Dem 48
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GOP 52
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New polls:  
Dem pickups vs. 2012: (None)
GOP pickups vs. 2012: (None)

Democrats Are Going to Run in Almost Every House District in 2018

Rep. Pete Sessions (R) won his 2016 race in TX-32, which covers the suburbs northwest of Dallas, with 71% of the vote. Hillary Clinton won the R+5 district by 3 points. How come Sessions did so well? Answer: The Democrats didn't bother to run a candidate there, so the missing 29% went to minor parties. If the Democrats had run a candidate, he or she would have had a fighting chance. In politics, you can't beat somebody with nobody, and the Democrats offered nobody.

That won't happen in 2018. Ten Democrats have already entered the Democratic Primary in TX-32. In fact, Democrats are flocking to races considered impossible even a year ago. There is at least one Democrat already signed up in 219 of the 239 House districts the Republicans hold, and the filing deadlines in most states are months away. It is likely that in the end there will be a Democratic candidate in virtually every House district, except maybe the five that are R+30 or more: AL-04, GA-09, KY-05, TX-11, and TX-13.

All Democrats considering running for Congress are aware that in the four special elections for Congress in Republican districts this year, the Democrat lost in every case—but outperformed the Democrat who ran in Nov. 2016 by an average of 8 points. That means any district that is R+8 or bluer is probably in play. That's 84 Republican seats. Redder districts might also be in play where the Republican incumbent has some serious flaw that can be exploited. In a wave election—or if the economy goes south or Donald Trump's popularity goes even lower—surprises can happen in any district, and Democrats want to be prepared.

Of course, not everything is roses and unicorns for the Democrats. Incumbents have a big advantage in name recognition and fundraising ability over challengers. Also, the RNC has $40 million in the bank to the DNC's $6 million and interest groups tend to support incumbents. Still, history says the president's party almost always gets whacked hard in the midterms and since polling began in the 1940s, there has never been a president as unpopular going into midterm season as the current one. In the most recent polls, a generic Democrat beats a generic Republican by 18 points. If all districts that are R+18 or bluer were in play, that would be 197 Republican seats. That certainly won't happen, but in any event, in 2018 there won't be any repeats of TX-32, where a Democrat might have been able to win had one been running. (V)

The Top 10 House Races to Watch in 2018

The above item is about the House contests in general. Now let's get down to brass tacks. Politico has a list of the top 10 House races to focus on in 2018. Here is the list and some notes on each one.

District Incumbent PVI 2016 margin Notes
IL-06 Peter Roskam (R) R+2 18% Typical suburban district around Chicago now up for grabs
UT-04 Mia Love (R) R+13 12% Utahns like decency and don't like Trump so an upset is possible
VA-10 Barbara Comstock (R) D+1 6% Five Democrats are fighting here like hungry dogs with a bone
CA-39 Ed Royce (R) Even 14% This race, east of Los Angeles, might be the most expensive in the country
FL-26 Carlos Curbelo (R) D+6 12% Clinton won this Miami enclave by 16% so Curbelo is in deep doo doo
MN-08 Rick Nolan (DFL) R+4 0.5% Nolan supports Medicare-for-all, which Republicans see as his undoing
TX-07 John Culberson (R) R+7 12% Culberson has never faced a competitive race and may be surprised
NV-04 (Open) (D) D+3 4% Ruben Kihuen was forced out, but open seats are often tossups
NY-24 John Katko (R) D+3 21% No serious Democrat has filed and you can't beat somebody with nobody
IA-01 Rod Blum (R) D+1 12% A pro-union candidate, Abby Finkenauer, will fight for blue-collar votes

Many of the above races were won by margins larger than the underlying PVI suggests they should have been won. But in a possible Democratic wave year, no Republican in a swing district is safe, no matter how well he or she did last time. (V)

To Impeach or Not to Impeach, That Is the Question

If Democrats take control of the House in Jan. 2019, it could be a blessing in disguise—for the Republicans. Under those circumstances it is absolutely certain a fight will break out between liberal Democrats who want to impeach Donald Trump and moderates who don't. The fight could consume the party and hurt them in 2020 with people who voted for them to solve the country's problems, not to get into a political food fight with the Republicans.

Earlier this year, 58 Democrats voted to begin debate on a motion to impeach Trump. If the Democrats take control of the House, it will be because many anti-Trump Democrats won seats in 2018 and the pressure will be all that greater. The Democratic leadership is currently against any moves to impeach Trump because they remember what happened to the Republicans after they impeached Bill Clinton: They lost seats in the House at the next election, a very rare occurrence as the opposition party normally wins big in the midterms.

The one BIG unknown here is special counsel Robert Mueller. If he issues a report unambiguously stating that Trump obstructed justice (or committed some other crime), public opinion may favor impeachment, in which case the leadership may go along. A key person in the impeachment debate is Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), who would be chairman of the House Judiciary Committee in a Democratic House. He is currently against impeachment, although a damning report from Mueller could change his mind. Also, Nadler is not a fan of impeaching Trump and then having him acquitted in the Senate, where a 2/3 majority is needed for conviction. So Nadler feels that unless a large number of Republican senators are also on board the impeachment train, he doesn't want to drive the train. (V)

Menendez Isn't Drawing Serious Competition

While the Democrats are not having much trouble finding candidates willing to take a shot at an incumbent, the Republicans are not so lucky. One of the most vulnerable members of the blue team in 2018 is Sen. Bob Menendez, who was just put on trial for corruption. Thanks to the hung jury and resulting mistrial, he may be put on trial again, right in the midst of election season. One might think that a nice Senate seat, with its high profile and $174,000 annual salary, would entice an ambitious Republican or two. Not so much, as it turns out.

