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The Audacity of Hope in 2018: Good News and Bad News from Tuesday’s Elections

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by Corey Cantor

Written on 11/7 (edited 11/9)

The 2018 midterm results were an enormously more positive result than election night 2016.

No doubt, today feels a bit mixed — winning the House but being pushed way back in the Senate; winning governor’s races in states that were barely polled, while losing in some that we followed closely felt like a gut punch. How can this all possibly make any sense?

Seeing Democratic rising stars like Beto O’Rourke, Stacey Abrams, and Andrew Gillum — who all ran positive, inspiring campaigns — lose hurts badly. There’s no denying that. But stepping back and putting things in a larger context: they each ran in very difficult “red” states, exceeded expectations, and set the road map forward. Florida remains the biggest heartbreak — always on the cusp of delivering something monumental, but at the last second snatched away like Lucy with the football.

Watching Senators Claire McCaskill, Heidi Heitkamp, and Joe Donnelly lose was another gut punch. The first two especially hurt, as they gave their hearts to their states, spoke their minds, and were good Senators. This is a reminder that the Republicans always go for the jugular. Talk of wanting Democrats to be more bipartisan is mostly empty words; Republicans will try to win seats any way they can. Claire McCaskill can rest easy knowing that she made America and Missouri — better. Heidi Heitkamp made a difficult choice regarding Brett Kavanaugh, but it was the right choice and she can look herself in the mirror.

To quote Jason Kander, “you don’t get to only be okay with politics when it goes your way.”

Unlike November 2016, when it was basically all darkness, this time there is plenty of sunshine. These aren’t just “silver linings” to make us feel better. These are hard-earned results including:

The Democrats won the House. Don’t buy the Trump BS that this was assured or that it was easy. Democrats needed to get the House back with all of its power — and this was anything but assured. A lot of people don’t remember the benefits of having the House, so I’ll lay out just a few. First, the House can move very quickly. So if Speaker Pelosi (let’s say) wants to pass a bill on the Voting Rights Act, there isn’t a need to essentially wait around and have it take time on the floor. She can call it up for a vote once it is out of committee. Secondly, budget bills start in the House for the reconciliation process — that means there will be no more attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act with the Democrats in charge. Finally, members like Adam Schiff, Maxine Waters, and Elijah Cummings will have key oversight into issues around cabinet secretaries, Trump’s policies, and other key questions. They’ll undoubtedly be careful not to overdo it, but this is a big f’ing deal, to quote Joe Biden.

Mueller is now better protected. While having the House and Senate would have been the ideal outcome, control of the House at least ensures that the Democrats can call any DOJ officials or the Mueller team in the nightmare scenario where the investigation is stymied or deep-sixed. Under Paul Ryan’s leadership, the House GOP swept things under the rug. Starting January, that will no longer happen, and the consequences of firing Mueller or obstructing justice will at least have a check.

Governors, Governors, Governors. For ten years, Democrats haven’t appreciated how much of a difference governors make. Whether it’s clean energy policies, economic programs, leadership on national questions, or any other issue of the day, governors matter a great deal. Along with state Attorneys General, they also can push back in court on unconstitutional and/or illegal things that the Trump Administration does. Governors are typically popular, and that could help build up their brand as well as Democrats’ brand nationwide. Dems picked up governorships across the country — with a median outcome that I would describe as good — Illinois, Michigan, Maine, Nevada, New Mexico, Wisconsin, and Kansas will now be blue on the map. The last two — defeating Scott Walker and Kris Kobach — are huge victories. Just as important, the Democrats now have power in three pivotal states: Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania where they can ensure the right to vote and making voting as easy as possible. In 2016, which state was the one to deny close to 30,000 voters due to onerous voter ID requirements? That’s right, Wisconsin. Which state had low turnout and no early vote? Yep, Michigan. Which state was extremely gerrymandered and threatened House pickups? That would be Pennsylvania. In short, taking back these governorships could not have come at a more urgent time.

Pink Wave. The new members of the House are really, really good. This was a “pink wave,” in that there were some key female candidates who buoyed the Democrats. Whether it was NJ-11’s Mikie Sherill, who you should peg as a future superstar, or KS-03’s Sharice Davids, who would be the first LBGT MMA fighter/first Native American member, or Abigail Spanberger who took down the odious Dave Brat, these women are just so awesome. There were also great candidates in GA-06 (Lucy McBath, who took down Karen Handel of Jon Ossoff fame) and MI-11 (Haley Stevens, who ran Obama’s auto bailout). These are great candidates who will serve their communities very well.

