The 2018 Election – A Tale of Two Elections

Throughout 2018, Dick Simpson and Betty O’Shaughnessy, veteran political scientists and authors of Winning Elections in the 21st Century, have written about the mid-term election. This latest post is their end cap on the coverage. You can read their previous pieces here:

Following the 2018 Election – A Preview

Following the 2018 Election – Why Elections Matter

Following the 2018 Election – Why Money Matters

The Shape of the 2018 Election – New Volunteers, New Movements?

The Shape of the 2018 Election – The Blue Wave in 2018

The 2018 Election – A Tale of Two Elections by Dick Simpson and Betty O’Shaughnessy

The Blue Wave came, especially in many Midwest states, but it did not sweep away Trump or Trumpian Republicanism. When the dust settled, the Republicans still controlled the Senate and the Democrats controlled the House of Representatives.

The Democrats made gains most importantly in the suburbs. Republicans became ever more entrenched in the rural areas.

The youth vote grew almost exponentially and the Latino vote expanded dramatically. Still many of the elections turned on the persona of the candidates and issues that mattered to different local constituents. As Speaker Tip O’Neal famously said, “All politics is local.” And that was true of the 2018 elections. It wasn’t a one-size-fits-all election despite issues discussed nationally such as pre-existing conditions in health care, the caravan approaching the border, or immigration more generally.

It was the most expensive mid-term election in history. In the most expensive gubernatorial campaign in the nation’s history; in winning the governorship of Illinois, Democrat J. B. Pritzker donated over $170 million to his campaign and Republican Bruce Rauner spent almost $70 million of his own money. That meant that Pritzker paid $79.20 a vote.  Most congressional candidates who defeated incumbents spent over $4 million each.

Beyond the huge amounts of money, the candidates who won their races in 2018 mostly followed the fundamentals of campaigns set forth in our book, Winning Elections in the 21st Century: A clear theme or message distinguishing themselves from their opponent; a strong “free media” campaign; a paid media campaign; direct mail and phone campaign; sufficient volunteers to work key precincts guided by voter analytics; and a sophisticated social media effort. This assumes that the candidate was attractive and had clear issue positions on those questions that most concerned the voters in their district.

There were some clear trends in the election. Republicans retained most of their U.S. Senate seats even as Democrats won at least 30 House seats, giving them at least a majority of 225-200 with 10 seats still undecided as of November 10.

One of the biggest changes came in gubernatorial elections. Democrats lost high-profile gubernatorial races in Iowa and Ohio. But they were able to flip Republican gubernatorial seats in seven states — Illinois, Kansas, Maine, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico and Wisconsin. The Florida race is close enough for a recount. This diminishes the GOP’s previous control of state governments to now 26-23 with the Georgia gubernatorial election also still to be decided. Democrats also flipped seven state legislative chambers and gained a veto-proof majority in Illinois.

In addition to results favoring Democrats, this election may well be noted as one that began more active participation in politics from nontraditional political actors. One important development was how women, nonwhite, and LGTB candidates ran for office across the nation, changing the political landscape. For the first time, Hispanic voters matched their share of eligible voting population and nationwide, 69% voted for Democrats. Women became more active in politics not simply as supporters, but as candidates on all levels.

Overall, the women’s vote was equally divided 49-49, but minority and youth turnout was higher (both groups favoring Democrats), giving women Democratic candidates an edge nationwide. In the U.S. House, at least 102 women were elected (6 races still undecided in which women are running). Twelve women were elected to the Senate (with one race still undecided) and nine women were victors in gubernatorial races (with one undecided). Many women and minorities of both sexes decided to run as Democrats for suburban and other local offices that had previously gone unopposed, often tapping into the power of the grassroots organizations generated after Trump’s election. Many of these candidates won, changing the geopolitics of suburban America and providing a base of experienced Democratic candidates for future races.

All of this sets up the 2020 Presidential election year as a critical election to decide the future direction of the nation and the two political parties. President Trump remains hugely popular with his base but they are a minority of the population now and will be even more so in 2020. Yet, the Democrats have to prove they can play a positive role in the national governing and in the states where they made gains.  If they can continue to run effective, well-funded campaigns, they have the advantage. But there can be wars, economic collapse, further trade wars, and national disasters between now and then. What remains constant is the need to run effective campaigns based upon the new rules of the game at the end of the second decade in the 21st century.

Dick Simpson is professor of political science at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He is the co-editor with Dennis Judd of The City, Revisited: Urban Theory from Chicago, Los Angeles, New York.

Betty O’Shaughnessy is a visiting lecturer in political science, University of Illinois at Chicago and coauthor of The Struggle for Power and Influence in Cities and States.

A Rainbow Wave in Kansas

by CJ Janovy, author of  No Place Like Home; Lessons in Activism from LGBT Kansas.

“There were tears, of course, as the reality began to set in that the eight years of persecution of LGBTQ Kansans was coming to an end,” Stephanie Mott wrote on Facebook early on Wednesday morning. Kansans had elected Laura Kelly rather than Kris Kobach as their next governor.

