A blue wave is coming. How big, and how wet will Arkansas get?

Alabama, blue waveHistory – both the recent and not-so-recent kinds – suggests a blue wave is coming. The only questions for this column are, how big will it be, and how wet will Arkansas get?

The recent kind of history is that, since President Trump was elected, Democrats nationwide have flipped 35 state legislative seats that were occupied by Republicans. In contrast, Republicans have flipped four seats that were occupied by Democrats.

The latest occurred Tuesday in Missouri, where a 27-year-old Democrat, Mike Revis, was elected in a district outside St. Louis that Trump won by 28 points in 2016. Revis defeated a pro-life, pro-gun Republican.

This was a special election, and special elections can be weird with very low turnout. But there’s also this: So far, 24 U.S. House Republicans have announced they are leaving office, compared to eight House Democrats.

Part of that motivation has to be the fear of serving under Speaker Nancy Pelosi come next January. Nationally, Democrats need to pick up 24 seats to take back the U.S. House, which seems probable, and two seats to take over the Senate. That seems unlikely because they’re defending 26 incumbent seats next year, 10 in states won by Trump. Republicans are defending only eight seats.

What’s changed?

Trump the president is not so different than the candidate Americans elected a little more than a year ago. He tweeted then, and he tweets now. Congressional Republicans are doing what congressional Republicans do – cutting taxes, raising spending, and unsuccessfully trying to repeal Obamacare.

So have Americans really changed their minds so much?

Not really, as the not-so-recent kind of history explains. This year probably will follow a familiar pattern going back many years: The president’s party almost always loses seats during the midterm elections. According to the American Presidency Project, in President Obama’s first midterm elections in 2010, Democrats lost 63 House seats and six Senate seats. During President Clinton’s first mid-term elections, Democrats lost 52 House seats and eight Senate seats. Republicans actually gained some seats in President George W. Bush’s first midterms, but in his second midterms, Democrats gained big.

The midterms are about who’s motivated to go to the polls. The voters whose candidate lost the presidential race are more motivated two years later than the voters whose presidential candidate won.

It’s far too early to know if November will bring a blue tidal wave nationally or just a sloshing. There were four races in Missouri, all involving Republican seats, and the Republicans won three of them. Missouri’s Republican governor is involved in a major sex scandal, which surely affected the outcome. Trump’s approval ratings have inched up, and there’s plenty of time between now and November for Democrats to mess this up.

What about Arkansas?

As for Arkansas, the state will see four special elections in the next few months for legislative seats currently held by Republicans. Three are set for May 22 – for senators representing the Russellville and Cabot areas and a House member representing a district that includes Marshall in north-central Arkansas. The party primaries for those races are Tuesday. Gov. Asa Hutchinson has not set the election date for a fourth open seat, Senate District 8 in the Fort Smith area.

It seems hard to imagine Democrats winning any of those races, but again, special elections are weird and based on who’s motivated to vote. If Democrats outperform, it might signal they have a chance to close the gap a little bit in the state House and Senate and put a little scare in the state’s only halfway vulnerable Republican congressman, U.S. Rep. French Hill. Three Democrats have announced they are running against him – including, on Monday, state Rep. Clarke Tucker, D-Little Rock.

If I were a betting man, and I’m not, I’d put my money on Republicans holding onto all of the statewide and congressional offices and just about all of the legislative seats they have now. They’ll also pick up seats at the county level, where Democrats still hold the majority of offices after dominating state politics for a century and a half.

But Arkansas will still get wet when Democrats win back the U.S. House, and its four Republican congressmen have to get used to saying “Speaker Pelosi” again.

By Steve Brawner

© 2018 by Steve Brawner Communications, Inc.

Is your organization looking for a speaker to talk about what’s happening in state or national politics? Steve Brawner is a syndicated columnist who appears in 10 newspapers and is a regular guest on AETN’s “Arkansas Week.” He’s cheap but not free.

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