Democrats Get More Good News

(Bloomberg Opinion) -- We’re deep into the primary season, which returned in full force Tuesday along with a House special election in Ohio that drew plenty of attention. So there aren’t going to be a lot of overall surprises at this point. We know the big themes, as political scientist Dave Hopkins pointed out in his excellent recap. It’s pretty much all good news for Democrats, leaving them firmly (but not overwhelmingly) favored to win a House majority and to make plenty of gains in other races. On the Democratic side, the big story is women: as candidates, other party actors and as voters. And ideological fighting within the Democratic Party, while real in some contests, is much less than it’s cracked up to be, with the party mainly selecting mainstream liberal candidates for most major offices. 

The other thing that we shouldn’t overlook is just how deep the field of House Democratic candidates is. In previous elections, Democrats tended to focus on a relatively small number of target districts and didn’t really pay much attention at all to those where their prospects were worse. This cycle, Democrats have filed candidates in almost every single district and found a solid contender in most seats that have even a remote potential of getting competitive. I believe the same thing is going on in state and local offices. Granted, in many hopeless districts it’s hard to say it really matters whether the out-party bothers running a campaign, but there are plenty of districts that are normally unlikely to become serious pickup prospects for the Democrats where they are unusually well prepared to take advantage if they do get the chance.

That doesn’t guarantee they’ll win a House majority, let alone win the kind of landslide that Republicans pulled off in 2010. All it says is that if the opportunity is there, Democrats are likely to cash in. 

And, yes, to the extent that primaries and special elections contain any useful tea leaves about November, Democrats have plenty of reason to be happy with Tuesday’s results. Republican Troy Balderson did appear to win a very narrow victory in Ohio’s District 12 special election, but a very narrow win in a very Republican seat is nothing for them to get excited about. Elsewhere, primary turnout remains unusually strong for Democrats. I wouldn’t look too hard at Tuesday’s results for new predictive information; it’s just a few states, and it only marginally adds to all the others — and election results as predictors is only one source of useful information. What has to keep Democrats excited and Republican operatives and politicians worried is that all the indicators — election results, approval ratings, generic ballot polling, fundraising, resources —are pointing in the same direction.

There’s also further news from Tuesday about President Donald Trump’s political skills. He’s recently shown some evidence of learning to use endorsements to make him look good. He didn’t add to that on Tuesday, and is risking worse. In the Ohio special election, he rallied for Balderson, who managed to win by only a few votes in a very Republican district. But in Kansas, his decision to endorse Kris Kobach over incumbent (albeit unelected) Republican Governor Jeff Colyer was risky, unlike a previous round of endorsements in which he selected very likely winners. As I write, Kobach has a very narrow lead. If he loses, at least some of Trump’s reputation for being a Republican kingmaker — and therefore someone whose endorsements incumbent Republicans have to fear — will dissipate. And that could wind up being the most important thing of all from this week’s elections.  

1. Peter K. Enns, Jonathon P. Schuldt and Adrienne Scott at the Monkey Cage look more carefully at how different groups of Republicans feel about Trump.

2. Dan Drezner on the diplomatic flap between Saudi Arabia and Canada.

4. Abby Livingston on the Texas Senate contest and the future of Texas politics. 

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

Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering politics and policy. 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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