Ben Roback is Head of Trade and International Policy at Cicero Group and a member of the US Embassy’s Young Leader’s UK programme.
In our midterm election preview on October 24th, we looked ahead to the midterms, wary of making predictions that were too bold or that got too carried away in the narratives of ‘blue waves’ or ‘red resurgences’. Two weeks after the midterm elections and with only a small handful of results left to call, what do we now know?
The races that were too close to call
With just a few of races in the House of Representatives still to be decided, the Democrats have a net gain of 37 seats. The overall balance of power has therefore comfortably shifted towards the Democrats, who have 232 seats compared to the Republicans’ 200 as it stands. In the House, the Democrats have recorded their biggest gain since 1974. In the Senate, President Trump cheered as Missouri, North Dakota and Indiana all flipped from Democrat to Republican, whilst Governor Rick Scott (R) was declared the winner in Florida’s Senate contest after a recount. With the Mississippi recount that is due to take place shortly expected to go in the Republicans’ favour, the GOP majority in the Senate is expected to grow further from the current 52-47.
Of our four key states to watch, an even split between Republicans and Democrats
Nevada – The only gain in our list of four for the Democrats. Dean Heller, the incumbent senator, was the sole Republican incumbent running for re-election in a state that Hillary Clinton carried in 2016. Heller’s position on President Trump has always been uncertain, a problem amongst a Republican base that has proven their loyalty to the president. Having initially said he was “99 per cent” against Trump, Heller fully embraced him during his campaign for re-election. Instead, the state fell to Democrat Jacky Rosen, who campaigned heavily on local issues and healthcare.
West Virginia – Senator Joe Manchin supported Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination, an early sign that he was preparing to find a balance between progressive Democrats and registered Republicans in an often-conservative state. Manchin defeated Patrick Morrisey, the Republican West Virginia Attorney General, to return to Congress for a second term. Putting Manchin’s defence into context, West Virginia last voted for a Democratic presidential candidate in 2000, but in 2016 Donald Trump won the state by 42 points.
North Dakota – Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D) was extremely vulnerable going into this election, after the state voted for President Trump by 36 points in 2016. Re-election in 2018 was a step too far and North Dakota became a Republican gain for Kevin Cramer.
Texas – At the height of the ‘blue wave’ dreams in the minds of Democrats was defeating Senator Ted Cruz in Texas. A perennially polarising figure, Cruz displayed his political flexibility by going from opponent to keen backer of President Trump and his policy agenda. He held off a campaign led by Beto O’Rourke that could become a dry run for the 2020 general election. Despite the narrow loss, O’Rourke gave Democrats their best performance in a Texas state-wide election since 1990.
The three house districts that could have gone either way
Minnesota 8 – Republican Pete Stauber defeated Joe Radinovich in a seat that was held by Democrat Rick Nolan. Ranked a ‘Republican lean’ by the Cook Political Report, the district was something of a bellwether, in that it has shown recent support for both Democrats and Republicans. The district voted for Trump by 15 points in 2016, but Clinton won the state of Minnesota by 1.5 points.
New Mexico 2 – New Mexico’s second congressional district was so close to call that it still could go either way. With the outcome currently unconfirmed, it remains to be seen if Democrat Xochitl Torres Small has defeated incumbent Republican Yvette Herrell. Hillary Clinton won New Mexico in the 2016 presidential contest.
Florida 27 – Democrat Donna Shalala defeated Republican Maria Elvira Salazar in the race for Florida’s 27th Congressional District, vacated by Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R). Like MN-08 (above), the district has a mixed record at the national level having voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016 by 19 points, while President Trump won Florida by one point.
Two out of two gubernatorial races go blue
New Mexico – In a midterm election cycle of firsts, Michelle Lujan Grisham made history by becoming the first Democratic Latina governor in the United States. Her win flipped the New Mexico governor’s mansion to the Democrats for the first time since 2002. As a member of Congress, she became one of the leading critics of Trump’s immigration agenda, whereas her gubernatorial opponent was a member of the ultra-conservative House Freedom Caucus.
Connecticut – Governor Dan Malloy wisely opted not to run for re-election, after his approval rating fell below 30 per cent. Ned Lamont retained the governor’s mansion for Democrats, defeating Republican opponent Bob Stefanowski. On the campaign, Lamont pledged to be a “firewall” between Trump’s policies and “Connecticut values.”
An extended election that had something for everyone
If you look at the House, it was a great night for Democrats. If you cast your eye on the Senate, it was just as good for the Republicans. The governor’s mansions are a closer split and next year Republicans will control 27 governorships to Democrats’ 23. So it was an election that had something for everyone – from progressives like Alexandra Ocasio Cortez in New York to newfound Trump loyalists like Cruz in Texas.
Democrats can look ahead to the lame duck period in between the midterms and next presidential election knowing they have real oversight powers to subpoena the president and his associates. Republicans know that there is still no frontrunner to launch a credible campaign against Trump in 2020. Americans are set for two more tumultuous years of divided politics, as both parties seek to build on the anger in both their bases that drove such high turnout in the midterms.