Email #197: “closer than it should be”

I’ve been hearing a lot about special elections this spring.

In April, Kansas’s 4th congressional district seat was open because the President appointed Mike Pompeo CIA Director. Republican Ron Estes won it by a 7% margin. While that’s a comfortable victory, it received news because President Trump won the district by 27% last fall.

Also in April, Democrat Jon Ossoff took 48% of the run-off vote in Georgia’s 6th congressional district. That’s Newt Gingrich’s old seat, open because Tom Price also joined the Trump administration. Like Georgia, the district is reliably “red.” Price won it by a 23% margin last fall. If all of Ossoff’s Republican opponents were a single candidate, they would have won by less than 4%.

In May, Republican Greg Gianforte was running for Montana’s state-wide seat to replace Ryan Zinke who is now Secretary of the Interior. President Trump won the state by 21%, but Gianforte said the day before the election: “This race is closer than it should be.” He won by 6%, but only after the stress got so extreme that he assaulted a reporter for aggressively questioning him about his support of the American Health Care Act.

And this week, Republican Karen Handel defeated Ossoff by slightly under a 4% margin–so the same as the combined Republican vote from April, making Handel’s margin of victory 19 points smaller than Price’s in November.

It’s strange hearing Democrats brag about elections they didn’t win. But all of their candidates were competing in districts that heavily lean Republican, and they all shaved their opponents down 15-20%. Also none of these districts are on the list of 47 Republican seats that Democrats have identified as weak. That’s a lot of battlegrounds. A Wall Street Journal and NBC News poll in April found a 47% majority want Democrats to control Congress over 43% who want Republicans. 4% is no landslide, but Democrats only need to flip 24 of the 47 battleground seats to retake the House.

According to FiveThirtyEight, the party not in the White House has gained House seats in every midterm election but two since 1934. Presidents Reagan, Clinton, and Obama had approval ratings at or lower than their disapproval ratings, and their parties suffered the three biggest losses. President Trump’s approval rating has been steadily dropping over his first six months. He entered office with an average of 44%, and he currently has an average of 40%. His disapproval rating has also gone from 44% to 55%.  While these numbers could improve, every president since Eisenhower has seen his disapproval rating increase by at least 20 points by midterm, and it’s the disapproval rating that correlates with the loss of House seats.

Also, no other President has had as many investigations into his administration during his first year in office. It’s unknown when any of these investigation will be completed and their reports released, Senator King of the Senate Intelligence Committee said: “Maybe the end of the year.” It’s likely then that they will extend into the 2018 primary season. If the reports reflect negatively on the administration, the results will be felt even more in the general election. The Republican party lost 48 House seats in November 1974, three months after President Nixon resigned and Vice-President Ford took over.

The GOP-controlled Congress is currently polling even lower than the President, with a job approval rating just under 18% and a disapproval of 68%. After you voted for the extremely unpopular American Health Care Act, the Cook Political Report shifted 20 seats away from Republican domination: “House Republicans’ willingness to spend political capital on a proposal that garnered the support of just 17 percent of the public in a March Quinnipiac poll is consistent with past scenarios that have generated a midterm wave.”

When asked about midterm prospects, Speaker Ryan responded: “Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah is what I think about that stuff.”

What do you think?

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Author: Chris Gavaler

Chris Gavaler is an assistant professor of English at Washington and Lee University where he teaches creative writing, contemporary fiction, and comics. He has published two novels, Pretend I'm Not Here (HarperCollins 2002) and School For Tricksters (Southern Methodist University 2011), and two nonfictions, On the Origin of Superheroes (Iowa University 2015) and Superhero Comics (Bloomsbury forthcoming 2017).

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