California and Montana: what can we tell from Tuesday’s primaries?

On Tuesday night, primaries took place in eight states: Alabama, California, Iowa, Mississippi, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico and South Dakota. Primaries have so far taken place in 21 states, and the nationwide map of the candidates for November’s election is beginning to fill in.

Of Tuesday’s primaries, California’s was probably the most-watched, due to the impact the state could have on the House of Representatives, as I discussed in my previous article. The state’s top-two system meant that both parties were battling to avoid being shut out of various races across the Golden State. It appears now that the Republicans will be shut out of the Senate race, and so Dianne Feinstein and Kevin de Leon will go on to make an all-Democrat Senate election in November. However, the Republicans will be on the ticket for the Gubernatorial race: businessman John Cox will take on California’s Democratic Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom for the Governor’s Mansion. However, the California Governor’s race is still rated as safe for the Democrats by Sabato’s Crystal Ball.

The primaries for California’s House elections were fairly positive results for the Republicans: of the four districts (10th, 29th, 39th and 48th) rated as toss-ups by Sabato’s Crystal Ball, as well as the 49th District which is rated as a Democratic pickup, the Republican candidates all topped the primary polls. Whilst this doesn’t tell us much on its own about how well both parties are likely to do in November, this is at least a positive starting point for the Republicans heading into November.

Leaving California, Montana’s primary included the selection of candidates for the state’s closely-watched Senate race in November. Democratic Senator Jon Tester is seeking a 3rd term, and as a red state Democrat he is looking to be locked in a tight battle for re-election. The Republicans have selected Matt Rosendale, a rancher and the State Auditor of Montana, as their Senate candidate.

As with other red state Senate Democrats up for re-election in November, it could be suggested that pressure is on Tester to be seen to support President Trump in some areas. According to KTVH – an NBC affiliate in Montana’s state capital of Helena, Montana – Tester voted with the President 51% of the time in 2017. Tester also supported the Republicans’ rollback of some of the Dodd-Frank banking regulations. Tester is ranked as the fourth most conservative Democrat Senator in Congress according to GovTrack, behind three other red state Democrats: Joe Manchin (WV), Joe Donnelly (IN) and Heidi Heitkamp (ND). Tester’s support for the 2nd Amendment also adds to his conservative credentials; as a farmer and former butcher, Tester as stated an appreciation for the nuances of gun culture in the US, especially in rural Montana.

However, Tester has earned the ire of the President and the Republican Party for his opposition to Trump’s nomination of Ronny Jackson to the role of Secretary of Veterans’ Affairs. Rosendale has attacked Tester for opposing the President’s tax cuts and “kowtow[ing] to Nancy Pelosi”. Rosendale himself is cutting a conservative stance, describing himself as “pro-life in all circumstances”, and as a supporter of the 2nd Amendment and of Donald Trump’s immigration plan and border wall. Morning Consult’s quarterly presidential approval poll from April (the most recent at the time of writing) gave President Trump an approval score of +4, with 50% approving and 46% disapproving. Seeing as Trump commands a positive approval rating in Montana, it will remain to be seen if voters will look for a Senator in November who they can align more with the President.

It’s going to be a long road to November’s election, and despite no real polling to speak of in Montana, the pundits are giving Tester the advantage at this stage: Sabato’s Crystal Ball rates Montana’s Senate race as Lean Democrat, with Inside Politics rating it as just Tilt Democratic. The Cook Political Report is more confident for Tester, however, rating the race as Likely Democrat. Montana is an interesting state psephologically, having voted for Bill Clinton in 1992 and gave John McCain a winning margin of just 2.4% in the 2008 Presidential Election. In this year’s Senate election in Montana, anything could still happen.

The 2018 midterms are a huge test for Donald Trump, but with polling so far being as limited as it is, a lot of focus for punditry will be on the candidates who emerge as successful through the primaries, what they stand for and how that reflects the political narrative of their individual states. When more polling starts to come through, especially in Montana, we will be able to see how the races are shaping up, and the affect (if any) Trump is having on the re-election hopes of red state Democrats.

The next primaries of the season will be in Maine, Nevada, North Dakota, South Carolina and Virginia on June 12th, with primaries in Colorado, Maryland, Oklahoma and Utah along with Mississippi’s runoff election taking place later this month.

