Three contested US House races in Washington that will be decided on Tuesday could punctuate a national Democratic blue wave or confirm continuing control of Congress by Republicans.
Flipping control of the House has emerged as a major storyline of the 2018 midterm election. Democrats need a net gain of 24 seats to regain control. More than half of the midterm elections since 1994 have featured a 24+ seat swing. In the 2010 midterm election that produced the current run of Republican control, 64 House seats went from blue to red.
Fivethirtyeight.com gives Democrats an 85.5 percent chance to win back control of the House with the highest probability gain of 39 seats. A Washington Post poll shows projected Democratic voters slightly outnumber Republicans in key House races.
However, elections are like football games. It matters who comes out to play. Voter turnout remains the key, especially in roughly 30 or so swing districts that either a Democrat or Republican has a chance to win.
The three House races in Washington are all in Republican hands.
Four-term Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler faces a stiff challenge from Carolyn Long in the 3rd District, which includes Vancouver and Southwest Washington.
Republican Conference Chair Cathy McMorris Rogers is being tested in the GOP-dominated 5th District in Eastern Washington by a well-funded Democratic challenger, Lisa Brown.
In the open 8th District seat in the Seattle suburbs, former GOP candidate Dino Rossi is trying to hold onto the seat held for seven terms by fellow Republican Dave Reichert, but is being significantly outspent by Democrat Kim Schrier.
Herrera Beutler and McMorris Rogers won election in 2016 with decisive margins in their respective districts, but aggressive Democratic challengers have amassed sizable war chests to contest their re-election this year. As of October 17, Long had reeled in $2.7 million in mostly individual contributions while Brown secured $4.6 million against an entrenched incumbent. In the open House seat race, Schrier has raised $6.1 million compared to Republican Rossi’s $3.9 million.
What makes individual House races – and to a lesser degree Senate races – more competitive this year is the national character of the midterm elections, largely turning on the oversized personality of President Trump. In many ways, the midterm election in toss-up districts and states is being viewed as a referendum on Trump. Trump is campaigning in states and congressional districts where he hopes his popularity and political agenda persuade voters to retain Republicans.
Democratic control of the Senate is possible, but not likely. Of the 35 Senate seats up this year, 26 are held by Democrats or Independents who caucus with the Democrats. Democrats hold Senate seats in Montana, Indiana, West Virginia and Missouri, which are states Trump carried in the 2016 presidential election. Incumbent Democrats in Montana, Missouri and Indiana are trailing or are running neck-and-neck with their GOP challengers. Florida Democratic Senator Bill Nelson also is in a close race with his Republican challenger, current Governor Rick Scott.
Democrats have mounted spirited Senate campaigns against GOP incumbents in Texas and Nevada and they are hopeful to pick up the Arizona Senate seat held by Jeff Flake who isn’t seeking re-election.
If Democrats manage to take control of one or both chambers, the lame duck Congress becomes very important to Republicans. The GOP will likely try to accomplish as much as possible between November and next January when the 116th Congress is sworn in and its majority dissolves.
After January, Democrats would likely exercise their newfound power to halt the Republican legislative agenda and initiate oversight investigations into Trump and his administration. There is some hope a Democratic House and the Trump administration could work together on one big major legislative item – an infrastructure package.
If Republicans retain majorities in the House and Senate, it will be full speed ahead. A new speaker of the House to replace the outgoing Paul Ryan will join Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in tackling several remaining legislative initiatives Republicans weren’t able to accomplish in the last two years.
What About Earmarks?
We’ve heard for months of certain prominent House Democrats intentions to bring back earmarks if they regain the majority in the House. It’s unclear what it would look like, especially with a Republican Senate and Democratic House. Senate Republicans could resist a return to earmarks, but it’s entirely possible for the House to go it alone and Senate Republicans may be forced to go along.
The new earmark system will likely be limited in scope compared to the old process, featuring stricter guidelines and requiring committed local match funding for any earmark project. Several popular grant programs would likely remain, but a return to earmarks would open up federal funding for an array of municipal and public-sector projects that don’t fit the guidelines of existing federal grant programs.