I don’t know if you’ve seen the SNL skit featuring a Democrat advert with a bunch of incredibly nervous Democratic supporters speaking about this “blue wave” of voters with shaky voices and sweaty palms. It’s a pretty apt description of how the Democratic party felt going into these midterms and, looking at the results, is likely how they’ll go into the 2020 Presidential campaign.
Yes, women did win big, historically big in this election, but the reality is there were very few upsets. The Democrats were expected to take the House and Republicans looked like they were going to hold the Senate, mostly due to the seats that were up for grabs in this cycle. The last House of Representatives race was during the 2016 Presidential campaign, and two years in, with every seat up for election again, a number of Republican seats won in that “red wave” looked vulnerable, whereas Democratic strongholds have remained firm, allowing the Blues to focus on targeting Red seats.
The Senate does not re-elect en masse as the House does, so only a third of the Senate there were up for grabs, and a number of them were Democratic seats that looked unstable. Particularly Senate seats in Indiana, North Dakota and Missouri, where Republicans did defeat the Democratic incumbents. So all in all, it’s much as expected, which is probably a relief to many that the pre-election polling, in this case, was fairly accurate.
Related: Women make history in the US mid-term elections
But this was not the “blue wave” Democrats had been hoping for. They perhaps held a small hope that they could take both the House and the Senate, but that was quashed pretty early on with Mike Braun defeating Democrat incumbent Joe Donnelly in Indiana. While control of the House is certainly an improvement on an entirely Republican Congress, Republicans also increased their one-seat majority of the Senate to six, so don’t expect to see anyone venturing to the middle of the aisle for the next two years. The sharp division between parties that was blown wide open in the 2016 Presidential election is set to harden with both parties taking wins and losses this November.
So what does it mean for the 2020 campaign?
Well, unfortunately for Democrats, the midterms can tell them very little. With Trump as the Presidential incumbent, the Republicans already have the upper hand. They have their candidate selected and, whether the bulk of the party actually like him or not, they will all rally around him to take another term. They’ll also take solace in the fact that despite a higher than normal turnout, which would usually indicate a high Democratic vote, they conceded no more seats than they had expected.
The Democrats, on the other hand, are trying to figure out what kind of candidate they should choose to run against Trump. Do they pick another centrist candidate like Hillary and hope that it was her personal history rather than her policy platform that led to her defeat? Or do they abandon any left-leaning Republicans and older, centrist Democrats completely and go full-on progressive in the hope that there are enough eager young voters out there to get them across the line. Which kind of candidate would be more likely to beat Trump in 2020?
— Andrew Gillum (@AndrewGillum) November 6, 2018
The Democrats were hoping to have their answer this midterm with a number of litmus test races, namely the Ted Cruz Senate race in Texas and the gubernatorial races in Georgia and Florida. A decisive of victory in one of these would offer them some direction as to where to take the party next.
The Florida gubernatorial race was probably the most obvious contest for Democrats hoping to put forward a leftist in 2020, with Tallahassee major Andrew Gillum taking on Trump ally Ron DeSantis. Gillum was hoping to be the first African-American governor of Florida and beat out former congresswoman Gwen Graham for the Democratic nomination. He sits to the left of the Democratic party, calling the expansion of federal health care, wants to impeach Trump and raise the minimum wage. Set in Florida, where hardline Trump supporters come up against blue-leaning young people, immigrant communities and retirees concerned about losing their health care, it was the perfect swing state ground on which to watch this divisive race play out. DeSantis managed to win the governor’s office, but by just 0.7%, which leaves Democrats exactly where they were – none the wiser as to how Florida (which has a significant number of Presidential electoral votes) or voters, in general, will swing in 2020.
The Georgia race was equally as acrimonious, with African-American politician and lawyer Stacey Abrams looking like she has lost out to Republican Brian Kemp, though the race has been so tight and tinged by accusations of Kemp orchestrating a voter suppression campaign (in his current position of secretary of state he oversees the voting process), Abrams has so far refused to concede the race and it is likely to go to a run-off.
— Stacey Abrams (@staceyabrams) November 7, 2018
Finally, and probably one of the most closely watched races, Republican Ted Cruz faced a challenge for his Texas Senate seat from progressive Democrat Beto O’Rourke, who shunned the typical Democratic big donors in favour of grassroots fundraising and has been outspoken in his pro-immigration and pro-choice beliefs. Cruz managed to hold onto his seat but O’Rourke surprised many, taking 48.3% of the vote in one of the Reddest of Red states and proving to Democrats that the right campaign can challenge the status quo, even if it didn’t quite succeed in this case.
So that’s 0 for 3 in the litmus test campaigns but all very close races in two typically red states and one swing – so who knows? And O’Rourke might not be done yet either. Charming and good-looking, many have compared him to Ted Kennedy and had he taken the Senate seat he would undoubtedly be considered the Democratic frontrunner for Presidential candidate and he should quite be disregarded yet. But he’ll have to wait and see, along with the rest of the country (and, I imagine, much of the Democratic party) to see what kind of candidate they’ll put forward to face off against Trump.
Feature image: Democrat Beto O’Rourke campaigns in red state of Texas, via Twitter