by Kip Malinosky, Arlington County Democratic Committee Chair (cross posted from The Voice)
Could a wave be building to take down Republican majorities in the General Assembly in 2017 and Congress in 2018? Of course, it’s too early to say, and I don’t want to make any predictions after being spectacularly wrong last year. But something is happening here. Critical decisions are being made right now that will influence this November’s election and next. From Democratic candidate recruitment, the Democratic performance in special elections, and presidential and congressional approval ratings, all signs point to a Democratic resurgence. This will not happen automatically and early favorable trends could be reversed, but the resistance has some real victories to celebrate and is building momentum.
First, Democrats are at long last shedding the disease of presidentialism; the problem of only focusing on the presidential race. We are realizing that the other 50,000 elected offices in the United States at the congressional, state and local levels matter as well. Throughout Obama’s presidency we never had more Democratic candidates than the Republicans running for the House of Delegates. Now, Democrats have 115 primary candidates to only 83 for the Republicans, according to the Virginia Public Access Project (VPAP).
This is not just a Virginia trend. According to Stephanie Schriock of Emily’s List, last year they had been contacted by 900 potential candidates, compared to 11,000 now. According to Vice News reporter Alex Thompson, “Already 408 Democrats have thrown their hats into the ring [for the US House of Representatives], a 58 percent increase over the 259 who had declared by this point in the run-up to the 2014 midterms.” Several of these congressional candidates are in Virginia and four have already declared to take on Representative Barbara Comstock in 2018. Having lots of candidates is both correlated with and helps cause greater voter enthusiasm.
Second, Democrats are showing up in force in special elections in Kansas, Georgia and Virginia. Special elections don’t always predict what will happen the following November, but they can point to which side has momentum and stall legislation in Congress. According to FiveThirtyEight reporter Harry Enten, in the Georgia open primary and Kansas special election, the Democrats improved their performance by 7.5 points (nationally this swing would give us a chance to retake the House) and 22 points (nationally this swing would guarantee it) respectively. In Virginia, we won the Clerk of the Court Race in Prince William for Jackie Smith against Delegate Jackson Miller who outspent her 7- to-1. These races may have helped seven incumbent Republican Delegates decide not to run for re-election.
Then there’s Trump’s approval rating and the approval rating of the Republican Congress. The maliciousness and incompetence of the Trump Administration is largely responsible for Democrats signing up in droves to run for office and supporting candidates in special elections. But the opposition is not just deep, but also broad. In the RealClearPolitics polling average, Trump’s approval is hovering around 41 percent and his disapproval is over 52 percent.Again, Harry Enten compiled the data and found that the Republican Congress is the most unpopular of any congressional majority at this point in the cycle. Furthermore, given that Trump has failed to pass any (or even introduce most) of his legislative priorities in hisfirst 100 days, his unpopularity is likely to grow.
Once again, nothing is assured. Democrats, independents, disaffected Republicans must do what we can to keep resisting. The failure of Trumpcare was driven in large part by constituent pressure put upon moderate Republicans. The calls to Congress must continue. We should continue to march, make calls into special election districts, register voters, and commit the first time 2016 voters to voting this year.
In 2006, the last midterm Democratic wave, we retook the US Senate by one seat which came down to Jim Webb’s election in Virginia. That race was won by about three votes per precinct. Riding a wave of opposition to Trump, we have a chance to flip the Virginia House this year and the US House next year. Let’s make it happen.