By Jim Ellis
June 30, 2017 — As we all know, one of President Trump’s favorite gambits is to call out reporters for what he terms their “fake news” stories, and we see an example this week of where he may be right. The New York Times is one of the president’s favorite whipping posts, and Nate Cohn’s analysis in the publication’s Political Calculus section about the Democrats’ chances in the 2018 election cycle is at least dangerously close to fitting into that category. While Cohn’s analysis may not be “fake”, he certainly omits a great many facts that don’t conveniently fit his premise.
Cohn is right in the early part of his article when he states that for Democrats to win the net 24 seats they need to capture at least a one-seat House majority they must expand the political playing field. He goes so far as to say they need to challenge perhaps as many as 70 Republican incumbents or nominees in open Republican seats in order to obtain that number, and his statement may well be correct.
But the “fake” part of the analysis again surrounds the special elections just completed. The author reiterates the common narrative that the Republicans under-performed in these seats, which, therefore, lays the foundation for a Democratic sweep in next year’s House races.
The premise of Republican under-performance in these campaigns simply isn’t accurate in three of the four GOP-held seats. While true President Trump recorded big percentages in the four districts, and House Republican incumbents previously racked up large victory margins against weak opponents, an “apples to apples” comparison puts the results into better perspective. In past open seat or challenger contests in these same seats, the Republican special election victors came within at least similar range with previous winning GOP candidates in like situations. The current analyses isolate the Trump numbers, which in many cases aren’t like other Republican totals, while adding landslide incumbent wins that skew the underlying vote history.
In almost an amusing support statement for his contention that Democrats could wrest away the House majority from Republicans, Cohn writes that “national Republican groups spent millions to prop up candidates in Republican-leaning districts,” meaning the four special elections, and that they won’t be able to replicate such expenditures in 70 or so 2018 regular election campaigns. But, he omits the fact that Democrats spent an all-time record $35 million in just one of these districts and still produced 24 fewer votes for their candidate than Rep. Tom Price’s (R) 2016 opponent who literally didn’t spend a dime on his campaign. Certainly, the Democrats won’t be able to produce $35 million campaigns in 70 districts next year when its been done only once in history.
Cohn further sites Rep. Karen Handel’s 52-48 percent win in the Georgia district as an under-performance. She had $35 million spent against her, and withstood untold amounts of free media negative news coverage! No House candidate of either party in any election has ever faced an onslaught of such magnitude. It is likely that any challenger with $35 million in almost any district in the country could score at or around 48 percent of the vote.
Additionally, Cohn further fails to mention the Democrats’ poor targeting. Though many in Democratic circles are trying to lay the blame for the special election defeats at Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s door, new Democratic National Committee chairman Tom Perez, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chair Ben Ray Lujan, and their advisors were the ones who made the critical targeting mistakes.
Putting such commanding resources in the most Republican district in the special election set (GA-6), and giving the least to the candidate who was in the statistically best district for their party – Archie Parnell in South Carolina – should call into question the political leadership’s strategic planning ability. For the purposes of his article, the Times’ Cohn fails to mention the Democrats’ early blunders this year, and seems to believe that they can correctly identify 70 districts where their candidates would have a chance of winning when the clear track record suggests otherwise.
Finally, Cohn seems to simply assume that 2018 will become a wave Democratic year. While candidates in a new president’s party tend to fare poorly in the first mid-term election, there is yet no evidence that such a trend is forming for next year. With economic projections encompassing gross domestic product, the stock market, job production, consumer confidence, inflation, and other economic indicators suggesting a favorable 2018 American economy, and the country being involved in no major unpopular war, then what factors do exist that would cause a wave election, predicted right now, to oust massive numbers of incumbents from districts that traditionally elect Republicans?
Cohn, like many other analysts, site Democratic and left-of-center excitement and motivation to vote as more key factors suggesting commensurate party victories. While the turnouts for the Montana and Georgia elections were excessively high – both exceeding the last mid-term participation totals, for example – the Democrats still lost. This means Republicans and right-of-center voters turned out in at least an equal proportion, and what evidence is there to suggest that this trend ends.
While there are scenarios that would lead to Democrats assuming the majority in the next election, it is much too early to say with any confidence that such factors will actually be present come the next time people vote. Therefore, a Democratic House majority forming for the next Congress, as can be projected from today, is far from becoming a reality even though many reporters wish it so.
Linked is Cohn’s article: Democrats’ Best Chance to Retake the House? 8 Types of G.O.P. Districts to Watch