This is not the best of times for the Democratic Party. No White House; no Senate; no House of Representatives; and a clear minority of governorships and state legislatures in their possession. Yet the Democrats approach this fall’s midterm elections with an advantage in one key aspect of the political process — their strength in states where voters register by party.
-- Although Donald Trump is remaking the Republican Party in his image, he had among the shortest coattails of any presidential winner going back to Dwight Eisenhower. In 2016, Trump ran ahead of just 24 of 241 Republican House winners and only five of 22 Republican Senate winners.
If Hillary Clinton had won the presidency -- and she took the popular vote by nearly 3 million -- the narrative of the 2016 election would be far different. Rather than the storyline being Donald’s Trump triumph in the heartland, with its beleaguered blue-collar workers, the emphasis now would be on the Democrats’ ongoing success in metro America, with its large share of the nation’s growing minority population. The conventional wisdom would surely be that the Democrats were likely to control the White House for years to come.
No matter what one thinks of this often surreal presidential primary campaign, it has been a hit at the ballot box.
Republicans have already smashed their record of 20.8 million ballots, set in 2008. Through the May 10 contests, the 2016 GOP primary turnout stands at 26.1 million and counting.
The Democrats can use all the assets they can find as they approach a midterm election that grows increasingly challenging. The polls are daunting. The electoral map for both the Senate and House is unfavorable. And history is rarely kind to the president’s party in midterm voting.
But the Democrats have two significant assets in the form of Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, the president and former president who have thrown themselves into the 2014 campaign with gusto.
Throughout this year’s presidential campaign, the competitive portion of the electoral map has been limited to about 12 or 13 states. There are the nine that flipped from Republican George W. Bush in 2004 to Democrat Barack Obama in 2008, plus four or so others -- Michigan, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin come quickly to mind -- that voted Democratic the last two presidential elections but narrowly so in 2004.
Conventional wisdom is that the Republican presidential field is set, and that it is much too late for a new candidate to enter the race.
In years past, that would be absolutely correct. Over the last few decades, dozens of primaries and caucuses have been shoe-horned into the opening weeks of the election year, with the tendency on the Republican side for the front-running candidate to score a quick knockout.
At long last, the 2012 Republican presidential nominating calendar is coming into focus. But it is not all that GOP schedule makers wanted. Rather than a February start in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina, Florida's recent decision to hold its primary Jan. 31 has moved all the other early-voting states forward a month.
Take a poll of political pundits about next year's presidential election, and most at this point would probably predict that President Barack Obama would win reelection, but with a reduced margin from 2008 in both the popular and electoral vote. Yet if that actually happens, it would be an historical rarity of the first order.
The two major parties have done their job in terms of setting the parameters for the 2012 presidential nominating process. Now, it is time for the states to fill in the blanks. And what they do in that regard over the next few months could go a long way in determining who wins next year's Republican presidential nomination.