In one sense I hope the Democrats get massacred next Tuesday, because if they skate through and keep the Senate, they won’t bother to fix their long-term problem. Whereas, a massacre, well, it focuses the mind. And focus is what they need to figure out a way to do something once and for all about getting their core constituencies to vote in off-year elections.
As you’ve read a kajillion times by now, young people and single women and African Americans and Latinos don’t vote as much in midterm elections, and as the parties bifurcate ever more deeply—as old white people become more and more Republican, say—the problem for Democrats is just going to get worse as time goes on.
This is not simply a matter of losing a few elections. As the saying goes, elections have consequences. A reliably Republican midterm electorate will cancel out a Democratic-leaning presidential-year electorate and then some. It will always be one step forward and two steps back.
Let’s run hypothetically through the next few election cycles. In 2016, let’s say Hillary Clinton wins the presidency. That will also be a good year for the Democrats in Senate races, too—the fact that so many Republicans won in 2010 means that the GOP will have to defend 23 seats in 2016, and the Democrats just nine (a couple more are up in the air right now). This will include a handful of Republicans in blue or swing states who’ll have targets on their backs: Ron Johnson in Wisconsin, Pat Toomey in Pennsylvania, Kelly Ayotte in New Hampshire, Richard Burr in North Carolina. Looking at the Democratic nine, seven are totally safe, and the other two (Nevada and Colorado) should probably be fine in a presidential turnout year.
So let’s say the Democrats retake the Senate in 2016. Yippee. Democratic president, Democratic Senate. Of course, the House will still be Republican, so President Clinton’s dreams will still largely go there to die. And of course again, a Democratic Senate with a majority in the 53 or 54 neighborhood (that is, well short of the 60 votes needed to move bills to final passage) may not be worth that much. But at least she’d have a legislative partner on Capitol Hill and a glimmer of hope of passing some items. And—don’t forget this!—at least she’d get some appointees cleared and a Supreme Court nominee (or with any luck two) confirmed.
OK, now let’s think about 2018. First off, yes, there are people out there who arealready handicapping the 2018 elections. Secondly, as with the GOP in 2010, the Democrats did unusually well in the presidential year of 2012, so they’ll have more seats to defend in ’18: a whopping 25 (actually 23 Democrats and the two independents who caucus with them), while the Republicans will have just eight. Three of those Democratic incumbents represent Indiana, Montana, and North Dakota. Heavy turbulence already. Three more are from Florida, Missouri, and Ohio. Meanwhile, only two of the eight seats in GOP hands are likely to be remotely contested.
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