total loss for area Democrats. His candidacy prompted the creation of a sophisticated Democratic voter turnout operation driven by a base of enthusiastic volunteers that did not go away…The infrastructure was there for McBath, a 58-year-old African-American woman and former Delta Airlines flight attendant, to take advantage of a year later.“…She ran on a platform of tougher gun safety regulations, affordable health care, ensuring women’s reproductive rights and preserving middle-class tax cuts…McBath could point to an ongoing, deep presence in the community. McBath had a compelling personal story…She was first thrust into the national spotlight in 2012 when her teen son, Jordan Davis, was shot dead by a white man at a Florida gas station angry about the volume of the music Davis was playing in his car. Her tragic loss spurred her into activism, as a spokesperson for gun safety group Moms Demand Action, and now into political office…McBath is also a two-time survivor of breast cancer. She invoked her experience when making the case for defending the Affordable Care Act’s protections for people with pre-existing conditions…Notwithstanding Georgia’s pro-gun conservatism, the proliferation of mass shootings has nudged many suburban women with conservative fiscal tendencies to embrace stricter gun laws.” McBath, the daughter of Lucien Holman, a former president of the NAACP’s Illinois state chapter, put together an exceptionally diverse and energetic campaign, more like a social change movement than the average election team.

For a revealing look at the activist army that powered the progressive victories of the 2018 midterm elections, read Micah L. Sifry’s “The Outsider Democrats Who Built the Blue Wave: Grassroots activists have organized a movement stronger than Obama’s, and the midterm elections were just the beginning” at The New Republic. Sifry decribes the ‘wave’ of volunteers, who knocked on 115,000 doors to help first-time Democratic candidate Antonio Delgado secure an upset win against Republican incumbent in NY-19 and adds, “The wave crested in formerly Republican-leaning House districts all over the country, lifting first-time candidates like Abigail Spanberger in Virginia, Mikie Sherrill in New Jersey, and Kendra Horn in Oklahoma, and ultimately delivering the House to Democrats for the first time since 2010…There will be many explanations for these victories, but the sheer size of the volunteerism was clearly a deciding factor. The mobilization was not merely unprecedented for a midterm; it reached levels typically seen only in a presidential year. More important, activists developed new and different approaches to mobilizing the volunteers who were phone banking and knocking on doors this fall…liberal organizing has now spread out to dozens of independent national groups and thousands of local ones, most of them completely new and not directly connected to the party.”

Sifry notes that the Obama campaign’s higly-effective Organizing for America was absorbed into the DNC, which Safry calls “a choice that sapped grassroots energy” and “contributed to its losing 968 state legislative seats over the next eight years” and the 2016 disaster. However, “Into that vacuum came a new cohort of activists. To begin with, older women and younger but more experienced Democratic campaign staffers launched Indivisible. From a Google Doc started by a group of young congressional aides, it spawned 6,000 local chapters (at least two in everycongressional district). The Women’s March prompted the launch of thousands of local huddles. And soon, a long list of new groups emerged to direct campaign knowledge, data, and resources wherever they were most needed…The most notable aspect of Democratic midterm organizing in 2018 was that it operated without any central command. It was more like a swarm than an army, surging to places that traditional Democratic consultants never bothered to go.” Sifry also notes the role of grass-roots fund-raising groups, including ActBlue, Data for Progress and the Movement Voter Project, which multiplied contributions to progressive candidates over previous levels. He cites the work of Mobilize America and the Action Network, which helped produce 2 million pro-Democratic volunteers over the last 18 months of the midterm campaign. Sifry concludess that “That most of these new groups stand outside the main party structures is significant. No politician or campaign operative can control or dismantle them.” With maintenance and care, these groups can thrive and “That can only bode well for 2020.”

In his article, “Tuesday Showed the Drawbacks of Trump’s Electoral Bargain: Important segments of his coalition stood by him, but Democrats made inroads with urban and suburban white voters uncomfortable with his style and values” at The Atlantic, Ronald Brownstein notes that “the defining trend of the night—as throughout the Trump presidency—was the substantial gap between white voters with and without a four-year college education. That gap helps explain both the Democratic suburban gains in the House and the strong GOP performance in the Senate…In both the 2010 and 2014 midterm elections under Obama, House Democrats won only about one-third of non-college whites and about two-fifths of whites with a college degree. In 2010, Democrats ran six points better among college whites than non-college whites; in 2014, the gap was seven points. But in 2016, with Trump on the ballot, the gap roughly doubled to 13 percentage points, as House Republicans improved further with non-college whites and lost ground among college-educated whites…”

Brownstein continues, “On Tuesday, the gap between the two groups expanded further. Democrats carried only 37 percent of white voters without a college education (compared with 61 percent for Republicans). But Democrats won a 53 percent majority of college-educated white voters (compared with 45 percent for Republicans). Tuesday’s Democratic performance among white voters without a college degree improved just slightly from their weak showings in the 2010 and 2014midterms, when they carried only about one-third of them each time. But their showing with college-educated whites on Tuesday represented a big improvement from those two previous midterms, when they carried about two-fifths of them in each election, according to exit polls. This week, Democrats not only carried 59 percent of college-educated white women, an unprecedented number, but reached 47 percent among college-educated white men; they hadn’t reached even 40 percent among those men nationally in any House election since 2008.

Regarding the Texas, Georgia and Florida elections, Brownstein writes, “Conversely, the Democratic performance among college-educated whites in the South—who tend toward more conservative positions than their counterparts elsewhere, particularly on social issues—continued to lag. O’Rourke did capture just over two in five college-educated whites, which was a notable improvement over earlier Democrats in Texas (who have often struggled to win more than 30 percent of those voters), but it wasn’t enough to overcome Cruz’s distinct advantage among non-college whites, who gave him about three-fourths of their votes, according to the exit poll. Abrams, even more strikingly, lost over four-fifths of whites without a college degree, while attracting just a little over one-third of those with one. That was also better than Georgia Democrats had done in the past, but—pending the final ballot counting—not enough to win. The key to Gillum’s loss, a big letdown for Democrats, may have been his inability to win more than about one-third of college-educated white men (even as he won nearly three-fifths of white women with a college degree).

Liz Mair writes In her Daily Beast article, “Don’t Look Now, but the Mountain West Is Turning Blue,” that “Republicans have a problem…on Tuesday they got hammered in the Mountain West…It’s the continuation of a trend that’s been going on for more than a decade…In the next Congress, Arizona will have more Democratic representatives than Republican ones…President Trump flying into Montana to whip up his base didn’t work; Democratic Sen. Jon Tester hung onto his Senate seat (Montana still has a Democratic governor, too, by the way)…Democrats again won the Colorado gubernatorial race (they’ve now had three governorships back-to-back-to-back). Republican Rep. Mike Coffman lost his race so Colorado, too, will have more Democratic congressmen than Republicans as of January 2019…In Nevada, voters will in January have a Democratic governor for the first time in 20 years, and two Democratic senators to boot. Nevada also elected a Democratic Lieutenant Governor and Attorney General. Three out of four of the state’s congressmen next year will be Democrats…New Mexico’s governorship moved back into Democratic hands…In the next Congress, New Mexico will have an entirely Democratic congressional delegation…In Utah, it looks like the Democrat won in the 4th district.”

