Analysis 05-22-2020


Special Elections Give Insight into November Election

Although relatively insignificant, special elections show political experts a lot.  While polls show the leanings of adults, registered voters, and likely voters, special elections show who the real voters prefer.

The other difference is that special elections, although small have an impact.  In Tuesday’s case, they narrowed the Democratic majority in the House of Representatives by one vote.

The Republican wins in two congressional districts were more important in that they both occurred in states that have Democratic majorities – California and Wisconsin.  No doubt, Democratic Party leaders are worrying a bit.

The most dramatic Republican win is in the heavily Democratic state of California.  For the first time in over 20 years, Republicans have managed to flip a Democratic seat to Republican control.

The nationally watched congressional special election in California’s 25th congressional district appears to have gone to Republican Mike Garcia, although mail-in ballots have yet to be counted.  However, Garcia is leading by more than 11%, so his margin appears to be sound.

What is remarkable is that Hillary Clinton won this district in 2016 by 6%.  And, though the nonpartisan Cook political report rated the district a “toss-up,” Garcia’s margin of victory represents a major shift.  It is also the first time Republicans have flipped a California congressional district since 1998.

If the election results hold, Garcia will be the only House Republican to represent a district that Hillary Clinton won with more than 50% of the vote.

The other congressional special election win for Republicans was in Wisconsin’s district 7, where Tom Tiffany beat Tricia Zunker.  And, although Wisconsin went for Trump in 2016, the state is still overwhelmingly Democratic, the Republican won by a margin of 14% of the vote.  The district, which is rural, has started to tilt Republican over the last few years and Trump won handily in 2016.  However, Obama had won the district in both 2008 and 2012.

So, does this mean that Trump is on his way for reelection and the Republicans are set to retake the House?  Not necessarily.  The election is still half a year away and there is the political maxim that, “A week is an eternity in politics”

There are several factors still in play and no one really knows what will happen.

The Corona virus issue is still the great unknown.  While many thoughts that the number of cases and the declining economy would scuttle Trump’s reelection bid, this week’s Newsweek and CNN polls showed Trump with his highest approval rating since 2017.  Not only do voters think that China is to blame for the pandemic rather than Trump, the daily press briefings have given Trump more.

In fact, the CNN poll shows Trump beating Biden by 7 points in the battleground states which will decide the election.  However, Biden leads nationally, thanks to large majorities in solidly Democratic states like California, which does not count in the way the president is elected by the Electoral College.

No one, not even the medical experts know what will happen if the restrictions are eased.  Americans are getting tired of staying at home and the Democratic governors who are pushing for continued isolation are facing more resistance.  Some political commentators have even speculated that the strict isolation policy in California may have helped the Republicans win in California.

Will a surge of new Corona cases as the nation opens cause voters to turn against Trump?  Will the crashing economy cause voters to blame Trump?  Will voters turn against Democrats who want to keep restrictions in place?  No one can tell at this time.

Another issue is apparent Democratic presidential nominee Biden and his choice of a Vice Presidential candidate.  Many Democrats are worried about Biden’s fading mental capabilities and lackluster performance in the last couple of months.  They see Biden’s pick of a VP as a chance to energize the electorate and bring all the wings of the Democratic Party together for the election.

Another issue that the Democratic leadership is discussing – but not publicly – is replacing Biden if necessary.  Biden is losing support due to credible charges that he raped a member of his staff back in the early 1990s.  He is also having problems articulating himself in interviews.

If the problem gets worse, there may have to be a last-minute change in the Democratic presidential ticket. Although Biden has the largest number of delegates currently, Bernie Sanders has a sizable number too.  There are also quite a few uncommitted delegates from states that did not have their primaries due to the pandemic.

How these delegates are picked and how they will vote are big questions.  They will probably be picked at state conventions and their selection may depend on who controls the party in that state.  Democratic governors and senators will have a big say in who is picked and therefore, these delegates will be likely to support the governor’s or senator’s presidential choice.

However, these delegates will not be legally bound to any candidate, which can make the national convention a “free for all.”  It may be the first brokered convention since the end of World War Two.

If it is decided to pick someone to replace Biden, the Sanders delegates will expect that choice to be Sanders – something that the Democratic leadership will not tolerate.  The result might be that the Sanders delegates may walk out of the convention and not support the Democratic nominee in November.

Of course, the biggest determinant of the election is the economy.  A bad economy means the incumbent loses.  A good economy means the incumbent usually wins reelection.

However, this is a different situation.  The Corona virus, which voters may not blame on Trump, has caused the economy to go into a tailspin – a situation that more closely reflects the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Here the dynamic is interesting.  Franklin Roosevelt won reelection during the Great Depression, so the good economy/bad economy theory does not hold in extreme circumstances.

The other issue is that Republicans are pushing for reopening the economy, while the Democrats are insisting that the economy remain closed until the threat of the Corona virus is eliminated.

In this case, the issue is: do you want the economy to reopen and grow or do you want to stay home?

While many seem to want to remain in isolation, providing they can receive more stimulus money from the federal government, the increase in public demonstrations across the nation show that the majority of people want to reopen the nation and economy.

There is also a growing concern about the issue of Constitutional Rights.  As some states try to keep their citizens at home, there are more and more stories about police arresting people for being outside, opening their business, worshiping at church, or even protesting the isolation rules.

One of the governors at the center of this is Governor Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan, who has found herself in the center of the Constitutional Rights debate as thousands of Michigan citizens have protested her strict isolation rules.  As one of those on Biden’s list for Vice President, her political future may very well hang on how American voters view the guaranteed Constitutional Rights of assembly, religion, and petition of grievances.

Whitmer may have overplayed her hand this week.  Last week a 77-year-old barber, Karl Manke, opened his shop despite the governor’s orders.  Despite the revocation of his license and threats to arrest him, he opened the shop, which was then surrounded by armed Michigan militia who were there to prevent any police from arresting him.

However, the county Sheriff made it clear he would not arrest the barber, “Since the Michigan legislature did not extend the state of emergency beyond April 30as required by law.” Sheriff Begole noted his office’s “responsibility to serve and protect the citizens of Shiawassee County and to ensure their rights as described in both state and federal Constitution.”

Later a judge denied the state’s cease-and-desist order against Manke.  And, with it, probably goes Whitmer’s chances of going to Washington as Vice President.

In the end, it must be remembered that there is still a long road to the November elections.  Trump has improved his ratings and it appears, based on this week’s special elections, that Congress may have more Republicans next year.  However, the Republicans’ hold on the Senate is precarious as twice as many Republicans are up for reelection this year than Democrats.

If history holds, however, Trump should win reelection and increase Republican margins in Congress.

Admittedly, the Corona virus is an unknown, although the press briefings are helping Trump’s approval ratings.

The new factor is the shutdown of the nation and the growing issue of Constitutional Rights.  Americans want to leave their houses, spend their money as they wish, return to their jobs, and assemble in crowds or at their place of worship.  Some Democratic governors have probably overstepped their authority, and this may become a Republican issue in November.

But keep in mind that in the world of politics, the next six months is several eternities.