The House now looks more like America. In addition to the pink wave Democrats elected many more people of color (Underwood in IL-14, Delgado in NY-19), millennials (Ocasio-Cortez, Finkenauer in IA-1), Obama alumni (Malinowski in NJ-7, Stevens), veterans (Rose in NY-11, Crow in CO-06, Slotkin in MI-08). The full list of winners is still pending, but Democrats also elected more environmentalists, activists, and people of diverse professional experiences.

The House is now in order. Forget all the hate on some of the House Democrats. The new committee chairs — from Maxine Waters to Adam Schiff to Jerry Nadler — are going to run train. Unlike the House GOP, which has no agenda, you will now see progressive legislation and strong oversight. It won’t be a television show like the current House GOP, but instead should be a smart governing body for a change. Isn’t that what we should all want from Congress?

We vanquished some GOP demons. There are those opponents who sort of always seem to win. Scott Walker? No longer a governor. Dana Rohrabacher? Russia’s favorite Congressmen went down in flames to CA-48’s Harley Rouda. And perhaps the biggest win was the defeat of Kris Kobach, who is simply a terrible — and dangerous — person (who may reappear in Trump’s cabinet, by the way).

Of course, not everything was good news on Tuesday night. It’s important to be honest about some dark clouds:

Senators and Courts. The Democrats are currently at 46 seats in the Senate. This isn’t where I pegged the nightmare scenario (that was 42–44), but it isn’t good news. That means the Democrats need to NET 4 or 5 seats in 2020 to win the Senate back versus 2 this time. On the flip side, this map was historically bad. Note that as of right now (Friday afternoon), at least two Senate races — Florida and Arizona — are still in question. But regardless, it appears that Mitch McConnell will be able to continue to pack courts with conservative crazies, and to ensure that Trump’s ethically challenged appointees will breeze on through. No way to sugar coat that — losing McCaskill, Donnelly, and Heitkamp really hurt. I personally grieved for the loss of Claire — who had been my Senator for four years. A good person and a fighter, someone who loved Missouri, and was treated so harshly by the Republicans in her state. But she made it a better place, and history will no doubt judge her kindly.

The Head and the Heart. Democrats had a few candidates who the base (and I) really love: Andrew Gillum, Beto O’Rourke, and Stacey Abrams. All three are, sad to say, likely to lose. But they aren’t gone from public life, and could very well rise again…maybe soon, and maybe even for President or VP in 2020. It hurts when people you care about really lose — and there’s not much I can say about it. However, the sun will come up again tomorrow and these candidates will continue to make America a better place. They aren’t going anywhere, and with god’s grace, I hope more candidates will be inspired by their actions.

Why this matters (a short mini-expose about Tuesday)

My experience Tuesday night was a sort of bizarre reverse 2016. As results came in during the first hour, I felt a bit panicked wondering if we had missed everything yet again. Could we fail to pick up the House? Was Trump really this powerful — how could it happen again? This inner panic peaked around when Florida became coming in — and with Virginia only appearing to give us one House seat.

Then, it became clear that Gillum and Nelson were unlikely to win the day. I felt my chest clench up. All this work — years of it, for nothing?

Time — and a few Stellas — helped, as our position improved from the 9 to 10:30 pm time block. States began closing and, as expected, we started to pick up seats. I kept watching the Virginia races — could we pull off beating Dave Brat? Abigail Spanberger took the lead at the end; and then suddenly Elaine Luria VA-02. Out of nowhere, we netted a few seats out of VA.

I think the moment where things changed for me was when Kansas Governor was announced out of the blue. Out of nowhere, Kris Kobach failed to win. The mood seemed to change — Democrats quickly won seats I phone banked for (Antonio Delgado), New Jersey started coming in (and at that point Mikie Sherill had a big lead); Dems somehow managed a win in Staten Island. The House was called early by Fox News.

I was especially excited about Tom Malinowski (NJ-07) being called the winner after being down for a portion of the night. I met him while canvassing with my dad on Sunday (well, stood in the same circle of other people asking him questions). He was kind and refreshing and poised. Someone you would want to send to Congress — because you trusted them to do the job.

After the party wrapped up, I felt good about the House but crummy about the state of the Senate. I went home, exhausted, and couldn’t sleep — watching as Wisconsin’s governor’s race went back and forth. And then, Evers took the lead in an instant and never looked back. Nevada came in strong as expected; the nightmare scenario averted if only slightly.

