GOP's Strong Local Brands Will Block 'Blue Wave'
College football season is nearly here. While fans look toward the season optimistic about their team’s chances of success, at the end of the day, the same traditional powerhouses will most likely face off in the college football championship. Why is this so often the case? Put simply, these institutional programs have better talent, superior brands, loyal followings, more resources, and other built-in strategic advantages that give them a competitive edge before the games even get started.
The political campaign season has also arrived, and there are parallels to this when looking at the midterm elections in the U.S. House of Representatives. Just like the talking heads on sports programs, campaign prognosticators will promote the new rising-star challengers and their races in swing districts. But, those paying attention during the past several cycles have noticed that the same Republicans keep winning in these competitive districts. Why? Because they have developed local, independent brands. They have more money and they have the built-in structural advantage of incumbency and districting.
While cable news networks have been preparing for a “blue wave” this fall, the GOP has won eight of nine special elections so far this cycle. It is important to remember that these races were for open seats, hardly indicative of a wave. Looking at the map for November, even if Democrats were to win back all of the competitive Republican vacant seats, they would still come up short of gaining the majority. On top of that, Republicans are favored in several of these open races and even have a few promising pickup opportunities, two of which are in the state of Minnesota.
Any pathway for the Democrats to retake the House majority will require them to defeat Republican incumbents in swing districts. However, it is precisely these Republican incumbents who have done the hard work in their districts for years. They have superior brands, loyal followings, access to resources and other key advantages.
This talented bench includes congressional leaders like Erik Paulsen (MN-03), Barbara Comstock (VA-10), Mike Coffman (CO-06, pictured at center), Jeff Denham (CA-10, pictured at left), David Valadao (CA-21), Carlos Curbelo (FL-26, pictured at right), and Will Hurd (TX-23). They have cash-on-hand advantages over their opponents and have built-in support among important coalitions in their respective districts. All of these members used their resilient local brands to win these seats in the 2016 cycle, despite the fact that Hillary Clinton carried their districts. In the case of Curbelo, Clinton won his South Florida district by 16 percentage points, yet he won by 13, a whopping 29-point ticket split. Good luck beating him.
Republican incumbents hold a structural advantage with the very makeup of these battleground districts too. There are only nine Republicans in the House representing districts that tilt Democratic, according to the Cook Partisan Voting Index. Comparatively, when we last saw a wave election in 2010, there were 67 Democrats representing Republican-leaning PVI districts.
Democrats still have history on their side. The party that controls the White House loses, on average, 32 seats in the first midterm election. That said, it is difficult to see how the political environment is shaping up to be an anti-incumbent election.
A CNN poll from May indicates that 57 percent of Americans say things are going well in the U.S. today, the largest proportion to share these sentiments since January 2007. By comparison, only 27 percent of Americans expressed similar feelings in a June 2010 poll, right before the GOP wave that fall.
House Republicans unveiled their “Better Off Now” message that makes the connection between GOP policies and record low unemployment, a surging economy, higher take-home pay, and a strengthened military. If Republicans can effectively sell this track record of success, the “blue wave” will fizzle and more Americans will reward GOP incumbents for working to create this booming economy.
So, before fans get carried away with the trendy teams who have cool new uniforms and flashy pump-up YouTube videos, it is important to remember that there is a reason the powerhouse programs continue to win year after year. The same sentiment is true in politics.