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Today’s primaries: Why is California so important?

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Today, the latest round of primary elections are taking place across the United States. Voters in eight states in total – Alabama, California, Iowa, Mississippi, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico and South Dakota – will be going to the polls to select their candidates for Governor, US Senator, Representative and an array of statewide political offices.

This is the biggest primary night of 2018 so far, and there is a lot to play for. However, California and New Jersey are the two states at the frontline of today’s primaries. In California, 84-year-old longstanding Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein is seeking to be a candidate for a fifth full term in the Senate, although she is being challenged by State Senator Kevin de Leon, who is running to the left of Feinstein.

California’s primary elections work differently to the rest of the US, however. The Golden State operates a “top two” primary voting system; this means that all candidates, regardless of party, appear on the primary ballot. The two candidates who receive the most votes will go on to November’s General Election. So it is perfectly possible that a House, Senate or Gubernatorial election in California could be between two Democrats; this was the case, among other times, in 2016 when California’s Senate election was between Democrats Kamala Harris and Loretta Sanchez. A Senate battle in November between Feinstein and de Leon, therefore, is not off the cards, but the Republicans will not want to be shut out of the Gubernatorial race, especially seeing as incumbent Governor Jerry Brown is term-limited.

However, what this also means for California is that the state has the potential to throw the balance for control of the House of Representatives. For a state that is known for it’s deep blue liberalism in the 21st Century, the state of California is still home to some solidly Republican districts, mostly located in the northern and eastern areas of the state. These include California’s 23rd District, which covers much of the conservative, desert cities of Bakersfield and Lancaster, held by House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy.

However, the Republicans still hold a distinct disadvantage in California’s delegation to the House of Representatives, holding 14 House seats to the Democrats’ 39. In November’s House of Representatives election, every seat will count, and so the parties’ seat tallies in a state like California could make all the difference. Two Republican districts will be open in November, and a further three are rated as toss-ups by Sabato’s Crystal Ball. This may reflect only a handful of California’s 53 House seats, but every seat will count when it comes to control of the House in November.

In New Jersey, meanwhile, the Republican slide post-Chris Christie appears to be continuing. Of the five Republican-held House seats, two are open, two (including one of the open seats) are currently rated as toss-ups, whilst one district is currently being forecast to flip to the Democrats.

So why are California and New Jersey so important in today’s primaries? As it stands, the Republicans can only afford to lose 17 seats if they’re to hold the House of Representatives. If the Democrats can flip all the toss-up seats from California and New Jersey alone, they will already be halfway towards taking control of the House. The candidates who win today’s primaries will reflect the fight that the parties’ are going to be taking to these districts in November. California has been the bastion of the Resist Trump movement, and the primary will show if liberal, progressive candidates such as Kevin de Leon will pull the political narrative of the state further from the President. Meanwhile, will industrial, blue collar New Jersey backslide even further away from the Republicans? The Garden State is ideally somewhere that Donald Trump should be hoping to build up his adopted party. If the successful Democratic candidates can capitalise on the state’s blue collar vote, then they can shape November’s elections in the Democrats’ favour over the coming months.

Of course, today’s primary election is about more than just who wins control of the House of Representatives; hotly contested Senate and Gubernatorial primaries are taking place today. Montana has a tight Senate race going into November, whilst Mississippi is holding primary contests for both of its Senators. Tomorrow, once all the votes are counted, I shall reflect on what the results mean in the upcoming Senate and Gubernatorial contests.

Tuesday is Primary Day in Ohio – what does it mean for Ohio politics?

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On Tuesday, voters in Ohio – along with Indiana, West Virginia and North Carolina – will head to the polls to vote in these states’ primary elections ahead of November’s crucial mid-term elections.

A closely-watched Senate race will take place in Ohio in November, in which incumbent Democrat Sherrod Brown will try and hold his own in an increasingly red state. The frontrunner to challenge him for his job in Jim Renacci, an outgoing US Representative from Ohio’s 16th Congressional District.

