The months leading up to November 6th were rife with speculation over what the voters would have to say—would the Senate flip? The House? By how many? Was it going to be a blue tsunami, as some polling seemed to indicate? Or would the GOP hold on by the skin of its teeth?
While that frenetic speculation (and in D.C. at least, rampant betting) on the outcome have settled down, the fact remains that the political landscape on November 7th looked very different than it did on November 5th. At the federal and state levels, the polarization between the parties has only increased, and as we rush towards a 2020 presidential year, there will be a lot of inter- and intra-party fighting to establish a narrative and accomplishments.
The NPMA team has broken down what these elections mean and what the shifting political landscape means for the industry.
The election itself was not a huge surprise to those watching the polling; the House majority has flipped from Republican to Democrat and the Senate remains majority Republican. Republicans have already held leadership elections for Minority Leader and Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA-23) was elected. Rep Jim Jordan (R-OH-4), a co-founder of the House Freedom Caucus, also ran as a candidate, but was soundly defeated. Months of speculation fueled the rumor that Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA-1) would run also, but he declined to declare his candidacy. Most likely, he will wait until the Republicans retake control of the House and run as Majority Leader, rather than Minority Leader, which is traditionally a rather thankless role.
Democrats are enduring a somewhat contentious leadership election process, even though as of the time of writing, Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA-12) is the only declared candidate. Seen by some in her party as a hindrance, she has not done a very good job of promoting younger members of her party, and in many moderate districts is seen as a liability in the polls. Party leadership has coalesced around her, but it is worth noting that some 50 members of the Democratic caucus have indicated dissatisfaction with her assuming the Majority Leader role again. She has publicly stated that if elected, she will transition power over to a younger generation of Democrats, although no clear timetable or definitive details of the transition have been released.
These logistical changes have often dominated the discussion post-election and obscured some of the lessons that could be learned. If there are two takeaways from the midterm elections, the most obvious is that the House flipped from Republican to Democratic. But the second one is more subtle: consciously or unconsciously, both parties viewed this election as a preview of 2020.
The Democrats used this as a message test; how will voters react to anti-Trump rhetoric? Will far left candidates triumph, or will victory go to more moderate Democrats? The answer is mixed—Democrats all across the political spectrum lost and won, and some pundits were left confused that no particular strain of Democratic ideology could be declared a clear winner or loser. The Republicans on the other hand saw many incumbents go down, some of whom had held their seats through many cycles and were in “safe” districts. Can this be blamed on an anti-Trump backlash? Could—or should—the party have done anything different?
Both parties viewed this as a referendum on Trump, and I think that is only partially true. Yes, that was absolutely a factor in some of these races, and certainly can be tied to increased voter turnout and registration. But both parties forgot the oldest lesson of campaigning—work your district. A good candidate—who puts the time in with constituents, who is seen in the district, who attends local events and makes local connections—can often hang on when trends say they should lose. But a poor candidate, one who takes a district for granted or is seen as distant from home can lose an otherwise safe seat. Rep. Eric Cantor losing his seat in 2014 is the most obvious example, but his mistakes are mirrored in many of the incumbents who lost in 2018.
Both parties ought to walk away from this election with the understanding that tying a campaign to President Trump will not be enough. Some Republicans in districts that voted for Trump lost, and some Democrats who campaigned against Trump also lost. That isn’t to say he will be a non-factor for 2020, simply that neither party should depend on top of the ticket feelings to carry through to down ballot candidates. Ultimately the House and Senate races of 2020 will likely see some of the same results—good candidates who work their districts rarely lose.
We have time between now and 2020, but it will fly by. By the time you read this article, we will know what the Democratic priorities are, and we will likely know who the Majority Leader is. What we won’t know is how likely members of Congress will be to compromise. The closer to 2020 we get, the less real work will be done; 2019 will be the sweet spot of the 116th Congress to push through any meaningful legislation.
NPMA is poised to take advantage of this. As we consider our public policy goals for the 116th Congress, our industry must be strategic to accomplish anything. As we look towards 2019 and beyond, NPMA will need to be proactive at forging relationships with both sides of the aisle. This atmosphere is difficult but not impossible, and our industry will push through the partisan noise.
By Ashley Amidon, VP of Public Policy
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