Five things to watch for in the midterm primaries
Though politicians always consider midterms "the most important," the first midterm of the Donald Trump era really does seem significant in deciding what party controls the levels of power in Washington and in what direction the country as a whole hopes to move.
As of last Tuesday, over half of all the states have completed their primary elections and voters have decided who will face off for seats in the House of Representatives and Senate, as well as critical state-level elections.
The primary season has been interesting thus far, to say the least. Democrats have illustrated that there is, indeed, an intraparty scuffle pitting progressive, Bernie Sanders-style candidates against the establishment wing of the party. As for Republicans, GOP candidates across the country have mostly been falling over one another to profess their love and support for President Donald Trump.
If that's not enough to spice things up, some unsavoury characters have received nominations to represent the Republican Party in a disconcerting number of federal and state races.
With 24 more state primaries and five months left before the midterm elections, here are five things to look out for:
1) The prospect of a Blue Wave is weakened, but still alive
After a year of a Trump presidency, most polls and pundits suggested that Republicans were sure to lose control of the House and, despite a seriously unfavourable map for Democrats, potentially even the Senate.
Now, Democrats have tempered their expectations to some extent. Despite record numbers of candidates that have registered to run for Congress and surprisingly strong fundraising efforts, the monstrous "Blue Wave" that many thought would sweep upwards of 50 or 60 Democrats into House offices alone seems to be dissipating a bit.
Still, there are 25 Republicans up for re-election in districts that Hillary Clinton won in 2016; one more than the 24 total seats Democrats must wrestle away from the GOP to take over control of the House.
Due to Trump's unpopularity among Democrats and Independents, if turnout numbers rival those of many of this season's primary elections, Republicans will have trouble holding onto many of the competitive seats they need to win.
Ultimately, public opinion, turnout rates, and history of presidents' parties suffering big losses during midterms spell trouble for Republicans' bid to keep from being relegated to the minority in the House, at least.
2) 2018 is the year women storm Washington
A phenomenal 476 women filed to run for House seats across the country this midterm and another 51 filed to run for Senate spots. Of those, 114 advanced to their House general elections and six moved on to face off for Senate seats.
This year's primary success rates for women are not especially strong, nor does the general election map favour many of the candidates who did win their primaries.
However, women have long had a turnout edge over men in US elections, not to mention in many of the most competitive congressional districts, women also hold a demographic edge as well.
This could spell trouble for Republicans in those races where Democrats nominated women to run against incumbent male Republicans, because the GOP standard-bearer right now elicits much disdain from both women and men. As the past two years' women's marches across the country have proven, women are more motivated than ever to get out, protest, and very likely vote in the Trump era.
|There is an intraparty scuffle, pitting progressive Bernie Sanders-style candidates against the establishment wing of the party|
All of this could translate to surprising success for many women candidates who are considered underdogs at this point.
3) Donald Trump is everywhere
Every midterm election is billed as a referendum on the sitting president, and that president's party usually suffers as a result.
But this year, Trump seems to have a preternatural presence in voters' minds. Indeed, during many primary campaigns the country's entrancement with "The Donald" has had Democrats fighting to one-up one another to prove who was more attuned to the #Resistance, while Republicans wrangled over who had more fealty to the president.
Trump's influence on the GOP, as Senator Bob Corker (R-Tennessee) recently pointed out, borders on a cult of personality and going into the midterms, it is sufficiently Trump's party.
Trump's support among Republican voters is so high that Republican candidates want to cozy up as much as possible to reap the benefit and Democrats in Trump districts have to toe the line between standing for Democratic values and criticising the president.
On the flip-side, however, Republican incumbents in districts that are rapidly turning more liberal have found themselves having to answer for all of the president's most unseemly behaviour.
Though Trump's stock is on the rise at this moment, if looming trade wars bludgeon the US economy, peace talks with North Korea fail, or Special Counsel Robert Mueller releases a damning report about the Trump administration or the president himself, voters' disenchantment with Trump would very easily bleed onto other candidates with "R" by their names and they could suffer at the polls.
4) The Senate map favours Republicans, but things could get interesting
Democrats - and the two Independents that caucus with them - have the unenviable task of trying to protect 26 seats in the Senate this year, 10 of which belong to states that Donald Trump won in 2016.
The GOP is gunning heavily for many of those red state Democrats, but it is not unfeasible that Democrats fend off some tough attacks and counter with some upsets of their own.
|Democrats in Trump districts have to toe the line between standing for Democratic values and criticising the president|
Of the 10 states Democrats are protecting in Trump country, only two are facing re-election for the first time; this means that all of the others are experienced campaigners with heavy name recognition, putting them in favourable positions, at least early on, as incumbents.
Other states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin and Michigan have popular Senators running for re-election and the president only narrowly won three of those four states. If the Democrats can limit their losses to a select few, they have space to make-up the difference. They are fielding strong, popular candidates in surprisingly close races in Arizona and Tennessee; and in Nevada, GOP Senator Dean Heller has long been considered the most vulnerable GOP incumbent, especially since Democrats recruited a strong candidate who has been popular ever since she entered the House of Representatives.
If it truly is a Blue Wave year, however, keep an eye out on some races that could be closer than ever thought imaginable, like Mississippi and Texas.
5) Trump ignites the Right
At the federal, state and local level, it is hard to see the rise in traditionally unelectable candidates with sketchy pasts who are seeking Republican nominations, as anything other than due, in part, to Trump's rise and his crusade against political correctness.
Indeed, all across the country, white supremacists, anti-Semites, and their apologists are getting nods from Republicans; neo-Nazis and regular Nazis are securing uncomfortable levels of votes from GOP voters; right-wing conspiracy theorists are doing well at federal and local levels; and, although not running as a Republican, even an ex-Libertarian and avowed pro-pedophilia candidate secured his name on the ballot for Congress in Virginia.
|Even an ex-Libertarian and avowed pro-pedophilia candidate secured his name on the ballot for Congress in Virginia|
None of the successes of these men are directly related to Trump - he did not campaign for or endorse these candidates, as far as we can tell.
But, it is easy to see that individuals harbouring these despicable views would never seek public office - let alone feel they could win - unless some force came to power trashing political correctness and instilling confidence in this segment of the population that openly airing such beliefs is acceptable (think Charlottesville, Virginia).
That force is indisputably Donald Trump. In 2016, he proved that a bombastic outsider could utilise racist and discriminatory rhetoric - and otherwise act ignobly - and not just escape punishment, but actually be rewarded by voters for "authenticity" and usurping political correctness.
Marcus Montgomery is a Junior Analyst for Congressional Affairs at Arab Center Washington DC.
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Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.