With the mid-term elections now 99 days away, New York Times analyst Nate Cohn argues that substantially more congressional districts are in play than previously thought. Hitherto, the conventional wisdom was that the Democrats would do best in traditionally Republican suburban districts that Hillary Clinton won in 2016, which might give them a narrow win in the House.
Looking at polling in individual districts, Cohn concludes that focusing on these suburban districts has led to an excessively narrow view of the battleground. “Instead, the battleground is broad, and it includes a long list of white working-class and rural districts that voted for Donald J. Trump in 2016,” Cohn contends. “The broader battleground is a positive development for Democrats. It’s a reflection of how much the Republican structural advantage in the House has eroded over the last year.”
The “structural advantage” the Republicans enjoy are in gerrymandering, incumbency, and a more geographically dispersed electorate. To judge by local polls, these factors aren’t holding Democrats back from regaining many white working class districts. “A flurry of Republican retirements has led to 42 open seats, many of them the sort of well-entrenched incumbents in competitive districts whose retirements are the most valuable for Democrats,” Cohn notes. “The Democrats have succeeded in recruiting well-funded and strong candidates in many of the battlegrounds, which has tended to lessen the advantage of incumbency even in the districts where Republicans are running for re-election. A court decision in Pennsylvania has eliminated the party’s gerrymander there.”
If Cohn’s analysis is correct, it has implications for just for the possibility of Democrats regaining the House but also the nature of the Democratic political coalition going forward. If Democrats regain their strength in white working class districts, then it suggests that the results of 2016 weren’t predictive of the future but an anomaly based on the special circumstances of two unusual candidates. The way forward for the Democrats is to rebuild the Obama coalition of 2008 and 2012 rather than follow Clinton’s footsteps in 2016 of trying to appeal to moderate Republicans in well-to-do suburbs. In other words, the future of the Democratic Party would look more like an alliance of Conor Lamb in Pennsylvania and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in New York rather than Jon Ossoff, who narrowly lost in Georgia.