Anti-Trump wave hits, but with un­even force

The Washington Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY DAN BALZ AND MICHAEL SCHERER

In the early hours of elec­tion night on Tues­day, a con­sen­sus be­gan to take hold that the vaunted Demo­cratic blue wave that had been talked about all year was fail­ing to ma­te­ri­al­ize. Now, with a hand­ful of races still to be called, it’s clear that an anti-Pres­i­dent Trump force hit the coun­try with con­sid­er­able, if un­even, strength.

Democrats ap­pear poised to pick up be­tween 35 and 40 seats in the House, once the last races are tal­lied, ac­cord­ing to strate­gists in both par­ties. That would rep­re­sent the big­gest Demo­cratic gain in the House since the postWater­gate elec­tion of 1974, when the party picked up 49 seats three months af­ter Richard M. Nixon re­signed the pres­i­dency.

Repub­li­cans will gain seats in the Se­nate, but with races in Florida and Ari­zona still to be called, their pre-elec­tion ma­jor­ity of 51 seats will end up as low as 52 or as high as 54. Mean­while, Democrats gained seven gov­er­nor­ships, re­coup­ing in part losses sus­tained in 2010 and 2014, and picked up hun­dreds of state leg­isla­tive seats, where they had suf­fered a vir­tual wipe­out in the pre­vi­ous two midterm elec­tions.

The Democrats’ gains this week are still far short of what Repub­li­cans ac­com­plished in their his­toric vic­to­ries of 1994 and 2010. But they would eclipse the num­ber of seats Democrats gained in 2006, the last time the party re­cap­tured con­trol of the House, as well as the 26-seat gain in 1982, when the na­tional un­em­ploy­ment rate was

at 10 per­cent. This year, the elec­tion took place with the un­em­ploy­ment rate at just 3.7 per­cent.

Day by day, the out­look for Democrats in the House has im­proved. At the of­fices of the Demo­cratic Con­gres­sional Cam­paign Com­mit­tee, al­ready-high spir­its have been ris­ing all week as more races fell into the party’s col­umn. One joke that has been mak­ing the rounds there goes like this: “This is ac­tu­ally turn­ing out to be more of a Hanukkah than a Christ­mas elec­tion,” mean­ing day af­ter day of gifts, rather than just one.

This was al­ways an elec­tion that would test the strength of the econ­omy, which fa­vored the pres­i­dent’s party, ver­sus the pres­i­dent’s low ap­proval rat­ings, which along with the record of past midterm elec­tions, pointed to Demo­cratic gains. In the end, his­tory and pres­i­den­tial ap­proval com­bined to give Democrats con­trol of the House by what ap­pears to be a com­fort­able mar­gin.

The Demo­cratic wave hit hard­est in sub­ur­ban dis­tricts, many of them tra­di­tional Repub­li­can ter­ri­tory, where col­lege-ed­u­cated vot­ers — par­tic­u­larly women — dis­sat­is­fied with the pres­i­dent backed Demo­cratic chal­lengers.

Democrats flipped about twothirds of the com­pet­i­tive dis­tricts won by both Hil­lary Clin­ton in 2016 and Barack Obama in 2012 or by Clin­ton in 2016 and Mitt Rom­ney in 2012. They also picked up one-third of dis­tricts won by Trump in 2016 and Obama in 2012. In dis­tricts where both Trump and Rom­ney had won in the pre­vi­ous two elec­tions, Democrats gained about a quar­ter of the com­pet­i­tive seats.

Also strik­ing in House races was the num­ber of nar­row vic­tory mar­gins — on both sides. About 20 Democrats won or are lead­ing in races where the mar­gin is fewer than five per­cent­age points, while about two dozen Repub­li­cans who won or are lead­ing are in races with sim­i­larly small mar­gins.

That in­di­cates that the out­come in 2018 could have been sub­stan­tially bet­ter for Democrats or sig­nif­i­cantly worse, had the po­lit­i­cal winds been blow­ing dif­fer­ently. It also fore­shad­ows an­other fiercely con­tested elec­tion for the House in 2020.

The fi­nal out­come in the Se­nate races this year will also have a bear­ing on 2020. The dif­fer­ence be­tween a ma­jor­ity of 54 seats or 52 seats would have a siz­able im­pact on the odds of Democrats be­ing able to win con­trol two years from now.

Repub­li­cans ex­pect to de­fend 22 seats up for elec­tion, com­pared with only 12 seats held by Democrats. Th­ese in­clude the Colorado seat of Sen. Cory Gard­ner (R), the Maine seat of Sen. Su­san Collins (R) and the Ari­zona seat now held by Sen. Jon Kyl (R). Se­nate Repub­li­cans Joni Ernst of Iowa and Thom Til­lis of North Carolina are likely to face com­pet­i­tive races. Demo­crat Doug Jones of Alabama, who won a spe­cial elec­tion last year, also will face a se­ri­ous chal­lenge to hold his seat.

Be­yond the tally of vic­to­ries and de­feats, the 2018 elec­tion was notable for the ways in which it deep­ened many of the di­vi­sions and shifts in al­le­giance that are chang­ing the po­lit­i­cal land­scape across the coun­try. That car­ries im­pli­ca­tions for pol­i­tics in 2020 and be­yond.

Demo­cratic strate­gists have been cheered by exit polls that show the un­der­ly­ing na­tional de­mo­graphic trends that drove their gains, par­tic­u­larly in the bor­der states of Cal­i­for­nia, Ari­zona, New Mex­ico and Texas.

