The Stew Reporting on government and politics

Election building blocs

Politics | In a midterm election with record turnout, subgroups of voters made a big difference
by Harvest Prude
Posted 11/08/18, 04:05 pm

WASHINGTON—Early estimates show Tuesday’s midterm elections saw record voter turnout, but smaller blocs of voters held the biggest sway on outcomes.

About 113 million people, or 49 percent of eligible voters, cast ballots, according to preliminary data from the Elections Project tracking group. Final voter turnout data is expected to firm up in the coming weeks as counts of absentee and provisional ballots trickle in. If current estimates are correct, they would represent a big jump from the 2014 midterms during President Barack Obama’s second term, in which 83 million people voted, 36.4 percent of those eligible.

Democrats owe their victories in House races to a leftward lurch in the suburbs. Suburban voters ousted vulnerable Republicans such as Reps. Barbara Comstock of Virginia, Carlos Curbelo of Florida, and Randy Hultgren of Illinois.

In a news conference Tuesday, President Donald Trump blamed several GOP candidates’ distancing themselves from him for their losses or likely losses. (Some House races are still too close to call.) Though the president was not on the ballot, most voters had Trump on the brain. A nationwide exit poll by The Associated Press found about two-thirds of voters said expressing opposition or support for the president factored into their decision. Thirty-eight percent of voters said they cast their ballots in opposition to the president, while 26 percent voted to support Trump.

NBC News reported that 41 percent of voters identified their top election concern as healthcare, something Democratic candidates focused on heavily during the campaign. That issue might have swayed suburban women in particular. The AP exit poll found that 6 in 10 female voters voted for Democratic candidates. Men were more evenly split.

Exit polls also found that about 23 percent of voters cited immigration as an important issue. The economy, historically close to the top of the list, took a back seat, with 21 percent of voters saying it was a concern.

Young voters are still failing to show up in significant enough numbers to be a reliable voting bloc. Turnout among voters ages 18 to 24 was 48.5 percent in 2008 and a key factor in Obama winning the presidency. Though youth turnout increased this year, a record mobilization of young voters did not happen. An estimated 31 percent of eligible youth voters (ages 18–29) cast ballots this year, according to the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, compared to 21 percent in the 2014 midterms.

That could partially account for the failure of progressive candidates in competitive districts. Though New York City sent firebrand democratic-socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to Congress, progressive darlings elsewhere, including gubernatorial hopeful Andrew Gillum in Florida and Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke in Texas, fell short.

Fallout from the confirmation process for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh helped bring down a pack of centrist Democratic senators, including Indiana’s Joe Donnelly, North Dakota’s Heidi Heitkamp, and Missouri’s Claire McCaskill. Incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida still trails Republican Gov. Rick Scott by a hair in that Senate race, which could require a recount. But Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, the lone Democrat who voted for Kavanaugh, won reelection in his Trump-supporting state. In many of those races, at least two-thirds of voters said a senators’ yay or nay on Kavanaugh factored into their decision, according to exit polling by CNN.

Looking ahead to the 2020 general election, the midterm outcomes show both parties will have to find a way to court moderate voters and mobilize the traditionally disengaged, even as their bases move farther apart.

Associated Press/Photo by J. Scott Applewhite Associated Press/Photo by J. Scott Applewhite Nancy Pelosi

Madam Speaker once again?

Rep. Nancy Pelosi hopes to again hold the speaker’s gavel in the U.S. House of Representatives after Democrats took control of the lower chamber of Congress in Tuesday’s midterm elections. But the 78-year-old Californian must first convince Democratic newcomers that she is up for the job.

At least three incoming Democratic representatives have said they would vote against Pelosi, and at least eight others have said they oppose her without going as far promising a no vote, according to Roll Call. As many as 30 other incoming Democratic representatives said they were undecided.

Democrat Abigail Spanberger, who unseated Rep. Dave Brat, R-Va., declared she would “under no circumstances” vote for Pelosi, expressing a desire for a new generation of leaders to move the party forward. Critics have also called Pelosi out of touch with the working-class voters the party needs to recruit to try to retake the White House in 2020.

Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, ran against Pelosi for minority leader two years ago and received about one-third of the Democratic vote. But Ryan said he has no plans to challenge Pelosi this time around, and another potential challenger has yet to emerge.

As she works to convince her colleagues, Pelosi can point to her previous four years as speaker, including her role in passing Obamacare, as well as her fundraising prowess and recent sparring with President Donald Trump.

She expressed confidence Wednesday that she can continue to move Democrats forward.

“I think I’m the best person to go forward to unify to negotiate,” Pelosi said.

She received an endorsement from at least one unlikely source: Trump.

“I think she deserves it. She’s been fighting long for it,” the president said at a post-election news conference at the White House, insisting he really meant it and he’d look for common ground with Democrats. “Nancy Pelosi and I can work together and get a lot of things done, along with [Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.] and everybody else that we have to work with. I think we’ll get a lot done.”

Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., who is currently the second-ranking Republican in the House, is favored to become minority leader with the departure of outgoing House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Ohio. McCarthy faces at least one challenger, Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, one of the founders of the conservative House Freedom Caucus. —Anne K. Walters

Associated Press/Photo by Jack Thornell (file) Associated Press/Photo by Jack Thornell (file) Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor in 1982

A spurned marriage proposal

A biographer for William Rehnquist discovered the late chief justice of the United States proposed marriage to his future Supreme Court colleague Sandra Day O’Connor decades before they sat on the high court.

The two dated while they were students at Stanford Law School in the early 1950s but broke up before he graduated a semester early and left for a Supreme Court clerkship in Washington, D.C. While researching a book on Rehnquist due out in March 2019, biographer Evan Thomas found a letter to O’Connor from a few months after he graduated: “To be specific, Sandy, will you marry me this summer?” She said no—she was already dating John O’Connor, whom she would later marry.

O’Connor, who was the first woman to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court, announced last month she had been diagnosed with dementia and was retiring from public life. Her son Jay O’Connor told NPR he was surprised by news of the marriage proposal but added, “Multiple men proposed to my mom when she was in college and law school, and ultimately my dad was the one who was the real deal.” He also noted that Rehnquist and his mother “had a wonderful friendship their entire life.” —Kiley Crossland

Safe and sound

The Department of Homeland Security said Wednesday it had seen no evidence of hacking threats to the U.S. election infrastructure during Tuesday’s midterm vote. Facebook also worked to block accounts—especially Russian ones—created to spread misinformation about the elections, Axios reported. Considering the country is still talking about Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, no news is very good news when it comes to the cybersecurity of the midterms. —Lynde Langdon

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Harvest Prude

Harvest is a reporter for WORLD based in Washington, D.C.

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