CAMPAIGN 2018

Empty dots show current vacancies.

Independents caucus with Democrats and are shown in blue.

U.S. House:

435 seats

U.S. Senate:

100 seats

U.S. House: 435 seats

U.S. Senate: 100 seats

As it stands today, Republicans control both chambers of Congress.
The midterm elections in November could change everything.

Will November bring a 'wave'?

NEW RICHMOND, Wis. – When handwritten postcards from strangers across the country landed in the mailboxes of Democrats here after Christmas, the national significance of their special election hit home.

The postcards, sent to every Democratic household in western Wisconsin’s state Senate District 10 by Postcards to Voters, a volunteer group based in Georgia, asked residents to elect Democrat Patty Schachtner to the open seat.

On Jan. 16, Schachtner beat GOP state Rep. Adam Jarchow 55 to 44 percent — a startling outcome in a district that Donald Trump had won by 17 percentage points.

“People think that this is a red county, but it’s certainly not trending that way,” said Rebecca Bonesteel, Democratic Party chairwoman in Wisconsin’s St. Croix County, which includes New Richmond.

Schachtner’s victory generated national headlines that underscore the dominant political question of 2018: Is a “wave” election forming that will sweep scores of Democrats into Congress, governorships and legislatures? Minnesota is at the epicenter of the drama, with two U.S. Senate campaigns, a competitive governor’s race and two vacant U.S. House seats.

“Republican enthusiasm and turnout need to be down and Democratic turnout and enthusiasm need to be up” to propel a wave, said Paul Begala, a former political adviser to Bill Clinton. “The elements are there.”

County Party Chair Rebecca Bonesteel spoke as the St. Croix County, Wis., Democrats discussed strategies for getting more Democratic candidates to run for state offices.

Republican pollster Glen Bolger of Public Opinion Strategies in Virginia isn’t so sure. “Before the tax cut, I thought it was a done deal that the Democrats would have a wave election,” he said. “But the polling has improved … and people approve of the tax cut.”

Presidents’ parties typically lose some seats in midterm elections, and Trump’s anemic approval ratings could make enough Republicans vulnerable in November to shift the balance of power nationwide.

Democrats must flip 24 seats to take over the U.S. House of Representatives. Republicans control the U.S. Senate, 51 to 49. There are 33 GOP governors, and their party controls 32 legislatures.

Special elections in Minnesota last week provided no clear clues about how things will shake out here this fall. The DFL retained a southeast metro Senate seat, while Republicans held a state House district in southwestern Minnesota.

“Signs and historical trends point to a good year for Democrats, but that is not a guarantee,” said state DFL Party Chairman Ken Martin. Complacency and overconfidence, he said, are “a real danger for Democrats this cycle.”

Jennifer Carnahan, state Republican Party chairwoman, is more optimistic. “In Minnesota, I do not see a blue wave,” she said. “What I see coming in November is a very big red wave.”

Republican senator not up for re-election

Predicted as a solid Republican seat

Predicted as a solid Democratic seat

Democratic senator not up for re-election

U.S. House

U.S. Senate

Predicted as a solid Democratic seat

Predicted as a solid Republican seat

U.S. House

In the House, all seats are up for re-election. However, experts say there are 80 seats in competitive races. Five of these seats are in Minnesota.

Republican senator not up for re-election

Democratic senator not up for re-election

U.S. Senate

In the Senate, there are 34 seats to be filled.
Two of these seats are in Minnesota

Sources: Bloomberg News, New York Times

A national Democratic wave could stymie the president’s agenda in Congress, and Democrats probably would launch new inquiries into Trump’s campaign and administration. If Democrats take over state legislatures this fall, they would lead redistricting after the 2020 census.

Those consequences could become the foundation of a strong Democratic challenge to Trump in two years.

Trump's approval rating
as of Feb. 11

40%

There are some early signs of a wave: A Democrat won a Missouri House seat on Feb. 6 in a district that Trump carried by 28 points. On Tuesday, a Democrat won a Florida House seat in another district Trump won in 2016. It was the 36th Democratic pickup of a GOP state legislative seat since the 2016 election.

Trump's approval rating
as of Feb. 11

40%

Republicans think they can fend off broad losses. The gap between the president’s approval and disapproval rating, which had been in double digits for weeks, has narrowed to single digits in some national polls. A Star Tribune Minnesota Poll conducted in January found that 45 percent of Minnesotans approved of Trump’s job performance, while 47 percent disapproved — a statistical tie given the poll’s 3.5 percentage-point margin of error.

The generic ballot, a poll question that asks voters which party they want to represent them in Congress without naming candidates, has recently given Democrats a less decisive edge. Last week, a Real Clear Politics average of polls found Democrats favored over Republicans by 6.9 percentage points; in December, many polls showed double-digit Democratic leads.

Presidents' midterm party losses: The lower their approval ratings, the more seats they lose.

