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Election 2018: Democrats are confident but there are plenty of stumbling blocks

Democrats are practically giddy about their prospects for taking control of Congress. They see a blue wave on the horizon, and the next 225 days until November 6th cannot come soon enough for them.

Democratic wave

The special election calendar this year has not been kind to Republicans and, after the recent Congressional race in Pennsylvania, every Republican in a district Donald Trump won by less than 20 points is worried. Or, at least, they should be.

In Michigan, that’s all of the districts.

The race in Pennsylvania won by Democrat Conor Lamb seems to have given Democrats a template for winning conservative-leaning Republican-held seats.

There are at least a couple of Congressional candidates in Michigan who fit the profile of national defense Democrats. Democrat Matt Morgan is running in northern Michigan’s First Congressional District. He’s a former Marine Corps officer running in the Republican-leaning district that Donald Trump won in 2016 with 58 percent of the vote.

In the Eighth Congressional District, former CIA officer Elissa Slotkin wants to beat two-term Republican incumbent Mike Bishop.

Flipping districts

Democrats are especially interested in districts with what are called “pivot counties.” Two out of 10 Michigan voters live in counties where voters went for Barack Obama, but then voted for Donald Trump.

Democrats are looking for voters who seem ready to switch parties if there’s a viable alternative. And history certainly suggests the party in the White House can expect to lose seats in the midterm elections.

Right now, Democrats appear competitive in more races than they expected but, in order to actually win seats, they will need the right candidates.

“These individual districts are all… individual. They’re all different, and applying a one-candidate template across 435 congressional districts is asinine,” says Democratic strategist Joe DiSano.

He says, sure, Democrats appear to be on strong footing going into 2018, and moderate Democrats appear to be on a winning-streak, but “I don’t think there are any set rules. I think it all depends on the district and the candidate. But I can tell you the one-candidate-fits-all-districts template is a disaster almost every time.”

History repeating?

There’s a lot of talk right now about the Democrats’ future. A recent op-ed in The New York Times with the headline Should Democrats Embrace the Center or Abandon It? kinda says it all.

Progressives see this as their moment. There are plenty of liberals who don’t want a so-called moderate or blue-dog Democrat as a candidate. They’re Bernie Sanders supporters, for example, who feel like this election is their chance to move the party to the left.

In 2016 we saw Progressives who were so unwilling to vote for Hillary Clinton in the general election that they decided not to vote or they voted for a third party candidate like Jill Stein.

It sure seems like Democrats have the momentum going into November 2018. But, could that same centrist versus progressive come back to haunt the party yet again?

Zoe Clark is Michigan Public's Political Director. In this role, Clark guides coverage of the state Capitol, elections, and policy debates.
Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987.
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