The prospect of a contest between Brown, a progressive and native of Northern Ohio, and Renacci, a Public Accountant with real blue-collar credentials (Renacci’s father was a railroad worker) could shift the focus of the election to the blue-collar Rust Belt areas of the state which helped to elect Donald Trump by such a large margin in 2016. Trump gave his endorsement to Renacci following a roundtable in Cleveland with business leaders, so Tuesday’s primary could lead to an interesting race in November. Renacci does have some competition, however, from other candidates including Cleveland businessman Mike Gibbons, who is suing Renacci’s campaign over claims that Gibbons is “liberal”, “pro-choice” and “anti-Trump”, among other things; further illustration as to how conservative values dominate the supposed Presidential bellwether. Brown, meanwhile, is one of many Democratic Senators up for re-election in close races in Trump-friendly states who are keen to hold their seats in the Senate, currently held 51-49 by the Republicans. I shall examine the Senate race, and its ratings, in more detail after the Primary.

Ohio’s Senate election isn’t the only story on Tuesday: candidates will also be selected in the race for Ohio’s Governor’s Mansion. Governor John Kasich is ineligible to run for re-election as he is term-limited. The office of Governor, therefore, is within the sights of both parties, who will both be able to name their candidates after Tuesday.

First up for the Republicans, we have Mike DeWine: a well-entrenched establishment Republican, Ohio Attorney General and a former US Senator (who, incidentally, was unseated in 2006 by Sherrod Brown). DeWine is a conservative on key issues, such as abortion, the 2nd Amendment and sanctuary cities, and is a supporter of President Trump. DeWine has selected Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted as his running mate, thereby bringing two top-ranking members of Kasich’s administration together on the ticket. Also vying for the nomination is Ohio’s current Lieutenant Governor Mary Taylor who, like DeWine, is trying to brand herself as a staunch conservative, particularly on issues such as the 2nd Amendment, Gun Control and Medicaid expansion. Taylor is also running attack ads against DeWine, calling him “DC DeWine” and painting him as a supporter of Hillary Clinton, whilst calling his conservative record, particularly on abortion, into question.

Meanwhile, the Democratic nominee will most likely either be Richard Cordray, a former Attorney General of Ohio who was appointed Director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau by Barack Obama, or Dennis Kucinich, a former Congressman who, like DeWine, has a long history in Ohio politics and who made runs for President in 2004 and 2008. Both Cordray and Kucinich can claim support of different parts of the Democrats’ progressive wing; Cordray picked up the endorsement of Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, while Kucinich has a longer reputation for being on the liberal end of the party with support for issues such as single-payer health care. Kucinich has also won the endorsement of Our Revolution, the grassroots continuation of Bernie Sanders’ 2016 Presidential Campaign.

So what can we expect to look out for? Will the results of the primary contests tell us much? First of all, Ohio is an increasingly Republican state, and President Trump is still popular among Republicans in Ohio. With this comes the mixing of blue-collar and conservative values, while the more progressive ideals are moving to – or being contained within – college towns and suburban areas of the state’s bigger cities.

Meanwhile, John Kasich is still enjoying positive approval ratings in the last few months of his term (with a score of +22 earlier this year). However, Kasich’s style of Republicanism is very different to that of Donald Trump and, indeed, a lot of the Republican base in Ohio. Despite taking his fight for the moderation of the Republican Party national following his run for President in 2016, Kasich has still cut some harder conservative lines on key issues within Ohio, particularly in the issues of abortion and birth control. Prior to the United States Supreme Court ruling in Obgerfell v Hodges, which made same-sex marriage legal throughout the US, Ohio was one of the last handful of states where the practice remained illegal (although Kasich now holds an accepting view of same-sex marriage, and says that Republicans need to move on from this issue). Kasich has given his endorsement to Taylor, his deputy, despite indications that the two do not get on very well. Indeed, due to the conservative nature of this race and Taylor’s positions (including her explicit statement that she’d end Kasich’s expansion of Obamacare), this may not be the crucial endorsement that Taylor would hope for.

It certainly appears that DeWine and Taylor are attempting to cut a much more conservative line than Kasich, although DeWine has not been on the offensive over Kasich’s record as much as Taylor has, and attack ads from Taylor are certainly giving the primary a nastier edge. However, one  as both Republicans are trying to promote a similarly conservative image, one thing that this primary tells us is that the Republican base in Ohio still holds conservative stances on social issues to be of as being  the perceived importance of conservative positions to Republican voters in the state. However, the primary election is where the campaign starts; a candidate must appeal to their own voter base first before they can take their campaign to the rest of the state.

