political connections

Democrats Look to Rack Up Blue-State Wins

The midterms will be decided, in part, by which party does a better job defending its home court.

AP Photo/Lorin Eleni Gill
Ronald Brownstein
Add to Briefcase
Ronald Brownstein
June 6, 2018, 8 p.m.

Over the past quarter-century, the unmistakable trend in American elections is toward greater alignment between the way states vote for president and the delegations they send to Congress. After Democrats’ strong night in Tuesday’s primaries, the November midterms increasingly look like a test of which party can better defend its natural home-court advantage.

The night’s biggest headline was that the Democrats appear to have placed candidates for November in all of the California congressional districts where they feared being locked out. That unexpected outcome—reinforced by the party’s success at nominating its preferred candidate in each competitive seat in New Jersey—means the Democrats still have an opportunity to recapture the House this fall primarily by winning seats in states that voted for Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump in 2016.

At the same time, Republicans are positioned to defend or expand their majority in the Senate if they can beat some of the 10 Democrats defending seats in states that voted for Trump. The GOP has chosen strong challengers in those states that have selected nominees so far, a pattern that continued Tuesday with the victory of Montana state Auditor Matt Rosendale for the Republican Senate nomination against Democratic Sen. Jon Tester.

The question of which party can best defy the other’s home-court advantage is most urgent in the House, because the chamber has a much greater chance of switching party control. After their apparent success in California, Democrats can come close to retaking the House majority just by sweeping away the last remaining Republicans in otherwise Democratic-leaning states.

The Cook Political Report’s rankings show that many of the Democrats’ top House opportunities are concentrated in blue states; among the seats that Cook rates as toss-ups or leaning toward the Democrats are five in California; three in New Jersey; two each in New York, Illinois, and Minnesota; and one each in Colorado, Virginia, and Washington. Cook rates another five seats in Pennsylvania, which Trump carried by only about 40,000 votes, as toss-ups or Democratic-leaning.

California offered Republicans their best opportunity to reduce their blue-state risk. But they failed to seize the unique opening that the state’s odd primary system presented them. Under that system, the top two finishers in each primary advance to the general election, regardless of party. That created two big advantages for Republicans. One is that Republicans are usually disproportionately represented in California primaries, because younger and Latino voters usually turn out at much lower rates compared with their numbers in general elections.

That advantage was reinforced by another: the surge of Democratic candidates whose opposition to Trump inspired them to run. In one sense, that tide measured rising Democratic energy. But, the combination of more Democratic candidates and relatively fewer Democratic voters exposed the party to a very real risk—that it could be shut out of the top two in several competitive congressional districts.

Instead, pending the final vote counts that may stretch on for weeks, it appears likely that the Democrats weren’t shut out in any California House seats. That result is a testament, in part, to the extraordinary targeting efforts by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and state party. But the outcome also reflected the party’s underlying growth in the five Republican-held suburban House districts around Los Angeles where Clinton beat Trump in 2016.

Overall, the California primary generated a very modest turnout: Though the final vote count will increase the total, the secretary of state reported Wednesday that only about one in five registered voters participated. But Democratic candidates on Tuesday tallied significantly more votes in each of the crucial L.A.-area seats than their counterparts did in 2014, the last midterm primary.

For instance: Democrats on Tuesday amassed nearly 37,000 votes in the district held by Republican Rep. Steve Knight. That compares to only about 20,000 votes in 2014. The overall increase was similar for Democrat Gil Cisneros’s win in the seat that Republican Rep. Ed Royce is vacating. Democrats tallied nearly 56,000 votes in the seat that Republican Rep. Darrell Issa is giving up; in 2014, they polled just below 35,000. In Rep. Mimi Walters’s seat, Democrats increased their vote from about 24,000 in 2014 to nearly 44,000. And in Rep. Dana Rohrabacher’s seat, Democrats expanded from about 30,000 votes in 2014 to nearly 49,000 Tuesday. All of these numbers will grow as the final tallies drift in.

Though Republican candidates, at this counting, still polled more primary votes than Democrats in most of these seats, their numbers generally remained static or slightly declined from 2014. None of these Los Angeles-area districts are sure things for Democrats in November. But the big Democratic turnout gains there underscore how far the party can progress toward retaking the House just by channeling the resistance to Trump in the places that have been most dubious of him from the start.

What We're Following See More »
Hoyer Secures Majority Leader Position
58 minutes ago
Papadopoulos' Lawyers Withdraw Representation
3 hours ago
Hate Crimes Up 17% in 2017
6 hours ago

"Hate crimes in America rose 17 percent last year, the third consecutive year that such crimes increased, according to newly released FBI data. Law enforcement agencies reported 7,175 hate crimes occurred in 2017, up from 6,121 in 2016. That increase was fueled in part by more police departments reporting hate crimes data to the FBI, but overall there is still a large number of departments that report no hate crimes to the federal database." Anti-Semitic hate crimes rose by 37 percent during the period.

Maryland Challenges Whitaker's Appointment
6 hours ago

"Matthew Whitaker’s authority to serve as acting U.S. attorney general is being challenged by the state of Maryland, which says it will ask a judge on Tuesday to rule that his appointment wasn’t legitimate. Maryland’s bid could force a federal judge to decide who is the chief U.S. law enforcement officer and whether President Donald Trump has power to appoint Whitaker in an acting capacity without Senate approval. Such a decision, in what could become a key test of presidential power, would almost certainly be appealed to higher courts."

Judge Orders Review of Georgia Provisional Ballots
6 hours ago

"A federal judge has ordered Georgia take steps to ensure provisional ballots aren't improperly rejected and to wait until Friday to certify the results of the midterm elections that include an unsettled race for governor. In a ruling late Monday, U.S. District Judge Amy Totenberg ordered the secretary of state's office to establish and publicize a hotline or website where voters can check whether their provisional ballots were counted and, if not, the reason why. And, for counties with 100 or more provisional ballots, she ordered the secretary of state's office to review, or have county election officials review, the eligibility of voters who had to cast a provisional ballot because of registration issues."


Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.