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Friday Talking Points -- Democrats' Biggest Midterm House Win Since Watergate

[ Posted Friday, November 9th, 2018 – 17:33 PST ]

Our subtitle today is (appropriately) nothing short of a talking point. Democrats just won their biggest pickup in the House of Representatives since 1974, the first post-Watergate election. That's not only impressive, it's downright historic. But, for some reason, many Democrats and many pundits are concentrating solely on the downside rather than face the many ballot-box victories the Democrats just chalked up. We have no real reason why this is so, and we wonder why so many seek the dark lining to what is indisputably a very silver cloud. Democrats won, and they won big. They didn't win every race, and some rock-star candidates lost, but why dwell on it? There were so many other wins Tuesday night that more than made up for it, after all.

Once again: House Democrats just had their best midterm since Watergate. They have picked up at least 30 House seats, and probably more. There are still 13 races which have not been officially called yet, and Democrats are up in at least five of them. If they win every one of these races where they are now leading, Democrats will have 230 House seats to Republicans' 205. That is a major turnaround, any way you slice it.

There were other reasons why this was a historic midterm election as well, all of which bode well for the Democratic Party in the future. It was an election of firsts -- first woman, first gay person, first [insert ethnicity or religion] ever elected. For the most part, this happened on the Democratic side, as the party becomes much more representative of the American public. While Republicans did chart a few firsts of their own, their party mostly continued to become much whiter and older.

Turnout was spectacular, across the board. More people voted than normally do in midterms, in some places even rivalling presidential-year turnouts. Latinos turned out in large numbers -- 11 percent of the electorate was Latino, up from eight percent in 2014. As a result, there will be a record-breaking 42 Latinos (at least) in the next Congress.

Democrats won women voters by an astonishing 19 points -- the highest margin in the history of midterm exit polling. Democrats made big gains among slices of this demographic too, winning independent women by 17 points and splitting the white women's vote evenly (after losing it by 14 points in 2014, and 19 points in 2010). Voters under 30 went for Democrats by a jaw-dropping 35-point margin, as well -- which was over twice as big a gap than existed in 2014.

Amendment 4 passed in Florida, which will re-enfranchise over 1.5 million people previously convicted of a felony. When you commit a crime, you should pay society back by jail time or fines or whatever, but once it is all over -- once you're off probation or parole and have fully paid your debt to society -- then you should be able to fully reassume all the rights of citizenship. One mistake shouldn't mean being banned from voting for life. Depending on how many of these people actually choose to exercise their newly-won franchise, this could even shift Florida to the blue column. That could have enormous consequences in presidential elections.

Democrats flipped seven governor's seats: Illinois, Kansas (!), Maine, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, and Wisconsin. A black woman who was part of the Black Lives Matter movement and who ran after losing her son to gun violence took the Georgia House seat formerly held by Newt Gingrich -- which was also the district Jon Ossoff lost last year in a special election.

Medicaid expansion won at the polls in three very red states -- Idaho, Utah, and Nebraska. It will also likely happen in two other states that elected Democratic governors -- Kansas and Maine. Marijuana was legalized for recreational use in Michigan and medical use in Missouri and Utah. Voters in Michigan, Colorado, and Utah rejected the whole concept of gerrymandering in favor of districts being redrawn by nonpartisan independent commissions or an independent demographer.

Democrats defeated some big Republican names Tuesday night, which should have been the happiest news of all. Hated governor of Wisconsin Scott Walker was finally handed his walking papers. He was the biggest Union-buster around a few years ago and managed to win a recall election, so this is a very big deal. Kris Kobach, who was even more anti-immigrant than Donald Trump, lost his bid to become governor of Kansas. Kansas just elected a Democratic governor! That's pretty astounding, although maybe not so much when you consider just how badly Republicans have screwed up the state's finances by trying to prove that "trickle-down economics" works wonders (spoiler alert: it doesn't). In the House, several big GOP names went down, including Pete Sessions and Dave Brat. In California, Dana Rohrabacher is currently behind in his bid for re-election, but the race hasn't officially been called for the Democrat yet. And perhaps the most satisfying news of the night was reading this tweet from @GOVERNING:

Kim Davis appears to have lost. The clerk in Rowan County, Ky., became a folk hero to social conservatives after refusing to issue same-sex marriage licenses. She trails Democrat Elwood Caudill by 54 to 46 percent, with 89 percent of precincts reporting.

