Political Outlook For 2018

After two special elections for the House of Representatives, there is ample reason to be optimistic about the 2018 elections. However, the sum total of the special elections in Georgia and Kansas: close only counts in horseshoes.

In Georgia’s sixth district, Democrat Jon Ossoff picked up about 22 points compared to the previous candidate for House two years ago who ran against the incumbent Rep. Tom Price.

In Kansas, the Republican candidate won by 7 points in 2017 compared to 31-point victory in 2016 by Rep. Mike Pampeo (R).

In both cases, the unpopular President Trump clearly hurt the Republican ticket and helped generate intense interest, activism and money for the Democratic candidates. If these voter trends continued into 2018, if President Trump continues to be unpopular, if Democratic activism continues for the next 19 months – three very big ifs – Democrats could make great gains in 2018 in the House of Representatives, possibly even gaining control there.

With mid-term elections, the President’s party usually loses seats. This trend has been true in 20 out of the last 25 mid-term elections since 1914. Republicans are very nervous that Trump voters will not show up at the polls. President Trump’s approval ratings are at record lows for a newly-elected President at this time.

This nervousness affects incumbents as they decide whether to run for re-election in 2018 and challengers who have to decide whether to take the plunge for a 2018 contest.

The two key factors in determining 2018 results: Presidential approval ratings and the state of the economy. At this point, Trump voters are sticking with him. But his approval ratings in his own party are in the low 80s. A President receiving support in the low 80s or in the 70s from his own party is in trouble. His overall approval rating across party lines is in the high-30s, another dangerous sign for Republicans. But there is still time for Mr. Trump to turn things around.

If trends continue, Democrats have a realistic chance of taking the House despite the fact that Republican-domination in states means that they drew four times as many congressional district lines in 2012.

But Democrats in the House still have tough hurdles to win in 2018; there is a tendency for higher GOP mid-term turnout and there are fewer competitive districts. By Cook Report calculations, there were 164 competitive House seats in 1967 (districts that are from a 5-point Democratic advantage compared the national norm to a 5-point Republican advantage) and only 72 potentially competitive districts today.

There is less potential for Democratic gains in the Senate. Twenty-five of the 34 seats up in 2018 are held by Democrats and only nine seats held by Republicans. Ten of the Democratic seats are in states carried by Mr. Trump: Florida (Nelson), Indiana (Donnelly), Michigan (Stabenow), Missouri (McCaskill), Montana (Tester), North Dakota (Heitkamp), Ohio (Brown), Pennsylvania (Casey), West Virginia (Manchin) and Wisconsin (Baldwin). In six of those states, Mr. Trump won by 19 points or more (Indiana (+19), Missouri (+19), Montana (+20), North Dakota (+36) and West Virginia (+42).

For Republicans, only Heller in Nevada is running in a state carried by Mrs. Clinton.

This has been an exceptionally slow Senate candidate recruitment year. No incumbent has yet announced retirement and serious challengers are only running in Ohio (Mandel) and perhaps Texas (O’Rourke). The only two potentially competitive races for Democrats at this point are in Nevada and Arizona, although major Democratic candidates have yet to declare in either state. Next tier: Texas and Utah.

Even in the case of Democratic Senators, the opposition to these incumbents has been slow to develop.

So far in the 2018 cycle, Council raised significant funds on behalf of John Ossoff, candidate for Georgia’s 6th District and has also endorsed Senator Jon Tester for re-election. The process is in motion for scheduling other endorsement meetings with several incumbent Senators and a number of prospective House candidates.