“There will be at least 42 Latinos in Congress next year, a record,” notes James Hohman at The Daily 202, and “exit polling showed that 11 percent of the electorate nationally this year was Latino — the same percentage as African Americans. That was up from 8 percent in the 2006, 2010 and 2014 midterms…“About 64 percent of Latinos voted for Democratic congressional candidates and 33 percent voted for Republicans.”…Lisa Garcia Bedolla, a political scientist at University of California at Berkeley, estimates that there was a nearly 120 percent increase in absentee and early ballots cast by Latinos in 2018 compared with 2014, based on her analysis of data from the research firm Catalist. Of those, 76 percent came from “strong” Democrats: “In Texas, Latinos requested 365 percent more early and absentee ballots than in 2014,” Bedolla writes. “Florida saw a 129 percent increase. In contrast, in California — which this year had a handful of highly competitive congressional races but no competitive statewide races — early and absentee ballots requested by Latinos still were up almost 50 percent over 2014.”

The Evolution of Southern Democrats Accelerates

After listening to some of the post-midterm back and forth, I occurred to me that not enough attention was being paid to a new twist in a saga I had been following closely for thirty years: the evolution of southern Democrats. So I wrote about it at New York:

On one level, the Democratic Party in the South emerged from the midterm elections of 2018 looking as supine as it generally has in recent years. Democrats lost (unless late ballots overturn the apparent defeat of Bill Nelson) one of their 4 senators in the 11 states of the former Confederacy. They were 0-for-7 in governor’s races (with the same proviso about late ballots in Florida, and possibly in Georgia). They still do not control a single state legislative chamber in the region.

But in scattered U.S. House races, and in certain surprisingly viable statewide candidacies as well, you can see a Democratic revival in the South, and one that is likely more durable in its reliance on ascending rather than declining demographic configurations. Just as importantly, these southern Democrats are for the most part unapologetically left of center, and sometimes outspokenly progressive, and are thus an active element of a national party for the first time since the New Deal. Until very recently, the Democratic constituency of the South was an uneasy coalition of disgruntled, conservative white voters perpetually on the brink of defection, and loyal black voters who felt unappreciated and underrepresented. At different paces in different states, but all throughout the region, a new suburban-minority coalition is emerging. It may never achieve majority status in areas that are too white or too rural to sustain it. But it is showing great promise in enough states to make the South’s political future an open question for the first time in this millennium.

Nearly successful statewide candidates in the South for the most part represented just as much of a new wave. Obviously, Florida and Georgia gubernatorial nominees Andrew Gillum and Stacey Abrams were unlike their Democratic predecessors in almost every respect, most obviously in their race (they were the first African-American gubernatorial nominees in the South since Doug Wilder’s breakthrough candidacy in 1989). Gillum ran as a Bernie-Sanders-style progressive who supported single-payer health care. Abrams was a bit less ideological, but did campaign on her record as the state’s preeminent advocate and organizer for minority voters, and was clearly the most progressive Democratic gubernatorial nominee in Georgia history. Yet Gillum won the highest percentage of the vote of any Democratic candidate for governor of Florida since 1994, and Abrams outstripped any Democratic candidate for governor of Georgia since 1998.

Meanwhile, in Texas, Beto O’Rourke’s emphatically progressive Senate campaign won the highest percentage for any Democratic gubernatorial or Senate candidate since 1990.

After this year’s developments, Georgia or Florida or Texas Democrats are very unlikely to return to the old blue dog formula of running white statewide candidates who cling to the center or center-right on issues while expecting minority voters to play along in order to keep Republicans out of office. Even in states like Alabama and Mississippi, which do not have a plethora of wealthy suburbs with relatively liberal white voters to form coalitions with minority voters, change is in the air. Doug Jones, who won his improbable 2017 Senate race on the wings of supercharged African-American turnout, is well to the left of prior statewide Democratic candidates in Alabama. And African-American former congressman Mike Espy will face appointed Republican senator Cindy Hyde-Smith in a November 27 special election runoff that could provide another test of newfound Democratic strength.

At the substate level, Democratic wins and near-wins in urban-suburban House races will likely become a regular occurrence in the South — as will candidate platforms and messages similar to those of Democrats in the rest of the country. Georgia’s Lucy McBath, who ousted Republican veteran Karen Handel in the same north Atlanta suburban district where Jon Ossoff fell just-short in 2017, is an African-American best known as a national advocate for gun control. That kind of candidacy succeeding, in Newt Gingrich’s old district no less, would have been unimaginable in Georgia until, well, now. Nine of the 13 members of Virginia’s congressional delegation next year will be Democrats, and the most conservative of them could well be Senator Mark Warner.

The transformation of the southern Democratic Party won’t be entirely uniform. In a state like Tennessee, with its relatively low minority population and sizable rural areas, there isn’t much potential statewide for the kind of suburban-minority coalitions we’re seeing elsewhere. It’s not surprising that Democrats there turned to their last statewide office-holder, former governor Phil Bredesen, as a Senate candidate this year – nor that Bredesen ultimately fell short despite all but denying his affiliation with his national party.

There is more than demographics, however, behind the new wave of southern Democrats. Donald Trump’s takeover of the Republican Party has reinforced its most atavistic tendencies, which in the South, as elsewhere, are inhibiting the GOP’s ability to become a stable governing party. Georgia is a state long accustomed to subtly race-tinged conservative politics. But this year’s gubernatorial campaign from Republican Brian Kemp was a throwback to a rawer right-wing era, with his attacks on “outside agitators,”his proud boasts of being “politically incorrect,” and his blatant defiance of voting rights as the state’s chief election officer. Even if southern Democrats move markedly to the left, the region’s Republicans are poorly positioned to move anywhere close to the center.

The 2020 presidential election could provide a very good test of the South’s political future. In much of the recent past, the largely Republican makeup of voters in presidential elections made presidential election years especially difficult for southern Democrats. With both parties beginning to more closely resemble their national leaderships at large, that’s not so much the case anymore. As recently as 2000 and 2004, Republicans won every single electoral vote from the former Confederate states. Virginia has now voted Democratic in three straight presidential elections. Florida went Democratic in 2008 and 2012, and North Carolina was carried by Obama once, in 2008. Virginia should now be considered a reasonably solid blue state; Florida and North Carolina are purple; and Georgia and Texas are most definitely trending in that direction. It’s not at all unimaginable that all these states could go Democratic in 2020 if it’s a good year for Democrats nationally.

At both the presidential level and down-ballot, the days of southern Democrats writing off statewide races and urban-suburban House races is probably over, and with it, the habit of running candidates who spent half their time distancing themselves from their party and its big-ticket causes and constituencies. The fundraising magic of Beto O’Rourke and the get-out-the-vote drives of Stacey Abrams have made their mark, and will be replicated. The South may never be a reliably Democratic region again. But change is not only coming — it’s happening now.


Halpin and Teixeira: Analysis of Who Voted and What It Means for the Future of Democratic Strategy

The following article by John Halpin and Ruy Teixeira, senior fellows at the Center for American Progress, is cross-posted from americanprogress.org:

Americans took to the polls in record numbers in the 2018 midterms, shifting party control of the House of Representatives and sending a clear message of disapproval to President Donald Trump and congressional Republicans. Although the president and his party gained ground in the U.S. Senate, primarily in states Trump won handily, they failed to capitalize on the low unemployment rate or overall positive sentiments about the economy. The signature GOP legislative achievement of the first two years—the $1.5 trillion tax cut that passed last year —failed to boost Republicans’ chances overall and hurt candidates in several seats.

