People For the American Way

Takeaways from the Midterm Results

Federal Update
Takeaways from the Midterm Results

On Election Day this year, progressives scored MAJOR wins across the country. And many elections are so close that the results are still rolling in. But with the close losses and Republicans’ right-wing majority in the Senate it is clear is that we have much more work to do to build for 2020 and beyond.

The results reiterated in a bold, decisive way that the GOP is fully the party of Trump. In deep red states and districts, Republicans benefited heavily from Trump’s racist immigrant bashing and fear-mongering— even candidates, like Rep. Duncan Hunter in California, who is under indictment, were able to survive by running on Trump’s racist playbook. The good news is that we saw that playbook fail in most swing states and districts, including in Arizona where Kyrsten Sinema will became the first Democratic senator in the state since 1976. And even in most of the districts where Republicans won or held onto their seats, we saw significant movement in the Democrats’ direction.

As much as it stings that some of our exciting candidates, like Beto O’Rourke, came up short, the overwhelming importance of taking back the House needs to be recognized, appreciated, and held front-and-center.

Because Democrats took back the House, we FINALLY have a meaningful check on the Trump administration’s lawlessness and corruption. We can finally have some accountability. Because Democrats took back the House, the social safety net survives. We know that Social Security and Medicare would have been targeted for utter destruction had Republicans retained full control of Congress.

Because Democrats took back the House, Republicans won’t fully be legislate the Affordable Care Act away. Because Democrats took back the House, Trump and his far-right allies won’t be able to pass another massive tax scam that shifts all of our nation’s wealth upward to corporations and the GOP’s billionaire donors.

Because Democrats took back the House, Democrats now have a chance to show America a real alternative vision to Trump’s agenda of bigotry, division, and right-wing extremism. Already we see positive signs that Democrats are going to focus on health care and desperately needed reforms like

  • anti-corruption measures and ethics reform
  • infrastructure and jobs; and
  • democracy reforms to address big money in politics and voting rights.

We’ll be working hard to mobilize a grassroots movement over the coming weeks to make sure this agenda is prioritized in the first days of the 116th Congress.

Now for some other key post-election takeaways:

