Democrats Weigh In On Party’s Direction, Message and Future

Several Democrats – including a DNC chair candidate, an Obama cabinet secretary, and a potential 2020 presidential candidate – penned a collection of mini op-eds for the Washington Post outlining their vision for the party and its future. All of them are worth reading.

Democratic Senator Announces Opposition to Trump HHS Nominee

Senator Joe Donnelly – an Indiana Democrat up for reelection in 2018 – released a statement today announcing his opposition to Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.), Donald Trump’s nominee to be Secretary of Health and Human Services, citing Price’s position on overhauling and privatizing Medicare in his capacity as chairman of the House Budget Committee.

The fact that a red state Democrat like Donnelly (who is from the same state as Vice President-elect Mike Pence) is willing to do this shows that he (presumably) thinks this is an issue he can run on two years from now. Whether other Senate Democrats do the same remains to be seen, but Price’s confirmation hearing should be interesting to watch for this issue as well as his views on repealing, dismantling, and/or replacing Obamacare.

Democrats Looking Ahead to Governors’ Races in 2017 and 2018

Politico has a good look at the governors’ races coming up in the next two years, and how they offer the Democratic Party’s best immediate chances as a path to rebuilding in the wake of the recent election.

Coming up first are the New Jersey and Virginia governor’s races and statewide legislative races scheduled for late 2017. Candidates in both parties are already moving in these races. I will write a preview/outlook of these states and races in December as a look for what’s ahead in the new year.

Even further down the line are the 2018 midterms. The Senate calendar that year is particularly difficult, and the likelihood of retaking the House of Representatives is slim. However, 26 out of 36 governor’s mansions up for election (or re-election) are held by Republicans. This means that if Democrats can retake some of those states, their party will be in place and in control for the 2020 census and redistricting.

The great unknown right now will be the dynamics of the country and individual states going into those election cycles. Looking at it one or two years ahead, the two obvious factors that will have an impact will be the state of the economy, as well as the popularity of the Republican-controlled Washington DC (President Trump and the McConnell/Ryan Congress).

Lots more on this subject to come in the future.

Ellison Rolls Out 35 Endorsements for DNC Chair

Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) released a list of 35 endorsements for his DNC chairmanship candidacy from elected officials and organizations on Friday.  Among those who signed on: Senator-elect Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), United Steelworkers, and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. This follows early endorsements from outgoing Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), incoming Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)

Ellison is clearly trying to build on his early momentum in an effort to lock down early front runner status. It is unclear as of right now which of the many potential candidates will emerge as his chief challenger(s).

Update: Ellison’s opponents (including former DNC chairman Howard Dean and South Carolina Democratic Party chairman Jaime Harrison) and other Democrats are pushing back on his candidacy, arguing that his responsibilities as a member of Congress (votes, oversight, and constituents) would undercut his ability to do the DNC chairman job effectively. Their argument is that being the DNC chairman is a full-time job, especially now when the party is rebuilding.  They point out Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who was a member of the House of Representatives in addition to being the DNC chair during most of Obama’s presidency, who wound up having to resign from the job in the aftermath of a WikiLeaks email dump last summer.

The Senate Democrats’ Rough 2018 Cycle

These are the senators up for re-election in 2018 – in the case of many Democrats, they are the ones who got elected by riding Barack Obama’s 2012 re-election coattails.

  • Tammy Baldwin (D-WI)
  • John Barrasso (R-WY)
  • Sherrod Brown (D-OH)
  • Ben Cardin (D-MD)
  • Tom Carper (D-DE)
  • Maria Cantwell (D-WA)
  • Bob Casey (D-PA)
  • Bob Corker (R-TN)
  • Ted Cruz (R-TX)
  • Joe Donnelly (D-IN)
  • Dianne Feinstein (D-CA)
  • Deb Fischer (R-NE)
  • Jeff Flake (R-AZ)
  • Kristin Gillibrand (D-NY)
  • Orrin Hatch (R-UT)
  • Dean Heller (R-NV)
  • Martin Heinrich (D-NM)
  • Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND)
  • Mazie Hirono (D-HI)
  • Tim Kaine (D-VA)
  • Angus King (I-ME)
  • Amy Klobuchar (D-MN)
  • Joe Manchin (D-WV)
  • Claire McCaskill (D-MO)
  • Robert Menendez (D-NJ)
  • Chris Murphy (D-CT)
  • Bill Nelson (D-FL)
  • Bernie Sanders (I-VT)
  • Debbie Stabenow (D-MI)
  • Jon Tester (D-MT)
  • Elizabeth Warren (D-MA)
  • Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI)
  • Roger Wicker (R-MS)

Most of these seats are generally safe for the incumbent or the incumbent party. The problem for Democrats is they will be defending more seats this cycle (23, and two independents in Maine and Vermont) than the Republicans (8).  Republicans will likely have a 52-48 majority in the Senate for the next two years (pending on the outcome of the Louisiana Senate runoff election scheduled for December).  If Democrats are to retake the Senate, they need a net gain of 3 seats. This is going to be very difficult because many of them represent states won by Donald Trump (red is solid Republican, purple is swing state, blue is solid Democrat):

  • Baldwin
  • Brown
  • Casey
  • Heitkamp
  • Manchin
  • McCaskill
  • Nelson
  • Stabenow
  • Tester

Heitkamp, Manchin, McCaskill and Tester are particularly vulnerable because of the states they represent, so out of self-preservation they may vote for Trump nominees and legislation to save face back home.  The other states are traditionally Democratic, but given that Trump won them in 2016 and that Democrats tend to have less reliable turnout for midterm elections, they can’t take anything for granted.

On the other hand, the Democrats’ best opportunities for a pickup are in purple or purple-leaning states:

  • Flake
  • Heller

Arizona has historically been a safely Republican state, but Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton here 49-45, probably a closer margin than state Republicans would like. Nevada Democrats – led by the Harry Reid political machine – ran the table and won every race in the state. If Democrats recruit a solid candidate and the Reid machine can put together another performance like they did in 2016, Heller could be their biggest chance for a pickup opportunity.

A lot can happen in two years. The political dynamics, such as the state of the economy, will determine which party benefits. Historically, the party in the White House tends to lose congressional seats during the midterm elections. But right now, two years out, it’s looking difficult for Senate Democrats.

Tim Kaine Not Running in 2020

Senator Tim Kaine told the Richmond Times-Dispatch that he would not run for president or vice-president again, and will focus on reelection to the Senate in 2018. He cites John Warner, the long-serving Republican senator of his home state of Virginia, as the model he hopes to emulate.

This means that the Democratic field for 2020 will be truly open – think the Republicans in 2008 or 2012 with no presidential or vice presidential nominee running for the spot.