Continued Republican control of the Senate after this fall's elections is virtually assured by an abundance of races in Republican-leaning rural states.
That’s a slice of 2018 and 2020 election projections from David Wasserman, house editor for the Cook Political Report, to participants this week at the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives’ annual convention in New Orleans.
The math is horrible for Democrats, he explains, pointing out that 26 Democratic-held seats are up for re-election and just eight Republican ones. Democrats need to pick up only two seats, net, to gain a 51-seat majority, he said, “but Democrats are playing so much defense.” Five Democratic senators are up for re-election in states that Trump won by 19 percentage points or more, he said, plus another five in states where Barack Obama won in 2012 but Donald Trump won in 2016.
“Democrats would have to run the table on all of those races to have any shot at retaking the Senate,” he said, plus win further states, such as Nevada and Arizona, for example, where Republicans are vacating their seats.
Wasserman puts “the odds for the Democrats to take over the House at 55 to 60 percent,” in part because congressional elections usually shift against the party of a new president. Plus, he said, Democrats are especially “energized” to get out the vote this year, and Republican House members are polling very poorly in many suburban swing districts.
However, for the next presidential election, in 2020, “Democrats have a geographic challenge,” he said, and they will have to regain the favor of voters in rural states. Republicans hold an advantage in the Electoral College, to begin with, because they hold so many Senate seats in sparsely populated states. Further, he said, Democrats are less efficient at mapping congressional districts in their favor – gerrymandering – because their voters are clustered in cities and into a minority of states.
Wasserman said the challenge for Democrats in future presidential elections is epitomized in the November 2016 presidential vote in Howard County, population 11,000, in northeast Iowa. There, voters in 2012 favored Obama by a 20 percent margin; in 2016, Trump won by 21 points.
He also expects the Supreme Court, which is considering challenges against gerrymandering of Wisconsin and Michigan congressional districts, will not step in to erode advantages that Republicans have gained in mapping districts. “It would open a Pandora’s box . . . which is why I’m skeptical that you’ll see the Supreme Court step in and try to define partisan gerrymandering. It’s a lot like trying to define obscenity,” he said, “and you would see litigation lasting years in just about every state where you have a legislative body responsible for drawing a map."