2018 midterms: The blue wave or a red dawn?

2018 midterms: The blue wave or a red dawn?
© Greg Nash

Many political analysts and commentators predict a “blue wave” forming for the 2018 midterm election, but is one actually coming? It’s important to remember that those offering such opinions are many of the same people who espoused that the “blue wall” guaranteed a Democratic victory in the 2016 presidential race, only to watch it crumble when states such as Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, and my home state of Pennsylvania reported on election night.

Let’s begin by questioning today’s theory that Republicans will lose more than two dozen House seats simply because a president’s party fares poorly in the first midterm election. Since President Harry Truman, the new chief executive’s party has lost seats in the first midterm. Significant partisan factors, however, are associated with this axiom.

Looking at elections from 1950 through 2010, the president’s party has lost an average of 26 seats in those electoral contests. But the numbers vary significantly based on whether a Republican or Democrat is the White House’s new resident. Because Presidents Lyndon Johnson (1966), Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonMore adult Twitter users follow Obama than Trump: survey Pro-impeachment Democrats wary of Al Green's floor vote push Marching toward a debt crisis MORE (1994), and Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaImmigrant advocacy groups shouldn't be opposing Trump's raids More adult Twitter users follow Obama than Trump: survey Trump's no racist; he's an equal opportunity offender MORE (2010) lost 47, 54, and 63 seats respectively, the average is significantly skewed. Therefore, when grouping just the six Democratic presidents during this time period, we see an average loss in the first midterm of 32 seats.

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By contrast, the average House majority’s midterm loss for the five elected Republican presidents is only 15, but that number can be further dissected because President Reagan lost 26 seats while facing a particularly adverse redistricting year in 1982. Specifically, President Reagan is the only chief executive in the modern political era confronting a first midterm where the preponderance of U.S. House districts were re-drawn by Democrat-controlled state legislatures.

Consequently, as we turn to the coming 2018 House elections, new trends suggest that Republicans are actually in a more sound position to hold the House than what most pundits suggest. That’s not to say the Democrats don’t have a reasonable chance of obtaining the net 24 seats they need to wrest control away from the GOP, but the talk we hear — and often coming daily from both sides — is that a new Democratic majority is a fait accompli. More empirical evidence is needed to definitively draw such a “blue wave” conclusion.

It is further possible that some erroneous underlying assumptions exist in some of the other pundits’ ratings, i.e., ones that might be putting too much stock in the belief that voters will reject Republican congressmen in districts that always elect Republicans simply because they don’t like President TrumpDonald John TrumpPompeo changes staff for Russia meeting after concerns raised about top negotiator's ties: report House unravels with rise of 'Les Enfants Terrible' Ben Carson: Trump is not a racist and his comments were not racist MORE. Please keep in mind that on election day 2016, Trump’s positive approval rating was around 38-40 percent, actually worse than it is today. And despite the Republican Congress never even touching 20 percent approval during the entire 2016 cycle, the party still managed to win 241 congressional elections.

Outgoing California Rep. Ed RoyceEdward (Ed) Randall RoyceK Street giants scoop up coveted ex-lawmakers Former GOP chairman Royce joins lobbying shop Lawmakers propose banning shark fin trade MORE’s (R) district is also viewed as heading toward the Democrats, yet it is the Republicans who have the preponderance of the established candidates. In the jungle primary field, the Republicans feature a former state senate minority leader, an ex-assemblywoman who worked the district as a member of Royce’s staff for 21 years, and an Orange County supervisor who is the former mayor of the district’s largest city. The person most likely to advance from the Democratic side is a military veteran and lottery winner who has never before run for office.

Why is Minnesota Rep. Erik PaulsenErik Philip PaulsenHopes dim for passage of Trump trade deal Fight over Trump's new NAFTA hits key stretch Blue states angry over SALT cap should give fiscal sobriety a try MORE (R) viewed as being in a toss-up situation? In 2016, with President Trump losing his district by 10 points, Paulsen was still able to win a fifth term garnering 57 percent of the vote against a long-time state Senator who spent $2 million. In Miami, then-freshman Rep. Carlos CurbeloCarlos Luis CurbeloDemocratic lawmaker pushes back on Castro's call to repeal law making illegal border crossings a crime The Hill's Morning Report - Trump, Biden go toe-to-toe in Iowa Ex-GOP lawmakers are face of marijuana blitz MORE (R), with Trump losing by 17 points, was reelected with a 12 point, 53-41 percent, margin of victory. Texas Rep. John CulbersonJohn Abney CulbersonK Street giants scoop up coveted ex-lawmakers Ex-GOP Rep. Denham heads to lobbying firm 20 years after Columbine, Dems bullish on gun reform MORE (R) is also characterized as being in a purely toss-up race. Yet this is a district that has never elected a Democrat in its near present configuration, and Culberson was re-elected with 56 percent of the vote in 2016 with Trump on the ballot. Why is he in a toss-up against a first-time candidate well to the left of the Texas voting base?

Finally, in Pennsylvania, Democratic Rep. Matt CartwrightMatthew (Matt) Alton CartwrightHouse Dems up funding for science agencies, ignoring proposed Trump cuts Overnight Energy: Dems press Interior chief to embrace climate action | Lawmakers at odds on how to regulate chemicals in water | Warren releases climate plan for military Interior chief dismisses climate concerns in first Natural Resources hearing: 'I haven't lost any sleep over it' MORE now faces a district that slightly leans Republican based upon pertinent voter history, and a place where President Trump racked up an impressive nine-point victory in reversing the past electoral trends. The new Republican nominee, venture capitalist John Chrin has the ability to self-fund, meaning he will be able to match the incumbent’s resources. Therefore, isn’t it premature to declare Cartwright the winner? While the congressman may enjoy a slight advantage, this race will be highly competitive.

Well into the heart of a primary season that will lead to hot campaigning for the general election, it is much too early to already begin re-affixing Rep. Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiHouse unravels with rise of 'Les Enfants Terrible' Will Trump's racist tweets backfire? Al Green: 'We have the opportunity to punish' Trump with impeachment vote MORE’s (D-Calif.) name to the Speaker’s office door. Clearly, unfolding events between now and November – Special Counsel Mueller’s report on Russian collusion or ongoing border security problems – could further energize Democratic or Republican base turnout and/or influence the Independent vote.

Consequently, it might be best if we simply let the voters make their own voices heard at the polling places in November rather than declaring a new House majority five months out. After all, it was only one election ago when the voting public quite loudly dispelled the pundits’ pre-election predictions.

Former Rep. Jim GerlachJames (Jim) Gerlach2018 midterms: The blue wave or a red dawn? Pa. GOP 'disappointed' by rep retiring after filing deadline Pennsylvania Republican Costello won't seek reelection MORE (R-Pa.) served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 2003-2015, and in the Pennsylvania House and Senate from 1991-2002. During that time, he won 10 consecutive elections in the Philadelphia suburban area in and around Chester County. Today, he serves as president & CEO of the Business-Industry Political Action Committee (BIPAC).