Of course, Democrats did lose some marquee races, most notably Beto O'Rourke losing to Ted Cruz in Texas. Three others are still locked in recount battles, so it is conceivable that not all of them will lose, but currently they're all down in the vote counts: Stacey Abrams's bid for Georgia governor, and the races for Senate and governor in Florida. But it was just announced that in Arizona, Democrat Kyrsten Sinema is leading in the vote-count and might eventually win a Senate seat (although the race is still very close, so this isn't a done deal). If Sinema does prevail, it will mean Republicans flipped four Senate seats while Democrats flipped two, for a net GOP gain of only two seats.

When you step back and look at the big picture, it looks pretty darn good for Democrats. They swept the boards pretty much everywhere but the Senate, where they were facing a historic imbalance in the map (Democrats haven't faced such a bad map since the 1930s, in fact), so even this is not really as bad as it might seem.

But we saved the best part for last. Because Democrats also had historic successes down the ballot. The Democratic Party has been getting hammered by Republicans at the state legislative level, ever since Barack Obama became president. They lost around 1,000 state legislative seats in the last decade, in fact. But Tuesday, they finally turned this around in a big way, winning back 300 of those seats in a single election cycle. The Washington Post had further details:

[T]he raw numbers are less important than where [Democrats] picked up seats. Democrats gained "trifectas" -- controlling the governorship and both houses of the legislature -- in six states: Colorado, Illinois, Maine, Nevada, New Mexico and New York. In addition, they took away Republican trifectas in four more states, three by winning the governorship (Kansas, Michigan and Wisconsin) and one by taking both chambers of the legislature (New Hampshire). They also flipped the Maine Senate and Minnesota House, and won supermajorities in the Oregon House and Senate. The only chamber that flipped to Republican was the Alaska House.

Speaking of supermajorities, Democrats also won enough seats in North Carolina to break the GOP supermajorities in both houses there, meaning Republicans can no longer override Democratic governor Roy Cooper's vetoes. They also broke Republican supermajorities in the Pennsylvania Senate and Michigan Senate.

That is all very big news, although it kind of got swamped in all the national election coverage. Voters rejected Republican governance not only in who they send to Washington, but also in who they send to represent them in their state capitals.

So how can any Democrat be gloomy after such sweeping success Tuesday night? Why count the races that might have been, when you are drowning in overwhelming good news? The funniest thing we read all week was an article by Alexandra Petri, the Washington Post humorist-in-residence, which was amusingly titled: "Pundits Talk About Other Events The Way They Have Talked About The 'Blue Wave'." This includes such imagined headlines as: "Faulkner Wins Nobel Prize For Literature, Comes Up Empty In Chemistry And Biology," and: "NASA Manages To Land First Man On Moon, Falls Short Of Mars." The whole list is very short and hilariously funny, so we recommend everyone check out that link. Our favorite? "Disappointing Night for Rebels Who Only Manage to Destroy Death Star, Dashing Hopes They Might Also Have Engaged And Defeated Entire Imperial Navy." Heh.

Maybe Democrats (and the pundits who support them) have just forgotten what it is like to win. Maybe they've forgotten how to celebrate what can only be called a historic midterm victory. Who knows? Which is why we'll end where we began, because Democrats just had their biggest midterm rout in the House since the days of Watergate and Richard Nixon. So don't let anyone else tell you it was any kind of "split decision" or "disappointment" for Democrats, because it really was neither of those things. All across the country, Democrats won. Progressive Democrats won, moderate Democrats won, minority Democrats won, women Democrats won, gay Democrats won, Latino Democrats won, Democratic agenda items were passed by popular vote even in ruby-red states, Democrats took back statehouse after statehouse, flipped seven governors, and sent some of the most odious Republicans in the country packing.

