On Nov. 6, voters will decide the fate of the U.S. Congress and state legislatures across the country. Democrats are hoping a "Blue Wave" will crest and wash the Republicans out of control of Congress and state governments around the nation.
The Blue Wave refers to the rising tide of activism on the left and the increasing success of Democratic candidates in special elections since the inauguration of President Donald Trump. (See "A Progressive Counterrevolution in Northeast Florida?" Folio Weekly, January 2017)
Asked about the Blue Wave, local Democratic activist Luis Zaldivar says, "I can answer straight-up; the Wave is 100 percent for real, especially because Republicans don't have anything going on; they are deeply divided." Zaldivar, who has knocked on thousands of doors in the last two years, is president of the local Democratic Progressive Caucus. Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez recently stated, "We are winning everywhere."
Democrats are hoping this year's election will resemble the one in 2006, when they regained majorities in the U.S. House and Senate, and among governorships. Democrats also won a majority of state legislatures and picked up seven seats in the Republican-dominated Florida House.
There's a lot of enthusiasm among activists, but what do the numbers say?
Democrats need 24 victories to take the majority in the U.S. House of Representatives and two victories to take back the U.S. Senate. This is an off-year, aka mid-term election, in which the presidency is not on the ballot, which is typically better for the party out of power.
Since World War II, the opposition party has, on average, gained 26 seats in off-year elections. One prediction model suggests Democrats will gain between 45 and 50 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. It also predicts the Democrats will flip between 15 and 20 state legislatures. This model accurately predicted big Democratic gains in 2006 and Republican wins in 2010, and has been correct about most elections since 1950.
A Swelling Wake
Some of the early races after Trump's inauguration were disappointing, but by November 2017, Democrats had snapped back, winning gubernatorial elections in New Jersey and Virginia.
A political earthquake sent aftershocks around America when Democrat Doug Jones bested Roy Moore in the Alabama special election to replace Jeff Sessions in the U.S. Senate. Alabama had not voted for a Democratic presidential candidate in more than 30 years and was considered among the safest states for Republicans.
Jones' support came from all over the U.S., including from local activist Nathan McKay, who contacted nearly 10,000 voters urging them to support Jones and to turn out to vote. McKay explained, "I got inspired to get involved because someone has to do it." He spoke of the danger of "sitting on the sidelines," mistaking social media posts for genuine activism.
Republicans hoped Jones' victory was simply because they had a weak candidate in the former judge who faced multiple accusations that he'd sexually preyed on teenaged girls when he was a prosecutor in his 30s. Though Moore strenuously denied any predatory or inappropriate behavior, many believed the scandal tanked his candidacy. Three months later, Democrats scored another upset in a Pennsylvania district heavily favoring Republicans. The district is gerrymandered to elect Republicans-Donald Trump carried it by nearly 20 percent in 2016—plus their candidate, Rick Saccone, had no such scandal. Nevertheless, Democratic former Assistant U.S. Attorney Conor Lamb defeated Saccone, a candidate who'd claimed he was "Trump before Trump was Trump."
The Blue Wave appeared to be gaining momentum. In a widely cited article, FiveThirtyEight's Henry Enten wrote, "You don't see this type of consistent outperformance unless there's an overriding pro-Democratic national factor."
Another special election was held near Sarasota to elect a new member to the Florida legislature. Republican voters outnumbered Democrats by 10 percentage points and had carried the district in the last two presidential elections. Yet Democratic attorney Margaret Good won by a comfortable margin in a race that included appearances by national figures from both parties.
The Democrats also pulled off impressive state legislative elections in deeply red Oklahoma and conservative Iowa.
Trump's former campaign manager Cory Lewandowski complained, "Fifty seats have already changed hands from Republican to Democrats since Donald Trump was elected."
On April 8, Republican pollster Frank Luntz said the Republicans would lose the House and Senate if the election were held today. "I think the Republicans are in deep trouble ... ," Luntz mused.
Locally: Ripples or a Swell?
State legislative and Jacksonville City Council seats in Northeast Florida have been gerrymandered to elect a majority of Republicans and a minority of black Democrats.
This year, a number of candidates are looking to storm the gates of the status quo. Local Democratic Party Chair Lisa King is excited that the party has fielded candidates for every Florida House seat in Duval County for the first time in years.
Democratic hopefuls Navy veteran Tim Yost and Dr. Tracye Polson are running for State House seats held by Republicans for many years. Polson leads the race in fundraising and the polls. A.G. Gancarski recently wrote, "[T]here are early suggestions that a Blue Wave may splash onto Jacksonville shores."
Since November 2016, nationally and locally, the country has seen increased activism by liberals and other progressives. The Women's March in Washington, D.C. in January 2017 included more than four million participants worldwide. February's mass murder in Parkland galvanized gun safety advocates, including many progressives. The March For Our Lives events brought many passionate and dedicated young activists together for a cause that's considered more in tune with progressives. Inspired by marches and events, many more have joined the ranks of progressive organizations and election teams.
With the wind at their backs, millions of activists lining up to make dramatic changes, and the president's historically low approval ratings, what could possibly go wrong?
Everything. This is the Democratic Party and it's fully capable of screwing up a one-car parade. Ideological, racial and gender purity tests are being conducted among members across the nation, including here in Jacksonville. (See "The Fall Guys," Folio Weekly, April 11.) As political analyst Michael Kinsley once said, "Conservatives are always looking for converts; liberals are always looking for heretics."
When the Constitution was written, Benjamin Franklin was asked what type of government it included. He responded, "A Republic, if you can keep it."
Have the Democrats been handed an election victory? The answer will be clear in November.