While the party that controls the White House “almost invariably” loses seats in the midterm elections, Democrats face the biggest headwinds going into the midterm season if they expect to take over one or both houses of Congress, according to Andy Friedman of The Washington Update.
In his recently released white paper, “The 2018 Midterm Elections: Context and Cross Currents,” Friedman opines that in the Senate, Democrats’ headwinds arise from the disproportionate number of Democratic senators running for re-election, while in the House the challenge comes from the effects of gerrymandering.
“The headwinds suggest that it will not be sufficient for Democrats to win the popular vote by a modest amount; a greater margin of victory will be required,” Friedman states.
In the upcoming midterm, the Democrats need to pick up a net two seats to take control of the Senate.
As it stands now, Friedman says, the Republicans hold a 51-49 seat majority in the Senate.
A Democratic pickup of two seats would flip the 51-49 majority. (A Democratic pick-up of one seat would result in a 50-50 Senate, with Vice President Mike Pence breaking ties.)
“A two-seat gain seems eminently possible given the tendency of the party out of power to gain seats,” Friedman states.
That being said, the 2018 election “is unusual given the party makeup of the candidates running for re-election,” Friedman writes.
Incumbent senators running this year were last voted into office in 2012, he continues, in confluence with President Obama’s victory that year.
“Many of those senators are running from states that now lean Republican,” Friedman says, with 35 senators, of which 26 are Democrats, up for election this year.
Of those 26, 10 hail from states that voted for President Donald Trump in 2016 (Florida, Indiana, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Wisconsin).
Conversely, Friedman says, Democrats have a chance of picking up Republican seats in Arizona, Nevada, Tennessee and perhaps even Texas.
The “Senate math” basically comes down to this: To take the Senate, Democrats must win two seats currently held by Republicans as well as the 10 states that voted for Trump and the additional 16 states where they are incumbents (or pick up enough additional Republican-held seats to make up any difference), according to Friedman.
“That is not impossible, but it’s much harder than saying the Democrats merely need to pick up two seats to produce a majority,” he states.
Meanwhile, in the House, Democrats need to pick up 24 seats to take control.
Friedman notes that past midterm elections suggest that such an increase “is certainly possible.”
In 2010, when state legislatures redrew their congressional districts, Republicans — as they still do — controlled the bulk of the state legislatures.
“These Republican-led legislatures proceeded to draw the lines of their states’ congressional districts in a manner that maximized the number of districts voting Republican, a process called ‘gerrymandering,’” Friedman explains.
Democratic-led legislators followed suit in the states they controlled. Gerrymandering, Friedman continues, “produces convoluted districts with creative boundaries, aimed at ensuring that the majorities of as many districts as possible vote the same way as that state’s controlling party.”
Nonpartisan groups have concluded, Friedman says, “that the Democrats must win the popular vote in this year’s House races by at least 7%, or at least 11%, to overcome the effects of gerrymandering.”
Opponents of gerrymandering will have to wait for the Supreme Court decision in a case brought by citizens of Wisconsin and Maryland challenging the constitutionality of gerrymandering, Friedman said.
A decision that gerrymandering is unconstitutional “presumably would vacate the existing congressional map in favor of districts drawn with straighter lines,” Friedman states, with such a holding having “a profound effect on the makeup of the House, perhaps changing the body from a Republican to a Democratic majority.”
State Elections Have Federal Impact
As for upcoming state elections, they are worth watching from “a federal perspective” as they could have “a profound effect on which party controls the House in the years ahead,” Friedman opines.
Following the 2020 national census, “state legislatures will embark on the next redrawing of the House district maps, to be in effect for the succeeding decade,” he says.
In many, if not most, states the governor will play at least an informal role in this process, “as governors and many state legislators elected this year will still be in office in 2020.”
Control of the House depends crucially on which party has the upper hand in the bulk of the state legislatures and governorships.
Republicans control a significant majority of the state governments. “If that situation persists after the 2020 elections, then the next map will look similar to the current one, with Republicans controlling the House,” Friedman writes.
However, “if the Democrats make meaningful inroads into state governments this year and in 2020, then the House map for the next decade would be markedly different, perhaps even flipping House control to them.”
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