Early Returns

Democrats Start Getting Lucky

Jonathan Bernstein's morning links.

There's still plenty of time before the 2018 congressional elections, but things continue to break very nicely for the Democrats. Just in the last few days:

  • Three new Republican retirements from the House in plausibly competitive seats gave the Democrats a few easier targets in that chamber, where they need to gain 24 seats to get to 218 and a majority. It seems fairly likely more Republican retirements are still to come; at any rate, they are well above a normal retirement pace so far.

  • Former White House disrupter Steve Bannon announced plans to take on several Republican senators in primary elections, including vulnerable incumbents Dean Heller in Nevada and Jeff Flake in Arizona. Even assuming they'll survive their primaries (which pre-dated Bannon's involvement, or at least his public involvement, and we've yet to see what resources he'll bring to the challengers), it's hard to believe that competitive primaries will make their general election tasks any easier. It's even possible that a Bannon-backed challenge could succeed elsewhere and cost Republicans a Senate seat they should win easily. A Democratic Senate majority still seems unlikely, since they would need to win in both Nevada and Arizona just to get to 50 seats, and there are no good targets for the 51st seat. But perhaps Republicans will manage to hand them a seat.

  • The success of Democrats in special elections continued Tuesday as they picked up state legislative seats in New Hampshire and Oklahoma. While Democrats have not picked up any U.S. House seats, the overall swing to Democrats in state and federal special legislative elections continues to be large. As I've said, that's expected with an unpopular Republican president in the White House, and I don't think these elections give us much new information -- but they do confirm the trend against the incumbent party.

All of this is still tentative. There's a long way to go, and it's certainly possible that Trump will be a lot more popular next fall than he is now (of course, it's also possible he'll be even less popular). But some of the Democratic advantage is starting to be locked in. The big one is recruitment, including convincing incumbents to run for re-election. We're still right in the middle of that, but Democrats certainly have the edge so far. Other resources, too, tend to flow into the party perceived to be having a strong cycle and away from the struggling party. In other words, at least some early election actions wind up creating a self-fulfilling prophecy, and whatever happens after this point, Republicans have already dug a hole for themselves. 

A lot of the midterm advantage for the out party is systematic. But there's a lot of luck involved in retirements. They do tend to happen with the trends (that is, members of Congress are more likely to retire if they fear defeat or a tougher-than-usual campaign). Still, a lot of the decision is personal and idiosyncratic. And where the new open seats are located matters a lot, and is also in large part a function of luck. 

1. Danielle M. Thomsen at the Monkey Cage on disappearing moderates in Congress

2. Seth Masket at Mischiefs of Faction compares the Democrats now to the Republicans after 1960. 

3. Catherine Rampell on the Republican idea of increasing the IRS's audit capacity as long as it's all directed at poor and near-poor people. I'd add: Have they really thought this through? It's all well and good for rich people now, but if they actually do put more money into the IRS, then it will be a lot easier for Democrats to restore the ability of the IRS to audit rich folks when they get the chance. 

4. Good Jamelle Bouie item on Steve Bannon's intellectual pretensions.

5. My Bloomberg View colleague Francis Wilkinson on Democratic prospects in Texas. I remain skeptical that Texas is anywhere close to being a swing state; the more plausible Sun Belt targets are Georgia and Arizona, I would think. Nevertheless, if 2018 is an opportunity for Democrats everywhere, winning in some areas and at least giving themselves a shot at a fluke statewide result would seem to make sense. 

6. And a fun one from FiveThirtyEight's Walt Hickey: Just how far into politicians' books do people read?

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