It was the best midterm victory since 1974, no matter what Donald Trump thinks about it.

There were many other important things happening in the world of politics this week, from Donald Trump booting out Jeff Sessions to Trump's new (and likely unconstitutional) limitations on asylum claims at the border. Trump lost two federal court decisions, on the Keystone XL pipeline and on his attempts to end DACA. Trump held a petulant press conference immediately after the election where he heaped abuse upon multiple reporters, and revoked the press pass of CNN reporter Jim Acosta (after which Sarah Huckabee Sanders spread pure propaganda to explain Trump's position). Ruth Bader Ginsberg was hospitalized for broken ribs, sending a shiver down Democratic spines everywhere. But the election news was so overwhelming we're going to have to wait to discuss any of these developments until later.

Two amusing election footnotes to close on, here, before we move on to the awards. Mitt Romney won a Senate seat in Utah, making him the first person in 173 years to have been governor of one state and then represent a different state in the Senate. The last guy who pulled this feat off was none other than Sam Houston, who was governor of Tennessee before becoming a senator from Texas.

And Joe Biden won the "best photo op" of the election, as he was caught dramatically exiting a voting booth. Much Photoshopping ensued immediately thereafter online, as everyone had some fun with the image.

 

Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week

There were a lot of impressive Democrats to choose from, this week (because, once again: best midterm since Watergate). There were all the candidates who achieved "firsts" in becoming the first of their kind to be elected to Congress. There were Democrats who won in districts that have been in Republican hands for decades. There were Democrats who had never entered politics before who won. So we'll just award a blanket Honorable Mention to every Democrat who won their election this Tuesday -- well done, each and every one of you!

There are two Democratic senators who deserve some sort of recognition for bucking the trend: Joe Manchin and Sherrod Brown. Other red-state Democrats in the Senate lost their races this week, but Manchin and Brown hung on. Brown, in particular, was impressive since at the same time he won re-election a Republican won the governor's race. All the Democrats who flipped governor's races across the country also deserve some recognition, as well.

Nancy Pelosi certainly achieved a historic turnaround, because after having to give up the speakers' chair eight years ago, instead of just retiring from politics (which is traditional), she stayed put and worked tirelessly to regain control of the House while at the same time holding her caucus together to limit the damage the Republican majority could do. That last bit is incredibly impressive, since usually when Democrats are in the minority, they become easy pickings for Republicans looking for a few spare aisle-crossing votes. This time around, virtually none of that happened, which Pelosi is almost singlehandedly responsible for. Pelosi isn't guaranteed to win the speakership this time, but she is well and away the favorite. We'll know in a few weeks, but until then she deserves credit for bringing Democrats back out of the wilderness in the House.

But out of all of these impressive Democrats this week, we have to choose one for the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award. And we felt that Wisconsin Governor-Elect Tony Evers deserved the award for finally -- finally! -- getting rid of Scott Walker. Walker wasted no time in attacking Unions in his state, but he managed to win three elections -- two governor's races and defeating a recall attempt. However, this year his Tony Evers proved Walker could indeed be beaten. Wisconsin avoided a third Walker term by electing Evers, which is cause for Democrats everywhere to celebrate.

We realize others may have other favorites who might equally deserve this week's MIDOTW, but we were so happy to see Walker sent packing that we just couldn't resist awarding it to Tony Evers. Well done, Governor-Elect Evers, well done indeed!

[Tony Evers does not yet have an official governor's webpage, so you'll have to wait to congratulate him officially.]

 

Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week

Um, the Democrat who lost to Steve King, maybe? That was really the night's biggest disappointment to us, especially seeing as how Democrats won all three of the other Iowa House districts (flipping two of them to do so).

Randy "Iron 'Stache" Bryce failed to win Paul Ryan's House seat, which was a personal disappointment after seeing him campaign a few years back.

Nationally, Amy McGrath disappointed many Democratic commentators after losing a House race in Kentucky to Andy Barr. We're not sure why this race got such national focus, but it seemed all the lefties on television were ready to pronounce this district as the harbinger of the whole election. When Barr won, this was not possible for them to do, and they weren't shy about showing their disappointment.

