This Is How the Democrats Might Try to Take Back Congress

July 6th 2017

Ethan Simon

After a series of bitter defeats in off-cycle elections this past year—most notably Jon Ossoff's recent loss to Karen Handel in Georgia's 6th district—Democrats are waking up to the fact that they'll need a more coherent message to win over voters come 2018. "We're not Trump" isn't enough.



What do they have in mind?

According to Politico, Democrats are floating the possibility of rolling out "A Better Deal" as the party's new slogan. It references President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's "New Deal"—the set of policies that pulled America out of the Great Depression, established Social Security, and created many labor protections for workers. The Better Deal would focus on infrastructure investment, trade, and the minimum wage, with top House Democrat Nancy Pelosi vowing to raise it to $15 the minute Democrats take office—should they win in 2018.

nancy Pelosi

But the party still seems to be having trouble determining their message.

A poll to decide on new DCCC bumper stickers was met with ridicule over a bizarre lack of a coherent message. The choices listed included "She Persisted, We Resisted," and "Make Congress Blue Again." The last option was simply "I mean have you seen the other guys?"

On Twitter, the National Republic Congressional Committee responded with its own slogan, "We win moral victories, not elections," references the Democrats' recent close call losses. 

Others ridiculed the DCCC for its lack of a clear message. 



What would it take to win back Congress?

The Democrats are only three seats short of a majority in the Senate. (They currently hold 46 seats, but the two independents in the Senate right now—Angus King of Maine and Bernie Sanders of Vermont—both caucus with them). Normally, that would make flipping the Senate pretty attainable but, unfortunately, the map really doesn't look good for Democrats. 

Senate terms last six years, and only a third of the total seats are up for re-election in any given election year. In 2018, there are 33 seats up for re-election, but 25 are currently held by Democrats. That means there are fewer chances for Democrats to win a new seat, and many chances for them to lose one. As Harry Enten writes on FiveThirtyEight, "normally... I push back on the conventional wisdom and argue something like, actually, the 2018 Senate map isn’t that bad for Democrats. But no, it’s pretty bad: Democrats are a long shot to take back the Senate."

US Capitol

Vox breaks it down even further:

"Even more frighteningly for Democrats, 10 of their seats at risk are in states Trump won, and five of those are in states Trump won by 18 points or more. In comparison, only one Republican senator in a state Clinton won (Dean Heller in Nevada) is on the ballot."

It's actually even possible the Republicans can gain enough seats to attain a super-majority—the 60 seats necessary to break a fillibuster. 

What about the House?

In the House of Representatives, terms last two years, meaning every time there's an election, every House seat is up for grabs. Democrats have a chance there—though commentators have varying degrees of optimism.



Why is it an uphill battle?

Gerrymandering. Republicans have so thoroughly rigged the system in states they control (the majority) that it's possible even massive anti-Trump sentiment and political engagement won't be enough to hand the Democrats a win. On the other hand, the party that does not have the White House typically receives a big bump in the midterms. According to New York Magazine, "Of the last 20 midterms, the president’s party lost House seats in 18 (the exceptions were in 1998 and 2002, when presidents Clinton and George W. Bush, respectively, had unusually high job-approval ratings)."

Donald Trump

A majority of the U.S. public disapproves of Trump's performance in office, an advantage for Democrats heading into next year's elections. But an advantage isn't a guarantee, and victory will require a winning message and overcoming some serious hurdles.