With last month’s elections having all but officially concluded, the question remains. Was it a blue wave that engulfed the nation or simply a ripple? My answer. In the areas where it counted and outside of Florida (where Andy Gillum was a few Hamilton tickets away from becoming governor and Bill Nelson had an eye off the ball against a high-spending opponent who also happened to be governor) it was just shy of a wave. Okay, that’s somewhat evading the question. It’s not intentional but it does require the delineating of facts. But, were have to be pinned down, I would call it a blue something – a blue tide. That requires some extrapolation so let me explain.
The regions of the nation is elastic. The days of 1974 where Democrats 42 seat House gain came in big numbers from all over the country (Indiana alone produced five new seats for them are over). Ditto with a 52-seat GOP gain in 1994 being made possible in part by sweeping six seats in Washington State. The reason: urban areas and the suburbs are being solidified by Democrats and rural areas by the GOP. That was solidified this cycle and if that pattern were to hold cycle after cycle, that pattern would be bad for Republicans.
Republicans, from the president on down, have hailed the results as a “complete victory” and “better than other sitting Presidents” (in mid-terms). He even famously castigated Republicans who shied away from him and spurned his request to provide help (“Mia gave me no Love”). Alright, let’s look at that.
One statistic Republicans cite is that the 40 House seats Republicans surrendered this year were fewer than the loss of 52 seats during Bill Clinton’s first midterm, and a whopping 63 in Barack Obama’s. They cite gains in the Senate. True, but egregiously gerrymandered maps at both the Congressional and state legislative level this decade vastly limited how much Democrats could actually gain, and even with that, they broke through in areas designed to thwart them and as I’ll point out later in the piece, most of the GOP senate gains, which were in itself a limit to what they had initially hoped, were limited to rural America. By the way, Ronald Reagan suffered a 26-seat in the 1982 midterms so this year’s has exceeded that by a mile. But that said, let’s look at other, more jarring statistics which is far more powerful than anything an obscure and insignificant person like Scott Crass will have written.
First, with nearly all of the votes counted, Democrats got a record 9.7% lead for a midterm which translated to 8.5%, the largest in history. The 40 House seats Democrats gained were two shy of the gains that resulted after Watergate.
More starkly, before Election Day, 24 House Republicans sat in districts that Hillary Clinton carried against Trump in 2016. Come January, that number will be a paltry three (Brian Fitzpatrick owes his victory to a desultory opponent, Will Hurd to first-rate political skills and John Katko to luck I guess). At the start of her re-election campaign, one of those who lost, Mimi Walters of California, predicted that the ability of Hillary Clinton to prevail at the presidential level in district’s such as the one she has held in Orange County, California wouldn’t translate to the local level. She was wrong. Dozens of Republicans were bounced from their comfortable seats. Walters was one of them. In fact, all four Orange County districts that have Republican representation fell to the Democrats. To boot, the number of Californians serving in Congress was literally sliced in half – seven from 14.
In New Jersey, get this, the GOP’s five Congressional seats dwindled to just one, leaving them with the lowest representation in Congress since 1912, when the state’s Governor, Woodrow Wilson, was winning the White House.
In Chicagoland, the GOP initially felt perpetually safe in two suburban districts that were drawn by Democrats as GOP vote-sinks. But the unpopularity of the administration proved too much to bear and Democrats plucked off both seats. The same went for two in Oakland County, Michigan and two in Texas – a North Dallas and a Houston district. Even a Washington State district that has not been held by a Democrat since its creation in 1982 will be now. In Nevada, Democrats prevailed in a hotly contested Senate seat by 50,000 votes and went from holding zero statewide offices to five of six. Virginia continued its exurban swing as well by awarding Democrats three seats, one in genuinely swing territory and two that Trump carried. Democrats even picked up an Oklahoma City anchored Congressional seat which had given Trump a fourteen-point win in ’16.