Subsequently, they lost in major suburban and urban districts across the country and also lost ground in some rural areas. The president’s gamble of nationalizing the election around his personality and his administration’s harsh immigration policies ultimately cost Republicans their House majority and failed to persuade voters outside of already conservative or rural counties and states to stick with the GOP. Likewise, health care dominated voters’ minds this year according to both pre-election and Election Day polls, with Democrats benefitting from their commitment to protect and expand Americans’ health care and House Republicans suffering for their repeated attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Democrats are on pace for around a 34-seat gain in the House (outstanding races are still to be called in a few places), with a record number of women candidates winning overall. This is slightly above historical average gains for opposition parties in midterm elections but below the massive 2010 shift of 63 seats during the Obama presidency. Democrats gained seven governors’ seats, including in important presidential battleground states such as Michigan and Wisconsin and flipped six state legislative bodies, with about 330 state legislative seats gained across the country. Ballot initiatives to expand Medicaid won in three red states, while several measures to increase the minimum wage, legalize marijuana, and expand voting rights also emerged victorious. And, although definitive turnout data will not be available for a while, preliminary estimates suggest a massive increase in voter participation, with likely more than 110 million votes cast for the House—far above 2014 levels.

Midterm elections typically unfold on fleeting political terms and local issues that cannot be applied easily to future elections. But, given the highly polarized nature of U.S. politics under President Trump and the partisan divisions in control of the House and Senate and in key states, a few trends should be noted. The first two favor Democrats going into 2020, and the second two favor Republicans.

  • First, President Trump has not expanded his support in any significant manner and his policy agenda has dragged down his popularity, particularly with independents. The president’s disapproval ratings have been higher than his approval ratings for his entire tenure. Strong disapproval of Trump has hovered around 40 percent for the past two years, with less than one-quarter of voters strongly approving of his presidency. This is unlikely to shift, particularly since the president could not improve his numbers even with strong economic indicators. President Trump’s signature policy achievement, the 2017 tax bill, failed to produce gains, and in fact served as a liability for some Republicans, as most Americans concluded that it did little to help them while primarily benefitting corporations and the wealthy. Likewise, Trump’s immigration agenda remains potent among his base supporters, but it is not moving the needle his way in large swaths of suburban and urban America. The repeated attempt to undermine national health care policy remains a significant drag on his support among independents and moderates across the nation. Unless the president changes course toward a more popular national agenda, it is unclear how he plans to both secure and expand his 2016 vote base. Exit polls indicate that Republicans lost significant ground with independents in 2018, relative to Trump’s decent showing among them in 2016.
  • Second, Trump’s standing in the Electoral College is uncertain. Outside of Florida and Ohio, where Republicans appear to have held off an opposition surge this year, Democrats made substantial statewide gains in key states in the 2018 midterms, controlling the governorships of Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin and picking up Obama-Trump districts in the state of Iowa. Trump’s hold on the Electoral College, which was weak in 2016 with only a narrow victory of around 80,000 votes in three states, is therefore tenuous—at best. Democrats only need to add Pennsylvania and Michigan back to their column plus either Wisconsin or Iowa to win in 2020. This assumes Florida and Ohio remain for Trump and no changes occur in emerging battlegrounds such as North Carolina, Arizona, or Georgia, neither of which are given.
  • Third, Democrats have demographic and geographic challenges in relation to both the Senate and some key Electoral College states. Despite advantages that emerged in the 2018 midterms and overall favorable demographic trends, the Democratic Party base of support is still shaky in terms of potential turnout and support rates going into 2020, relative to the geographic structure of the Electoral College and the Senate. Youth turnout and turnout from voters of color looks very strong for 2018, but even minor dips in key Electoral College states can shift the terrain toward Trump. Likewise, the concentration of Democratic support in metropolitan areas diffuses overall demographic advantages and increases the chances that large turnout and support from Trump’s base, primarily white noncollege-educated voters in more rural and working class states, can once again lead to a narrow victory.
  • Fourth, Democrats need to develop a strong and popular vision to counter Trump’s nationalist message. Despite Trump’s manifest political deficiencies, he does benefit from very strong support and fervent backing from most Republicans. In contrast, the Democrats successful, mostly nonideological “big tent” strategy for 2018 will not hold for 2020. In order to ensure strong Democratic base turnout, encourage new voters, and persuade Obama-Trump and more white noncollege voters to return to the party, Democrats will need a very clear and compelling vision that convinces voters that they are on their side on economics and social policy and are willing to make significant changes to a political system that is viewed as corrupt and often unresponsive to voter needs.

With this overall context, here is a concise overview of what we know so far about who voted and how they voted in 2018 and what it may mean going forward.

Who voted in 2018?

Perhaps the shortest answer to this question is “everyone.” This was an exceptionally high turnout for a midterm election. It would therefore be surprising if the turnout of most demographic groups did not go up. However, that does not mean that the share of voters attributable to these various groups necessarily went up. That would only be true if turnout of a given group went up more than the average among eligible voters and/or if the eligible voter share of a given group went up.

With that in mind, some patterns can provisionally be seen in the results currently available. We emphasize provisional since the exit polls are typically an unreliable guide to turnout patterns and need to be supplemented with other survey data and modeling that integrates actual election returns. Those supplementary resources are not yet available.

The National Election Pool (NEP) exit polls, compiled by Edison Research for a consortium of news organizations, indicate that the share of white voters fell from 75 percent in 2014 to 72 percent this election. Note that this does not necessarily tell us much about the turnout of white voters, since some of this declining vote share (if real) was attributable to the declining white share of eligible voters.

The same could be said about the rising share of nonwhite (black, Hispanic, Asian, and other race) voters, which increased from 25 percent in 2014 to 28 percent in the 2018 NEP exit polls. Some of this increased vote share, if real, was due to the increasing nonwhite share of eligible voters, rather than unusually high nonwhite turnout.

Within the broad group of nonwhite voters, these exit polls indicate that Hispanic vote share went up from 8 percent in 2014 to 11 percent in 2018, while black vote share declined slightly from 12 to 11 percent over the same time period. (The AP-NORC VoteCast voter survey, which is new and has a different methodology than the NEP exit polls, reports the Hispanic share as 9 percent and the black share at 12 percent; since the survey is new, there are no comparisons available to 2014.)

Within the overall group of white voters, it has become important to look at education divisions. However, while it seems likely that both white college graduate and white noncollege voters increased their turnout levels this election, it is impossible to say how much their vote shares really changed. Because the NEP exit polls changed their methodology around education, they now show a much more realistic distribution of voters between white college and white noncollege: 31 percent white college and 41 percent white noncollege. But this methodology change invalidates any comparison to their previous exit poll voter shares among this demographic.

Voter share among 18- to 29-year-olds remained stable at 13 percent between the 2014 and 2018 elections, according to these exit polls. This implies that young voter turnout did indeed go up in this election but by no more than the average turnout increase.

How did they vote?

The most interesting changes in this election, in comparison to 2014, took place in the realm of voter preference. As we might expect, there were big shifts toward the Democrats among many voter groups, given that the overall House popular vote shifted from +6 Republican in 2014 to the current estimate of +7 for the Democrats this election.

Notably, women went heavily for Democrats, with a +19 margin in the NEP exit polls, while Republicans had a +4 margin among men. Comparable figures for 2014 were +4 for Democrats among women and +16 for Republicans among men. The gender gap is alive and well.

Turning to the white vote, these exit polls indicate that Democrats lost the white congressional vote by 10 points this election, a substantial improvement over their 22-point loss in 2014. Among nonwhites, Democrats improved their margin among Hispanics from +26 to +40 across the two elections, from +79 to +81 among blacks overall (with black women at +85 in 2018), and from a mere +1 among Asians to +54 this election. Again, we await further data to evaluate these changes, but this is the story told by the NEP exit polls.

