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Two Electorates, Two Outcomes

Consensus, bipartisanship could be in short supply

The 2018 midterm showed the divided electorate with its divided outcome. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
The 2018 midterm showed the divided electorate with its divided outcome. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

It’s rare that both parties can celebrate after an election, but that’s exactly the situation after Republicans gained a handful of Senate seats and Democrats picked up around 30 House seats Tuesday night.

Conservatives, white men (particularly those without a college degree) and pro-Trump voters backed GOP nominees, while women (particularly those with a college degree), minorities and younger voters lined up overwhelmingly behind the Democrats.

That translated into a good night for Republicans in the Senate and for Democrats in the House.

Democratic Sens. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Bill Nelson of Florida and Claire McCaskill of Missouri were all defeated, while the re-election bid of Montana’s Jon Tester is still too close to call. Only one Republican senator, Dean Heller of Nevada, lost his seat.

Those Republican gains could well be significant for 2020, since they give the party a bit of a cushion in two years, when more competitive Republican Senate seats than Democratic Senate seats are up.

Democrat Joe Manchin III of West Virginia bucked the Senate GOP tide, but only narrowly.

Over in the House, the blue wave was undeniable.

Republican pragmatists representing swing suburban, politically moderate districts went down to defeat, while a handful of long-shot Democrats — in Oklahoma’s 5th District, New York’s 11th District and Illinois’s 14th District — upset heavily favored Republicans.

Clearly, the House (and Senate) elections were nationalized.

Democrats scored particularly well in congressional races in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Virginia and California.

That will rob the GOP of politically astute incumbents like Barbara Comstock (Virginia), Mike Coffman (Colorado), Peter Roskam (Illinois), Erik Paulsen (Minnesota), Leonard Lance (New Jersey) and Pete Sessions (Texas), who could not survive the toxic Trump brand in their districts.

Governors races were a bit of a mixed bag for the parties. Republicans won the important Florida and Ohio contests, while Democrats flipped seats to get elected to the states’ top offices in Wisconsin, Illinois and Michigan.

In addition, Trump ally and immigration hardliner Kris Kobach, the GOP nominee in Kansas, lost his bid for governor.

Democrats will net about a half a dozen governorships, an unsurprising result given the large number Republicans already held.

For some Democrats and those in the national media, Democratic defeats in the Florida Senate and gubernatorial races, the Texas Senate race and the Georgia governor’s race obviously were deflating.

Those were high profile, symbolic contests, but they were always difficult races for the Democrats.

The broader takeaway is that the midterms confirmed what everyone knew — that the country is split in two, with very red Trump states and a growing anti-Trump, blue electorate centered in upscale suburbs.

According to exit polling, men went Republican by 51 percent to 48 percent, while women voted Democratic by 20 points, 59 percent to 39 percent.

Younger voters ages 18-29 voted Democratic by 36 points, and voters 30-44 went Democratic by 21 points. On the other hand, voters 45 and older split almost evenly between the two parties.

Whites went Republican by 9 points (54 percent to 45 percent), while nonwhites and Latinos went overwhelmingly Democratic.

White women actually went Democratic narrowly (50 percent to 48 percent), while white men went Republican by a resounding 20 points, 59 percent to 39 percent.

White college graduates went solidly Democratic by 10 points, while whites without a college degree went Republican 60 percent to 38 percent.

The national electorate was 37 percent Democratic/33 percent Republican, reflecting strong Democratic enthusiasm and turnout in a midterm election, when Republicans often have an advantage.

Interestingly, independents went Democratic by 12 points, 54 percent to 42 percent.

The House “generic ballot” question in the exit poll gave Democrats an 8-point advantage, about what the better national pre-election polls showed.

First-time voters, who constituted 16 percent of the electorate, went Democratic by a stunning 62 percent to 35 percent.

White evangelicals once again stuck with the GOP. Three-quarters of those voters went Republican, while two-thirds of non-evangelicals voted for Democrats.

Only 44 percent of midterm voters approved of the president’s job performance, while 54 percent disapproved.

The question is now how Washington, D.C., functions with the new partisan realities. While some observers have suggested that the president could now reach out to Democrats with an offer of pragmatism (on infrastructure, for example), Democrats are likely to be skeptical, especially since the party’s base is not in any mood to work with the Trump White House.

Moreover, the 2020 presidential race is already underway, and that almost guarantees partisan maneuvering and rhetoric will raise the temperature in the nation’s capital.

The investigation by Robert S. Mueller III could also become more visible, leading the president to punch back.

The GOP’s success in the midterm’s Senate races is likely to convince Trump that confrontation turned out Republican voters and produced additional Senate gains during the midterms.

That should only encourage the president and party strategists to heat up the rhetoric, not tone it down, during Trump’s re-election effort.

Republicans won a seat or two more than expected in the Senate, and there were a few stunning Democratic upset victories in the House. But overall, election night went generally as expected, with Democrats winning back the House and the Senate map helping Republicans expand their Senate majority.

Those election results confirm the deep division in the country, as well as the passion felt on both sides. That is not a formula for cooperation, consensus, legislative success or measured rhetoric.

Be prepared for another bumpy two years.

Watch: Now That That’s Over (Mostly) Roll Call Looks Ahead to 2020

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