The Race for 2018 Has Already Begun

(Bloomberg View) -- The 2018 election cycle is well underway. Monday, the Illinois filing deadline, marked a symbolic kickoff. Next up: the Texas filing deadline, on Dec. 11. Those two states also hold the first primaries, in March. The filing deadlines for other states stretch all the way through July, while primaries are held from March to September. 

What this means is that, increasingly, Donald Trump's bad first year -- his approval rating is currently about 10 percentage points below the previous low for any elected president at this stage of his presidency -- is going to lock in gains for Democrats regardless of what happens over the next 11 months. 

That's because important decisions are already being made. For most Senate and gubernatorial races, most major candidates have already decided if they're in or out. U.S. House of Representatives and down-ballot contests typically start later, closer to the filing deadlines. Still, the early deadline explains why there have been so many House retirements already recorded in Texas (five Republicans and one Democrat, plus another Democrat running for Senate). Altogether, 13 Republicans in the House and five Democrats have announced they are retiring with no plans so far to run for other offices. Since incumbents have real advantages, especially in House races, that means Republicans will have a challenge to defend more open seats.

The other big news so far is Democratic recruitment -- they've done extremely well to date with both big names and out-of-the-woodwork new candidates. One of the biggest stories is the flood of women running as Democrats in 2018. Some of the newcomers (men and women) will flop, of course, but overall, Democrats are going to be extremely well prepared to take advantage of good conditions for their party if nothing changes by November. 

Of course, a good deal of this is just normal out-party advantage: The president's party almost always loses seats in midterm elections, even if the president is popular. In part, that's about opportunity. What all midterms have in common, after all, is that the president's party just won the White House, which typically means that the party did well overall -- which means it won marginal seats that might otherwise be difficult to hold. Add to that a president who was unpopular when candidates were making up their minds -- Ronald Reagan in 1982, Bill Clinton in 1994 -- and it's easy to have a strong reaction to that president, even if he's recovered somewhat by Election Day. 

Most analysts consider the House a toss-up, while Republicans still are expected to retain their Senate majority, mainly because so few of them happen to be up for re-election this year. Right now, even if Democrats swept all the seats rated "toss-up" or better by the Cook Political Report, they would still fall just a few seats short of a majority -- but there are also 20 "lean Republican" seats and only six "lean Democratic," meaning Democrats have way more plausible targets at this point. 

And remember: There are gubernatorial elections in many states, and state legislative elections in most of them, and those matter, too. Republicans were big winners over the last several election cycles while Barack Obama was president, which means they could lose quite a bit and still be in very good shape going into 2020.

1. Matt Glassman with a thorough look at Trump's weak presidency

2. Excellent Seth Masket item about the price Trump is paying for his behavior and why it's frustrating for his opponents. 

3. Craig Burnett on partisanship in nonpartisan city elections

4. I never listen to podcasts myself, but if I did, I'd certainly be listening to Molly Reynolds on the shutdown showdown

5. Jay Cost at National Review argues for a reinvigorated Congress. I'm all for that ... and for a strong presidency. I wish he had made a few specific suggestions, though, and I have some disagreements, but overall I'm always happy to see support for the first branch.  

6. And Jonathan Chait on the tax-cutters' firm grip on the Republican Party. 

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This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

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.

For more columns from Bloomberg View, visit http://www.bloomberg.com/view.

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