While possibly affected by changes in methodology, these exit polls indicate a very strong pro-Democratic shift among white college voters, improving from a 16-point deficit in 2014 to an 8-point advantage in this election. Democratic performance also improved among white noncollege voters but only modestly, moving from a 30-point deficit in 2014 to 24 points in 2018. Other data indicate that Democrats did particularly poorly among white noncollege voters in the South.

White college women were particularly good for the Democrats, supporting their candidates by a 20-point margin; white college men gave Republicans a 4-point advantage. White noncollege men were the worst for the Democrats—they lost this group by a whopping 34 points. Democrats did better among white noncollege women, losing them by a comparatively modest 14 points.

Young voters may not have increased their share of voters but, according to the NEP exit polls, they were very pro-Democratic this year, increasing their support for Democratic candidates from +11 in 2014 to +35 this year. Notably, the 18- to 24-year-old group, which now includes a healthy share of post-Millennials—the pro-Democratic Millennials’ successor generation—actually voted more Democratic (+37) than the 25- to 29-year-old group (+33).

What does this mean for 2020?

America remains a deeply divided nation in its politics and partisan preferences. The 2018 midterms clearly did not settle these divisions. If anything, it appears to have solidified them. Republicans under Trump maintain a strong hold on white noncollege voters in more rural and exurban counties and states across the country. However, they are rapidly losing support among college educated whites in many suburban and metropolitan areas and face particular challenges with women and voters of color.

Democrats, on the other hand, have broader but less intense support that can manifest itself in strong majorities with the right leadership, as in 2008 and 2012 under former President Barack Obama, or fall just short when facing intense partisan support from Trump and his base. Democrats lack both intense bases of support and the ability to reach into voting blocs that are deeply upset with the political status quo. These challenges may be amplified by Trump’s geographic advantages in some key Electoral College states, as seen in 2016.

President Trump appears committed to his strategy of base mobilization built on maximizing conflict on cultural and racial grounds. If he wants to succeed in 2020, he will need to broaden his outreach, adopt a more accommodating style, and focus on the economy more or else risk serious blowback across his narrow Electoral College pathway. Democrats, in turn, must quickly solidify an inclusive and forward-looking vision and agenda that offers voters turned off by Trump’s style, corruption, and ethno-nationalism a real reason to vote for their party. They cannot afford to remain in constant locked-horn battle with Trump on his terms and must stay focused on building consensus behind principled and pragmatic progressive policies on jobs, wages, health care, and democratic participation.

Whichever side figures out how to both maximize its partisan advantages and make inroads with voters who do not fit their ideological profile will most likely emerge victorious in 2020.

Were the Midterms Just About Mobilizing Pro-Democratic Groups? Maybe Not, According to the Exit Polls

I was staring at the 2018 and 2014 exit polls yesterday, for signs of a different electorate showing up this year, and was surprised at what I saw, as I explained at New York.

If you heard it once, you probably heard it a hundred times: the 2018 midterm elections, and perhaps all midterm elections, were “all about turnout.” With the electorate polarized down to its every molecule, the winning equation was simply to identify demographic groups that were in or trending towards one’s own side, then nag and scare and excite and anger and knock and drag them to the polls.

If “base mobilization” was in fact all that mattered, then it would be logical to expect that the shape of the 2018 electorate would be dramatically different from that of the 2014 midterms, in which Republicans had a very solid performance, gaining 13 House seats, 9 Senate seats, and 2 governorships.

But a comparison of exit polls, the best preliminary indicator we have of the shape of the 2014 and 2018 electorates, doesn’t show as much change as you might expect. Yes, the 2018 electorate was much bigger than 2014’s: an estimated 114 million people voted this year, as opposed to 83 million four years ago. But the shape of this bigger electorate is familiar, according to the Edison Research exit polls for both midterms.

The white makeup of the electorate was 75 percent in 2014 and 72 percent this year, though the modest difference is mostly attributable to demographic change rather than some sort of voter mobilization effort. African-Americans formed 11 percent of the electorate in 2014 and 12 percent in 2018, another modest change. Latinos are a rapidly rising share of the population, so it’s not too surprising that they grew from 8 percent to 11 percent (they were only 9 percent, by the way, in a separate NORC exit poll).

How about that most notorious category of voter, the non-college educated white voter (a.k.a. the white working-class voter)? Its membership constituted 36 percent of the electorate in 2014 and 41 percent in 2018. That’s not very consistent with a demography-driven Democratic Wave, is it? So is gender turnout a factor? Did women show up in droves to punish Trump and the GOP? Well, yeah, women were up a tick (from 51 percent to 52 percent) as a percentage of the electorate. But white women, supposedly super-mobilized, actually dropped from constituting 38 percent of all voters in 2014 to 37 percent this year.

One difference that might look significant is that the percentage of voters identifying as “white evangelical or born-again Christian” dropped from 26 percent of the electorate to 22 percent. But much of that is simply owing to the general relative decline in the size of the white population, compounded by the erosion of membership that is now hitting conservative Protestant denominations just like their more liberal counterparts. It doesn’t mean Republicans didn’t do as good a job herding the Evangelical flocks to the polls as they have in the past.

So if the electorate isn’t all that different in its component parts than it was four years ago, what did change? It’s hard to say definitively, since it’s always possible that one party or the other did better at turning out their particular share of various demographic groups than the other. But it looks like public opinion changed, with or without partisan efforts to sway it.

The example that jumps off the page in reading the exits is voters over 65. Republicans won them 57-41 in 2014, but only 50-48 in 2018. That’s about the same margin as in 2006, the last Democratic “wave” election, before the tea party movement-driven realignment of the electorate made “old” all but synonymous with “Republican.” White college graduates shifted from 57-41 Republican in 2014 to 53-45 Democratic this year. By contrast, white voters without a college degree changed marginally, from 64-34 Republican to 61-37. White women didn’t trend as massively Democratic in 2018 as some of the anecdotal evidence suggested, but did go from 56-42 Republican to 49-49 this year. The 2014 exits didn’t provide a breakdown by race, gender, and education-level, but given the relatively low change in the vote of non-college educated white voters generally, you can figure this year’s 59-39 Democratic margin among college-educated white women was a pretty big shift.

Yes, the exit polls are quite fallible, as the evidence of the undercounting of white non-college educated voters in the 2016 exit polls shows. But if the change of partisan outcome between 2014 and 2018 was strictly a matter of one mobilization machine outperforming another, it would show up pretty dramatically in the numbers.

It’s not fashionable to say it, but perhaps persuasion by candidates and campaigns had a bit more to do with the Democratic surge in 2018 than we might otherwise suspect. And there’s a good chance that objective reality did, as well: the experience of having Donald Trump as president for two years, with a supine Republican Party doing his bidding. It’s worth pondering as 2020 approaches.

Political Strategy Notes – Election Update Edition

FiveThirtyEight’s Nathaniel Rakich provides an update on “The 16 Races That Are Still Too Close To Call,” which notes “As things stand right now, Republicans have picked up two seats in the Senate, but that net gain could be anywhere from zero to three when the races in Arizona, Florida and Mississippi get resolved…Of the 12 unresolved House races, Democrats lead or look like they’re in good position in nine of them…the gubernatorial race in Georgia remains uncalled — not because Democratic former state House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams has a chance at taking the lead, but because Republican Secretary of State Brian Kemp needs to win at least 50 percent plus one vote in order to avoid a rematch with Abrams in a Dec. 4 runoff.” It looks like we can add the Florida Governor’s race to this list, now that additional votes have Democrat Andrew Gillum approaching recount range.

