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Looking Back on Election Day 2018

By Tyler Bauer

Democrats Take the House

Heading into last night, the Republicans held 235 of the 435 seats in the House of Representatives, meaning the Democrats had to gain at least 19 seats in the House. In the end, the Democrats gained 28 seats (as of 9 AM), taking control of the House of Representatives for the first time since the Democrats lost control in the 2010 midterm elections. The seats gained by the Democrats weren’t particularly surprising. Given the commonality of the president’s party losing seats in the midterm (a phenomenon called “surge and decline”), the fact that the Republicans lost the House isn’t particularly surprising. What will be interesting, in retrospect, will be the reasons behind the Democrats’ gains in the House. One can speculate that their gains were due to a motivated voter base and opposition to President Trump, but the causes of surge and decline are often disputed.

Republicans Hold the Senate

The Republicans entered Election Day with a slim majority in the Senate, holding 51 of the 100 seats. The Democrats held 47 Senate seats, with two independents – Bernie Sanders (VT) and Angus King (ME) – holding the remaining seats. For what it’s worth, the independents caucus with the Democrats, so the Democrats effectively controlled 49 seats in the Senate.

The most widely-covered Senate races took place in the following states: Florida, Indiana, Missouri, and Texas. In Florida, sitting Governor Rick Scott (R) challenged Bill Nelson (D) and won in what was one of the closest races of the night, coming down to literally thousands of votes. It looks like Scott won by a fraction of a percentage point, but this race could come down to a recount.

Indiana provided what would be a good indicator of the level of success the Democrats could expect in the Senate. Incumbent Joe Donnelly (D) was looking to keep his position in the Senate in a state which overwhelmingly voted for President Trump in 2016. Mike Braun (R) – an outspoken supporter of President Trump – defeated Donnelly quite easily. (As of 9 AM, Braun was leading 53%-43%, with Libertarian candidate Lucy Brenton winning 4% of the vote).

In Missouri, another Democrat was trying to win re-election despite running in a state which President Trump won convincingly. Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley (R) was able to unseat Claire McCaskill (D) by a considerable margin. This result – combined with Braun’s win in Indiana – allowed the Republicans to give themselves some insurance in the Senate.

Everything is bigger in Texas, including campaign donations. Democratic candidate Beto O’Rourke raised more than any other candidate this election. O’Rourke raised a grand total of $70 million – half of which came from outside of Texas – in his attempt to take Ted Cruz’s (R) spot in the Senate. Cruz, a prominent Republican who has no trouble raising money, raised $35 million. In a normal midterm, Cruz’s $35 million would be more than enough to win re-election. However, this time around, the Democratic Party devoted an insane amount of resources in an effort to turn Texas blue. Despite Democrats’ best efforts, their golden child fell short, losing to Senator Cruz by only a few percentage points.

The Polls Were Actually Good

In 2016, much of the post-election talk was about polling errors across the country. To be fair to the pollsters, the polls weren’t that far off. Almost all errors were within the margin of error, and the inaccuracies were made worse by the fact that they took place in key swing states. A few small errors in the right states were enough to make the polls seem much worse than they really were.

This time around, the polls were largely correct. FiveThirtyEight gave Democrats an 86% chance to win the House of Representatives and the Republicans an 82% chance to maintain their majority in the Senate. While FiveThirtyEight’s predictions did slightly miss the mark in some races – such as Indiana’s Senatorial race, for example – there were no results that were all that surprising. Hopefully this means polling is returning to normal.

What Now?

These results were expected, so I’ve had a decent amount of time to ponder the implications of a Democratic House and a Republican Senate. Oddly enough, the Democrats may have lost more than they won tonight.

I’ll tell you exactly what will happen in the House: The Democrats will drag their feet and slow down any and all legislation they don’t like (which will be most of it under the Trump administration). This is certainly a win for the Democrats. However, in gaining power, the Democrats may be setting themselves up for a catastrophic loss in 2020. As of right now, it is assumed that Representative Nancy Pelosi – currently the Minority Leader of the United States House of Representatives – will assume the role of Speaker of the House. This might actually benefit Republicans more than maintaining a majority in the House. I say this because Pelosi is very unpopular. She represents the old limousine liberal wing of the Democratic Party, meaning that most of her party thinks her best days are in the past. The Democratic Party simply cannot move forward as long as Pelosi is the Speaker. If the Democrats are smart, they’ll try to minimize the amount of camera time Pelosi gets. However, the Democratic Party isn’t all that smart (they supported Hillary over Bernie, after all), so I’d expect Pelosi to stay in the leadership and provide the Republicans with some great 2020 campaign ads. Furthermore, the Democratic House will provide President Trump with a vocal opposition, which will lead to many more tweets about “witch hunts” and whatnot, which plays well with President Trump’s base.

If the Republicans had to choose one legislative chamber to control, I think they’d choose to control the Senate. After all, the Senate has the power to approve nominees – whether they be judges or run-of-the-mill political appointees. Additionally, if the Democrats in the House move to impeach President Trump – which I think is more likely than not – the Senate has the final say in the impeachment process. The House can decide to impeach the president, and the Senate has the role of trying the president for impeachment. For Republicans, controlling the Senate means controlling the impeachment process, so don’t expect to see a new president before January of 2021 at the earliest.

To sum it all up in a single sentence, here’s what the election results mean: I don’t think much will get done in the next two years.

Then again, that’s nothing new.

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