It certainly appears that DeWine and Taylor are attempting to cut a much more conservative line than Kasich, although DeWine has not been on the offensive over Kasich’s record as much as Taylor has, and attack ads from Taylor are certainly giving the primary a nastier edge. However, one suggestion we can take from the Republican primary is that the Republican grassroots base in Ohio is still looking for their candidate to stand up for conservative values on social issues, which can be seen in the conservative line being cut by both candidates.

Meanwhile, what we will be looking out for in Ohio’s Democratic primary will be whether establishment or anti-establishment progressive politics comes out on top. Tuesday’s primaries will be the Democrats’ first real electoral test in the Midwest since 2016, and Democrat campaigners will be looking to see which is the best liberal line to cut – either more progressive or more moderate – in order to the party to make electoral gain in Ohio.

With the fact remaining that Ohio is more of a Republican state than a bellwether or purple state these days, there is probably not a huge amount that we can take away at this point, assuming that Renacci and either Taylor or DeWine are successful. However, the primary election is where the campaign starts; a candidate must appeal to their own voter base first before they can take their campaign to the rest of the state. After Tuesday, however, we can look closer at the elections in Ohio that will begin to unfold. I look forward to talking more on both of these races.

Nelson versus Scott: why the Florida Senate race will be difficult to call

fl-reg-rick-scott-senate-run-20180409.jpgIn what is already one of the most-watched states in America when it comes to elections at any level, November’s election to the United States Senate in Florida just became a lot hotter. Following some speculation, Florida’s two-term Governor Rick Scott announced yesterday he would be entering the race for the Republican nomination in an attempt to oust Democrat incumbent Senator Bill Nelson.

This announcement has shaken up many of the forecasts for the state; some forecasters were beginning to move Florida’s Senate race into the lean Democrat column. However, Scott’s candidacy will likely mean that pollsters will have to rethink their forecasts, even despite President Donald Trump’s relative unpopularity.

For starters, Rick Scott is doing fairly well as a Governor, even at the end of two terms. A Quinnipac poll from February gave Scott an approval rating of 49% (+9 overall); whilst this is lower than the 58% approval rating (+27) that he held in the last quarter of 2017, maintaining a positive approval rating at the end of your second term is still a reasonable achievement. However, according to the same Quinnipac poll, Nelson has a slightly higher overall approval rating at +14 points. As it stands, Real Clear Politics’s poll of polls gives Nelson a lead of 3.8 points over Scott, although these polls were speculative as they were conducted before Scott officially announced his candidacy.

So what is likely to happen in Florida’s Senate election, given Scott’s entry into the race? In spite of Scott’s high profile as a candidate, the Republicans will still be swimming upstream to try and unseat Nelson: Nelson has won his three Senate elections by reasonable margins, winning 51.1% of the vote in 2000, 60.4% in 2006 and 55.2% in 2012. Meanwhile, Scott’s victories in Florida’s gubernatorial elections have been much more modest, beating his Democratic challengers by a single point in both 2010 and 2014. Over the course of his Senate career, Nelson has been firming up his vote in the major urban areas of the state, including in Miami-Dade county, which has averaged a 5.3% swing to the Democrats in every election cycle. On the other hand, Republican strength has been growing in areas of Northern Florida and the panhandle, so both candidates could easily trade votes with each other throughout the state.

Florida maps

But what does this mean for November’s Senate elections, and ultimately the Democrats’ chances of winning control of the Senate? Nelson is starting the election race from a fairly strong position, and has a good approval rating and electoral history. However, the Democrats’ chances of taking control of the Senate are already slimmer than they would like, and a challenge from Scott will already pose a threat to their chances of holding onto their Senate seat in Florida. It is worth remembering that the Democrats are on the back foot heading into the November Senate elections, and the Republicans need to win far fewer battlegrounds than the Democrats do in order to retain control. With fewer battlegrounds to worry about, the Republicans could still funnel funding and manpower into Florida in order to try and win their campaign. This in turn could mean a shift in the Democrats’ focus towards Florida and away from potential Democrat targets such as Arizona, Nevada and, indeed, Texas.

It is no surprise that many Democratic strategists are starting to shift their focus to the House of Representatives feeling that they have a better chance of winning control there, especially with the redistricting in Pennsylvania (and possibly Maryland) shaking up the odds in the House elections.

