Much has been written about the signs of epic disaster that are looming for Republicans ahead of this year’s midterm elections. Now a leading nonpartisan expert on elections says that the biggest threat to the Republican majority in the House may not be a “blue wave,” but a “red exodus.”
Dave Wasserman, the Cook Political Report’s House analyst, told Axios that the most overlooked aspect of the 2018 midterms is that “a blue wave is obscuring a red exodus.” A total of 39 Republican and 10 Democrat House incumbents are not running for reelection. Of these, 26 Republicans and eight Democrats are totally retiring from their political careers.
The wave of retiring Republicans has left a gaping hole in Republican defenses for the house. When primary losses are considered, there are now 43 Republican seats without an incumbent on the ballot. That’s more than one in six House Republicans who will not be returning in the next Congress. Wasserman notes that you have to look back at least a hundred years to find more retiring incumbents.
The large number of exiting Republicans contributes directly to the large number of tossup Republican seats. Cook currently rates 37 Republican seats as “tossup or worse” compared to two Democrat seats. At the beginning of the year, only 20 Republican seats were considered tossups, but as the number of retirees grew, so did the number of vulnerable seats. Ten of the Republican tossup seats already favor Democrats.
Wasserman says that the most telling sign of a blue wave is the disparity in interest between the two parties. Democrats consistently rate their interest in voting in the midterms higher than Republicans. This intensity gap goes beyond polling and has translated into Democrat voters actually showing up in special elections. Despite Republican wins in many of these elections, Democrat turnout has been extraordinarily high. Deep red districts such as Ohio-12 where Republicans typically win by double-digit margins are now tossups where Republicans win by only a few votes. In other cases, such as Pennsylvania-18, moderate Democrats win districts that were reliably Republican as recently as 2016.
Many Republicans are skeptical of polling, especially after Donald Trump’s surprise victory in 2016, but Wasserman warns that many pollsters are actually erring on the side of caution this year. “There's a bit of over-caution, perhaps, on the part of the punditocracy, after what happened in 2016,” he said, “But if anything, most media could be under-rating Democrats' potential to gain a lot of seats. They could be caught being cautious in the wrong direction.”
Wasserman argues that 2018 will be the “year of the angry female college graduate.”
“The most telling number in the most recent NBC/WSJ poll is that Trump's approval rating among women with college degrees was 26 percent,” he says. “That's absolutely awful and the intensity of that group is extraordinary. They're already the most likely demographic to turn out to vote in midterms. But never have they been this fervently anti-Republican.” Wasserman points to “family separations at the border and Trump's temperament and behavior” as motivating factors for women voters.
“In 2010 when Republicans won back control of the House, I would argue that was the year of the angry white senior,” Wasserman said, noting that “consternation” over Obamacare was a large factor, but that wasn’t the only reason Republicans won. “It was the young, and non-white Obama surge voter from 2008, who stayed home, and it lost Democrats the election in 2010.”
As I have noted previously, there are many parallels between the Obama and Trump Administrations and if there is a blue wave this year, it won’t be just because people are motivated to vote against Donald Trump, but also because, as in 2010, some voters are motivated to stay home. Wasserman says that the role of the stay-at-home voter in 2018 may be played by “men without college degrees who are Trump true believers.”
Wasserman says that these voters “believed in Trump fervently, but they've never liked congressional Republicans at all. In fact, Trump gained ground by running against them in 2016. So why are they going to turn out this year for congressional Republicans?”
Until the votes are counted, no one will know the extent of the Republican losses, but the law of averages points to a likely loss of control of the House of Representatives. Democrats only need to win 23 seats to take over the House. With 37 seats in the tossup category and an abnormally large number of retiring Republicans, they have ample opportunities to turn red seats blue
[Photo credit: Bernard Dupont/Wikimedia]