Among the many revealing observations from Ed Kilgore’s “The 2018 Electorate Wasn’t All That Different. It Just Voted Differently” at New York Magazine: “The example that jumps off the page in reading the exits is voters over 65. Republicans won them 57-41 in 2014, but only 50-48 in 2018. That’s about the same margin as in 2006, the last Democratic “wave” election, before the tea party movement-driven realignment of the electorate made “old” all but synonymous with “Republican.” White college graduates shifted from 57-41 Republican in 2014 to 53-45 Democratic this year. By contrast, white voters without a college degree changed marginally, from 64-34 Republican to 61-37. White women didn’t trend as massively Democratic in 2018 as some of the anecdotal evidence suggested, but did go from 56-42 Republican to 49-49 this year. The 2014 exits didn’t provide a breakdown by race, gender, and education-level, but given the relatively low change in the vote of non-college educated white voters generally, you can figure this year’s 59-39 Democratic margin among college-educated white women was a pretty big shift.”

While at New York, also check out Kilgore’s three “All the Key Results” posts on the Senate, House and Governors races, which provide some background nuggets for individual races, posted as the stories broke. Among the upsets of 2018, Kilgore notes of Democrat Kendra Horne’s ‘shocker’ victory in OK-5 over incumbent Republican Steve Russell that “The race in this Oklahoma City-based district that Trump carried by double-digits was rated Likely Republican by the Cook Political Report.” For Max Rose’s NY-11 upset of Republican incumbent Dan Donovan on Staten Island, Kilgore writes “Pollsters figured that the former district attorney and Staten Island borough president would be able to beat back a “blue wave” in a district that went for Trump by nine points in 2016. But army veteran Max Rose rode Democratic mobilization (and, possibly, gentrification-induced shifts in the district’s demography) to a narrow win.”

Ruy Teixeira and John Halpin roll out the demographic breakdown of the vote at The Center for American Progress web page, noting that “the overall House popular vote shifted from +6 Republican in 2014 to the current estimate of +7 for the Democrats this election…Notably, women went heavily for Democrats, with a +19 margin in the NEP exit polls, while Republicans had a +4 margin among men. Comparable figures for 2014 were +4 for Democrats among women and +16 for Republicans among men. The gender gap is alive and well…Turning to the white vote, these exit polls indicate that Democrats lost the white congressional vote by 10 points this election, a substantial improvement over their 22-point loss in 2014. Among nonwhites, Democrats improved their margin among Hispanics from +26 to +40 across the two elections, from +79 to +81 among blacks overall (with black women at +85 in 2018), and from a mere +1 among Asians to +54 this election. Again, we await further data to evaluate these changes, but this is the story told by the NEP exit polls…While possibly affected by changes in methodology, these exit polls indicate a very strong pro-Democratic shift among white college voters, improving from a 16-point deficit in 2014 to an 8-point advantage in this election. Democratic performance also improved among white noncollege voters but only modestly, moving from a 30-point deficit in 2014 to 24 points in 2018. Other data indicate that Democrats did particularly poorly among white noncollege voters in the South…White college women were particularly good for the Democrats, supporting their candidates by a 20-point margin; white college men gave Republicans a 4-point advantage. White noncollege men were the worst for the Democrats—they lost this group by a whopping 34 points. Democrats did better among white noncollege women, losing them by a comparatively modest 14 points…Young voters may not have increased their share of voters but, according to the NEP exit polls, they were very pro-Democratic this year, increasing their support for Democratic candidates from +11 in 2014 to +35 this year. Notably, the 18- to 24-year-old group, which now includes a healthy share of post-Millennials—the pro-Democratic Millennials’ successor generation—actually voted more Democratic (+37) than the 25- to 29-year-old group (+33).”

At Vox, Ella Nilsen argues that “Progressive Democrats running in competitive House districts had a bad night on Tuesday: Progressive energy helped moderate Democrats win on election night. But progressive candidates weren’t so lucky.” As Nilsen eplains, “Moderate Democratic candidates were the big winners of swing congressional districts in the 2018 midterm elections, flipping most of the 28 key House districts from Republicans’ control and winning key gubernatorial races, including Michigan, Wisconsin, Kansas, and Illinois. Democrats’ net gain in the House was 26 seats…Progressive candidates flipped few of those seats. For the most part, the biggest upsets for the left occurred during the summer primaries; most of those districts were already blue and primed to elect Democrats. Many of the left-wing candidates who tested the theory of turning out their base, even in more conservative districts, lost on election night.” However, Nilsen ads, “Even with these losses, election night wasn’t a total disaster for progressives; in the House, the Congressional Progressive Caucus will likely get high-profile new members. Some of the notable wins include: Ayanna Pressley in Massachusetts’s Seventh Congressional District; Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in New York’s 14th Congressional District; Deb Haaland in New Mexico’s First Congressional District; Rashida Tlaib in Michigan’s 13th Congressional District; Ilhan Omar in Minnesota’s Fifth Congressional District…A bright spot for progressives was Democrat Katie Hill defeating Republican Rep. Steve Knight in California’s 25th Congressional District (the race was close, but Knight conceded on Wednesday afternoon). Hill is in favor of Medicare-for-all, a key progressive litmus test.” Looks like both progressive and moderate Dems have ample bragging points.

Also at Vox, Sean Illing has an instructive interview with David Daley, author of Ratf**ked: The True Story Behind the Secret Plan to Steal America’s Democracy, a 2016 book about the GOP’s REDMAP strategy, which gerrymandered House districts across the nation. “What the Republicans created, Daley writes, was a firewall against the popular will of voters by carving out districts that systematically favor the GOP and neutralize support for Democratic candidates. What’s more, district lines are only drawn once a decade, in conjunction with the census, so there aren’t many opportunities to reverse them. (The next census is in 2020 and the following one will be in 2030.)..One of the big questions heading into the 2018 midterm election was whether the Democrats would gain enough power — particularly in state legislatures — to redraw some of these district lines and level the playing field. As Vox’s Andrew Prokop recently explained, Democrats have a plan to win the redistricting game, but much of it turns on winning elections.”

In the interview Daley explains, further, “What’s important to understand is that flipping the House doesn’t do anything to change who draws the maps after the 2020 census. That process, in most states, is run by state legislatures and governors. What the Democrats needed to do last night was win themselves back seats at the table for a redistricting after 2020, seats that they simply did not have in 2010…They won a handful of those seats. They appear to have won the governorship in Wisconsin, which will give Democrats a seat at the table in a state where Republicans have been able to win super-majorities in the state legislature even in years when Democrats won 175,000 more votes statewide…Democrats also won the governorship in Michigan, which is one of the key states. Michigan, however, also passed a redistricting reform ballot initiative on Tuesday night, so that the process there will be conducted by an independent commission for the first time, which is great news for reform and competition…Democrats simply got wiped out in Ohio. There were three key races on the ballot that would have given them seats at the table on the redistricting commission, and that’s the governor’s race, the secretary of state, and the state auditor, and not a single one of them even turned out to be close…What we know is that when one side has complete control of the process, the lines always end up more extreme. When both sides have a seat at the table, you end up with some semblance of a compromise. It’s not always perfect, but the maps tend to be at least slightly more representative of the state when both sides have seats at the table.”