Clinton

1998

Reagan

1986

G.W. Bush

2002

Nixon

1970

H.W. Bush

1990

Ford

1974

Carter

1978

Clinton

1994

Obama

2010

Reagan

1982

Obama

2014

G.W. Bush

2006

Approval
rating

66%

63%

63%

58%

58%

54%

49%

46%

45%

42%

40%

38%

+5

-5

+8

-12

-8

-48

-15

-54

-63

-26

-13

-30

House seats gained/lost by party

House seats gained/lost by party

Approval rating

+5

Clinton

1998

66%

-5

Reagan

1986

63%

+8

G.W. Bush

2002

63%

-12

Nixon

1970

58%

-8

H.W. Bush

1990

58%

Ford

1974

54%

-48

-15

Carter

1978

49%

Clinton

1994

46%

-54

Obama

2010

45%

-63

-26

Reagan

1982

42%

-13

Obama

2014

40%

-30

G.W. Bush

2006

38%

Sources: Gallup, American Presidency Project, Bloomberg News

The wave of 2010

Political waves in one direction or another have increasingly become a feature of national politics. Until a couple weeks before the 2010 election, U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar, D-Minn., and the DFL Party didn’t see a Republican wave coming, said Brian Melendez, state DFL chairman at the time.

Just before the Nov. 2 vote, President Barack Obama’s job-approval rating was 45 percent. The Affordable Care Act had passed that March after a bruising battle. The national jobless rate was 9.8 percent.

Republicans gained six governors and six U.S. Senate seats that year. The GOP also snatched 63 U.S. House seats, including the Eighth District seat Oberstar had held since 1975, and took control of the House.

The state party freed up tens of thousands of dollars in the 2010 campaign’s final days to help Oberstar, but it was too late, Melendez said. Democrats also lost control of the Legislature, but elected DFL Gov. Mark Dayton.

Melendez said today’s volatile political climate makes it difficult to predict what will happen in November, but he thinks the popularity of Trump’s tax cuts might fade after taxpaying season.

“This should be a good Democratic year,” he said.

Michael Steele was Republican National Committee chairman during the party’s 2010 wave. The ingredients, he said, included a strong message that resonated across party lines, voter enthusiasm and a robust organizing effort.

“After two years of hope and change” under Obama, he said, voters “were low on hope and they didn’t see any change.”

Steele cautioned Democrats that what looks like an emerging wave now could dissipate. Trump won in 2016 despite polls predicting a loss, he said, proving that “at the end of the day, voters are fickle.”

Still, the man who helped engineer the last big GOP wave said a Democratic one could be coming: “I’ve warned against it for a year now.”

Retirement trends in the U.S. House and Senate: Retirements from Congress can be an indicator of the future strength of political parties. So far in 2018, Democrats seem to have an edge. Several longtime Republicans in competitive House districts have decided not to run, eroding the advantages of incumbency for their party.

Senators retiring/resigned

Members of the House retiring

Members of the House in other races

Democrats 1 2

Republicans 1 2 4 6

Republicans 1 2

Democrats 1

Members of the House retiring

Democrats 1 2

Republicans 1 2 4 6

Members of the House in other races

Democrats 1

Republicans 1 2

Senators retiring/resigned

Graphic by Ray Grumney. Sources: News Services.

Bracing for battle

Spontaneous combustion can fuel waves, but money helps. Republican U.S. House candidates collectively raised $570 million in 2010. Democrats’ total: $521 million.

In 2017, the Republican National Committee raised $123 million. The Democratic National Committee collected $64.5 million, but its U.S. Senate and House campaign committees exceeded fundraising by their GOP counterparts.

Interest groups are gearing up. Organizations funded by the conservative businessmen Charles and David Koch plan to spend more than $400 million before the midterm elections, Tim Phillips, president of Americans for Prosperity, told donors last month.

A group formed by Eric Holder, Obama’s attorney general, plans to invest millions of dollars to block Republicans from gaining control of redistricting. The National Democratic Redistricting Committee is targeting elections in 11 states, including Minnesota.

Grass-roots efforts like Postcards to Voters can affect elections without spending a penny. The nonprofit, formed in 2017, flooded Alabama late last year with 347,709 postcards asking voters to back Democrat Doug Jones in the U.S. Senate race that he won over Republican Roy Moore.

Founder Tony McMullin said volunteers across the U.S. are assigned more than 4,000 voter addresses daily. “There’s already a wave coming,” he said.

Left: St. Croix County, Wis., Democrats held their regular monthly meeting held in Champs Sports Bar and Grill in New Richmond. They discussed last month's surprise win by a Democrat in the local state Senate special election. Right: Former County Party Chair Susan Stori passed around a printout of new Democrat State Senator PattyÊSchachtner at the St. Croix County, Wis., Democrats meeting.

View from New Richmond

The day after Jarchow’s loss, Wisconsin’s Republican Gov. Scott Walker, who is seeking a third term, called the results a “wake-up call.”

Brian Fraley, a Wisconsin Republican strategist, thinks the governor might have good reason to worry. Republicans, he said, “assumed they would win” the seat. “What we’re seeing here and across the country is that the positives of Trump don’t trickle down the ballot, but the negatives may.”

That’s what happened in St. Croix County, said Democrat Joyce Hall, a member of Hudson’s city council. “Trump’s win mobilized a lot of people to get involved,” she said. The mostly rural 10th District lies along the Minnesota border and has been reliably Republican.

Schachtner said she doesn’t think her upset win means a national Democratic wave is brewing. She focused solely on local issues and found that people were “open to having an intellectual conversation about differences of perspective and still being able to treat each other in a nice way.”

She didn’t expect to win, Schachtner said, but as she campaigned, “I could feel that things were changing, and I could feel the energy.”

Dan Hansen said at a county Democratic Party meeting that he hopes Schachtner’s win was a precursor of a wave. “But I won’t allow myself to believe it,” he said, “because I may become complacent and not work as hard.”

Trump is watching. “History is not on our side,” he said in Ohio on Feb. 5. “You win the presidency and you take it easy, and then they come and surprise you in the midterms.”

 

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