Last Tuesday, Americans went to the poll to vote for a third of their Senators, all their Representatives, 36 governors and most state senators and state representatives in the country. The Felix readership probably knows the two main takeaways: while the Democrats were successful in their attempt to capture the House of Representatives (having a net gain of 28 seats, so far, that gives them a majority in the chamber), the GOP was able to not only maintain the Senate, but gain 2 more Senators, possibly 3 when Florida publishes its results. Thus, both sides could claim a victory of some kind, and it is true that this feels like a moderate success for a Republican Party that has the most controversial and divisive president in the last 70 years as one of their own. However, a more careful analysis reveals that the Democrats laid the lines for an overhaul of American politics in the post-Trump era. Let’s find out why this is the case by looking into the most important results of the night:
The Dems have built their new majority in mainly three states (New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Virginia), usually in swing districts where the Trump brand of politics has proved to be toxic. However, they got surprisingly strong results in more conservative states like Florida, Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas. While out of these only Florida will be in play in the 2020 election, the improved vote share in Texas reveals that the state is indeed drifting away from the GOP, to the point it may become the swing state by mid-century. It is also remarkable that the Dems were able to gain districts in Michigan and Iowa, states they will most certainly need if they want to defeat Trump in two years’ time. In other matters, controlling the House means that Nancy Pelosi will become Speaker for a second time, and that the investigation on Russian collusion with the Trump campaign in 2016 will have to pass through the Dem controlled House Judiciary Committee.
While it is true that the chances of them taking this chamber were very low due to the idiosyncrasy of the seats in play, the Dems had a bittersweet night in the Senate. They managed to flip Nevada and keep Montana, but in turn they lost Indiana, North Dakota and Missouri, and possibly Florida, according go provisional results. Particularly painful were the close defeats in Arizona and Texas (the last one a nail-biting battle between progressive darling and future presidential contender Beto O’Rourke ,and alleged serial killer extraordinaire Ted Cruz). Nevertheless, it must be remembered that these two states have not elected a Democrat in a statewide election since the 90s, so the swing towards the party of Roosevelt spells of potential success in future races. The re-election of Dem Senators in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Ohio also reveals that the Trump takeover of the Mid-West in 2016 may have been a once in a lifetime event for the GOP.
Big night again for the Dems, but it could have been even bigger. Pickups from the Republicans include Michigan, Maine, Nevada, New Mexico and Illinois, and, more surprisingly, Kansas, a very conservative state where Chris Kobach, the infamously xenophobic GOP candidate, was defeated by Democratic rising star Laura Kelly. However, the price of the night proved to be Wisconsin. There, Tea-Party-backed union buster and 2016 presidential candidate Scott Walker failed to get re-elected against schoolteacher Tony Evers. Despite these victories in the North of the country, the Dems were defeated by a small margin in Florida and Georgia, states where they run charismatic, progressive black challengers against GOP administrations that have been widely accused of using vote disenfranchisement tactics to maintain their grip on power.
Lesser (but not less important!) races solidified the narrative that the country is moving left. In Florida, voters approved the electoral reenfranchisement of more than 1.5 million former felons, while Idaho, Utah and Nebraska passed Medicaid expansion that improves the healthcare of the poorest members of society. Among other progressive initiatives that were voted in include the legalisation of recreational marihuana in Michigan; endorsement of a law banning discrimination against transgender people in Massachusetts, and maintaining sanctuary for illegal immigrants in Oregon. Last but not least, GOP-controlled Arkansas and Missouri voted to substantially raise the minimum wage.