Election Omens: Blue Wave or 2018 Flushes?

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Coming out of the 2016 presidential election, Democrats had reason for optimism about their House and Senate prospects in 2018. In the last 21 midterm elections (starting with FDR’s first term), the president’s party has gained seats in both houses of Congress only twice (1934 and 2002) while gaining seats in one house but not both four times (1962,  1970,  1982, and 1998). On average, the president’s party loses 30 House seats and four Senate seats.

So, are we in for a “Blue Wave,” or for the electoral equivalent of a commercial for blue-toned  water swirling in the toilet?

As I write this, no combination of Republican/Democratic control of the houses is trading at more than 41 cents (of a possible dollar) on PredictIt, where people have real money riding on the outcome.  That’s a bad sign for the opposition.

Democrats are outpacing Republicans on the national “generic ballot,” but each House district is a separate contest, most of them gerrymandered as a “safe” seat for one party or the other. The CBS/YouGov Battleground Tracker, as of early June,  rates the House as a tossup: Democrats climbing from 194 seats to a one-seat majority of 219, but with a nine-seat margin of error.

The Blue Wave isn’t shaping up as a tsunami. Why?

One clue might be the gigantic collective yawn greeting rumors that former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz might run for president in 2020. His centrist “Democrats need to look more like Republicans to win” message — also pushed by the Democratic National Committee versus upstart progressive midterm  primary candidates around the country — just doesn’t excite anyone very much.

A second clue: In California’s June 5 primaries,  five independents, two Greens, and one Libertarian battled their way past the state’s “Top Two” primary barrier and onto November’s general election ballot, from which the “Top Two” scheme was expressly designed to exclude them in favor of Republicans and Democrats (mostly Democrats). Independents come in all flavors, but Greens and Libertarians reliably run from the Democratic establishment’s left on civil liberties issues.

The message: Putting a “D” next to your name,  not liking Donald Trump, and telling scary stories about the Russians is not enough this year.  Traditionally Democratic constituencies are up for grabs because their usual party of preference isn’t offering them anything of substance.

In the short term, Democrats are courting losses that could have been wins. In the long term, they may finally be creating an opening for the third party America desperately needs.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.