Vot­ers un­der the age of 29 voted for Democrats over Repub­li­cans by 67 per­cent to 32 per­cent, a mar­gin which beats the pre­vi­ous record in the 2008 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion. Latino vot­ers matched their na­tional 11 per­cent vote share from the higher-turnout 2016 elec­tion, with Democrats win­ning 69 per­cent of the Latino vote na­tion­wide, slightly more than the 66 per­cent share when Trump was elected. Asian vot­ers, who make up about 3 per­cent of the vot­ing pop­u­la­tion, sided heav­ily with Democrats by a mar­gin of 77 per­cent to 23 per­cent.

“The emerg­ing elec­torate, the one which will dom­i­nate U.S. pol­i­tics for the next gen­er­a­tion or two, sup­ported Democrats in record num­bers,” said Si­mon Rosen­berg, a Demo­cratic strate­gist. “Democrats not only won the 2018 elec­tion hand­ily, but won it in a way which should worry Repub­li­cans about 2020.”

Said Repub­li­can poll­ster Whit Ayres: “To me, the big story is that the 2018 midterm elec­tion re­in­forced and ac­cel­er­ated the pat­terns we saw in 2016. You had smaller, over­whelm­ingly white, ru­ral coun­ties be­come more deeply en­trenched in the Repub­li­can Party, and sub­ur­ban coun­ties, par­tic­u­larly those with high pro­por­tions of well-ed­u­cated vot­ers, go­ing ex­actly the op­po­site di­rec­tion.”

New re­turns have been rais­ing Repub­li­can con­cerns in west­ern states. Chuck Cough­lin, a Repub­li­can ad­viser to for­mer Ari­zona gover­nor Jan Brewer (R), said it was clear that Trump’s ap­proach to im­mi­gra­tion in the fi­nal weeks of the cam­paign did not have the nu­ance re­quired for a state like Ari­zona, where im­mi­grants play a cen­tral role in the econ­omy.

“One thing is for cer­tain, that the car­a­van rhetoric doesn’t res­onate in this state as well as it res­onates in the Mid­west,” Cough­lin said.

Repub­li­cans in the state, how­ever, have been hemmed in by Trump’s sup­port among Repub­li­can pri­mary vot­ers, which forced Rep. Martha McSally, the Repub­li­can nom­i­nee for Se­nate, to tack to the right par­tic­u­larly on im­mi­gra­tion. “She didn’t ever mod­u­late,” said Cough­lin. “She didn’t cre­ate any sep­a­ra­tion.” Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, the Demo­cratic Se­nate nom­i­nee, now has a nar­row lead in that race.

In neigh­bor­ing Colorado, Democrats won ev­ery statewide race, picked up a House seat, took con­trol of the state Se­nate, and swept most down-bal­lot races as well. “We are not Ohio, Michi­gan or the Mid­west. The col­lege-ed­u­cated sub­ur­ban voter — they don’t like Trump be­cause of his be­hav­ior,” said Dick Wad­hams, the for­mer chair­man of the state GOP.

In Ne­vada, Democrats picked up a Se­nate seat and the gov­er­nor­ship and held on to two com­pet­i­tive House dis­tricts, in a sign of a con­tin­ued shift left in what has been a closely con­tested state in most re­cent elec­tions.

Democrats fell short in two other evolv­ing Sun Belt states. In Texas, Demo­cratic Rep. Beto O’Rouke lost the Se­nate race to in­cum­bent Sen. Ted Cruz but man­aged to win 48 per­cent of the vote. Mean­while, Democrats picked up two sub­ur­ban con­gres­sional dis­tricts.

In Ge­or­gia, Demo­crat Stacey Abrams trails Repub­li­can Brian Kemp in the gu­ber­na­to­rial race, but the chang­ing dy­nam­ics of vot­ing pat­terns there worry some Repub­li­cans for fu­ture elec­tions.

“When you have some­one like Stacey Abrams car­ry­ing a ma­jor At­lanta sub­ur­ban county like Gwin­nett, like Hil­lary Clin­ton did, then the for­mula for Repub­li­can vic­to­ries in Ge­or­gia has been com­pletely up­ended,” Ayres said.

Other re­sults point in a dif­fer­ent di­rec­tion, how­ever, which of­fer some en­cour­age­ment to Repub­li­cans be­yond adding to their nar­row Se­nate ma­jor­ity.

Ohio ap­pears to be mov­ing steadily away from the Democrats, largely be­cause of cul­tural is­sues. Since 1994, Repub­li­cans have won nearly nine of ev­ery 10 statewide con­tests. The GOP’s vic­tory in the open gu­ber­na­to­rial race on Tues­day was the lat­est blow for the Democrats, though Demo­cratic Sen. Sherrod Brown held his seat.

Democrats also failed to pick up the gov­er­nor­ship in Iowa, though they gained two House seats.

Florida re­mains a top con­cern head­ing into the 2020 elec­tions, when the state will prob­a­bly play a cru­cial role in any path for Trump to win a sec­ond term. Con­trary to the Latino vote else­where in the coun­try, the Cuban, Puerto Ri­can and Cen­tral Amer­i­can pop­u­la­tions in the Sun­shine State split more evenly, as Gov. Rick Scott (R) mounted an ag­gres­sive out­reach ef­fort.

“The Democrats un­der­es­ti­mated just how much His­panic sup­port Repub­li­cans were able to cap­i­tal­ize on in Florida,” said Fer­nand Amandi, a Demo­cratic poll­ster in Mi­ami.

MIKAYLA WHIT­MORE FOR THE WASH­ING­TON POST

Vot­ers cast midterm elec­tion bal­lots Tues­day at the Boule­vard Mall in Las Ve­gas. In Ne­vada, Democrats picked up a Se­nate seat and the gov­er­nor­ship and held on to two com­pet­i­tive House dis­tricts.

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