Mott, a highly visible transgender activist in Kansas for a decade now, remembered the night Sam Brownback was elected governor eight years ago and reelected four years ago. She also recalled the 2016 presidential election, or “that horrible night 2 years past.” Now she was waking up to a different future, “in the full knowledge that anti-LGBTQ legislation will not pass in Kansas in the next 4 years, at least 4 years,” she wrote, in a kind of social media poetry:

  • No bathroom bills.
  • Protected Kansas LGBTQ employees.
  • Yes, there were tears.
  • It is also about Medicaid expansion, and education and tax policy, and so much more.
  • But for this transgender woman and so many LGBTQ Kansans, it is about life and death.
  • It is about living in a state that respects our identities and honors our love. #GovernorElectLauraKelly

Kelly’s defeat of Kobach was big national news; even bigger national news was that Kansans were sending a lesbian to the US House of Representatives. Sharice Davids, who defeated four-term Representative Kevin Yoder, would also be one of the first two Native American women in Congress.

In its postelection piece on what national media outlets were calling a “rainbow wave” (echoing the slogan of the national Victory Fund, which helped bankroll the victories), NPR’s Leila Fadel spoke with 3rd District resident Hailee Bland Walsh, who called Davids’s win “lifesaving”: “Walsh and her wife never imagined that they’d see an open lesbian serve in their district. She’s been afraid as a minority in an America that’s becoming more and more uncivil,” Fadel reported.

“There’s something really fundamental about feeling safe,” Walsh said. Listeners around the country could hear her voice begin to waver. “And today, for the first time in couple of years— I’m getting emotional about it, but I feel safe.”

Volumes on Davids now wait to be written as she heads to Washington and as we watch what she does there. Pundits are already talking about how Kansas, of all places, elected a lesbian.

From where I sat, watching Davids’s rise from afar (I did not cover her campaign) and witnessing people’s enthusiasm about her, the explanation looked simple: 1) Yoder was a Trumpist from a moderate district; 2) Democrats had fielded a clear and qualified alternative, someone whose very existence and openness stood for something bigger than herself; 3) newly awakened voters who were eager to make a statement against the administration added to the energy in Johnson County, where citizens had been working hard through several election cycles to try to reverse the economic disaster of the Brownback administration—primarily its damage to public education; and 4) in majority-minority Wyandotte County, voters broke a twenty-two-year record for turnout, with Davids getting 68 percent of the vote to Yoder’s 29.

For me, the most surprising moment of the Davids-Yoder race was a couple of lines in the Kansas City Star the morning after the two debated, late in the campaign, when Davids held a substantial lead in the polls:

“Asked if Congress should pass federal LGBTQ protections, Davids advocated for the move and  said ‘LGBT people should be considered a protected class.’ Yoder was not clear about the issue during the debate but clarified afterward that he would support making LGBTQ a protected class under federal law.”

The idea of federal protections for LGBTQ people is blasphemy for party-liners in Trump’s GOP; only two weeks earlier, his administration had considered defining trans people out of existence.

But Yoder’s tendency to say whatever was politically expedient at any given moment was just one reason so many people in the 3rd District had proclaimed themselves #OverYoder. It’s likely any strong-enough Democrat would have beaten him; that a lesbian was the one to do it spoke to a profound change in public opinion.

“Twenty years ago, a lot of identities were liabilities. Being a Native American lesbian in the 1990s probably was a nonstarter to getting elected to anything,” University of Kansas political scientist Patrick Miller told my KCUR colleague Gina Kaufmann on the morning after the election. “And it didn’t matter yesterday.”

It didn’t matter—in fact, it might have been a strength rather than a liability—thanks in part to the kind of hometown activism chronicled in No Place Like Home.

That change in attitudes is not a fluke. We know this because, far away from the national spotlight yet also in Davids’s district, two other openly gay people won their races: Brandon Woodard and Susan Ruiz are headed to Topeka in January to represent their neighbors in the Kansas House.

The two representatives-elect came to politics from different angles: Woodard from a lifelong interest and through a primary where his opponent was also gay—thus ensuring that the Democratic candidate in House District 30 would be an openly gay man either way—and Ruiz, who, like so many other activists I met in the course of reporting for No Place Like Home (and my follow-up blog), stepped up because no one else did.

In both cases, however, identity was not their main issue. Like other Kansans, they were most concerned about public education and health care. Voters seemed to have awakened to the fact that anti-LGBTQ rhetoric was an attempt at distraction.

“We got push-polled with a robocall from our opponent,” Woodard told me, “and I had conservative people call me and say, ‘I don’t have a problem with you being gay—what I have a problem with is your opponent attacking you for your stance on LGBT issues.’”

 

CJ Janovy, Digital Content Editor for KCUR, is the author of No Place Like Home; Lessons in Activism from LGBT Kansas.