The US midterms: a bittersweet night for Democrats

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By Peter Borsada, 4th Year German & Portugese

Peter Borsada summarises the results of the US midterms, weighing up the high and low point for both the Democrats and Republicans.

Wednesday morning saw a mixed picture emerging from America's midterms, the first big electoral test for Donald Trump's Republican Party since his stunning victory in the 2016 race to become President of the world's largest economy.

Up for grabs were all 435 seats of the House of Representatives and a third of seats in the Senate. House seats are allocated among districts of similar population whilst Senate seats are allotted two-apiece to the 50 states, regardless of population. The President's party lost in the region of 25-30 seats in the House whilst simultaneously tightening its grip on the upper chamber.

Democrats, traumatised by Mr. Trump's triumph two years ago, were hoping to offer a stinging rebuke to the President's inflammatory and racialised style of politics and although such a full-throated repudiation eluded them, the wounds that their rag-tag coalition of ethnic-minority, college-educated, urban-living voters inflicted will leave Republicans smarting. In the Midwest, a northerly, inland region that skirts the Great Lakes and the Canadian border, Democrats slew a number of progressive bêtes-noires, whilst nationally high-profile, left-wing candidates fizzled in the South East of the country.

The Midwest was a key region for Mr. Trump's success and its apparent return into the Democratic fold will hearten those devastated at Hillary Clinton's 2016 loss. Meanwhile, losses in the South will perturb Democrats who saw a rising coalition of young professionals, Hispanics, and black Democrat loyalists as a potential path to victory in that region.

Democrats also scythed through swathes of Republican territory in traditionally right-leaning suburbs that switched to vote for Mrs. Clinton in 2016. More affluent, educated voters have been alienated by Mr. Trump's demagogic tendencies and voted last night to put fetters on his power. This path, along with a smaller number of seats which elected both Barack Obama and Donald Trump, enabled Democrats to seize back the majority in the House.

In contrast, Republicans were buoyed by better than expected returns in several key Senate races. The collection of seats up for election proved ideal for Republicans: of the 33 seats decided in yesterday's election, 25 were being defended by Democrats and 10 of these were in states the President won in 2016, oftentimes with hefty majorities. As of writing, 4 of these 10 seats, in Florida, Indiana, Missouri and North Dakota have all fallen into the hands of the Republican majority, with Montana Sen. Jon Tester (D) also appearing in danger.

Democrats had hoped that historical precedent - that the party that does not hold the White House almost never loses incumbent Senators - would hold true in 2018, but in an era of increased partisanship, states which would once have sent more moderate, 'maverick' Senators to Washington tend more and more to stick with their partisan inclinations. So it proved last night as Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D) was catapulted out of her seat in deeply conservative North Dakota. The same was true of Sen. Joe Donnelly (D) in Indiana, a state which Trump won by nearly 19 percentage points in 2016. Equally, Clinton-voting Nevada gave the boot to its Republican Senator, Dean Heller.

Increased partisanship also showed in the types of seats each party won, with Republicans cleaning up in rural, more sparsely populated areas (those, incidentally, which are privileged by the Senate's allocation of seats) and Democrats taking America's cities and more well-to-do suburbs.

The mixed-bag of results left every side with something to cheer about as well as sowing doubts in the minds of both parties as to the viability of their electoral strategies. That Republicans did most poorly in the nation-wide House vote should worry Mr. Trump, who, naturally, needs to win a majority in the country at large to be reelected in 2020. On the other hand, Democrats need to take stock of the failure of progressive darlings like gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum in Florida and Senate contender Beto O'Rourke when thinking about how to oust Trump.

The contest also leaves in doubt the future of Mr. Trump's presidency, as Democrats now wield power on a number of powerful House committees, and will surely exercise their newfound influence to investigate the President and his government far more aggressively than he is accustomed to. Inquiries into Mr Trump's personal finances, his links with Russia and his administration's handling of a hurricane in Puerto Rico seem to be forthcoming. Republicans will also struggle to construct a conservative legislative agenda, with Democrats now having veto power over the lawmaking process in Washington.

Highlights and Lowlights

Democrat Highlights:

  • Definitely Kendra Horn in Oklahoma's 5th district, who overcame sky-high odds to defeat 2-term incumbent Steve Russell in the ruby-red state. This win sees Democrats competing in deeply conservative territory.
  • The ousting of Governor Scott Walker in Wisconsin, a solid conservative and fundraising juggernaut for national Republicans. His manipulation of electoral boundaries has left Democrats uncompetitive in the state for nearly a decade so his defeat is extra sweet.
  • Jacky Rosen in Nevada kept the flame alive for Democratic hopes of retaking the Senate some day. She had seemed like a laggard in the polls but her win will come as a relief to Dems amid broader losses.

Democrat Lowlights

  • The loss of Florida's governor's race by African American progressive Andrew Gillum is truly a painful pill to swallow for Democrats who had been energised by his campaign and seen him consistently ahead in polling. Defeat last night also gives Republicans an infrastructural advantage in the Sunshine State come Trump's 2020 reelection bid.
  • Any Democratic Senate losses could have been considered catastrophic given how few pick-up opportunities the map presented but to lose 4 or potentially 5 seats is a hammer blow that will allow Republicans to have their pick of judicial nominees. Had he come before the Senate-elect, Brett Kavanaugh would have had no trouble being confirmed

Republican Highlights:

  • In the House, Republicans had little to smile about, but a rare gain came in Minnesota's 8th district. Having voted heavily for Trump, the district continues its rightward trend.
  • Denying Democratic superstar Beto O'Rourke in Texas' Senate race will cheer Republicans who worried that deeply polarising incumbent, Ted Cruz, was in danger from a strong challenger. Despite millions of dollars pouring in for O'Rourke from around the country, Cruz eked out a win though the narrow margin should concern Texas Republicans.

Republican Lowlights:

  • The spectacle of losing a governor's race in deep-red Kansas having run a problematic candidate with a long history of racially-tinged, anti-voter-fraud activism - namely Kris Kobach - will be one the GOP would sooner forget.
  • Losing Barbra Comstock's suburban Washington D.C. district will be a particular slap in the face to Republican fundraising body, the NRCC, who spent over $5 million trying to save her, Politico reports.

Featured Image: Unsplash / Joshua Hoehne


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