Decision 2017: Is a Congressional Democratic “rebirth” happening?

Since the inauguration of Donald Trump six weeks ago, the perception is that Democrats have become energized, and with this renewed energy, they will be swept back into power in both houses of Congress in next year’s midterm elections. Is this enthusiasm grounded in fact?

From previous analyses, JMC has noted that before a November election, there are external signs like voter registration changes and partisan primary participation that are decent predictors of partisan enthusiasm on Election Day. However, primaries are at least a year away (as would be any changes in voter registration), but the good news for political junkies is that a series of appointments to President Trump’s cabinet has created four vacancies in the US House, and a fifth vacancy was created by a US House member’s taking a job closer to home. Therefore, JMC will briefly discuss those vacancies.

April 11 – Kansas 4  (Trump 60-33 and Romney 62-36) This district is centered on Wichita. While historically Republican, it actually didn’t consistently send Republicans to Congress until the 1994 GOP landslide. Holding onto this district shouldn’t be a problem for the GOP, although given that it is the first of five Congressional special elections to be held, the margin of victory will be worth examining.

May 25 – Montana At Large (Trump 57-36 and Romney 55-42) Montana has the reputation of being a Republican state, and in Presidential elections, this is an accurate assessment (the last time a Democrat “carried” the state was in 1992, when a large (26%) third party vote for Ross Perot enabled Bill Clinton to win with a 38% plurality). However, Democrats currently hold the Governor’s chair and one of its two Senate seats. Its House seat has been Republican held since 1996, although given the tenacity of Democrats here, this will again be an interesting indication of Democratic enthusiasm leading up to the 2018 midterms. Furthermore, it’s worth noting that despite Montana’s Republican reputation, it is one of three Rocky Mountain states that is not a “Right To Work” state. Still, this seat is likely to remain in Republican hands.

June 6 – California 34 (Clinton 84-11 and Obama 83-14) Not only has California moved sharply to the left in recent years, but this downtown Los Angeles district is 66% Hispanic and 9% non-Hispanic white. It has not given Republican Presidential candidates or U.S. House candidates a serious look in years. While this is an easy Democratic hold, turnout will be interesting to watch.

June 20 – South Carolina 5 (Trump 57-39 and Romney 55-44) While this rural district would seem like a solidly Republican district, the truth is a bit more complicated. The district’s 26% black population provides a Democratic base, and half of the vote is cast in two suburban counties of Charlotte, NC, and those counties (like the Charlotte metro area) are somewhat more moderate. Plus, this was one of those districts that for years elected Democrats until the 2010 Republican wave. Still, this is likely to remain in Republican hands.

June 20 – Georgia 6 (Trump 48-47 and Romney 61-38) On the surface, this district covers some of the affluent northern suburbs of Atlanta and should be solidly Republican, as various incarnations of it once elected Newt Gingrich, who for years was the only Republican in the entire Georgia delegation. However, in a trend that was apparent in many affluent areas and noted by JMC, affluent suburbs moved sharply towards the Democrats in the 2016 Presidential election, and a 61% Romney district became a 48% Trump district (47% voted for Hillary Clinton). This sharp partisan swing has energized the Democrats, and its preferred candidate has already raised more than a million dollars. While it remains to be seen whether this partisan shift was directed against Donald Trump specifically or against Republicans in general, this is nevertheless the race to watch this year for gauging Democratic enthusiasm for 2017 and/or 2018.


Normally, special Congressional elections are mundane affairs, but the outcome of these five races still will be an interesting test of the Democratic hypothesis that a Trump Presidency has resurrected their fortunes going into the 2018 midterm elections.