At this point in time, I am not able to make a suggestion for this race other than it remains a toss-up. Neither Rick Scott or Bill Nelson is an unpopular incumbent, and as the ultimate swing state Florida is already going to be a venue for an exciting election. The coming months will show us which candidate’s track record in office will give them a better reception from Florida’s voters.

How likely is Texas’s Senate Seat to go blue in November?

Beto

The 2018 mid-terms are still seven months off, but many races are already heating up. Over the coming months I shall be looking at some of the individual Senate elections in more detail as well as giving an overview of the wider picture of the Senate, House of Representatives and Gubernatorial elections. However, in this post I will be looking at one of the Senate races which is already drawing its share of attention.

November’s Senate election in Texas features two big names running against each other: incumbent Senator and 2016 Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz, and Democratic Congressman Beto O’Rourke, who currently serves Texas’s 16th District in the House of Representatives.

With such prominent candidates, this race has generated a lot of interest and will be one of the more closely-watched races in the lead-up to November. And with that interest comes campaign contributions; it was reported on Tuesday that O’Rourke’s campaign had pulled in $6.7 million in the first three months of 2018.

However, as we know, money isn’t everything in political campaigns, and it will be votes that count on November 6th. So taking into account the already-high profile of the race and the high figures going in to the campaigns, how likely is it that the Texas Senate seat goes blue in November? To try and answer this, let’s take a look at some facts.

If we look at the results of the previous Senate elections in Texas from 1994 (the first election from which the Republicans held both of Texas’s Senate seats) to 2014, then we can see that the Republicans have averaged 58.8% of the vote in these elections, compared with 39.6% for the Democratic candidates. This represents an average Republican lead of just over 19 points. Meanwhile, Cruz was first elected in 2012 with 56.5% of the vote against 40.6% for the Democratic candidate. So while Cruz’s 2012 lead was smaller than the statewide average over this 20-year period, overturning a lead of this kind is still going to be a big mountain to climb for O’Rourke.

IMG_3764Early polling in the Texas Senate election so far has been scarce. One January poll conducted by WPA Intelligence for the Houston Chronicle gave Cruz an 18-point lead over O’Rourke. This poll would appear to be in line with the recent averages in Texas Senate elections. However, a second January poll carried out for the O’Rourke campaign by the Democratic polling company Public Policy Polling gave Cruz a lead of seven points. Aside from the fact that this poll probably needs to be taken with a pinch of salt, there is little information that can be garnered from just two polls. For many Republican observers in Texas, no news may well be good news, and it will take a lot of good luck for O’Rourke and a lot of bad luck for Cruz for this seat to flip blue.

However, this is an election we’re talking about, and so nothing is guaranteed. It is no surprise, therefore, that Democrats are eyeing up potential routes to victory in the Lone Star State, even if these routes are more long-term.

O’Rourke’s Congressional District covers the city of El Paso, where as much as two thirds of the population are of Hispanic origin, compared to a quarter of the population of the state of Texas as a whole. O’Rourke also won his Congressional District in 2014 with 67.5% of the vote compared to 29.2% for the Republicans (the Republicans didn’t contest the seat in 2016). Whilst El Paso only accounts for literally one small corner of Texas, there is still plenty of votes for the Democrats to court, particularly among Hispanic voters and a growing urban population in increasingly liberal cities such as Austin. However, with voter turnout in El Paso county not even reaching 50% in 2016, it may be the case that most of the Democrats’ battle will involve getting their voters out.

If O’Rourke unseats Cruz in November, his will be the first statewide victory for a Democrat in Texas since 1994 when Bob Bullock was elected Lieutenant Governor. However, like much of the South, Texas’s Republican history is a recent one; since Texas elected its first Senators in 1846, the Democrats held both of the state’s Senate seats for all but seven of the years until 1961, including an unbroken streak from 1876 onwards. The Democrats also held the Governor’s mansion for 105 consecutive years from 1874 to 1979. At the Presidential level, Texas backed for the Democratic candidate in 27 of the 31 elections it took part in prior to 1980. So if Texas was a strong Democrat state in the past, it is not unreasonable to think it could be again in the future.

