How Both Parties Won and Lost the Midterms
The midterm elections were touted as the impending referendum on the performance of President Donald Trump. Democrats hoped to send a message that 2016 was an electoral aberration and that America had become more progressive as a whole. Similarly, Republicans sought to prove the viability of a continued Trump presidency by demonstrating that his message and accomplishments had resonated with voters.
While both sides desperately hoped for a landmark victory, all polls suggested that the comprehensive result would be something of a stalemate, and—in stark contrast to the famously inaccurate 2016 polling—the generic predictions were predominately accurate. The election came and went with surprisingly little fanfare, and now skeptical voters are attempting to make sense of out the results.
In midterm elections, where there is no central captivating contest, success can often be in the eyes of the beholder depending upon which races you were invested in and how you view the results shaping the political landscape for the near future.
Valeria Martinez—a King’s sophomore from the state of Florida—expressed her excitement in the passage of a Florida ballot initiative that reinstated voting rights for former felons. She was disappointed in the outcome of several high profile contests though and she believes voter suppression may have had something to do with that.
It’s “very convenient” she said, that “all of the voting problems happened in lower income areas. There were all kinds of issues, especially in Georgia, like polling places not being open or running out of paper ballots and they all happened in lower income areas that tend to vote Democratic”.
She emphasized her belief that voting is a basic right of the people and that because voting day isn’t a national holiday, and there are often so many restrictions on it, many lower income Americans may not have the access they need to voting in order to make their voice heard.
While the young Democratic progressive stars like Andrew Gillum and Beto O’Rourke had a tough night, it would be difficult to characterize November 6 as anything short of a marginal victory for the Democrats—something their Congressional leadership is quick to tout.
House Democratic Leader, and likely Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi declared on election night that “Tomorrow will be a new day in America” owing to what she called a group of “dynamic, diverse, [and] incredible candidates who have taken back the House for the American people”.
The total gains are still being tallied but Democrats flipped at least 35 seats in the House with a potential five more still on the table. Not only did they gain control of the House of Representatives, but they successfully unseated seven GOP-held governorships across the nation including Bruce Rauner (Illinois) and former Republican presidential hopeful Scott Walker (Wisconsin).
With a reclaimed foothold in the federal legislature, the Democrats can begin to make good on their promises to hold President Trump accountable.
Martinez also expressed her dismay that the Democratic nominee, Andrew Gillum, came up just shy of defeating Republican Ron DeSantis in her home state gubernatorial race. The vote has since then gone into a recount.
“It’s disappointing that Florida wasn’t able to join the wave of states electing progressives and minorities this year. I think that it’s important to have elected officials that statistically represent the demographics of the people and old white men don’t necessarily do that” she said.
Although generally considered to be a swing state, Florida has not elected a Democrat to the governor’s office since 1994.
Republicans Hold Fort
The Republicans were not without their own political wins however.
They managed to not only retain control of the Senate, but (once recounts and runoffs are concluded) are expected to gain three to four additional seats which will enhance their ability to confirm federal judges or supreme court justices in the event of another vacancy. Because each Senator is elected for a six-year term, these gains could make the Republican majority in the Upper House untouchable until at least 2022.
Freshman Dominique LaCroix says that even with the incoming Democratic majority in the House, “it is reassuring that the Republicans retain the Senate so that policy advancements that have been implemented in the past two years are maintained”.
She also expressed her personal excitement in the specific wins of staunch conservative Senator Ted Cruz, and the first woman ever elected to the Senate from the state of Tennessee, Marsha Blackburn, whom Dominique described as “someone who has strong convictions and stands up for her beliefs”.
Republicans partisans also defend their mediocre showing by pointing to other 21st century midterms, the majority of which been a net loss for the party in power.
Republicans lost 31 House seats and six Senate seats in 2006 during George W. Bush’s second term. In, 2010, the GOP regained six seats of their own along with a staggering 63 House seats in President Obama’s first term.
Within the context of midterm elections, the loss of 35 to 40 seats this week is not unusual for a party in power and the gain of potentially three Senate seats is completely unprecedented by modern standards.
While Republicans and Democrats alike would love to categorize the 2018 elections as a political win, the evidence to suggest that this is anything other than an average midterm backlash is insufficient.
Despite record-breaking midterm voter turnout (well over 100 million) the much lauded Democratic “resistance” produced a smaller wave than some hoped for, and the Republican party has lost a size-able amount of leverage to advance their agenda through Congress. It’s politics as usual in Washington, and all eyes now shift to 2020 and the prize that it holds.