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Eric Davis: Telling the tale of the election tape

Editor’s note: This is a special column by Eric Davis reflecting his personal analysis and views of the political landscape the morning after the election. It was written as a personal reflection to friends and colleagues, so is left in the first person to reflect that personal voice.
The Democrats’ gain of 33 House seats, according to my current count and projections, is just about what I projected when I spoke to MTGG last month, and in line with the consensus projections of both academic models and district-by-district prognosticators. Most of these gains were in suburban or exurban districts in states such as New Jersey, New York, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Minnesota, and California. Well-educated independent voters, particularly women, in these districts turned against the Republicans and Trump.
I was surprised at some seats the Democrats did not gain. GOP Reps. Chris Collins of New York and Duncan Hunter of California, both under indictment, were re-elected. Republicans held some districts in Florida and California with significant Latino populations. I will be interested to see detailed turnout numbers on voters under 35 and Latino voters.
Most of the defeated or retiring House Republicans being replaced by Democrats were “mainstream” Republicans as opposed to Freedom Caucus types. The Freedom Caucus will be more influential in the smaller House Republican party in 2019-2020. I will be interested to see who ends up winning the caucus elections for House Minority Leader and other leadership positions.
Several of the new female Democratic House members — among them Mikie Sherrill of New Jersey, Elissa Slotkin of Michigan, and Abigail Spanberger of Virginia — are veterans of the military and/or the intelligence community with significant national security expertise. They present a model for the sort of candidates Democrats might want to consider recruiting for competitive seats in 2020.
The Republicans’ gains in the Senate are a testimony to Trump’s continued political strength, regardless of the loss of the House. The President campaigned hard for GOP Senate candidates in Indiana, Florida, Missouri, Montana and North Dakota, all but one of whom won. Interestingly, all of the defeated Democratic Senators from those states voted against Kavanaugh’s nomination. Of the two Democrats who were re-elected, Joe Manchin of West Virginia voted in favor of Kavanaugh, while Jon Tester of Montana, who voted against Kavanaugh, barely held on to his seat. I don’t want to say that the Kavanaugh controversy gave the Republicans a larger Senate majority, but it certainly didn’t hurt.
I would not be surprised if Justice Clarence Thomas were to announce his retirement in June 2019, so that Trump could replace him with someone equally conservative, but 20 years younger.
Not much legislating will happen in the 2019-2020 session of Congress, although the House and Senate will have to work together to raise the debt ceiling and pass appropriations bills. I’ll be interested to see to what extent the House Democrats use their majority to tee up issues for the 2020 presidential campaign, by passing bills that cannot pass the Senate but could become part of the Democratic platform in 2020.
House committees will exercise vigorous oversight of the Trump Administration in 2019 and 2020, and some disputes over access to information and subpoenas could end up being settled by the federal courts, possibly even the Supreme Court. Unless Mueller’s report contains a “smoking gun” pointing directly and incontrovertibly at Trump, I don’t see the House impeaching the President. Why do so when there is no way two-thirds of a 55-45 Republican Senate would vote to convict him?
Trump will be a formidable opponent in 2020. He could easily put together an electoral vote majority even while losing the popular vote (the first time in US history a President would be elected to two terms under those circumstances). The key states for the 2020 presidential election will be the same ones as in 2016: Florida, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin.
The campaign for the 2020 Democratic nomination will begin today. There will be a large field. In my view, a competitive Democratic nominee against Trump would have appeal to blue-collar voters, would energize young voters and voters of color, would keep college-educated independent women in the Democratic camp, and would have the rhetorical and personal fortitude to go head-to-head with Trump in the presidential debates. At present, I don’t know who that person is.
Democrats may have gained themselves a few House seats in 2022 and beyond by winning the gubernatorial elections in Wisconsin and Michigan, and holding on to the Pennsylvania governorship. Blatant GOP gerrymanders will be less likely in those states with a Democrat in the governor’s office.
Here in Vermont, Phil Scott won an impressive personal victory, but otherwise there was a large blue wave in the state. David Zuckerman was re-elected as Lieutenant Governor comfortably, receiving more votes than Scott. Democrats picked up seats in both houses of the Legislature, holding on to the two Addison Senate seats, all six Chittenden Senate seats, and gaining a Senate seat in Rutland County. More importantly, Democrats and Progressives look to have between 100 and 102 seats in the Vermont House in 2019-2020, enabling them to override many potential vetoes by Governor Scott. Look for them to use that power in 2019, perhaps first on a bill raising the minimum wage.
The Vermont Republican Party now has only 49 members in the 180-member Legislature, less than 30 percent of the body. They hold no statewide offices below the governorship. Several of the Republicans who lost, such as Kurt Wright of Burlington, Fred Baser of Bristol, and Brian Keefe of Manchester, were moderates who could work with Democrats. As with the U.S. House Republican party, the Vermont Republican Party is getting smaller, more conservative, and more “Trumpist.” Also, they don’t have a bench of potential candidates for statewide office, when Phil Scott leaves the scene.
Eric L. Davis is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Middlebury College.

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