Then there was one more seat — this one really choked me up — of an African American woman whose son was killed by an act of gun violence. She had been down to her opponent all night, but it was as close as a recent poll by Nate Cohn had showed. She was down by 57 votes — was this going to be another disappointment like the special election in 2017? And then… Lucy McBath, who had lost her son Jordan Davis to gun violence and had campaigned heavily on the issue of gun safety, pulled ahead of Karen Handel.

I don’t mean to sound too dramatic, but maybe because it was 2:30 am, I started to tear up a bit. The work wasn’t for nothing — that Jon Ossoff race in 2017 was the first one after Trump was elected. The media and Republicans said that Democrats had wasted all their efforts, all their heart and souls on nothing. We put everything into that race at that time, and we came up short. The GOP dumped in $25 million — and they took the seat.

Now, about a year later — Karen Handel will no longer be the Congresswoman for Georgia-6. The efforts of activists to cultivate a strong Democratic Party had lit a spark (see Virginia in 2017, where we swept all three statewide offices and picked up 15 seats(!) in the House of Delegates) and a candidate better suited for the district had put heart into it. A gun safety activist had won in Georgia. Two steps forward, one step back, I thought as I held my phone.

You see, my Congress district (NJ-05) used to be represented by a man named Scott Garrett. He voted against bills that would help New Jersey (i.e. Superstorm Sandy aid) to stay consistent with his own philosophical views. It would later come out that he held bigoted views against LGBT Americans.

Each cycle, Garrett looked vulnerable, but yet again he would survive. In 2014, a candidate that many in my district were passionate about (Roy Cho) came close to winning — in the polling and then proceeded to lose by about 9 or 10 points. The people in the district were excited, but we failed again. It was shortly after that race that Garrett’s bigoted views came out in the press. Another opponent in 2016, this time Josh Gottheimer, would work to fight against Garrett in the next election — even though no one had yet again come close.

On the night of 2016, when America began to see its own darkness rear its head again, there were only four seats to flip from Red to Blue. NJ-05 did the right thing. Garrett lost and a Democrat won. More importantly, a good person won and a bad person lost their seat.

Georgia-6’s experience was just like mine. They had passionate Democrats, who were told what they believed didn’t matter and that no matter what happened, they’d come up short.

Not this Tuesday night. Not anymore. Because while Beto and Stacey may have lost, Colin Alred and Lizzie Fletcher won. And like Lucy McBath, they will change their communities and states — and one day they too could be Senators or governors or lifelong amazing Congresspeople.

The hope lives on, the dream will never die.

Two steps forward, one step back. The House was won, but the Senate became more challenging (pending results in FL and AZ). Propositions that made our democracy better passed, but not everything or everyone moved forward. The work of an engaged citizenry doesn’t end with a presidential election, and it doesn’t have to be every day. As Barack Obama always says, our job is to work to make things better, one step at a time, not everything possibly being resolved in a single election.

And this Tuesday night, we indeed made America a little better. And that is what was our job was. America rarely givens you complete victories — 2008 feels like a distant memory at times. But — to me — the audacity of hope that a young president wasn’t about when things are going well, and when things are easy, but when things get hard. That when America or Americans do bad things, you need to buckle down and try harder. That we must be strong because there are millions who don’t have the ability to voice their opinion and take the time to change the political scope of the country. When you lose an election or see a candidate you love lose, you remember that they will still be there and that the fire they lit is what matters just as much.

To me, that — not some slogan — is what the audacity of hope means.

When I woke up on Wednesday, November 7th, 2018, the sun was shining and the sky was bright blue.

Addendums (11/9)

· In New Jersey, it appears that Andy Kim has pulled ahead of Tom MacArthur, who helped to facilitate the GOP healthcare bill. Given MacArthur’s campaign tactics, as well as his votes against the interests of his own constituents, this is a sweet victory — assuming it holds. There are a bunch of other close uncalled races — about nine or ten in the House.

· Some friends have pushed back on the protection of the Mueller investigation angle, which is a fair point to argue. I would say at the very least that the Democrats in the House raise the price of continued attempts to interfere with the probe — and will prevent earlier run-arounds by Devin Nunes that harmed the integrity of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI)

· I wrote this thread on Twitter on 11/9, but the essential kick of it is that the House of Representatives could be a lot less difficult in the next decade than during the Obama-era. Given the coalition structure (urban and suburban) that fits in more with current Dem policy, plus the challenging of gerrymanders in some key states, things could prove more difficult for the Republicans in future elections.

This piece is cross-posted on Medium.