  1. This was a “wave election.” the last “blue wave” election was in 2006, when Democrats recaptured the House with a net gain of 31 seats. This year, when all the returns are in, Democrats are expected to have a net gain of at least 35 seats.
  2. Democrats took back the “rust belt” states that handed Trump the presidency – Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. In all of those states, Democratic turnout massively eclipsed Republican turnout, flipping governor’s seats in Wisconsin and Michigan. Both of those flips will have tremendous national impact, especially when it comes to the next round of redistricting. Particularly sweet: right-wing Gov. Scott Walker – the darling of the Koch brothers and notorious crusader against workers – went down in flames. And handily keeping the Democratic US Senate seats in those three states was icing on the cake.
  3. There will be more diversity in American elected leadership than ever before — not just in Congress. It was a night of firsts!
    • There will be more than 100 women in Congress for first time, and women candidates truly led the blue wave, flipping seats at every level.
    • Americans elected the first two Muslim women to Congress – both PFAW endorsees – in Rashida Tlaib in Michigan and Ilhan Omar in Minnesota. Ilhan had been the first Somali-American state lawmaker in the country.
    • Two Native American women were elected to Congress – another first – and they were also both endorsed by PFAW – Debra Haaland in New Mexico and Sharice Davids, who also happens to be a lesbian, in KANSAS!
    • PFAW-endorsed Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Latina whose historic progressive campaign unseated an incumbent in the Democratic primary, became the youngest woman ever elected to Congress.
    • Anna Eskamani, also endorsed by PFAW, became the first Iranian-American elected as a state lawmaker by running on a strong progressive values-based message.
    • PFAW-endorsed Lieutenant Governor-elect Mandela Barnes became the first African American elected statewide in Wisconsin.
    • LGBTQ candidates made history as well, including Colorado’s Jared Polis (PFAW-endorsed) becoming the first openly gay man elected governor in US history.
    • The list goes on!!!
  4. PFAW candidates did GREAT! Just by the numbers: In races that have been called, 65% of our endorsed progressive candidates for federal office won (35 won, 19 lost, 5 are still too close to call) – many of these candidates were part of the Democratic flips that resulted in the new Democratic House majority. In races that have been called, 62% of our Next Up Victory Fund’s endorsed progressive candidates, age 40 and under, for state and local office won (101 won, 61 lost, 17 are still too close to call) – these candidates were on the front line of the blue wave that flipped hundreds of state legislative seats and party control of crucial state legislative chambers. And it’s important to remember, most of these people were first time candidates.
  5. The Latino vote is on its way! For years, this community has been underinvested in by Democrats based on the notion that Latinos don’t vote and it’s too difficult and costly to get them to the polls. It’s hogwash. They’ll vote if we talk to them. That’s why PFAW’s Latinos Vote! program continues its steadfast work to mobilize this community, on which so much of the future of our democracy hinges. Does anyone think Beto O’Rourke coming as close as he did to defeating an entrenched Republican in TEXAS could have happened without significant gains in Latino voting? We answered reports indicating that Latinos were insufficiently supportive of Democrats in Texas with aggressive advertising to those voters in Spanish and English, and barnstorming events with Latino leaders like PFAW board member – and civil rights icon – Dolores Huerta. And today, analysis of vote returns by the UCLA Latino Policy & Politics Initiative suggests that 75-80% of Latinos voted for O’Rourke, and early vote and Election Day turnout numbers show a large increase in counties with a sizable number of Latino voters. It’s thanks to the general movement that Beto inspired AND the Latino vote that Texas is now inching towards battleground state status.
  6. Progress takes time, but perseverance pays off. Remember the special election in Georgia’s 6th Congressional District in which Jon Ossoff was narrowly defeated by Republican Karen Handel? Well Handel went down in defeat to Democrat Lucy McBath. Why? In large part because you helped soften up that longtime GOP district with that special election. Ossoff lost that race by a hair after his campaign notoriously neglected the district’s small but potentially decisive Latino population. This year, Democrats had more infrastructure reach into the district and we helped by engaging progressive activist and running Latinos Vote! ads.Republicans who won this year in competitive races at all levels won by MUCH smaller margins than Trump did in 2016. Even in red states and districts, voters seem to be sending the message that it’s only a matter of time – that is, as long as progressives continue to do our job of reaching out to voters and providing clear alternatives to Trump Republicans’ hate and extremism.
  7. Our work for exciting, transformational top-of-the-ticket progressives paid off down ballot, even where those candidates at the top lost. This was hinted at in the previous two points, but our deep investments in getting out the Latino vote, hooking to the races of progressive governors and senators helped flip the U.S. House and state legislative seats in those states.
  8. Gerrymandering remains a major problem. Even though Democrats won the House, the uneven playing field we needed to overcome because of gerrymandering and voter suppression was a tremendous obstacle.
  9. We got rid of some TERRIBLE right-wingers. Notorious vote suppressor and chair of Trump’s sham ‘voter fraud’ commission Kris Kobach was defeated in his bid for governor of Kansas. That is huge, and says a lot about voters’ repudiation of voter suppression as a tactic, even in a red state like Kansas.
  10. Democratic gains, by the numbers — in addition to the House, Democrats nationwide.
    • Flipped at least 7 governorships
    • Flipped at least 329 state legislative seats
    • Flipped 7 state legislative chambers
    • Ended 4 Republican supermajorities in state legislatures
    • Picked up trifecta control (both legislative chambers plus governor) in 6 states
    • Ended Republican trifecta control in Michigan
    • And had important wins in state Supreme Court elections, four Attorneys General races, and two Secretary of State races
  11. Progressive ballot initiatives won BIG coast-to-coast.
    • Amendment 4 passed in Florida! This measure, passed overwhelmingly with 64% of the vote, restores voting rights to people with felony convictions who have completed their sentences. It’s ends a Jim Crow-era law that until yesterday disenfranchised nearly 1.5 million Floridians, including 1 in 5 black men, and was one of the most historically significant wins of the night. It will change the politics in Florida, and the nation.
    • Other voting rights measures passed including same-day voter registration and automatic voter registration in states like Maryland, Nevada, and Michigan.
    • Voters approved measures to make redistricting fairer and combat partisan gerrymandering in Michigan, Missouri, Utah, California, and Colorado.
    • Campaign finance and ethics reforms passed in a large handful of states and municipalities.
    • Voters in Massachusetts and Oregon affirmed protections for trans people and immigrants, respectively
    • Arkansas and Missouri both voted to raise the minimum wage

It’s only in the week following Election Day that we’ve seen the true scope and historical significance of the 2018 blue wave … and the overall trends look amazing. American Democracy itself was on the 2018 ballot, and it survived because you helped Democrats take back the House. The American Way got a lifeline – but perhaps only for another two years. What we do with that lifeline is up to us and will determine the fate, and perhaps survival, of our country.

So we have big fights ahead. PFAW will be by your side for all of them. And we are so grateful and proud that you will be by ours.