In her NYT op-ed, “Democrats’ Biggest Wins Are in Statehouses: Forget Congress. State legislatures are where real progressive action is most likely to happen,” Bryce Covert writes “Democrats made strides in a number of statehouses. They seized control of seven legislative chambers, flipping the State Senates in Colorado, Maine, and New York; the House in Minnesota; and both chambers in New Hampshire. Connecticut’s Senate, previously evenly split, is now held by Democrats. They broke Republican supermajorities in Michigan and Pennsylvania’s Senates and both chambers in North Carolina…Democrats also flipped seven governorships on Tuesday. They now completely control all three statehouse branches in 13 states and Washington, D.C., compared to the seven statehouses where they held trifecta control before Election Day…These victories arguably hold the same, if not more, heft than the inroads Democrats made in Congress. At the federal level, legislative achievements have ground to nearly a complete halt in recent years…They seized control of seven legislative chambers, flipping the State Senates in Colorado, Maine, and New York; the House in Minnesota; and both chambers in New Hampshire. Connecticut’s Senate, previously evenly split, is now held by Democrats. They broke Republican supermajorities in Michigan and Pennsylvania’s Senates and both chambers in North Carolina…Democrats also flipped seven governorships on Tuesday. They now completely control all three statehouse branches in 13 states and Washington, D.C., compared to the seven statehouses where they held trifecta control before Election Day.”

Also at FiveThirtyEight, Amelia Thomson-Deveaux has some good news about coming improvements in voter access in several states: “In addition to Florida’s constitutional amendmentrestoring voting rights to many felons, several measures that could make it easier to vote were successful: Automatic voter registration passed in Nevada and Michigan, where people applying for driver’s license will now be automatically registered to vote, unless they affirmatively opt out…Michigan voters also approved several other sweeping changes to their election laws, adding same-day voter registration, making it easier to request absentee ballots, and reinstating the straight-ticket voting option that was nixed by the Republican legislature a few years ago…Maryland voters approved same-day registration.” Unfortunately, notes Thomson-Deveaux, North Carolina and Arkansas tightened up voter i.d. requirements.

Where Dems Should Go From Here

In his Washington Post op-ed, “The first five things the Democrats should do with their House majority,” Ronald A. Klain writes:

Let’s start with where the new majority should not start: investigations, accusatory hearings or impeachment proceedings. However tempting it might be for freshly empowered congressional Columbos , not a single subpoena should fly in the first 100 days.

Not, of course, because there is a shortage of things to investigate — just the opposite. The Trump administration has been the most corrupt since Ulysses S. Grant was in the White House. The administration has flouted the constitutional limit on taking moneyfrom foreigners and flagrantly disregarded the rule of law. The transgressions merit serious inquiry and long overdue accountability. Voters chose a Democratic House, in part, to impose missing checks on Trump’s excesses and to get to the bottom of the many questions raised in the past two years.

Klain argues that “Nonetheless, a Democratic majority charging out of the gate with investigative hearings would be making a mistake, for a number of reasons,” among them the fact that a good investigation takes time, loud, reckless hearings could muddle up the perception of Mueller’s nonpartisan investigation and Dems should avoid being branded as a party more concerned with investigation than needed legislative reforms.

All good points, especially the latter one. When an election is complete, the public wants to move on and expects the majority party to take the lead in securing needed legislative reforms. With House and Senate control divided between the two parties, that’s a highly problematic challenge, even more so with a Republican President. But Democrats have to do their best, or be perceived as endlessly campaigning instead of working for real change.

But let’s not forget that Americans also want clean government, and they deserve a look at Trump’s hidden tax returns. It’s not a matter of “if” his tax returns should be revealed; it’s more about when. But Dems should take care not to be perceived ‘out of the gate’ as shirking their responsibility to propose and pass needed legislative reforms.

Klain goes on to propose a credible legislative agenda, incuding raising the minimum wage, strengthening the Affordabe Care Act, restoring the Voting Rights Act and other measures to protect voting rights, infrastucture initiatives and immigration reform. Later, urges Klain, for the investigations.

Dems experienced a number of bitter disappointments in marquee races, including the defeats of Beto O’Rourke’s Senate bid in Texas, Andrew Gillum’s race for Governor of Florida and Amy McGrath’s campaign for a House seat in Kentucky.

However, Democrat Tony Evers narrowly won a marquee governor’s race over Scott Walker in Wisconsin. Democrat Stacy Abrams may make it to a run-off in the Georgia governor’s race, and Lucy McBath holds a narrow lead in the GA-6 contest, one of the more interesting, yet under-reported House contests, featuring an African-American advocate of gun control nearing an upset in a predominantly white southern district. Many Dems will also cheer Laura Kelly’s defeat of the GOP’s chief voter suppression advocate Kris Kobach for Governor of Kansas and Harley Rouda’s lead over putinista Dana Rohrabacher in CA-48.

Looking toward 2020, Democrats are expecting a bumper crop of presidential candidates, including some fresh faces. California Governor-elect Gavin Newsome will get lots of presidential buzz, and  Sherrod Brown’s Ohio victory was the very first MSNBC call for the Senate.

Democrats certainly cemented their brand as the party that merits the support of women, with a record number of women Democrats who will take office in the new congress, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who calmly weathered the GOP’s hysterical attacks with impressive grace and strategic smarts.

All in all, Democrats ran an extremely good campaign in 2018, with no major gaffes or blunders. There is still plenty of room for improvement — Dems have a lot of hard work ahead in terms of securing better performance in working-class communities, rural, urban and suburban. Here’s hoping the sound strategy that won the House will help Dems win the Senate and White House, just two short years from now.

Teixeira: Election Eve Forecasts and Assessments: Democratic Prospects Still Look Very Good

The following article by Ruy Teixeira, author of The Optimistic Leftist and other works of political analysis, is cross-posted from his blog:

Democratic supporters are as nervous as a long-tailed cat in room full of rocking chairs! (I’m sure some of you saw the hilarious SNL skit on Democrats’ lack of confidence.) Besides the intrinsic uncertainty of the day before an election, no doubt nerves are fraying due to some prominent media stories suggesting Democratic chances may be slipping.

These stories mostly seem to be based on the idea that a lot of races are still close and, if an unexpected number don’t go the Democrats’ way, it might be a disappointing evening for the party. Well, true enough. But I think the preponderance of evidence still points to a very good night for the Democrats. (FWIW, 538 now has the Democrats’ House-flipping probability at 88 percent.)

Here are three excellent forecasts/assessments that support this view and provide a lot of very useful information.

1. Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball released their final 2018 picks. They see Democrats taking the House with an estimated 34 seat pickup (interestingly, this is exactly the average of the quantitative model-based estimates I previously covered). They also see the Democrats doing very well in governors’ races.

House: “Our ratings changes leave 229 seats at least leaning to the Democrats and 206 at least leaning to the Republicans, so we are expecting the Democrats to pick up more than 30 seats (our precise ratings now show Democrats netting 34 seats in the House, 11 more than the 23 they need). We have long cautioned against assuming the House was a done deal for the Democrats, and we don’t think readers should be stunned if things go haywire for Democrats tomorrow night. That said, it may be just as likely — or even more likely — that we’re understating the Democrats in the House. Many of our sources on both sides seemed to think the Democratic tally would be more like +35 to 40 (or potentially even higher) when we checked in with them over the weekend.”

Senate: “Because of the bad map Democrats faced this year, the GOP picking up seats always seemed like a possibility, even a strong possibility. Our final ratings reaffirm this potential; we have 52 Senate seats at least leaning to the Republicans, and 48 at least leaning to the Democrats. If that happened, the GOP would net a seat.