Legislatures were little different. The Wake (Raleigh) and Mecklenburg (Charlotte) County Republican delegations in the North Carolina State House was reduced to zero while the Senate is hardly better. In total, two of 33 legislators from Wake are part of the GOP and one in Mecklenburg (all Senators). Democrats also netted a dozen State House seats in the Texas, Pennsylvania and Georgia Houses, while gaining in the Senate as well. These gains were almost totally all urban-oriented. They took the New York State Senate, the Minnesota House and padded their already impressive numbers in nearly every other blue-state chambers. Arizona Democrats are now one seat away from parity in both chambers, a big gain over the last two cycles. Even Democratic gains in the Ohio legislature, while severely restricted by the remap, were equally pronounced, coming in Franklin (Columbus) and Hamilton (Cincinnati) Counties. One Franklin woman even won a Senate seat while conceding she had a “troubled past” and receiving next-to-know help from the local organization (such is the distinction between urban and rural).
While Democrats failed to wrest the Georgia governorship, suburban unrest propelled Democrats to just shy of 49%. Meanwhile, rural districts continued to shed Democratic representation.
Now, I was thinking as late as Election Day that Democrats had potential to take closer to 50 seats with upsets coming from the most unexpected places with candidates not-existent on the radar screen (these are euphemistically called driftwood). That would have been an unambiguous wave. There are multiples in every wave cycle while this year, there was generally just one that was truly off the charts – the above mentioned Oklahoma-5. The same goes for gains in the legislatures where, with a recount or two still pending, Democrats have netted 296 seats nationwide. But again, extreme gerrymandering. The Congressional maps in Texas, Ohio, North Carolina, Michigan and Wisconsin were drawn to maximize the Republican advantage to such an extent that break-throughs more than what occurred were impossible.
Another example. Even while gaining two seats in the Lone-Star States, Democrats fell two to five percentage points shy in five races in metro-Dallas, Houston and Austin due to elongated lines. Travis County alone (Austin) is split between five Congressional districts. Ohio returned a delegation of 12 Republicans and four Democrats to Washington while affording Democrats nominal gains in the legislature. And Wisconsin. Oh, the Badger State. Democrats gained a single House seat that took a Wisconsin Mother of the Year to win by the narrowest of margins, leaving Republicans with 63 of the chamber’s 99 seats. Oh, by the way, the Wisconsin map has been the subject of an extreme-gerrymandering lawsuit that is currently before the U.S. Supreme Court.
That’s a summation of suburban America which dominated. Now let’s look at the deep red areas and rural America which did benefit Republicans and that’s where the Senate comes in.
Democrats did pick up a few House seats in the more lightly populated areas of the nation but also lost a few close ones, primarily in Minnesota and Kansas. And of course the Senate. Oklahoma Democrats continued hemorrhaging rural lawmakers in the legislature (while winning exurban seats).Democrats did fail to hold three red and getting redder by the day seats in Indiana, Missouri and North Dakota and numerically, those were setbacks. But to the extent that those seats were ever part of the any long-term Democratic strategies, that is no longer the case. In most areas that are part of their base, they met or exceeded expectations. But that’s just my point.
To say that Republicans headed off a blue-wave because they took Indiana, Missouri and North Dakota is like Democrats claiming that a red-wave in 1994 didn’t materialize because Ted Kennedy managed to win re-election in Massachusetts or even because Chuck Robb held off Oliver North in Virginia. Or that Democrats would claim that they held off yet another red tide in 2010 because Harry Reid beat a deeply flawed Sharron Angle.
With regard to the Sunshine State, beyond the Hamilton imbroglio, Nelson’s 10,000 vote deficit was probably attributed entirely to the Broward County ballot snafu, resisting outreach to the Latino community and a. That said, Florida is obviously significantly more swingy than the other three states so, Democrats failure to grab these two immensely important contests does trim the sails from what happened in the rest of the country. Incidentally, the party did get a consolation prize as a Democrat Nikki Fried eked out a win for Agriculture Commissioner). Now let’s look at the rest of the country.
So what did happen? It wasn’t a ripple, it was just shy of a wave but it was unquestionably a blue-tide. The next Senate landscape involves blue and increasingly purple states. And with the realization that gerrymandering might have been the lone salvation for deeper losses being thwarted should not bring much happiness to the GOP as a presidential election looms.