A further question is whether the popularity of the President can have any impact on down-ticket election results. A Gallup poll from January found that Texas gave Donald Trump the lowest Presidential approval rating of any of the states which voted for him in 2016: 39% favourable to 54% unfavourable. Furthermore, Trump only carried Texas in the 2016 Presidential Election by nine points; a similar margin to states such as Iowa and Ohio which are trending towards the Republicans, and much lower than George W. Bush’s average lead of 22 points.

So how likely is it that Texas’s Senate seat will be picked up by the Democrats in November? My suggestion would be not very. Despite Trump’s struggles in the Lone Star State and Beto O’Rourke’s strong starting position in his home of El Paso, there is little to suggest either from polling or previous trends that we are due to see Ted Cruz being upset in Texas. However, there is some encouraging news for the Democrats; if Texas is a state that the Democrats should be looking to target in future, then the media attention and campaign contributions will be a welcome step in the right direction for them. For now, however, Texas is likely to remain a red state in November.

Who’s to blame for the government shutdown?

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We are approaching 48 hours since the United States Government shut down. This latest shut down came one year to the day that Donald Trump was inaugurated as the 45th President of the United States.

For those of you unsure about how the process works, here’s a brief summary of the situation: if Congress is unable to agree on any spending plans, then no money can be spent by the federal government. If no money can be spent, then the government shuts down. This can often – but not always – mean that non-essential government services are halted and government workers get sent home until such a time that Congress can reach an agreement on spending plans. At that point, normal service can resume within the federal government.

In this case, federal government spending plans failed to pass through the US Senate, having cleared the House of Representatives last week. The Republican Bill failed to attract the support of enough Democrats; there is a whole multitude of reasons why individual Democratic Senators might not have supported the bill, but significant disagreements over funding for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA, also referred ti as “Dreamers”) and the Children’s Health Insurance Plan (CHIP) contributed to the stalemate. In order to pass through the Senate, the spending plans require the support of 60 of the 100 Senators, rather than the usual 50 percent plus one. With 51 Republican Senators currently serving in the chamber, there is no way that the plans can pass without reasonable levels of support from the Democrats.

Political figures have been quick to point the finger of blame over the matter. The shutdown has been described by the President and much of the Washington Republican Party as the “Schumer Shutdown”, after Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) was prepared to let the government shut down if he was not able to get his way in the agreement. The House Republican Conference even dedicated an entire website to describing the numbers of children whose CHIP coverage would expire as a result of Schumer’s shutdown. Schumer fired back, however, calling the shutdown the “Trump Shutdown”, saying that nobody other than the President possessed responsibility. The President, meanwhile, weighed in with comments that the Democrats were putting the military at risk with the shutdown, having previously goaded matters by previously saying on Twitter that the government “needed a good ‘shutdown'”.

So who is really to blame for the shutdown? Is it President Donald Trump, due to his rhetoric and the fact it is he at whom the buck stops on every issue in the US government? Is it Mitch McConnell and the Republicans, for failing to include items in the spending plan which would have attracted the support of Democrats in the Senate? Or is it Chuck Schumer and the Democrats who (aside from those Democratic Senators who supported the plans) were prepared to let the government shut down by not supporting the spending plans?

The fact is that all three are partly responsible. The bill ultimately cannot pass without support from the Democrats; the Republicans cannot pass the spending plans by themselves, and so Schumer is perfectly aware that his party’s inaction will shut down the government. However, the Republicans are the controlling party in Washington, and it is their plans which ultimately will go for approval. In any case, it is the responsibility of both parties in Congress to  work together to reach a bipartisan agreement on federal spending. Meanwhile, the President’s lack of real engagement and stoking of anger on both sides detracts from constructive debate. While the Senate will reconvene on Sunday night in the hope of reaching an agreement on spending, and while many Senators are already working on one, the President’s rhetoric along with both parties’ Senate leadership digging their heels in is not helpful at a time where real bipartisan work needs to be done.

If there is one piece of information to take away from this, however, it is that the current shutdown serves as evidence that controlling the White House and both chambers of Congress does not guarantee a party will be able to get anything done. The White House and both chambers of Congress are under Republican control, and they have not been able to avert a funding gap in spite of this. Indeed, of the seventeen federal funding gaps which have taken place since 1976, six of them have occurred when all three entities were controlled by the same party. A further eight took place when there was a divided Congress, and only three when Congress was controlled by the opposing party to the President. The table below shows the partisan control of the White House and Congress during shutdowns since 1976. Incidentally, George W. Bush is the only President since 1976 to have avoided a shutdown during his time in office.

shutdownsUniform control in Washington is no guarantee that a shutdown can be avoided – as both Democrats and Republicans know.