Three senators disappointed Democrats nationally, Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, and Claire McCaskill of Missouri. Three other Democrats still have a fighting chance, but may wind up to be disappointments as well, in the Georgia governor's race and the Florida races for both governor and Senate.

But the biggest disappointment of all was a Democrat a lot of people nationwide had pinned some rather unrealistic hopes on this time around, Beto O'Rourke of Texas. The "Betomania" had been increasing for months, and everyone with any ounce of sense truly wanted to see Ted Cruz get defeated. But alas, it was not to be. Texas remained red, just as it has each and every time national Democrats get their hopes up with wild-eyed predictions that: "This'll be the year that we turn Texas blue!"

Once again, Texas did not turn blue. Democrats down the ballot did make some impressive inroads, but they came up short statewide, no matter how appealing a candidate Beto O'Rourke was.

This likely won't be the end for O'Rourke, it's worth pointing out. He probably has a bright future in politics even after suffering this loss. But expectations had been raised insanely high for him -- not only were some Democrats ready to celebrate his victory over Cruz, but they were eagerly speculating about an O'Rourke run for the presidency in 2020. This wasn't really O'Rourke's fault, it was everyone else's who let their expectations get so high, really.

But Beto O'Rourke is definitely the one Democratic candidate whose loss disappointed more Democrats nationally than any other on Tuesday night. That much is hard to dispute. And for that, he wins the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week.

[We can't bring ourselves to rub salt in his wounds, so we're not going to provide contact information for Beto O'Rourke, sorry.]

 

Friday Talking Points

Volume 508 (11/9/18)

Talking points, of course, are designed to influence the political debate of the day and promote a positive narrative. This week, Democrats haven't done such a great job of this. Of course Donald Trump was going to claim victory, no matter what happened at the polls. Democrats should have pushed back on this storyline as hard as possible, and here's hoping they start doing so in a big way (on this Sunday's political television chatfests would be a dandy place to start). Because they've really got plenty to brag about.

There's so much to boast about that it was tough to whittle it down to just seven, in fact. So here are merely our top seven talking points that we'd dearly love to see Democrats start using on television and everywhere else. Don't listen to the naysayers -- this was an election to be proud of and to gleefully celebrate, period.

 

1
   Biggest win since Watergate

This is the best talking point of the week, hands down. It should precede just about anything else a Democrat has to say about the midterm election results, in fact.

"Democrats just won their biggest midterm victory in the House since Watergate. In 1974, the country voted in a midterm election three months after President Richard Nixon resigned. Since that time, Democrats have never had such a blowout midterm election, making 2018 a historic victory. Nancy Pelosi will likely also make history, as there are very few speakers who have ever lost control of the House only to later wrest it back. This was a historic victory for Democrats, there's no doubt about it. Biggest midterm win since 1974, in fact."

 

2
   Newt's district flipped

This one would work best, of course, for a Democrat sitting across the table from Newt Gingrich himself. But it'll still work to a lesser degree, even if Newtie isn't in the room.

"For decades Republicans have been gerrymandering House districts to favor them based on the assumption that suburbanites would always reliably vote Republican. That shifted in a major way in 2018. Democrats won suburban House district after suburban House district -- districts that had been designed to always be reliably Republican. In Georgia, Democrats just won Newt Gingrich's old House district, after closely losing a special election there last year. If even Gingrich's old district is trending blue, it shows that Republicans have a lot to worry about. All of a sudden, one of their big voting blocs has shifted. Whether it is a permanent shift or just a reaction to Donald Trump remains to be seen, but on Tuesday night it handed Democrats a whole lot of House seats -- including even Newt's old seat."

 

3
   Obamacare won big time

Few have drawn this particular conclusion, but it seems obvious to us.

