Democrats Seize on Opportunity in Virginia

(Bloomberg View) -- News from Virginia demonstrates again how elections can be self-fulfilling prophecies. This is from its state legislature. Republicans have dominated the House of Delegates, the lower chamber, and hold 66 of the 100 seats going into their election this year (Virginia and New Jersey both hold state legislative elections this year, although the Virginia state Senate is not on the ballot). 

Donald Trump's unpopularity in Virginia, and the burst of Democratic energy in reaction to his presidency, have convinced potential candidates there to run for office and for the party to raise tons of money for them. Democrats will contest 48 of those 66 Republican-held seats rather than not even bothering to try, as has been the case in the past. It's likely that some of the challengers will be newcomers who will fizzle once the election gets closer. It's also possible, however, that some of those inexperienced challengers will turn out to be very good at politics (after all, everyone has to start somewhere), and it's likely that those 48 challengers also include some relatively seasoned strategic politicians who see this as a good year to run and will make excellent candidates. 

What all that means is that if Trump's popularity craters even more by November, Virginia Democrats are ready to exploit it, including a best-case scenario in which they pick up the bulk of the 17 Republican-held seats in districts carried by Hillary Clinton and actually win a chamber majority. On the other hand, if Trump rallies, Democrats will still probably win a few they wouldn't have otherwise. The early enthusiasm means that candidates have filed and resources will be available to them. 

If Trump remains unpopular for another few months, the same thing will be true at every level for the 2018 midterms. Already, far more Democrats than usual have filed to run for U.S. House seats. It's very early for 2018 state legislative elections, but you can be sure that potential candidates are already scouting out opportunities, and they'll be closely watching those Virginia and New Jersey results as well as Trump's approval numbers. 

None of that guarantees a great year for Democrats in 2018. But the more things go their way -- the more Democrats think 2018 will be a great year for them (and Republicans think it will be a bad one, and behave accordingly) -- the more Democrats will be able to exploit the opportunities they wind up having, and the more they'll be able to overcome obstacles if the tides shift against them. 

1. Charles Stewart III on the Pence commission's letter to state election officials

2. Rick Hasen also has problems with what the commission is asking from the states.

3. Back to the Monkey Cage with Victoria Tin-bor Hui on Hong Kong and China.

4. My Bloomberg View colleague Francis Wilkinson on Trump and phony voter fraud stories.

5. Amy Walter and David Wasserman on the 2018 House election playing field

6. Ezra Klein on the health-care bill and what it says about the Republican Party.

7. And Byron York remembers that Republicans knew in 2013 that once the Affordable Care Act was fully implemented that it wouldn't be repealed. A large part of this is just the status quo bias in U.S. politics, which made it so difficult to pass health-care reform in the first place. The rest? My guess is that it's not at all about those who now benefit from Obamacare changing their minds; it's about most other people who, having seen that it's possible to expand health care to more people, don't want to take it away. 

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Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg View columnist. He taught political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio and DePauw University and wrote A Plain Blog About Politics.

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