There is little that can be done at this point until both parties in the Senate are able to reach an agreement about federal government spending plans. Some Senators, including Susan Collins (R-ME) hope that the government will be able to start up again between Sunday night and Monday morning. We can hope that an agreement will be reached later today, but unless the President, McConnell and Schumer can stop placing blame and start placing deals on the table, there is not much hope of this happening tonight.

 

Why the 2018 Senate Elections may not be so easy for the Democrats

2018 Senate ratingsAs we enter 2018, attention will begin to turn towards the 2018 midterm elections. While one much smaller round of midterms took place in November with Gubernatorial elections in New Jersey and Virginia, this year’s round is huge. The entire House of Representatives is up for re-election, along with one third of the seats in the Senate, thirty-nine governors’ offices (including three territories), and numerous state and local elections.

Key in these elections is the battle for the control of the Senate and House of Representatives, and the Democrats have their hopes set on taking control of both. Following their victory against Roy Moore in the Alabama Senate Election in December, the Democrats now hold 49 of the 100 seats in the Senate, and need to gain just two seats to take effective control of the upper chamber. They will be hoping to capitalise on much of the unpopularity of the Trump Administration, as well as controversial policies such as the Republican Tax Bill and the scrapping of net neutrality laws.

The Democrats certainly have routes towards their target of reclaiming the Senate: Jeff Flake’s seat in Arizona will be empty in November and Dean Heller looks vulnerable in Nevada, and so these are two Republican-held seats which the Democrats could snipe. If the Democrats are feeling ambitious enough, they could even set their sights on Bob Corker’s open seat in Tennessee; Corker was re-elected in 2012 with more than double the vote count of his Democratic opponent, but stranger things than this have happened.

However, these advantages for the Democrats are a double-edged sword: President Trump still has supporters – as do the tax cuts and net neutrality, which supporters say will be beneficial to those in smaller, less-populated states – and these voters can still stand in the Democrats’ way of reclaiming the Senate, as they did in 2016. Furthermore, the Democrats are also going into the elections on the back foot; they will be defending twenty-five seats, whilst the Republicans will be defending just eight. This means that the scope for any gains by the Democrats is much more limited than the potential Republican pickups. Indeed, whilst states like Nevada and Arizona might be fertile territory for the Democrats to make gains, the Democrats also have plenty of ground to lose, particularly in the Midwest.

The Midwest as a region has been seeing an overall trend towards the Republicans in recent years, and the Democrats are defending Senate seats in Indiana and Missouri, both of which are classified as toss-ups by the Cook Political Report and Sabato’s Crystal Ball. Democrats are also defending Senate seats in the Republican-inclined states of Ohio, West Virginia, Montana and North Dakota, as well as in states which Trump carried in 2016, including Michigan, Florida and Wisconsin.

In Missouri, an October poll by Remington Research and the Missouri Scout which pitted the hypothetical scenario of incumbent Senator Claire McCaskill against Republican Attorney General of Missouri Josh Hawley gave Hawley a three-point lead. With ten months to go until November, a single poll from two months ago by itself doesn’t tell us much, and it certainly doesn’t mean that the Democrats are destined to lose in Missouri. However, if the Democrats are hoping to take control of the Senate, a three-point Republican lead in a Democrat-held Senate seat is a reminder that the Democrats still need to hold their own ground as well as make gains. In any case, this is an early indication that the Democrats’ path to regaining control of the Senate may not be as clear as they might hope.

A CNN poll from December indicates that the number of voters leaning towards the Democrats in November is at at least a twenty-year high. However, like in the 2016 presidential election, exactly where these voters are could matter more than how many are pledging their votes to the Democrats. The Democrats’ win in December’s Alabama Senate election and sweeping wins in Virginia in November prove that the party is capable of pulling off great achievements in different areas of the US, they still have a long way to go to show they are capable of attracting enough voters in every part of the country, particularly in the Midwest.

Over the coming months, I shall watch the polls closely and update my blog with my thoughts.

Ratings are correct as of 2nd January 2018.