Democrats are looking forward to the 2018 midterm election with great hopes of regaining political control of the House and Senate. Democrats would need to pick up 24 House seats and three Senate seats to capture the majority.
Democrats hope to pick up anywhere between one and four seats in Florida with the seat of retiring Republic Ileana Ros-Lehtinen their top priority. Other Republican targets include Carlos Curbelo, Mario Diaz-Balart and Brian Mast. A three-seat switch would give Democrats majority control of the Florida delegation.
A big plus for Democrats is that the party controlling the White House has lost an average of 30 House seats and four Senate seats in the past 21 midterm elections. If the Democrats can achieve the average midterm gains, they will take control of both houses.
President Barack Obama and the Democrats lost 63 House seats in 2010, with most of the losses attributed to the passage of Obamacare. Obama and the Dems lost 13 more seats in the 2014 midterm. The loss of 76 seats in the two Obama midterms gave Republicans their current 241 to 194 advantage.
President George W. Bush gained 8 seats in the 2002 midterm, becoming only the second president in the past 21 midterms to gain seats. The gain was attributed to public support for the president in the aftermath of 911. In the 2006 midterm, Bush and the Republicans lost 30 seats.
President Bill Clinton lost 54 seats in 1994 due to a reaction to his failed attempt to pass health care. Four years later, Clinton became the only other president in the past 21 midterms to gain seats. Democrats picked up five seats in 1998, a reaction to the Republican overreach in their attempt to impeach the president.
The largest midterm loss in the past 21 midterms occurred in the 1922 midterm of President Warren Harding. The Republicans lost 77 seats.
Midterms clearly are bad news for the party controlling the White House, which means Republicans will confront a major obstacle in 2018. In addition, Trump’s low approval rate, 34 percent, is historically low for an incoming president.
Not only is President Donald Trump unpopular, but so is his major legislative priority, the American Health Care Act. The public has strongly opposed the Republican plan with 55 percent strongly opposing the plan in a recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll.
It is worth remembering that two of the largest midterm losses were related to health care. Clinton and the Democrats lost 54 seats when his health care plan failed, and Obama and the Democrats lost 63 seats when health care was approved. Will a similar fate confront Trump and the Republicans in 2018?
Republicans point to the fact that they are five-for-five in winning special congressional elections since Trump became president. But, special elections have been poor indicators of electoral success in midterm elections.
Democrats should not be over-optimistic even though almost all political factors favor them. Likewise, Republicans should not be optimistic because of their success in special elections.
If Democrats fail to win political control in the 2018 midterm elections, look for Democrats to thoroughly out their leaders, especially in the House, and replace them with younger, more articulate leaders for the party. The current House leaders have an average age in the mid-70’s.
It is past time for new faces and new leadership.
Darryl Paulson is Professor Emeritus of Government at the University of South Florida in St. Petersburg.