Whatever happens in the first round of voting in the special election in Georgia’s Sixth Congressional District on Tuesday, it seems like a safe bet that the result will get a fair amount of national attention because of what it may tell us about the 2018 midterm. But before getting into what those lessons may be, let’s remember that this is a special election — and thus it features special circumstances.
It’s been nearly a week since the Republican plan to dramatically alter the Affordable Care Act died without a vote in the House of Representatives. It’s 84 weeks until the next national election, the 2018 midterm.
Democrats have a path to winning a House majority next year, but that possibility is highly dependent on variables over which they have effectively no control. That’s the takeaway from our initial ratings of 2018’s House races, a list that is heavy on Republicans who start this cycle only mildly endangered.
At first blush, one might think that the Democrats have a decent chance of taking control of the Senate in the 2018 midterm. After all, midterms frequently break against the president’s party, which has lost an average of four seats in the 26 midterms conducted in the era of popular Senate elections (starting with the 1914 midterm).
It’s become far less common in recent years for voters to vote for one party for president and another for their local U.S. House seat. While the number of “crossover” districts did go up from 2012 — there are 35 of them, as opposed to 26 after the 2012 election — the percentage of crossover seats, just 8% of the 435 districts, is low historically. To put that in perspective, 40 years ago during the 1976 presidential election — a race that, like this one, saw a national popular vote difference between the two candidates of just about two percentage points — 28.5% of the seats (124 of 435) voted differently for president and for House.
When President-elect Donald Trump takes the oath of office eight days from now, he will be completing a remarkable journey, going from private citizen to the highest elected office in the nation without any elected stop in between. But while Trump is, to put it mildly, a unique figure in presidential politics, his journey is one that is we are increasingly seeing on a smaller scale at the gubernatorial level.
With Republican Sen.-elect John Kennedy’s triumph in the Louisiana runoff last weekend, victories by two other Republicans in Louisiana House races, and Gov. Pat McCrory’s (R) concession last week to Gov.-elect Roy Cooper (D) in North Carolina, the winners of 2016’s House, Senate, and gubernatorial races are now set. This allows us to do a little housekeeping. Kennedy’s win confirms that this is the first cycle in the history of popular Senate elections that every state that held a Senate election in a presidential cycle voted for the same party for both president and for Senate (34 for 34 this year). Also, finalizing these results permits us to give a final assessment of our down-ballot Crystal Ball projections for 2016: We picked 32 of 34 Senate races correctly, along with 10 of 12 gubernatorial races and 428/435 House races.
A potential silver lining for Democrats is that they head into the 2018 midterm as the party that does not hold the White House, and the “out” party typically makes gains down the ballot in midterms. But it will be difficult for Democrats to make Senate gains in 2018: Despite being in the minority, they face a near-historic level of exposure in the group of Senate seats being contested in two years, Senate Class 1.
After the Bay of Pigs debacle, when U.S.-backed forces tried and spectacularly failed to topple Fidel Castro’s nascent communist regime in Cuba, President John F. Kennedy held a press conference and took blame for the failure. Speaking on April 21, 1961 — just a few months into his presidency — JFK memorably declared, “There’s an old saying that victory has a hundred fathers and defeat is an orphan,” meaning that when something goes right, many will want to take credit for it, but when something goes wrong, no one wants to take the blame.
For the first time since Ohio rejected Kennedy in favor of Richard M. Nixon in 1960, it seems quite possible that the Buckeye State will find itself on the losing side of a presidential election this year.