State of the US Democratic Party

The 2016 US elections were a wake-up call for the Democratic Party. Donald Trump won the electoral college even though he lost the popular vote, and the former is how the US president is officially selected. Meanwhile, while the Democrats picked up 2 seats in the Senate and 6 seats in the House they were still the minority party in the Senate (52-48) and House (241-194). The Democrats did better during the 2017 elections, which resulted in the party winning US Senate races in Virginia and New Jersey.

However, the 2018 elections have much more at stake. That includes all 435 seats in the House and about one-third (33/100) of the Senate seats that are at stake. The 2017 elections showed some promise that the Democratic Party has improved since the 2016 elections. However, the current state of the party includes various issues including the following ones:

  1. State Legislatures

One of the big events of the 2017 election was Democrats were able to make big gains in the Virginia House of Delegates. There are multiple recounts pending with Republicans holding a slim 51-49  lead. It was one of the biggest stories of election night because Democrats were given little chance of taking over the chamber.

Democrats have been making big gains in state legislative elections recently. However, there’s a lot of ground to cover in order to take control of several of them. The situation has become more favorable for Dem since the election of President Trump last year. In tens of the races Dems over-performed the percentage of the vote they were projected to win. Part of the reason is candidate recruitment has become better since there’s a lot of interest in challenging Trump’s controversial policies. In fact, Democratic candidates are even performing better in districts were Trump won easily in November 2016.

However, Democrats have an uphill battle. That’s because Republicans control both houses of 32 states and made a lot of gains during President Obama’s two-term presidency. Three of the statehouses are split. Another issue it will be tough for Democrats to pick up enough seats to make major changes to the re-districting environment following the 2020 Census. Another issue is Democrats have had trouble flipping seats during special elections following Trump’s election.

It’s unclear what will happen before the 2018 mid-term elections. While Democrats seem to be energized there’s a lot of work to do in order to have a good chance of flipping several statehouses before 2020.

  1. 2018 Senate Seats

Another major challenge for Democrats is the number of US Senate seats they’ll have to defend in the 2018 mid-term elections. Democrats have to protect 25 seats while Republicans just have to defend 8 seats. Another issue is Democrats have senators up for re-election in several states where Trump won by double-digit figures. This includes West Virginia, Indiana, Montana, Missouri, and North Dakota. Democrats are also defending seats in states that flipped from Obama to Trump in 2016.

  1. Unifying Leader

The Democratic Party still doesn’t have a unifying leader following the end of the second term of President Obama. About half a day after Clinton’s loss to Trump the party’s House leaders had a conference call with other House Democrats. Many experts had projected Dems would take back the House but they only gained 6 seats.

One of the criticism of the call is Democratic leaders didn’t seem to take responsibility for the losses. That included the House minority leader Nancy Pelosi. Many of the call’s recipients thought Pelosi should say sorry or admit she had made mistake. One of the main reasons was Democrats had lost the support of white working class voters in favor of so-called “limousine Democrats.”

Pelosi responded that it wasn’t true the party didn’t care about the working class. She argued that Democrats have the right message but have to reframe it in order to win back the working class voters. However, Rep. Scott Peters (D-CA) stated he thought it wasn’t right to use “happy talk” after Democrats picked up less than the one-third 20 seats they were projected to win.

However, one on person faced Pelosi in the vote to pick the party’s House leader. That was Tim Ryan from Ohio’s 13th District who said Democrats got “wiped out” during the election in his region. He also argued that the party is “toxic” in the Midwest and South.Pelosi easily won the vote but one-third of House democrats voted against her showing that there’s no clear unifying leader in the party. It seems the party is going through a rebranding process but doesn’t have a clear leader that the vast majority of Congressional Dems is supporting.

  1. Governors’ Mansions

When West Virginia governor Jim Justice switched political parties earlier this year it gave Republicans a record-tying 34 governor’s mansions. The figure will drop to 33 when New Jersey governor-elect Phil Murphy takes office. However, it shows another uphill battle of Democrats since it’s tough to win governor’s mansions when the other party controls over half of the country’s state legislatures. While Obama was in office Democrats lost control of 12 governors seats. The figure was just 9 during the tenures of presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton. Dems also lost over 900 state legislative seats from 2009 to 2016.

  1. Obama/Trump Supporters

It will be tough for Democrats to combine the diverse coalition of Obama supporters and add white working-class Trump supporters. This will involve finding common ground with Republicans in some states. It can help to win over Trump supporters but could also alienate the coalition of Obama voters.

A big issue is about whether the current electoral map is a sign Midwest Trump supports can be won over during his presidency, or it’s a sign the GOP will likely dominate the region in future years. There’s a chance states like Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Iowa are slipping away from Democrats. This isn’t to say that Democrats can’t win in those states but they’ve all been gradually shifting from toss-up to red during past decades.