Pri­mary sea­son is over; here are 5 things we learned

Austin American-Statesman Sunday - - NATION & WORLD - Alexan­der Burns and Jonathan Martin

Pri­mary sea­son is over: Democrats and Repub­li­cans have cho­sen their stan­dard-bear­ers and de­fined their ma­jor ar­gu­ments, and the gen­eral elec­tion has be­gun.

The midterm cam­paigns not only will de­ter­mine the bal­ance of power in Congress and the states but also will shape the strate­gies and iden­ti­ties of the two par­ties head­ing into the 2020 pres­i­den­tial race.

Here are some of the main lessons we’ve taken from the pri­maries and the start of the fall cam­paign.

Two paths emerg­ing for the Democrats

Democrats hope to use the midterm elec­tions to po­si­tion them­selves for a come­back in the 2020 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, by re­tak­ing or cap­tur­ing two swaths of the coun­try Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump car­ried in 2016: the in­dus­trial Mid­west, stretch­ing from Wis­con­sin to Penn­syl­va­nia, and the di­verse Sun Belt bat­tle­grounds of Florida, Ari­zona and Ge­or­gia.

They have nom­i­nated starkly dif­fer­ent sets of can­di­dates in the two re­gions, rep­re­sent­ing two broad paths for­ward for the party. In the Mid­west, the party has largely fielded well-known white politi­cians who are mod­estly to the left of cen­ter — fig­ures such as Richard Cor­dray, the for­mer bank over­seer in the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion who is locked in a close race for gover­nor in Ohio; and Gretchen Whit­mer, the for­mer Demo­cratic leader in the Michi­gan state Se­nate who is lead­ing in the gover­nor’s race. These can­di­dates are seek­ing to re­assem­ble the tra­di­tional, union­heavy Rust Belt Demo­cratic coali­tion that frayed in 2016.

The Demo­cratic tick­ets in the Sun Belt are more di­verse and more lib­eral, led by can­di­dates such as An­drew Gil­lum, the pro­gres­sive Tal­la­has­see mayor who seized the nom­i­na­tion for Florida gover­nor in an up­set; David Gar­cia, a pro­fes­sor-turned-ac­tivist chal­leng­ing Gov. Doug Ducey in Ari­zona; and Stacey Abrams, the for­mer Demo­cratic leader in the Ge­or­gia House. The can­di­dates are count­ing on mo­bi­liz­ing vot­ers who have not typ­i­cally turned out in midterms, to trans­form these Repub­li­can-lean­ing states into pur­ple swing states be­fore 2020.

Democrats are likely to gain across both re­gions, over­all. But if they fare markedly bet­ter in one than an­other, it could shape Democrats’ think­ing about 2020 and bol­ster ei­ther the pri­mary can­di­dates more fo­cused on mo­bi­liz­ing Democrats or those de­ter­mined to win back Trump vot­ers.

A new gen­er­a­tion ris­ing, led by women

A record num­ber of women emerged from pri­mary elec­tions this year, pow­ered by strong turnout among fe­male vot­ers and an ap­par­ent hunger across the elec­torate for can­di­dates promis­ing change. There are 257 women run­ning for House and Se­nate seats around the coun­try — 197 of them Democrats — and more than a dozen fe­male nom­i­nees for gover­nor. This class of can­di­dates has the po­ten­tial to cre­ate a dra­matic change in the im­age and cul­ture of U.S. gov­ern­ment.

On the Demo­cratic side, the ap­peal of fe­male can­di­dates ap­peared to tran­scend ide­o­log­i­cal fault lines in the party. Democrats nom­i­nated lib­eral women and mod­er­ate women, mil­i­tary veter­ans and ac­tivists, cor­po­rate lawyers and Bernie San­ders or­ga­niz­ers. They nom­i­nated women who worked for Hil­lary Clin­ton’s historic pres­i­den­tial cam­paign, and women who pledged never to help Nancy Pelosi, the bar­rier-break­ing for­mer House speaker, re­claim that job.

Polls sug­gest the coun­try is headed for a gap­ing gen­der gap in Novem­ber, as mod­er­ate women flee the Trump-led Repub­li­can Party but white men re­main mostly loyal. That could set up a pow­er­ful con­trast in the new Congress be­tween an in­com­ing class of fe­male law­mak­ers, and a pres­i­dent who has been ac­cused by nu­mer­ous women of se­ri­ous sex­ual misconduct. And it could send a clear sig­nal about the kind of leader Democrats want in 2020.

There are new rules for both par­ties

Repub­li­can can­di­dates jock­eyed to see who could hug Trump tighter in this year’s pri­maries, while Demo­cratic hope­fuls veered to the left in a se­ries of nom­i­nat­ing con­tests. But even as the two par­ties seem to be pulling fur­ther apart from one an­other, it was what they had in com­mon this pri­mary sea­son that il­lus­trates how much pol­i­tics is be­ing trans­formed: Repub­li­cans and Democrats in 2018 paid lit­tle heed to the deco­rous rules and prece­dents that have long gov­erned how they choose can­di­dates.

