Civil war in the ranks of the Republican Party and determined Democratic opposition to President Donald Trump’s presidency have shifted the 2018 election odds toward the Democrats.
Mid-term elections tend to be referenda on incumbent presidents; while the President retains solid support from his base supporters, he has been less well received by much of the country.
A couple of months ago, there appeared to be a greater likelihood, even if still a long shot, that Democrats could take control of the House rather than the Senate.
In the Senate, where there are only eight Republican Senate seats up for election compared to 25 Democratic seats, altering the Senate majority appeared difficult.
Former White House advisor Steve Bannon’s declaration of war against Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the Republican “establishment” has changed the equation. Jumping off from his successful support for Judge Roy Moore (R) in Alabama against an appointed Republican Senator, Breitbart’s Bannon is organizing around the country and raising funds to build support for primary challengers to a number of Republican Senators. If he succeeds, he may help push forward some unelectable Republican nominees.
There is ample precedent for the GOP to choose extreme and non-electable candidates. Past selections of Todd Akin in Missouri, Sharon Angle in Nevada, Richard Mourdock in Indiana and Christine O’Donnell in Delaware helped to hand Senate seats to Democrats. History may repeat itself.
Until a few weeks ago, only two Republican Senate seats in Nevada and Arizona appeared vulnerable. That number may rise, starting with the now-open Tennessee race to replace the retiring Sen. Bob Corker (R).
The turmoil in Republican ranks has led Cook Report’s Senate expert Jennifer Duffy to suggest, “If the national political environment further deteriorates for Republicans to the point that a wave along the lines of 2014 begins to develop, or they nominate a train wreck or two, Democrats could have a shot at winning the narrowest of [Senate] majorities.”
There are other positive signs for the Democrats. House Democratic candidate fundraising for 2018 is up dramatically. According to a recent Politico analysis, at least 162 Democrats running in seats now held by the GOP have raised more than $100,000. That number is four times as many Democratic candidates as in the 2016 or 2014 elections.
Democratic challengers have outraised a number of Republican incumbents, including Reps. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ) and John Culberson (R-TX). The New York Times reported that in the last fundraising quarter, nearly three dozen GOP incumbents were outraised by at least one Democratic challenger.
Adding to the momentum for Democrats, a Fox News poll released on October 25 found that the when asked to pick between the Democratic and Republican candidates in their Congressional district, Democrats led the hypothetical matchups by 50%-35%. At the end of June, Democrats were ahead by a more modest 47%-41%. This new advantage, if it holds for the next year, promises significant Democratic gains in November 2018.
The polling and fundraising numbers have drawn the attention of both parties. Republican political operative Mike DeHaime pointed out, “Clearly there is an intensity among the Democratic base that is similar to what Republicans had in 2009.”
These trends, and meetings with dozens of Democratic candidates with impressive resumes, also have led Cook Reports’ David Wasserman to change the odds in a dozen key House races largely toward Democratic candidates. His latest ratings of House seats suggests 60 potentially vulnerable GOP seats compared to only 20 Democratic ones.
Political dynamics are changing on the national security front as well. An October 17 Greenberg, Quinlan Rosner research poll shows a dramatic shift toward trust in Democrats to handle national security issues such as North Korea, Iran and Russia. There has been a huge 18-point swing toward Democrats since March; the latest numbers show a 55%-45% lead in trust for Democrats on security issues over President Trump.
The elections are still 12 months away. But as CNN political analyst Chris Cillizza notes, “it is Democrats who appear to be on the march.” The devastating political defeats in 2016 and the anger at President Trump’s actions may be overcome by a heightened political outlook for 2018.