Why Democrats Have Blue State Blues
If Republicans have a good night on Tuesday and win a large majority in the House of Representatives, their gains won’t necessarily come from swing districts that have been perennial battlegrounds in recent elections. Instead, much of a “red wave” could come from blue states, with Republicans poised to win multiple seats in states like Oregon and New York, while Democrats in states who are on less favorable political ground could hold out.
It’s a surprising turn of events that’s largely rooted in self-inflicted hurt. The 2020 census meant this election cycle was the first with new Congressional maps, and while Republicans managed to gerrymand many states they controlled to their advantage, Democrats generally failed to make any same.
Likewise, Democrats thought focusing on abortion rights would pay off in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling. Dobbs June decision annulling Roe v. Wade, especially after winning special elections in upstate New York and Alaska. However, in states where abortion rights are protected by state law, the issue did not resonate with voters. Instead, Democrats suffered as Republicans focused on issues like the economy and crime.
Finally, the party loses a number of legislators due to attrition. It’s really no one’s fault — incumbents leave Congress every cycle for a variety of reasons. Some reasons are political: they run for superior elections or lose their primaries. Others are personal: they want to make money privately or are tired of being elected. But first-time contestants always start at a disadvantage. This year, 19 open seats are considered competitive, and the majority of them were previously held by Democrats.
It all adds up to a tough cycle for Democrats. Cook’s nonpartisan policy report rated 10 seats currently held by the party as leaning or likely Republican (and the GOP only needs five seats for House control).
Redistricting didn’t work for Democrats — and that’s partly their fault
Willie Sutton said he robbed banks because “that’s where the money is”. The blue states are where the swing districts of this cycle are.
Much of this is due to the fact that the districts of many of these states are not gerrymandered. While many Democrats have been strong supporters of redistricting reform — especially after Republicans used gerrymandered maps in states like Pennsylvania and Texas to cement their control of Congress in the 2010s — it has them driven to political disadvantage in some states, with independent commissions drawing maps in states like Colorado, where Democrats control the governor’s mansion and both chambers of the statehouse.
In Virginia, the nonpartisan process set up by a 2020 ballot measure ended after legal wrangling with two incumbents who suffered under the new cards. As a result, Democratic Representative Elaine Luria was placed in a more Republican district, and Democratic Representative Abigail Spanberger’s district became more Democratic, even though much of it was territory she had not previously represented.
In New York and Maryland, lawsuits against partisan gerrymanders have hurt Democrats. In Maryland, a legal battle saw Republican Rep. Andy Harris secure a secure seat and Democratic Rep. David Trone face a competitive race. In New York, a court loss spelled disaster for Democrats. A carefully crafted gerrymander that would have given Democrats 22 of the state’s 26 congressional seats was thrown out of court, and a replacement card drawn by a special master created chaos, pitting incumbents against each other in primaries and creating a multitude of competitive races. Five state congressional seats are currently up for grabs, four of which are currently held by Democrats, according to the Cook Political Report.
By contrast, in Illinois, a state where a Gerrymander was left in place, Democrats are in much better shape and Republicans may end up with just three or four seats.
Republican-held states have managed to have much more effective partisan gerrymandering processes. Republicans are likely to win at least four seats due to gerrymandering in Florida, while in Texas the state legislature backed vulnerable incumbents by preserving a gerrymander that gave the GOP dominance in the delegation of the State Congress.
Abortion wasn’t the quick fix Democrats thought
Tip O’Neill reportedly said, “All politics is local. It’s true this time.
Nationally, Democrats thought abortion access would increase engagement, and in some states, like Kansas, that seemed to be the case. But abortion is a less notable issue in some blue states, as voters feel more content with the issue in a state where legal protections are in place.
Although Democrats in races across the country have pushed for proposals from National Republicans like Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina to push through federal restrictions, the issue has proven less effective in motivating voters in states. blue.
It has been salient in places where abortion rights are under threat. In Kansas, where voters rejected a ballot question that would allow the state legislature to restrict abortion, two-term Democratic incumbent Sharice Davids is ahead by 15 points, according to a Siena poll. College and the New York Times, in a district. which Trump won in 2016.
But that doesn’t help candidates like New York Governor Kathy Hochul.
In New York, as in other states, concerns about rising crime are helping Republican gubernatorial hopeful Lee Zeldin lead the ticket against Hochul. The incumbent Democrat, who became governor after Andrew Cuomo resigned, has had a lackluster campaign and has only recently begun to refocus her campaign on tackling crime and public safety. Zeldin’s strong showing is helping improve the fortunes of Republican candidates running outside of New York, Long Island and upstate.
A similar scenario is playing out in Oregon, where Republican Christine Drazan is neck and neck with Democrat Tina Kotek in a state where incumbent Democratic Governor Kate Brown’s inability to tackle rising crime and homelessness in Portland became a key campaign issue.
Democrats have a shortage of incumbents
One of the benefits of incumbent is that Democrats in more competitive seats are better candidates and better prepared for tough races. Incumbents like Rep. Matt Cartwright in northeast Pennsylvania or Jared Golden in Maine can’t be caught napping because every campaign is competitive for them, regardless of the national political environment. Democrats face particularly tough races in tight districts this year thanks to recent history. Republicans overturned 14 seats held by Democrats in 2020, picking up some of the lowest fruit in red states like Utah and South Carolina.
By contrast, many opportunities for Republicans in blue states arise in open seats like the two in Long Island or the three in Oregon. Democrats in these races lack the incumbents’ built-in advantage to run for Congress — high name identity, big war chests and an easy primary. That left them more susceptible to negative publicity from their GOP opponents and to national trends, like rising Republican momentum.
Again, the GOP only needs five seats for a majority. Taking even some of those swing districts open in blue states would put them on the right track to get there.