David House

Five Takeaways From Democrats' House Triumph

Wasserman Photo
November 8, 2018

The fog of war hasn't yet lifted from this high-stakes and extremely high-turnout midterm election. At this writing, there are still ten House races that are too close to call. But Democrats appear to be on track to pick up in the neighborhood of 35 to 38 House seats — more than the 23 they needed for a majority — and well in line with our pre-election outlook of a gain between 30 and 40 seats.

We've updated our final ratings with winners declared by at least one media organization as of Thursday morning. Democrats swept all of the seats in their Solid, Likely and Lean columns and are winning most of the 30 Toss Ups so far (13 to eight, with nine races still uncalled). But they also scored impressive upsets along the coast of South Carolina, in Oklahoma City and on Staten Island.

With 75 competitive races, it will take more time than usual to take stock of Tuesday's powerful, if uneven, wave. But here are a few initial impressions in the aftermath of a whirlwind night:

1. This was mostly a suburban revolt.

Democrats easily swept out most of the Republicans sitting in high-income suburban Clinton districts: Reps. Mike Coffman (CO-06), Peter Roskam (IL-06), Kevin Yoder (KS-03), Erik Paulsen (MN-03), Leonard Lance (NJ-07) and Barbara Comstock (VA-10), all by comfortable margins. Just about the only one in this category who may survive is Rep. Mimi Walters (CA-45).

In these seats, ads declaring the incumbent voted with President Trump "95 percent" of the time" proved too much to overcome. But well-funded Democrats also broke through in outer, middle-class suburbs that Trump carried by single digits: Illinois's 14th CD, Iowa's 3rd CD, Michigan's 8th and 11th CDs and Virginia's 2nd and 7th CDs. Several were breakthroughs in places Barack Obama had never carried.

However, Democrats didn't win a single Republican seat where Trump cracked 55 percent of the vote in 2016. They fell short in Florida's 6th, Kansas's 2nd and Kentucky's 6th CD, despite multiple polls depicting competitive races. They also failed to hold onto two rural open seats in Minnesota (MN-01 and MN-08) and failed to knock off either indicted Republican incumbent in very red CA-50 and NY-27.

2. In the House, this was the "Year of the Fired Up Female College Graduate."

This was the first year in history Americans elected more than 100 women to the House, and it was almost entirely driven by Democrats — a clear reaction to Trump's election. Of the 38 seats Democrats flipped or maintain a lead, women were the Democratic nominees in 21 — accounting for well over Democrats' margin in the House.

3. This is also going to make it next to impossible for Democrats to ditch Nancy Pelosi, the first female Speaker of the House.

During the campaign, 37 Democrats on the DCCC's "Red to Blue" list publicly opposed Pelosi for Speaker. But of those 37, only ten prevailed, and another five are in races that are too close to call. And, a few "no" votes won with such comfortable enough margins that they are probably flippable.

Republicans, looking for a silver lining after Tuesday, are gleeful at the prospect of her return and argue it makes Democrats the instant underdogs to keep what may only be a 12-15 seat majority heading into 2020. After all, these Democrats campaigned on changing Washington and challenging both parties' leaders. Instead, their very first vote would be to fall in line behind the San Francisco-led old guard.

Indeed, it's the Democrats who look like the more divided party as they assume power in the House. Their newcomers, mostly hailing from swing suburbs, campaigned on healthcare and pocketbook issues, not Russia, tweets or Trump. But the incoming committee chairs, almost all from urban and coastal districts, each have their lists of about 9,000 reasons to investigate the executive branch.

4. The Republicans who survived in tough seats did so mostly by establishing their own moderate reputations before Trump took office.

Reps. David Valadao (CA-21), John Katko (NY-24), Brian Fitzpatrick (PA-01) and Will Hurd (TX-23) all hung onto their seats by cultivating nonpartisan images a long time ago, much like the few younger, conservative Democrats who hung on in 2010.

In some respects, this was a mirror image of 2010. Much as the Blue Dogs were decimated in the 2010 wave, moderate "Tuesday Group" Republicans suffered large losses from both retirements like Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (FL-27) and Charlie Dent (PA-07), and defeats like Reps. Carlos Curbelo (FL-27) and Leonard Lance (NJ-07). The congressional GOP is about to become a more Trump-centric party.

5. Democrats' hard pickup count is already at 31, and their odds look good in many of the uncalled races.

Democrats currently hold leads in five of the ten seats where the winner isn't clear: CA-48 (Rohrabacher), GA-06 (Handel), NJ-03 (MacArthur) and UT-04 (Love). In addition, Democrats are hopeful additional mail-in ballots will help their candidates overcome deficits in CA-10 (Denham) and CA-39 (Royce).

Maine's 2nd CD is the quirkiest nail-biter of all. GOP Rep. Bruce Poliquin leads Democrat Jared Golden by less than 1,000 votes, but 22,000 cast ballots for independents. Under the state's new "ranked choice voting" laws, those independent voters' second and third choices will be added to the two contenders' totals sometime next week. GOP operatives are quite pessimistic supporters of the left-leaning indies opted for Poliquin.

Republicans maintain small leads in CA-45 (Walters), GA-07 (Woodall) and NC-09 (Open), but the counting of provisional ballots in each of these states could take weeks. Typically, late-counted mail-in and provisional ballots in California skew slightly to Democrats. The drama is set to last well beyond this week, and it's not inconceivable Democrats' eventual haul could be closer to 40 seats than 35.

Image: Nancy Pelosi and DCCC Chair Ben Ray Luján on Election Night 2018 | Credit: AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin