That ‘Blue Wave’ and what comes after
Here’s what 2019’s freshman congressional class might look like
When my friend Amy Walters, one of the very best analysts of American politics, recently spoke to a number of Subject Matter’s clients at our office, she assessed the likelihood of Democrats winning back the House in the upcoming midterm at 70%. That may sound like a sure bet, but under that analysis, Republicans still hold a 30% chance of retaining the Speaker’s gavel. As we learned in 2016, anything can happen in politics. And the election is still six months away.
Nonetheless, even with a recent narrowing in some surveys, the prospect of a Blue Wave hitting Washington this November is pretty good. President Trump’s approval rating, while improved since the start of the year, remains historically low. Polling averages show the Democrats retain a single-digit lead when voters, in polls, are asked whether they would prefer Democrat or Republican control of Congress.
Even with their early advantage modestly reined in as the polls have tightened slightly, it’s not too early to ask what kind of Democrats appear likely to be coming to Congress in January.
A good many Democratic primaries have yet to be held, so we don’t know who will be on the ballot in each of 435 districts come November. But we have reason to believe that a Democrat will be on virtually all 435 district ballots — in and of itself an improvement over recent years, and an indicator of energy generated by resistance to the Trump administration and GOP control of the House and Senate. Right now, all the indicators of enthusiasm for voting – including the May 22nd primaries – favor Democrats.
While there has been significant focus on the perennial competition within the Democratic Party between liberal and more moderate candidates, an early analysis of the kind of candidates running, and the districts in play, gives us a glimpse of what a Democratic majority in the 115th Congress would be like.
That analysis indicates the new Democratic majority will be more suburban, more moderate and more female. This should help move our politics to a more pragmatic center if there are willing partners on the other side of the aisle.
Take Mikie Sherrill, who will likely be the Democratic candidate in New Jersey’s 11th Congressional District. I know this district because it’s where I grew up, within commuting distance of New York City. Since 1985, it’s been safely Republican, represented by the retiring Rodney Frelinghuysen for the past 24 years. And yet, in this open-seat race, Mikie has an excellent shot at winning.
Mikie is a former federal prosecutor. She graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, served her country as a helicopter pilot and went to Georgetown Law. She’s a mother of four, married to a fellow Annapolis graduate. And she could win, in a district carried narrowly in 2016 by Donald Trump, by stressing two things: support for the Affordable Care Act and opposition to the Trump tax cut, which will actually raise taxes by an average of $4,000 on 11th District voters because they’ve lost their ability to deduct their high state and local taxes.
There are Mikie Sherills running as Democrats all across the country in districts just like hers. Many of them are women with backgrounds as prosecutors or in the military. Male or female, they’re running in suburban districts that Trump carried narrowly, if at all. They’re motivated to come to Congress to achieve practical goals, restoring much of what they feel has been lost in the chaos of the current administration and the Congress that enables it.
Between now and November, there will be many stories written with themes ranging from “Democrats don’t have a message” to “Fighting between liberals and moderates imperils Democratic prospects.” Read past those stories. There’s something else going on.
It’s too early for Democrats to assume the Blue Wave will wash away the Republican edge, given how districts were drawn after the 2010 census and a variety of other advantages. But looking ahead, Democrats will be united behind candidates with profiles similar to Mikie’s. Once in office, they’ll begin pulling policy debates back to a middle ground where progress in meeting the nation’s challenges is once again achievable.