This article was originally posted at The Hill.
Over the past several months, political pundits and media elites alike have decided we are headed toward a “blue wave” in this year’s midterm elections. This narrative is spoken as if it is an absolute certainty, reminiscent of the “Hillary Clinton is unbeatable” conventional wisdom in 2016 — and we all know how that turned out.
The reality on the ground is that the fundamentals are not nearly as good for the Democrats as many in the media would have you believe. President Trump’s favorability numbers are higher than they were at any point during the 2016 campaign, and generic ballot numbers are up for Republicans across the board. Trump’s objective successes — a growing economy, newly passed tax cuts that put money in the pockets of millions of American families, and diplomatic success with North Korea — have clearly helped the GOP’s image with voters.
For the Democrats to truly ride a “blue wave”, they would need to recapture both the House and the Senate. And, despite the hype, math is not on their side for either objective.
In order to regain control of the House for the first time since 2010, Democrats would need to flip a net 24 seats. Democratic strategists are fond of pointing out that 23 Republican-held districts voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016. But in each of these districts, Democrats will be up against an incumbent Republican with a sizable war chest of campaign funds. As James Hohmann of the Washington Post explained in an analysis last year:
“Understandably, operatives and handicappers have focused on the 23 districts that Republicans hold, which voted for Hillary Clinton last year. But some of the incumbents are very popular, with brands that are distinct from Trump’s, and they are unlikely to lose no matter how bad the headwinds become.”
Even if the Democrats performed incredibly well in these 23 districts — let’s say they win 17 of them — they would need to flip an additional 13 seats in Trump-won districts, while also protecting every Democratic incumbent. This is not an easy task no matter what CNN says.
The Senate math is much worse for Democrats. Currently, Republicans control the Senate with a 51-49 majority. Democrats would need to flip two net seats to take control. Nine Republican-held seats are at risk, while 26 Democrat-held seats are at risk.
The Cook Political Report rates three Republican-held seats as toss-ups: Arizona, Nevada, and Tennessee. The rest are rated as “likely Republican” or “solid Republican.” Meanwhile, Cook Political Report rates five Democrat-held seats as toss-ups: Florida, Indiana, Missouri, North Dakota, and West Virginia, and two as “lean Democrat”: Minnesota and Ohio.
Tuesday night’s primary election results in Indiana, Ohio, and West Virginia provided a major lift to the GOP’s likelihood of maintaining the Senate. In Indiana, Mike Braun, a pro-Trump businessman, capitalized on his grassroots support to defeat two sitting U.S congressmen in order to challenge Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) in the fall. Congressman James Renacci (R) won his primary in Ohio in decisive fashion in order to take on Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio). And perhaps most importantly, West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey pulled off a major upset in a three-way race, defeating the ever-controversial Don Blankenship, guaranteeing a cage match with Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) in a state that voted overwhelmingly for Trump in 2016.
All three of these candidates are strong conservatives with solid reputations. All three are serious candidates who will give their Democratic opponents a run for their money.
And if a recent Morning Consult survey released last week is accurate, the Democrats should be very worried. Despite leading the generic ballot nationwide 40-35, the numbers get ugly for Democratic incumbents state-by-state, especially for the most vulnerable:
- Florida: Republicans 38, Democrats 37
- Indiana: Republicans 39, Democrats 34
- Missouri: Republicans 38, Democrats 33
- Montana: Republicans 42, Democrats 37
- North Dakota: Republicans 38, Democrats 30
- Ohio: Democrats 38, Republicans 36
- West Virginia: Republicans 43, Democrats 29
Those are not “blue wave” numbers. Not at all.
Much can change in politics, and there’s still a lot of time before November. But the clamoring for a Democratic wave year may prove to be déjà vu from 2016 — more wishful thinking from political pundits and media elites desperate to find anything to derail Donald Trump.
Photo credit: Gage Skidmore