"You know what was the biggest winner in this election cycle? Obamacare. It's tough to even overstate this fact, so let me count a few of the ways Obamacare won. First, Republican candidates stopped campaigning on 'repeal and replace.' After the fiasco last year, Republicans -- for the first time since it passed -- were actually on the defensive on all of the most popular aspects of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Republican after Republican stood up and lied their faces off about how they were the ones who should be trusted to preserve protections for people with pre-existing conditions. The Democratic House will happily give them all a chance to do so, early next year, by forcing the issue to a vote. And after the election was over, Mitch McConnell sheepishly admitted that repealing Obamacare is no longer on the agenda for the Senate. Meanwhile, Medicaid expansion -- another aspect of Obamacare -- was approved by the voters in Idaho and in Nebraska and in Utah. Red state after red state is realizing that seeing rural hospitals close is the price their partisan rejection of all things Obamacare is forcing them to pay, and deciding that it just isn't worth it. The number of states which have not expanded Medicaid continues to shrink, every single year. All around, the 2018 election results showed enormous support for Obamacare from politicians and from the voters themselves. Which is why Obamacare was truly the biggest winner Tuesday night."

 

4
   It's not just Medicaid expansion, either

Democratic issues continue to do well even in the reddest states.

"It's not just Medicaid expansion, either. Several Democratic agenda items won big at the ballot box this week. Arkansas and Missouri both voted to raise their minimum wage, even though Republicans in both states fought it tooth and nail. Medical marijuana won in two very red states as well. Voting reforms which take the redistricting process away from gerrymander-happy politicians won in three states. When the people are given a chance to directly weigh in on Democratic agenda items, they win even in the reddest places."

 

5
   Taking back the statehouses

This is really important to point out, because so few people are currently doing so.

"Democrats had huge successes down the ballot, too. From the time Barack Obama became president, Democrats had lost over 900 state legislative seats to the Republicans. This year, they took back 300 of them. By doing so, they gained total control of six states, winning not only control of both houses of the state legislature but also the governor's office. They broke total Republican control in four other states, by either winning the governor's seat or flipping a legislative house. Democrats achieved veto-proof supermajorities in two state chambers, and broke GOP supermajorities in another three states. You can argue about whether this election was a wave or not until you're blue in the face, but the fact remains that Democrats just made historic gains at the state level, reversing a decade-long trend."

 

6
   Democrats aren't afraid of minorities, they send them to Washington

This really needs pointing out, after Trump's incredible bout of fearmongering during the campaign.

"Republicans see all minorities as 'the other' and run blatantly racist ads trying to scare their voters with naked fearmongering. Democrats, on the other hand, welcome diversity in their ranks. I've lost count of how many 'firsts' Democratic candidates made this year -- first Somali woman going to Congress, first Native-American women, first Muslim woman, first lesbian mom, and the youngest woman ever elected to the House, Alexandria Ocasio Cortez. Democrats welcome all in their ranks and celebrate their historic achievements. But Democrats also welcome to their ranks a whole bunch of white suburban women who have historically voted Republican. In the Democratic Party, all are welcome! In fact, we'd strongly encourage all of these demographics to find a permanent home in the Democratic Party, because the Republicans seem to be doubling down on white rage and fear."

 

7
   Keep your eyes on Florida

This can't be said enough, really.

"Currently in the state of Florida, both the Senate and governor's races are heading to recounts. Out of over eight million votes cast, the margin in the governor's race between the Democrat and the Republicans stands at fewer than 40,000 votes. In the Senate race, there is currently only a gap of 15,000 votes. Out of eight million total votes. Florida is no stranger to recounts, of course, as anyone who remembers Bush v. Gore from 2000 already knows. The state has been almost perfectly balanced on the partisan divide for a long time, in fact. Now consider the fact that in the next presidential election, over a million and a half people in Florida will be given the right to vote again. Not all of them will register, and not all of them will vote. But those who do might just remember which party it was that fought to give them their voting rights back and which party fought against it, don't you think? And, as the current recounts show, it really wouldn't take all that many additional votes to shift the entire state of Florida from purple to blue. So I'll be watching the state very closely in the 2020 election, that's for sure."

-- Chris Weigant

 

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Cross-posted at: Democratic Underground