Trump ran through the Repub­li­can pri­maries, ig­nor­ing the tra­di­tion of pres­i­den­tial neu­tral­ity by tak­ing sides in nom­i­nat­ing con­tests and even op­pos­ing a hand­ful of in­cum­bents. His in­ter­ven­tions largely pleased Se­nate Repub­li­cans, who kept him out of some races and prod­ded him into oth­ers. But his en­dorse­ments in gover­nor’s races blind­sided the party and in some cases may have pro­pelled weaker gen­eral elec­tion can­di­dates to wins.

For their part, a group of Demo­cratic in­sur­gents tar­geted in­cum­bent law­mak­ers who had no whiff of scan­dal and re­li­ably lib­eral vot­ing records. And in­cum­bency, cor­rup­tion-free ser­vice and vot­ing the right way did not prove suf­fi­cient for Reps. Joseph Crow­ley of New York and Michael P. Ca­puano of Mas­sachusetts, who were up­set by women of color, Alexan­dria Oca­sio-Cortez and Ayanna Press­ley, who ar­gued that this mo­ment de­manded some­thing more.

The ques­tion now is whether 2018 rep­re­sented an anom­aly — a norm-de­fy­ing pres­i­dent and a rad­i­cal­ized op­po­si­tion party — or the start of a new, less gen­teel pri­mary cul­ture.

Repub­li­cans bleed­ing in open seats

The Repub­li­can House ma­jor­ity is be­lea­guered, bur­dened by Trump’s in­tense un­pop­u­lar­ity and bat­tling an im­pos­ing set of Demo­cratic chal­lengers with broad ap­peal. But at the out­set of the gen­eral elec­tion, there is no more ur­gent prob­lem for the party than the dozens of open seats Repub­li­cans must de­fend, where long-serv­ing in­cum­bents chose to re­tire and the party has strug­gled to field strong re­place­ments.

Democrats must gain 23 seats to take con­trol of the House, and they could win a quar­ter or more just from these va­can­cies. Democrats might have strug­gled to beat Rep. Dave Re­ichert in the Seat­tle suburbs or Rep. Frank LoBiondo in south­ern New Jer­sey, and it could have been im­pos­si­ble to de­feat Rep. Ileana Ros-Le­hti­nen in Mi­ami. But all three in­cum­bents re­tired, and their seats are now tossups or lean­ing to­ward the Democrats.

There are sim­i­larly en­dan­gered open seats in most parts of the coun­try, in­clud­ing ru­ral Kansas, South­ern Cal­i­for­nia and the suburbs of Philadel­phia. The chal­lenge ex­tends to the Se­nate, too, where Democrats have a slim-but-plau­si­ble path­way to tak­ing con­trol in large part be­cause Sen. Bob Corker of Ten­nes­see de­cided to re­tire and for­mer Gov. Phil Bre­desen, a pop­u­lar mod­er­ate Demo­crat, en­tered the race to re­place him. (He faces Rep. Mar­sha Blackburn.)

Repub­li­cans may yet keep their con­trol of the House, with a pow­er­fully funded, over­whelm­ingly neg­a­tive cam­paign aimed at dis­qual­i­fy­ing Demo­cratic chal­lengers in swing seats. But their mar­gin for er­ror is slim.

Se­nate Democrats #Re­sis­tance(ish)

With strate­gists in both par­ties in­creas­ingly con­vinced Democrats are well po­si­tioned to take con­trol of the House, the cen­ter-stage drama this fall may be the bat­tle for the Se­nate ma­jor­ity. And un­like in the House, no Se­nate Democrats were de­nied renom­i­na­tion or, more to the point, faced much in the way of a chal­lenge at all from the left.

So with the Se­nate elec­tion this year mostly be­ing fought in con­ser­va­tive-lean­ing states that Trump car­ried in 2016, this turn of events has created an odd jux­ta­po­si­tion: The full suc­cess of the anti-Trump forces in the midterms could hinge on Se­nate Demo­cratic can­di­dates.

From North Dakota and West Vir­ginia to Ten­nes­see and Ari­zona, Demo­cratic can­di­dates for the Se­nate are ben­e­fit­ing from their party’s dis­dain for Trump, rais­ing money from all over the coun­try, while wel­com­ing a new wave of mo­ti­vated ac­tivists to their cam­paigns. But they are down­play­ing their ob­jec­tions to his pres­i­dency. In a way that makes clear that they do not think red Amer­ica is fully em­brac­ing the #re­sis­tance.


A sup­porter of Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., stands out re­cently at this year’s the La­bor Day Pa­rade in Marmet, W.Va. Demo­cratic can­di­dates for the Se­nate are wel­com­ing a new wave of mo­ti­vated ac­tivists to their cam­paigns.

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