Ron Faucheux is a political analyst, author and pollster. He publishes LunchtimePolitics.com, a daily newsletter on polls. He also runs Clarus Research Group, a nonpartisan survey research firm that has worked for the Advocate and WWL-TV.
After the bloodletting of last year’s election, most of us aren’t ready for another one. But, in fewer than 20 months, America will elect a new Congress and 39 of the nation’s 50 governors. The future of both parties hangs in the balance.
If the intensifying Democratic resistance to President Donald Trump has any success, it most likely would happen in gubernatorial and U.S. House races. The U.S. Senate will be much tougher for them.
Republicans hold 33 governorships and, with that, set state policy in 60 percent of the country. If they can maintain this advantage, it will give them decisive influence over the reapportionment of congressional and state legislative seats after the 2020 census.
This year and next, Republicans have 28 of those governorships up for election and Democrats have only 11. That’s why Democrats are trying to gin up what they call an anti-Trump “tsunami” to exploit their opposition’s broad exposure.
In November, Democrats are aiming to retake New Jersey’s governorship and keep Virginia’s, two states with term-limited incumbents. These are often interesting indicators.
Next year, Democrats will focus on flipping at least nine potentially vulnerable GOP-held governorships, including those in big states such as Florida, Illinois, Ohio and Michigan. Republicans have far fewer opportunities.
Looking at Congress, Republicans hold a 43-seat majority in the House. Taking into account the five vacancies, Democrats need a net gain of 25 seats to shift control.
We’ve seen the president’s party suffer losses of this magnitude twice in recent times. Republicans lost 30 House seats in 2006 when President George W. Bush’s popularity was sinking, and 26 seats in 1982 after the first two years of Ronald Reagan’s presidency when the economy was still sluggish. We’ve also seen bigger shifts in 1994 and 2010, when first-term Democratic Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton lost 52 and 63 House seats, respectively.
It’s too early to tell whether Democrats can take the House. There are now about 30 Republican seats and half that many Democratic seats at potential risk, which gives Democrats more running room.
In the Senate, Democrats have the exposure problem. Twenty-five seats on the ballot in 2018 are Democratic-held, and only nine belong to Republicans. To make matters worse, Democrats also have to defend five vulnerable incumbents in strongly pro-Trump states.
Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, of West Virginia, for example, must overcome forces that produced a 42-point Trump win in his state to win re-election. Democratic Sens. Claire McCaskill, of Missouri, Joe Donnelly, of Indiana, Jon Tester, of Montana, and Heidi Heitkamp, of North Dakota, represent states that gave Trump victory margins of between 19 and 36 points.
Democrats now appear to have only two shots at Republican incumbents, Sens. Dean Heller, of Nevada, and Jeff Flake, of Arizona. Either could be vulnerable, but neither will be easy pickings.
Other GOP Senate incumbents up for election are in the Republican strongholds of Alabama, Mississippi, Nebraska, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and Wyoming. It would take Category 4 winds at their back for Democrats to have a chance at any of those seats.
In the end, Trump is the wild card. As the central force in American politics, what he says and does matters.
However, some Republicans theorize that even if Trump loses support, it may not have much effect on GOP candidates in state and district races. As Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker reasons, Trump is seen as a separate and distinct entity, and his personal controversies won’t rub off on other Republicans.
Maybe so. But Trump and congressional leaders still have to hack their way through the controversial details of thorny issues, from health care, tax reform and budget cuts to funding infrastructure and dealing with immigrants. If they flub their chance, Republican candidates across the country could tank. But if they deliver, and if Trump follows up on his successful speech to Congress, the Democratic resistance would flop.
It’s an understatement of biblical proportions to say a lot of water must still flow under the proverbial bridge between now and November 2018. But, it’s no understatement to say Republicans — in the stormy, unpredictable era of Trump — are already checking the skies, hoping the levees will hold.
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