Washington Wednesday: Midterms

MARY REICHARD, HOST: It’s Wednesday, August 22nd, 2018.

Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. It’s Washington Wednesday, and today we will talk about the mid-term congressional elections.

George Wallace, the segregationist, who ran for president as a third-party candidate in 1968, said famously that there wasn’t a dime’s worth of difference between the Democratic and Republican parties.

Ralph Nader, the progressive who ran third party in 2000, quoted Wallace and said the same.

Maybe there hasn’t been a dime’s worth of difference between the parties.

But today, there may be a dollar’s distance.

OCASIO-CORTEZ: Every single person out here changed America tonight! [cheers]

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is the face of the progressive left. In late June, she stunned establishment Democrats by defeating Congressman Joe Crowley in the Democratic primary in New York City. She’s 28 years old, never held office before, and she’s a proud Democratic Socialist. Republicans haven’t won an election in that district in 100 years, and they’re not likely to this time, either. Ocasio-Cortez is almost certainly going to Congress, when establishment figure Crowley goes out.

Republicans are shedding some of their establishment figures, too.

The current Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, is one of them. In all, 40 Republican lawmakers are either retiring or running for another office. Many of them are establishment figures. In their place is a larger number of Trump loyalists, like Chris Stewart. He’s running for U.S. Senate in Virginia.

STEWART: We will restore our values. We will restore our economy. We will restore our border, and we will restore America. [cheers]

Put those trends together, and you have two parties veering farther away from each other, much more so than a thin dime.

Many have expected that special elections in the Trump era would provide signs of things to come.

But the results are mixed.

Democrats won the only Senate special election, flipping a safe GOP seat in Alabama and narrowing the Republicans’ Senate majority to its absolute minimum, 51-49.

But on the House side, Republicans have prevailed in eight of the nine special elections in the Trump era, though in some cases just barely. Democrats point to an average 10-point swing in their favor in those special elections.

If that number were to hold up across the board in November, it would mean that Democrats would pick up 63 House seats.

That’s the exact number Republicans gained in the 2010 midterm election that has gone down as a wave election.

Joining me now to talk about it is Henry Olsen. He’s an author and a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, DC. He also writes the politics page in WORLD Magazine. And he joins me now from his home. Good morning, Henry.

HENRY OLSEN, GUEST: Good morning.

EICHER: We know that historically the opposition party tends to do very well in midterm elections, and we’re seeing signs that that may happen again this time. Let me cite just one example: In second quarter fundraising, Democratic challengers outraised 56 Republican incumbents in the House. And let’s just talk about the House right now. We’ll talk about the Senate in just a minute. But do you think we’re looking at a blue wave in the House?

OLSEN: I think there’s a possibility of it. I think that the Democrats are quite likely to take control in the House, which would by itself be a larger than normal gain for the out party in a midterm, but I only consider a wave something that would be north of 35 seats or so and that is not something that is clear yet. Democrats are doing well, but Republicans could hold the gains in the 25 to 30 range and may be looking at a very narrowly controlled House.

EICHER: Henry, I’d like to talk now about the three very specific bellwethers you pointed out in your recent WORLD Magazine article. You looked at Minneapolis, Miami, and Philadelphia. Talk a bit about why those three areas are so important.

OLSEN: Well, they’re important because there’s a concentration of House and in the Miami case a key Senate race. And they’re also important because they show different demographics that are in play that will determine the extent of Democratic victories this time. In Miami what’s at play is three House seats and a Senate seat and the demographic there is latinos. Will they show up and will they vote against Donald Trump in larger than usual numbers. They always favor Democrats, the question is the margin. In Philadelphia, the demographic is really high income suburbanites. There’s a number of different House seats that are up, both on the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania side and on the New Jersey side, but the question is can these upper income suburbanites who are trending Democratic vote in large enough numbers that the Democrats can pick up nearly all of the House seats that are in play there. And in Minnesota, you’ve got both the high income suburbanites, but you also have blue collar Democrats who voted for Trump last time. There are two pick-up opportunities for the Republicans in the southeast and the northeast of the state and how well Republicans can do in re-attracting that Democrat Obama-Trump voter will determine whether they can limit the gains of the Democrats.