The potential GOP gain would come from places that make sense: We have them favored in three of the five strongly Republican states that have Democratic senators running for reelection: Indiana, Missouri, and North Dakota. Meanwhile the two Republican-held seats where we now favor Democrats, Arizona and Nevada, are much more competitive states at the presidential level and thus are susceptible to Democratic takeovers in a challenging environment for Republicans.

The reasonable range of outcomes in the Senate still seems fairly wide, with a bigger GOP gain possible, or no gain at all or even a Democratic gain. The Democrats still essentially have no path to the majority without winning one of these three states: North Dakota, Tennessee, and Texas, and the Republicans retain what appear to be edges in all three.”

Governors: “Right now, the Republicans hold 33 governorships, the Democrats just 16, and an independent, Bill Walker holds Alaska. Our ratings suggest the Democrats could net 10 governorships, while the GOP could lose nine (we favor Republicans to pick up Alaska, which throws off the net change statistic a little bit). That does not include Georgia, where we are maintaining a unique “Toss-up/Leans Runoff” rating in anticipation of a possible runoff on Dec. 4 if neither major party candidate gets a majority. If the runoff happens, just think about how much money former state House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams (D) might raise from the Democrats’ hyper-active small donor network. This is something that concerns Republicans if there’s a runoff.

More than half of the Democratic pickups could come in the Midwest. While we think the GOP could claw back one or two of these states — Iowa, Kansas, and Wisconsin are the picks we’re the least confident in – we thought the data and the year’s overall trends pointed to the Democrats in each of these states individually. Besides the national environment, there may just be a fatigue with eight years of conservative GOP rule in places like Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin, particularly in a time of conservative governance in Washington. The public is idiosyncratic and often wants what it doesn’t have; the same dynamic helped Trump win many states in the Midwest after eight years of a liberal Democratic president.”

2. Analyst Henry Olsen published his midterm memo on the National Review site. Olsen is one of the most astute handicappers on the conservative side and he does not see a good might ahead for his side. Worth reading in its entirety though YMMV on his encomium to Ronald Reagan at the end.

“Tomorrow the RINOs will take their revenge and Republicans are going to take a beating in the House and the governorships.

Conservatives love animals, but there is one species they have long wanted to make extinct: the RINO. Not the horned African rhino, mind you, but rather the hoity-toity political RINO — Republicans in Name Only. Movement types have long been enraged by RINOs’ cool attitude toward tax cutting and social conservatism and their willingness to cooperate with, and occasionally vote for, Democrats. Hunting RINO officeholders during primary season has been the Club for Growth’s primary mission for years, and together with activist muscle, the group has successfully pushed the party to the right….

Tuesday…is going to be the RINOs’ revenge. Romney-loving RINOs are coming out of their preserves with fire in their hearts and a gleam in their eyes. They are decked out in hunting gear of their own, and their prey is the Trump-backing, change-seeking GOP. They might not be able to win primaries anymore, but in league with their new friends, the Democrats, they are eager to take down some big game of their own. And they will.

The new Democrat–RINO alliance is going to retake the House, sweep the GOP out of governor’s mansions in most purple states, and end the careers of hundreds of suburban state legislators. In the Senate, it will most likely hold Republicans to a one- or two-seat gain despite an incredibly favorable map — and may even win the Democrats a seat. Come Wednesday, the RINOs will mount their trophies on their walls and resolve to continue the hunt until the big game is caught: the orange-plumed woodpecker from Queens.

Senate Breakdown

• 52 Republicans, 48 Democrats (including two independents who caucus with the Democrats).

• States switching to the Democrats: NV, AZ.

• States switching to the Republicans: ND, MO, IN.

House Breakdown

• 209 Republicans, 226 Democrats. This is a gain of 32 seats for the Democrats; a plausible range is that they will gain 25 to 40. Anywhere in that range, Republicans will lose control of the chamber…..

Governors Breakdown

• 25 Republicans, 25 Democrats. This is a gain of nine governorships for the Democrats.

• States switching to the Democrats: FL, OH, NV, MI, NM, ME, IL, WI, IA.

• State switching to the Republicans (from an independent): AK.”

3. Perry Bacon, Jr. has an very detailed rundown on all the competitive governors’ races on 538. A lot of great data and tables in this article. Again, this analyst sees big gains for the Democrats in governorships.

“The big story about the 36 governors races this year is that Democrats are very likely to win control of several governorships from Republicans — and the GOP may not pick up any from Democrats. Indeed, it’s almost certain that more Americans will have a Democratic governor than a Republican governor in 2019. According to FiveThirtyEight’s “Classic” forecast,1 195 million Americans will have a Democratic governor after the 2018 elections, compared to 134 million with a Republican one. Democrats are forecasted to control 24 states, on average; Republicans to control 26. (Currently, 33 states have Republican governors, 16 states have Democratic governors and one (Alaska) an independent.)

If the election goes as expected, the GOP’s grip on policy at the state level is likely to be severely weakened. According to Ballotpedia, about 48 percent of Americans currently live in states where Republicans have total control of the state government,2 compared to 21 percent where Democrats have full control. (The rest live under divided government at the state level.) If things go according to our governors’ forecast, the Republican number will decline to about 32 percent and the Democratic number will increase to about 26 percent — and that’s not even considering expected gains by Democrats in state legislatures.”

All for now. Next stop: analysis of actual results!

Dionne: A Bold Bet on a Very Good Outcome for Dems

With one notable exception, a cautious tone about today’s midterm outcome pervades political reporting at The New York Times and Washington Post. In his syndicated column “Why Democrats will do well on Election Day,” E. J. Dionne, Jr. takes a more optimistic view:

In House races, a 30-to-35-seat Democratic pickup is reasonable and may not even be the upper limit.

The Dems will grab a bushel of governor’s races, which I grant you is a vague prediction, but it’s intended to convey a very good night. To be more specific, at least three out of the four key blue-collar Trump states (Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin) will go Democratic. I strongly suspect that Andrew Gillum will win Florida and Stacey Abrams will come in first in Georgia, though I don’t know if she will be able to avoid a runoff.

Noting that “there is a habit this year to bend over backward to assume that Trump has some kind of magic,” Dionne nonetheless sees a hopeful possibility for Democrats even in the Senate outcome: “And while the Senate remains a long shot for the Democrats, their chances of the inside straight they need to take the majority are not as distant as many think…Now why would someone want to go out on a limb like this when there is no need to? I have four reasons”:

…Yes, gerrymandering may hold down Democratic gains and make a lot of races close. But virtually all of the evidence we have from the elections that have been held since Trump’s victory — the special elections and regularly scheduled state and local contests in 2017 — is of a rather hard swing away from the Republicans. Mobilization on the Democratic side has been far greater than among Republicans, and primary turnouts, with only a few exceptions, have favored the Democrats…Democratic campaigns have been blessed with a volunteer force the size of which is unlike anything that has been seen since Barack Obama’s first race in 2008. And strong disapprovers of Trump have consistently outnumbered strong approvers by large margins — 43 percent to 28 percent in the pre-election Washington Post/ABC News poll, for example. This is another sign of intensity on the Democratic side.

Second, I believe Trump’s closing “argument,” focused on the “caravan” and his outlandish (and, to put it mildly, racially tinged) fearmongering, has hurt Republicans in the past week. Yes, it just might help a bit in a couple of Senate races in very pro-Trump states, but I am not even sure of that. What I know is that this is the last thing that will help Republicans among swing voters, moderates and especially women in the House races that are taking place on terrain less friendly to Trump…In the swing districts, moderate voters have been reminded of what they really can’t stand about Trump while liberals have been given another reason, if they needed one, to turn out to vote.

