Reflecting on the Midterms
Even as I write this, Democrats have flipped Georgia’s Sixth District, ousting the Republican who narrowly defeated Jon Ossoff in the district’s Special Election in June of last year. Lucy McBath was declared the winner today with a 50.5% to 49.5% margin over Rep. Karen Handel (R). Late last night, Democrat Andy Kim, a former Obama Administration official and Rhodes Scholar ousted two-term Republican incumbent Tom MacArthur, a Trump advocate and supporter of the GOP tax plan.
In all, Democrats have (so far) flipped 31 seats across the country, notably in the Midwest states which helped propel Trump to victory in the 2016 presidential election. In addition, Democrats have flipped an astounding seven governorships, with Florida and Georgia still to close to call (and likely going to be subject to intense litigation about voter disenfranchisement and suppression), over 330 state legislative seats (flipping five state legislatures), and progressive ballot questions succeeding in states across the nation. And finally, Scott Walker is no longer the Governor of Wisconsin (way to go Tony Evers!)
Yes, Republicans actually gained seats in the Senate and Beto O’Rourke’s loss in Texas hurt, and Claire McCaskill, Joe Donnelly and Heidi Heitkamp losses in Missouri, Indiana and North Dakota, respectively, are significant in terms of their qualities as legislators. But Democrats should absolutely not let these losses overshadow the enormous success we saw Tuesday night.
Despite a decade of gerrymandering Congressional districts, Republicans lost in seats that in 2012, 2014, and 2016 were considered safe for them, even despite many going to Obama and Hillary in the presidential cycles. The scale of Republican losses in these seats, many of which are districts in suburbs of cities like Philadelphia, Chicago, Houston, and Denver, shows that the G.O.P. is losing suburban, college-educated and women voters at alarming rates.
New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin and Iowa are where Democrats picked up the most seats. Of Iowa’s four congressional districts, for example, Democrats flipped two of them (both female candidates as well). In New York, Democrats flipped the Republican stronghold of Staten Island and two Upstate districts they’ve long targeted. After the state Supreme Court found the congressional map so gerrymandered by Republicans that it ordered it redrawn, Democrats were able to flip four seats. In Virginia, Democrats picked up three seats, including Jennifer Wexton’s ousting of NRA darling Barbara Comstock and the incredible Abigail Spanberger defeating the Tea Party favorite David Brat.
It is hard to overstate this — because of the gerrymandering, because of the rhetoric, because of the efforts of Republicans to suppress voters — for the Democrats to have picked up 31 House seats (so far, probably more like 35 or 36) in a midterm election where the economy is strong, there had to be a Blue Wave. Democrats received nearly 10 million votes more than Republicans did nationally, and the outpouring of opposition to President Trump’s divisive, bigoted and corrupt administration since the day after his inauguration led progressives to polls in record numbers.
Not only was the numerical result outstanding and likely historic for Democrats, but the diversity of the incoming House Democratic Caucus — and indeed throughout the field of Democratic candidates — is astounding. Jahana Hayes, a former high-school teacher, is the first black woman elected to represent Connecticut in the House of Representatives. Jared Polis of Colorado is the first openly gay man to be elected governor of a US state. Sylvia Garcia and Veronica Escobar will be Texas’ first Latina women in Congress. Ayanna Pressley will be Massachusetts’ first black congresswoman. Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar (herself a refugee) are the first Muslim women elected to Congress. Sharice Davids and Deb Haaland are the first two Native American women elected to Congress. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, 29, is the youngest woman elected to Congress in US history. Not to mention, of course, that Stacey Abrams and Andrew Gillum are still vying to be the first black governors of their respective states.
This, of course, after elections in 2017 where state races in New Jersey and Virginia saw a record number of women and women of color win their elections to state houses and local positions. In total, at least 121 women will serve in the 116th Congress, up from the current 107, 101 of them Democrats. A truly historic night.
This year’s Senate map was the most un-friendly to either party in a century. Democrats were defending ten seats in states which Donald Trump won: Montana, North Dakota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Missouri, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida, and West Virginia. Heitkamp, McCaskill, Donnelly and Nelson (recounting now) lost their re-election bids, but Sherrod Brown (OH), Bob Casey (PA), Tammy Baldwin (WI), Bob Tester (MT), Joe Manchin (WV) and Debbie Stabenow (MI) all won. Jacky Rosen unseated Republican Dean Heller in Nevada, and Kyrsten Sinema is in a neck-and-neck race with Republican Martha McSally in Arizona in a race that’s too close to call. Beto came within 2.6% of unseating Ted Cruz in Texas in a remarkable race. Beto has a big future ahead of him. Despite the President claiming a “big victory” in the Senate elections, Republicans really should have done better, and lost the House. Hard to spin that into a believable narrative.
With votes still being counted, House Democratic leader and former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi announced in her “Dear Colleague” letters to newly elected Democrats her intent to become House Speaker for a second time. There are doubts about whether she will have enough support among the Democratic caucus, as a solid number of candidates pledged on the campaign trail that they would not back Pelosi for Speaker in favor of more youthful Democratic leadership in the House.
It cannot be ignored, however, how much money she raised for Democratic candidates over her tenure, and this cycle she pulled in over $141m in fundraising dollars in the effort to re-take the House. She is also an extraordinary legislator and ushered in the Affordable Care Act in 2010 amid intense Republican opposition. With Democrats poised to have about a 13 seat majority, Pelosi can ill-afford to lose too many members of her caucus. So far, no other member has announced their intention to challenge Pelosi for the Speakership.
This was a monumental result for Democrats and the country. Finally, the House of Representative will exercise the oversight and investigatory powers that Republicans have abdicated for the past two years of the Trump Administration, despite plenty to investigate. The first priorities of the Democratic House should be to pass legislation protecting Robert Muller’s investigation from obstruction, the DREAM Act, the Assault Weapons Ban, and get Trump’s tax returns and investigate the corruption of Trump’s cabinet officials. We took it back. Now let’s get to work.