For all of the hyperventilating Tuesday night and Wednesday, we really didn’t learn much from this week’s special elections that we didn’t already know. It had been obvious for some time that Republicans were struggling to hold onto seats that should have been slam-dunk wins. Going into the special election in Ohio’s 12th District, Cook Political Report House Editor David Wasserman pointed out that Democrats had over-performed in eight special congressional elections in GOP-held districts this year and last, by an average of 8 percentage points.
The smallest Democratic surges were 3 points in Texas’s 27th District (June 30) and 6 points in both Georgia’s 6th District (June 20, 2017) and Utah’s 3rd District (Nov. 7, 2017). More typical were Democrats beating projections by 7 points in South Carolina’s 5th (June 20, 2017) and 8 points in Montana's at-large district (May 25, 2017). Their biggest increases were 11 points in Pennsylvania’s 18th (March 13) and Arizona’s 8th (April 26), and 12 points in Kansas’s 4th (April 11, 2017). While there are still provisional and absentee ballots to be counted in Ohio’s 12th , it appears that Democrats over-performed there by about 7 points.
By Wasserman’s count, there are 68 GOP-held seats in districts less Republican than Ohio’s 12th and 119 less Republican than Pennsylvania’s 18th, where Democrat Conor Lamb won. The NBC News Political Unit estimates that going into the Ohio special, the Republican Party had spent $37 million on special elections this cycle, compared to the Democrats’ $11.5 million, clearly an unsustainable pace for the GOP.
It’s pretty hard to take seriously President Trump’s Wednesday morning Tweets, which noted that “Republicans have now won 8 out of 9 House Seats” in special elections, and argued that as long as he campaigns for congressional candidates, “they will win,” creating a giant “red wave” this fall.
If I were a Republican elected official or strategist, the red wave that I would be worried about would be made up of GOP blood in the streets on Nov. 7, the day after the election. The fact is that Republican strategists need to be thinking about triage at this point, sorting out which incumbents are likely to be able to survive without much outside help, which are lost causes, and which can still be saved with sufficient help. When a party is having a tough year, these kinds of hard-nosed, difficult decisions are essential to contain losses and effectively allocate scarce resources.
Republicans are going to lose between a dozen and 20 seats no matter what. The question is whether they can keep it under 23 losses and retain their majority, or if not, keep within striking distance of retaking the House in 2020 or 2022. Losses of 40 to 60 seats are not out of the question, which makes the decisions made over the next 90 days utterly critical.
At the same time, Democrats are hardly in a position to break out the champagne and begin the high-fives. The fact is that the Democratic Party’s poll numbers, and those of their leadership, are awful—just marginally better than Republicans’. Candidates in competitive districts are still in a position to seize defeat from the jaws of victory. Having dispensed free (and unsolicited) advice to Republicans above, here is some for Democrats:
The top two dozen targets for Democrats are in districts that Hillary Clinton won in 2016. The rest are in districts that Trump won by varying margins. In those, a traditional liberal message might be more problematic.
Here are three rhetorical “no-fly zones” for Democrats.
This election is hardly a done deal, but the trends that we started seeing early last year have continued. Remember that in midterm elections, the dynamics are generally set by mid-summer, but the degree, the intensity, and the effect is not.
This story was originally published on nationaljournal.com on August 10, 2018
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