Midterms: Democratic women and Republican populists surge in primaries

June 17, 2018

The Guardian: Midterms: Democratic women and Republican populists surge in primaries

By: Ben Jacobs

In the 2018 primaries, two clear trends have emerged.

On the left, more than 100 women have won congressional contests. Women won three competitive Democratic primaries in Virginia on Tuesday. Women have pulled off upsets in Kentucky, California and Nebraska.

On the right, Republicans have flocked to candidates in the mold of Donald Trump. Two incumbent congressmen have lost and four incumbents have failed in statewide contests. This week, Mark Sanford, once governor of South Carolina, now a congressman with strong conservative credentials, lost a primary for being insufficiently supportive of Trump.

Such results set up an interesting conflict in November, when a tide of Democratic women will meet a slew of Republican populists.

Andrew Surabian, a Republican strategist and former White House aide, said: “I think both parties are being forced to reckon with their respective bases.” He did not venture a prediction for what might happen in the midterms.

Chris Wilson, a top Republican strategist, noted that in an electorate with increasingly few swing voters, motivating the base is inevitably what matters most.

“There are no swing voters left,” he said. “The only way you win an election if you’re down or have a close race [is by] turning out people who would not otherwise have voted.”

Democratic turnout has been increasing – but so has turnout among Republicans. Wilson used Nevada as an example: more than 142,000 people cast ballots in the Republican gubernatorial primary last week, an increase of 25,000 over 2014.

He also pointed out that in key Democratic wins in Republican strongholds, gender was not the deciding factor. Candidates like Doug Jones in Alabama and Conor Lamb in Pennsylvania were able to depict themselves as “a moderate non-threatening candidates”, he said.

Stephanie Schriock, head of Emily’s List, a group that tries to elect pro-choice Democratic women, said: “Democratic voters are looking for candidates who are going to fight for them, fight against the Republicans and this administration … and I think they are in a lot of cases looking for fresh faces.

“When you have a Congress with a lot of men, fresh faces are women in a lot of cases. No one is getting a vote because she’s a woman, she’s getting a vote because she is working really, really hard to convince people. I wish she was getting votes because she was a woman and when that day comes, after 250 years of the opposite, it [will be] awesome.”

Schriock also declined to offer a prediction of what might happen in November. There is, after all, time for trends to change. As Schriock noted, “we’re maybe halfway through the primaries”. Key states like New York, Florida and Michigan have yet to hold contests. What’s more, there have been glaring outliers.

In Nevada, Chris Giunchigliani lost the Democratic gubernatorial primary to Steve Sisolak, after a campaign featuring active involvement from Emily’s List and a stark television ad in which Giunchigliani talked about her experience of sexual abuse. In Mississippi, appointed Republican senator Cindy Hyde-Smith is running well ahead of Chris McDaniel, an insurgent conservative long popular on the Trumpist right.

Nonetheless, the impact of Democratic women and Republican Trumpists is likely to linger past November.

No matter which party holds the majority on Capitol Hill, Democrats will be far more heavily female. Even now, there are more than three Democratic women to every Republican woman in Congress.

The Republican caucus is increasingly populist, pursuing the policies that propelled Trump to the presidency. In one safe Indiana district, the party has gone so far as to nominate Vice-President Mike Pence’s older brother, Greg.

Come January 2019, the bases of both parties will be better represented on Capitol Hill.