Previewing the 2018 Midterm Elections

Two years removed from a contentious 2016 Presidential election, the stage is set for a similarly contentious 2018 Midterm election. Senior analyst Harry Enten from FiveThirtyEight has called the race “a big referendum on the President of the United States.” We the People, including YOU, the reader, have the opportunity to make your opinion count in the 2018 midterm election, a critical crossroads regarding America’s direction of policy and politics.

A new wave of determined Democratic grassroots candidates and fresh-faced, non-establishment Republicans are poised to challenge seats long held by incumbents. The stakes are especially high with the upcoming redrawing of legislative districts in 2022, a process that must be approved by the legislature and governor in most states.

History and statistics tell us that the incumbent party, this year the Republicans, will fare poorly and lose a significant number of seats. With the President’s approval rating not having broken above fifty percent, heavy losses are expected— typically 36 House seats according to Gallup. Moreover, in all but two postwar midterms, the White House incumbent has experienced losses in the House of Representatives. Looking specifically at midterm net losses and gains, the party in power loses an average of 25 House seats, which should alarm Republicans who can only afford to lose 23 House seats. Any more than 23 seats lost would see the Democrats regaining control of the House.

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Dark Blue – Democratic incumbent running / Light Blue – Democratic incumbent retiring / Dark Red – Republican incumbent running / Light Red – Republican incumbent retiring / Yellow – Independent incumbent running / Gray – No election / Graphic by GoldRingChip/Wikimedia

What’s Up For Grabs

All 435 seats in the House of Representatives, 33 out of 100 seats in the Senate (also known as Class I Senators), and 36 out of 50 governorships are up for reelection. In the House, which is more unpredictable, Republicans will attempt to hold on to 25 seats they control that were districts won by Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election. For Democrats, their defense is on 12 seats that were districts won by President Trump in the 2016 presidential election. Although these are seats in the crosshairs of both parties’ funding machines, upsets elsewhere are possible, and there is uncertainty added by 46 representatives who will be retiring.

In the Senate, the Democrats have 23 Senate seats up for reelection, along with 2 Independents who typically caucus with them. On the other hand, the Republicans have only 8 Senate seats up for grabs, but their added challenge is the fact that 2 of their Senators, Bob Corker and Jeff Flake, will be retiring.

Here are some specific races to watch:


Pat Meehan, Republican, Pennsylvania 7th District (RETIRING)

Fallout from Rep. Meehan’s sexual harassment accusations (and his use of taxpayer dollars to settle his case) has left him in a politically toxic environment and left him no choice but to resign. Although the district is very Republican, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) plans to use open disdain against Trump and Meehan, along with a favorable redrawing of the district lines before the November midterms, as the basis for a strong fight in the Philadelphia suburbs.

Darrell Issa, Republican, California 49th District (RETIRING)

Rep. Issa’s seat is looking more and more like a shoe-in for the Democratic Party as the calendar draws closer to the midterms. Clinton easily swooped up his district in California, and he only won his district by a razor-thin margin of under one percentage point.

Rodney Frelinghuysen, Republican, New Jersey 11th District

A powerful member of the House and Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, Rep. Frelinghuysen has been the target of attacks from both the DCCC and his own party for faltering on key pieces of legislation. On the left, he has received the ire of Democrats for voting to repeal the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. On the right, he came under fire for voting ‘no’ on the final version of the 2017 GOP tax bill, nobly citing his commitment to saving deductions for his constituents. Fundraising has been no problem for Rep. Frelinghuysen, but the DCCC is hoping for a strong Democratic candidate to wrest the seat he has held since the early 1990’s.


Claire McCaskill, Democrat, Missouri

One of the biggest challenges for the Democrats will be attempting to hang on to this Senate seat in a state where Trump almost reached a 20% margin of victory over Hillary Clinton. One major plus for her is that her fundraising numbers are extremely strong, with a couple million dollars ready to be unleashed to secure her Senate seat. Nevertheless, Josh Hawley, the GOP front-runner, has seen universal support from GOP leaders, including both GOP Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell and former White House advisor Steve Bannon. Moreover, his focus on religious freedom and family values is sure to appeal to a conservative-leaning state such as Missouri. One person to keep an eye out for is Austin Petersen, a 2016 Libertarian candidate for President turned Republican, who also has ambitious plans to claim this seat.

Dean Heller, Republican, Nevada

Senator Heller first faces an internal challenge from Danny Tarkanian, who is supported by the right-wing Steve Bannon political machine. Moreover, his flip-flop attitude on healthcare has drawn criticism from Republicans, even President Trump, who was frustrated by Senator Heller’s recent votes against Obamacare repeal. Moreover, his ideological murkiness is a point of contention challengers on both sides of the aisle have highlighted, and this in-between attitude may lead to his seat’s demise.

Jeff Flake, Republican, Arizona (RETIRING)

With a Senator who has tussled with Trump—both face-to-face and on the Twittersphere—calling it quits, Democrats are openly enthusiastic about scooping up a seat that has seen razor-thin GOP wins by under five percent in recent years.


With chances looking more optimistic for the Democrats, the DCCC plans to throw resources behind candidates campaigning in GOP-led districts that were won by Hillary Clinton. At this point, many believe the Democratic Party has a prime opportunity to flip the House of Representatives. But with an aggressive enough campaign, some in the DNC are also hoping for a Senate win and the slim possibility of a Dem-controlled Congress as a robust counterweight to the Trump Administration’s next two years in office. Good prospects for the party in blue don’t guarantee total victory, though. Their path to victory, especially in the Senate, is further complicated by the fact that a good chunk of their Senators will be attempting to defend seats in 2016 Trump-dominated states.

The Republicans have many factors that may influence their prospects for a successful election and are befuddling seasoned political scientists. One positive factor includes the robust economic progress reflected by rallying stocks. One negative factor includes a president with historically low approval ratings. A third, mysterious factor is attempting to uncode and measure a “shy Trump” vote. A strong year of legislating and passing bills in Congress throughout 2018 will provide good positioning going into the midterm elections for the Republicans.

There are three takeaways you should walk away with, if nothing else:

  1. The Republicans have a herculean task of holding on to the House. Holding on to Congress will send Democrats reeling and back to the drawing board to attempt to salvage a solution to the free-for-all that seems imminent for the 2020 election cycle.
  2. An anti-Trump message will not be enough for the Democrats to turn the tables in various races across the nation. 2016 made it startlingly clear that if the Democrats want to win big in 2018, they will need to radiate a positive message that seeks to unite the party under a central theme.
  3. In the uncertain haze 2018 has become, Republicans see promise in the strong economy and the short-term benefits that are quickly becoming apparent as a result of the recently passed Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017. A smart immigration deal and infrastructure bill, two things high on the Trump Administration’s agenda, may be enough fuel for the fire to keep GOP prospects looking strong through 2020.

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