EICHER: Henry, let’s talk about messaging for just a minute. Now, I’m old enough to remember 1994 and the contract with America a nationally coordinated message by the Republicans that swept Newt Gingrich into power. Back in 2006, the Democrats coalesced around opposition to the Iraq war. 2010, Republicans ran on repealing Obamacare. But it seems this time around, that Democrats seem content to localize their races. So, do you think that’s a fair way to look at it and what do you think it means for the midterms?

OLSEN: Well, it think it’s a fair way of looking at it. I think Democrats are trying to do both. They’re trying to gin up their base by emphasizing opposition to Trump, but a lot of the seats they’re going to have to win, particularly in the Senate, are seats where a lot of people still like Donald Trump. And that means localizing the races and trying to present the Democratic candidate as somebody who is not a partisan Democrat but is somebody who is willing to work across the aisle. It’s one of the reasons why a lot of Democratic House candidates are saying that they oppose Nancy Pelosi for speaker and want new leadership on both sides of the House.

EICHER: Alright, well let’s move from the House side to the Senate side, Henry, and just tell me which party do you think has the best chance of taking control of the Senate when January rolls around?

OLSEN: I think the Republicans easily have the best shot of controlling it. They have a 51-49 majority now and most of the seats that are in play are held by Democrats. In order for the Democrats to control, given the fact that Mike Pence would cast the decisive vote in case of a tie, they would have to hold nearly all of the seats that they’re defending as well as pick up two of the three Republican seats they’re challenging. That’s quite unlikely given the state, the demographics, and the voting trends in the state as well.

EICHER: Well, Henry, which states do you see as key battlegrounds for Senate control?

OLSEN: Yeah. There are six seats that states that the Democrats are defending that are important: Montana, North Dakota, Missouri, Indiana, West Virginia, and Florida. Three of those are particularly important because they’re likely to be very close races and those are Indiana where Joe Donnelly is the incumbent for the Democrats, running against Mike Braun, a state representative and businessman for the Republicans. Missouri where the incumbent is Claire McCaskill holding off the attorney general Josh Hawley. And Florida is two-term Republican governor Rick Scott taking on three-term Democratic Senator Bill Nelson and probably easily be the most expensive race in the chamber. And the Democrats are trying to pick up Nevada, Tennessee, and Arizona. The two seats that really matter for them are Arizona and Tennessee. Most people think they’ll get Nevada. In Arizona, the nominees have yet to be selected. They will be selected in next week’s primary. And in Tennessee, it’s former Democratic governor Phil Bredesen against Republican Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn. I think of these, Arizona’s really the bellwether. It’s a very tight state in the current environment and Democrats absolutely have to win it to have a shot this fall.

EICHER: I’m really curious what you think of the state of polling today. Obviously 2016, pollsters were dead wrong predicting a Hillary Clinton presidency. I wonder, is polling just broken? How much stock do you put in it these days?

OLSEN: Polling is going through a very difficult time because more and more people are not responding, which means that in order to have a demographically valid sample you have to engage in what’s called weighting, where you take the sample that you’ve got and then you weight it according to pre-known demographic characteristics. That introduces two types of error. One is if you only have a few respondents from a certain group, if they’re atypical of the group, then weighting it up to their normal size produces an error. And the other is getting the weights right. Just because something is demographically provable doesn’t mean that that means you’ve got the state of the electorate correctly. So, those are two types of error that modern polling has that are unavoidable. They’re still worth following, but you have to dig into them more closely and look at those things that I just mentioned. Without doing that, you can easily be led astray.

EICHER: Henry Olsen senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington. He writes about politics for WORLD Magazine. And thanks so much.

OLSEN: Thanks for having me on.

(Andrew Jansen/The Springfield News-Leader via AP, File) In this Aug. 7, 2018, file photo, Josh Hawley speaks after securing the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate in Missouri during the GOP watch party in Springfield, Mo. 

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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