On the Democratic side, Menendez has done a very good job of rallying the troops, and making sure that all of the blue team's movers and shakers are on board the S.S. Bob. On the Republican side, the New Jersey GOP is a train wreck. Donald Trump has poisoned the waters; there are few states where he is less popular than the Garden State. At the same time, Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ) has turned the phrase "moderate Republican" into a four-letter word. So, any red team challenger to Menendez would not only have to run against a sitting senator, he or she would also have to run against Trump and Christie. That's one too many opponents, it would seem, since even the most promising Republicans in New Jersey—Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli, Rep. Leonard Lance, businessman John Crowley—have all said they are not interested. (Z)

Who Is Kirsten Gillibrand and What Is She Up to?

Clare Malone of FiveThirtyEight has a long profile of Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), formerly a conservative blue dog representative from upstate New York, and now a very active left-wing senator who is constantly in the news. There is no doubt that she is a smart and determined politician who has her eyes firmly focused on the goal (Hint: It is located at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington). Think of her as Hillary Clinton about 20 years ago.

Months ago, Gillibrand put her finger to the wind and felt that the Democratic Party (and its primary voters) were moving to the left. For a large piece of the base, especially the female part, sexual misconduct is a huge issue. She is probably the biggest voice for zero tolerance, even to the point of trying (successfully) to drum Sen. Al Franken (DFL-MN) out of the Senate. Single-payer health insurance is hot among party activists, so Gillibrand signed up as a co-sponsor of the bill introduced by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT). And the list continues.

Malone's take is that Gillibrand isn't an ideologue, she is an operator. She is good at politics. In other words, she has a good feel for what her audience—meaning the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party— wants and tries to be in the right place at the right time. Most likely there will be at most two other serious female contenders for the nomination in 2020, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), and if Gillibrand can establish herself as just as liberal as Warren and a whole lot younger (51 vs. 68 now), she will be well positioned to make the pitch: "We need a new generation of liberals to take over." Malone's conclusion is: "Keep an eye on her; she's a real player who knows exactly what she is doing." (V)

Utah Paper Blasts Hatch

Utah's biggest newspaper is the Salt Lake Tribune. And, following the lead of Time magazine, their editorial board has just named Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) the "Utahn of the Year." Bigly win for the Senator, right? Just like being named "Person of the Year" is a big honor? Afraid not. As the board was careful to point out, the designation is a reflection of impact, not necessarily positive impact. And, as they explain, their reasons for choosing Hatch this year are threefold:

  • Hatch's part in the dramatic dismantling of the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments.
  • His role as chairman of the Senate Finance Committee in passing a major overhaul of the nation's tax code.
  • His utter lack of integrity that rises from his unquenchable thirst for power.

It's true that Salt Lake City is much more liberal than the rest of the Beehive State. Still, the editorial is our first indication that Utahns are not happy with Hatch's role in the tax bill. Presumably, they are aggravated in particular by the last-second gift for real estate businesses the Senator added to the bill, a gift that will benefit Hatch and his family personally, and will benefit Hatch's donors even more.

If Utahns are turning against Hatch, that could be the final push that persuades him to throw in the towel and retire. If so, it would pave the way for the election of Mitt Romney, who would undoubtedly become a huge thorn in Donald Trump's side in the Senate. He would not be an automatic vote for the administration's legislative proposals, and could possibly even form some sort of alliance with the Democrats. On the other hand, if Hatch decides to stand for reelection, he could be wounded enough to actually put his seat in play. After all, Mia Love may be in trouble (see above), even without people lamenting her "utter lack of integrity." (Z)

A Really, Really Bad Poll for Republicans

It's not a new poll, having been conducted back in April of this year, so it's not getting much attention any more. But it should be, because it speaks more directly to the problems the GOP is going to face next year, perhaps, than any other poll extant. The Pew Research Center, noting that Americans are not big fans of the U.S. tax system, asked respondents exactly what it is that really bothers them. The results:

  • Corporations don't pay their fair share (62% are bothered a lot by this)
  • Some wealthy people don't pay their fair share (60%)
  • The complexity of the tax code (43%)
  • How much I have to pay in taxes (27%)
  • Some poor people don't pay their fair share (20%)

That's right, the Republican Party will spend much of next year talking about how much they have done to "solve" problem #4. And they will do so while touting a bill that made problems 1-3 much worse. That's not a winning combination, and suggests that the bill's popularity is not likely to skyrocket in the manner Republicans are hoping for.

There's another big problem, as the Washington Post's Catherine Rampell points out. People's wages, hours, bonuses, etc. fluctuate on a year-to-year basis. And the amount of money that most people will get back, thanks to the new bill, is—for lack of a better term—within the margin of error. In other words, if John Q. Taxpayer gets $1,000 more in his tax return this year, he's not necessarily going to attribute that to the GOP. In fact, he's not necessarily going to notice it, unless he happens to compare to last year's tax return. So, while the voting public seems to be well aware that problems 1-3 on the list above just got worse (especially #1), they may not even take note that #4 has gotten "better." Put more simply, the GOP could find themselves blamed for all of the aggravating parts of their bill while not getting credit for the non-aggravating parts. That is definitely not a good position to be in. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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