Third, when careful analysts such as Charlie Cook have changed their ratings on races over the past week or so, most of the movement has been in the Democrats’ direction. No, please don’t implicate Charlie in my overall analysis here; I’m using his numbers for my own purposes, and I certainly won’t blame him if I’m wrong. But he wouldn’t be moving those races, if he weren’t seeing something like what I am seeing.

…And the last reason I offer this prediction is personal. I have never believed we are Donald Trump’s country, and I do not believe we ever will be…My analysis of the 2016 exit poll data, based on the voters who disliked both Trump and Clinton, is that about 8 or 9 percent of Trump’s 46 percent was far more anti-Clinton than pro-Trump. So he starts with a base of, at best, 35 percent, and he has done nothing to add to it…Except for a couple of outlier polls, Trump has never enjoyed anything like majority support. I also believe that many of the blue-collar voters who backed Trump in protest did not fully buy into what he said and do not have a lot to show for his presidency. That’s what the swing against his party in the Midwest will be about.

Dionne concludes on a note of even bolder optimism: “I think that there are a lot of African American voters who want to stand up for their rights and enough white voters who want to speak up loudly against racism to give Gillum and Abrams a chance — especially since both of these candidates are (contra Trump) highly qualified and have done a very good job at both mobilization and persuasion…In the end, I am predicting that we will turn our backs on Trumpism because I think that as a people, we really are much better than he thinks we are.”

Political Strategy Notes

A key Democratic messaging point is well-expressed in Margot Sanger-Katz’s “Republicans Say They Will Protect Pre-existing Conditions. Their Records Say Something Else” at The Upshot. As Sanger-Katz explains, “It is Democrats, by passing the Affordable Care Act in 2010, who introduced meaningful protections for Americans with prior illnesses…And Republican officeholders have taken numerous actions that would tend to weaken those protections — in Congress, in states and in courts. The Trump administration introduced a sweeping new policy just last week that would allow states to sidestep Obamacare’s requirement to cover pre-existing conditions…Pre-existing conditions have been a central theme in Democratic campaigns around the country.” The rest of the article rolls out the shameful GOP record of trying to gut previous illness protection. Not a bad message to amplify in the last full day of the 2018 miderm campaign. 

From “What Americans care about ahead of the 2018 elections, mapped” by Andrew Van Dam at Wonkblog:

The Google searches map above supports the argument that most Democratic House candidates in districts in counties not colored green don’t need to say much about the so-called ‘caravan’ before the election. Dems running in districts in those green counties will have to address the immigration issue in some way, but may be able to avoid Trump’s caravan hysteria as the campaigns close, since even those districts likely have lots of voters more concerned with health care costs and GOP threats to Social Security. In any event, Dems will have to tackle the immigration issue with more credible policies after the election, when there is more time to do it justice. As New York Times reporter Brett Stephens argues, Democrats are going to have to come up with a more credible immigration policy than simply calling for more compassion, or abolishing ICE. Many Dems do so, but the party needs to unify on the issue as much as possble, hone their case and get on message.

I disagree, however, with one of the main points in Stephens’s NYT column, “Why Aren’t Democrats Walking Away With the Midterms?” — that the main reason there won’t be a blue tsunami is Democratic incompetence and naivete. In reality, the Senate map is just too brutal this year, and Stephens also undervalues the sheer power of incumbency and gerrymandering. But Stephens has a couple of insightful nuggets tucked in his column, and Dems ought to take them seriously: “Because the president’s critics tend to be educated and educated people tend to think that the only kind of smarts worth having is the kind they possess — superior powers of articulation combined with deep stores of knowledge — those critics generally assume the latter…There’s more than one type of intelligence. Trump’s is feral. It strikes fast. It knows where to sink the fang into the vein.” Also, “The secret of Trump’s politics is to mix fear and confidence — the threat of disaster and the promise of protection — like salt and sugar, simultaneously stimulating and satisfying an insatiable appetite. It’s how all demagogues work…Democrats should be walking away with the midterms. That they are not is because they have consistently underestimated the president’s political gifts…”

Dems gotta like the Politico headline, “‘Trump has hijacked the election’: House Republicans in panic mode: Worries deepen that Trump’s charged immigration rhetoric will cost the GOP more seats.” In the article, Rachael Bade,  Carla Marinucci and Elana Schor explain, “Two days out from an expected Democratic takeover of the House, Republicans focused on the chamber are profoundly worried that Trump’s obsession with all things immigration will exacerbate their losses. Many of these same Republicans welcomed Trump’s initial talk about the migrant caravan and border security two weeks ago, hoping it would gin up the GOP base in some at-risk, Republican-held districts…But they now fear Trump went overboard — and that it could cost them dearly in key suburban districts, from Illinois to Texas. Many of them have cringed at Trump’s threats to unilaterally end birthright citizenship, as well as his recent racially-tinged ad suggesting that immigrants are police killers…“His honing in on this message is going to cost us seats,” said one senior House GOP campaign source. “The people we need to win in these swing districts that will determine the majority, it’s not the Trump base; it’s suburban women, or people who voted for [Hillary] Clinton or people who are not hard Trump voters.”

In his National Journal article, “A Late Nudge Toward Democrats? Events of the last week, particularly the tragedy in Pittsburgh, seem to have tipped electoral momentum away from Republicans,” Charlie Cook writes that “it’s hard to be thinking about a strong economy and declining unemployment when we have pipe bombs being mailed to Democratic leaders, an anti-Semite shooting up a synagogue, and a racist trying to break into an African-American church but instead shooting people in a Kroger…it seems like we are seeing a bit of a movement back toward Democrats in public and private surveys…it seems really likely that Democrats pick up at least 20 and maybe as many as 50 seats in the House, with a 30-40 range most plausible. If I had to hang it on a single number, let’s call it a 35-seat gain for Democrats at the top of the curve. It’s not so much whether the overall turnout is high or low—and it does look like we may have a modern-record-level turnout for a midterm election—but which groups disproportionately vote that is the key and unknowable factor at this stage.”

“The significance on Capitol Hill would be House Democrats being able to schedule floor action and to a certain extent frame the policy debate, wield the gavel in committees and, of course, call oversight hearings and subpoena witnesses and documents,” Cook continues. However, “It is in the states where there is the potential for real policy changes…We could see Democrats plausibly gaining anywhere from four to 10 net governorships, with a six-to-eight-seat gain most likely, some in some pretty key states. It would be equally plausible for Democrats to gain somewhere between 400 and 600 state legislative seats, potentially tipping between five and 11 state legislative chambers…” Also check out the charts for GA and TX at Tom Bonier’s “Early Vote Data Shows Young and Non-White Voter Turnout Surge,” which are very encouraging.

Hollywood endorsements of candidates are generally worthless. But the nonpartisan Hollywood ‘telethon’ sponsored by ‘We Are the Vote’ that will be streamed live tonight YouTube, Facebook Live and Comedy Central’s website urging young people to vote may prove helpful. As reported by Reuters, “In a first-of-its-kind event, more than 50 actors, comedians and YouTube stars will join a two-hour, live-streamed telethon on Monday night aimed at firing up younger voters, the age group least likely to cast a ballot…Stars will not ask for money during the “Telethon for America.” Instead, they will urge viewers to call in to a celebrity phone bank and pledge to vote the next day…Reuters polling found that in October only 25 percent of people aged 18 to 29 said they were certain to vote in the election, the lowest percentage of any age bracket.” It’s a commendable project, but including some top musicians and pro athletes who may have more influence with young people than actors, could be a plus in future projects.