It’s not a pretty sight for Democrats. There may be hope for an American electoral recoil from Trump-mania, but the game in the U.S. Senate begins with the Democrats on the defensive.
There are one hundred U.S. Senators and each member is elected for a six-year term. But they’re not all elected at the same time, rather one-third are up for election every two years. In the 2018 biennial elections, thirty-four Senate seats will be contested.
If the current make-up was evenly split, seventeen Democrats and seventeen Republicans, then there would be good reason to have hope for a Democratic surge. But regrettably, this cycle is one in which the Democrats have to defend twenty-five* seats which the Republicans need to protect only nine seats.
Take a look at the interactive map:
2016 was the year when the Democrats could have picked up significant ground. Of the thirty-four seats up for election last year, the Democrats had to defend only ten while the Republicans had to protect twenty-four. With the favorable math, Democrats were able to only pick up four seats as the Trump tsunami bled red throughout the Midwest and South.
If you’re looking for progressive gains rather than just Democrats, the hill is even steeper. Among the Democrats who are defending seats in 2018 are Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Claire McCaskill of Missouri and Jon Tester of Montana. In many ways, they are DINOs. (Democrats in Name Only), although if they win re-election they will have a window of opportunity to lean a little more to the left.
Two things have to happen for 2018 to be a good year for Democrats in the Senate:
- Trump has to be Trump in ways that are not only theatric, but which also reflect the meanness of the Republican Party and result in personal injury to his voter base.
- Even if the Trump base is hurt, particularly economically, they have to realize that it happened. One of the key points in Thomas Frank’s seminal 2007 book, What’s the Matter with Kansas, is that so-called values-oriented voters often diminish the importance of their own economic pain if they can sustain their sense of moral superiority.
Republicans seem to not have problems wishing suffering upon the American people if it is for their political gain. For the Democrats to prevail in 2018, it will represent recoil from many Americans whose lives and lifestyles have been diminished. It puts Democrats in a quandary, and at an additional disadvantage to Republicans.
* The twenty-five Democratic seats include two Independents who caucus with Democrats, Angus King of Maine and Bernie Sanders of Vermont.