This is the third part of a four part series about the results of the 2018 election in the US. Today we look specifically at those results as they affect the House of Representatives.
Some of the races are still undecided as these words are written. But the general picture is clear, and has been the same since late on election day. The Democratic Party has taken back the majority in the House. Thus, the Speaker, and the Chairs of all the Committees, will be Democrats in the next session of Congress; the one that begins in January 2019 and will continue through 2020.
This likely means that Nancy Pelosi will be back as Speaker (though that is not a certainty). What is certain is that the new management of the House will change the dynamics considerably over the next two years, although any impact it might have upon such matters as judicial confirmations will have to be indirect. There was a fair amount of moaning before the vote about how the national Democratic Party had failed to come up with a consistent message other than being anti-Trump. In retrospect, they did have a consistent message, though. It was, “protection for those with preexisting medical conditions.” And it worked for them. Or for enough of them.
So much for the Big Picture. What follows is a discussion of three of the microcosmic picture, three specific district elections that we at Vote.net find especially intriguing. Each of these is, as it happens, the story of a Republican (or “red”) seat that has remained red, though in each case there were twists and turns on the road to that result.
Ross Spano Wins in Florida’s 15th
Though Florida is as I write providing its traditional post-election counting drama, most of the races there did end in clear results. One of these was the race for Congress from the 15th district, consisting largely suburbs stretching inland from the Tampa Bay area.
Ross Spano (R) defeated Kristen Carlson (D), in a district that had gone for Trump two years before by a ten-point margin. Spano’s margin was somewhat smaller, six points, 53% to 47%.
This was a campaign for an open seat because the incumbent, Rep. Dennis Ross (R), who will turn 70 years old at the end of this month, is retiring. Democrats had hopes of picking up the seat, amidst predictions by some of the non-partisan analysts that it was a toss-up. But in the end, the district remained red.
Spano won his Republican primary after engaging in a bragging contest with his opponent, Neil Combee, over which of them was the most ardent and loyal supporter of President Donald Trump. Spano had a section on “President Trump” on his campaign website, and it began with this sentence, “It is hard to express the level of importance of the achievements of President Trump in his first term.”
Carlson, meanwhile, won her Democratic primary by marketing herself as the centrist in that race, the one who could win over swing voters who would be lost were her more leftward intra-party opponent (Andrew Learned) to get the nomination. Carlson was a former prosecutor and a former general counsel for the Florida Department of Citrus. So the stage seemed set for a confrontation between a Democratic centrist and a Republican right winger.
When the general election campaign got underway, through, Spano quickly hustled to the center. The Trump section of his website, with the resonant opening sentence quoted above … disappeared. His campaign focus shifted the education, saying that he was in favor of “more choices” for both parents and students. His campaign issued a statement about how it wanted to discuss “issues that matter the most to the people of District 15, regardless of their party affiliation.” Whether it is because of or in spite of that centerward scurry, it is Spano who will be going to Washington.
McMorris Rodgers Wins in Washington’s 5th
Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R) has represented the 5th, the Congressional District that includes Spokane, since January 2005. Over those seven terms she has become the highest-ranking Republican woman in the House. In 2014, she delivered the Republican response to then President Obama’s State of the Union address
Rodgers, who has an MBA from the University of Washington, is a solid Trump supporter on most issues. She has spoken out in favor, for example, of the Presidential order blocking entry into the United States of citizens of seven predominantly Muslim nations. She has said that order was necessary to “protect the American people.” Such opinions have generally seemed to match the mood of her district.
The one issue on which Rodgers has distanced herself somewhat from Trump is international trade. She has said that Trump’s tariffs are too “across-the board” and that she would prefer a more “targeted” approach.
This year Rodgers found herself in an unexpectedly high-profile race against Lisa Brown (D), the former Chancellor of Washington State University in Spokane, and the holder of a Phd in economics from the University of Colorado, Boulder. Brown focused her fire on Rodgers’ repeated votes to repeal Obamacare, which Brown characterized as votes against the protection of people with preexisting conditions.
Rodgers was thrown on the defensive, conceding that she believed “the federal government should set the baseline of essential health benefits,” even though she had voted to repeal a bill doing just that, and to replace it with a bill that did not.
Brown, meanwhile, distanced herself from the “Medicare for all” proposals of Senator Sanders, essentially arguing for preserving and improving the Obamacare system, and increasing at the margins the percentage of the population eligible for Medicare on the one hand and Medicaid on the other.
Rodgers did won another term, 55% to 45%.
Paul Cook Wins in California’s 8th
Paul Cook has served five terms as the Representative of California’s 8th district, a district covering a lot of the state’s southeastern desert, including most of its border with Mexico. Immigration was, unsurprisingly, a major issue in the primary campaign, one in which Tim Donnelly a “Tea Party” veteran, ran an outspokenly rightward, border-wall promoting campaign. Many observers were surprised that it was Cook, not Donnelly, who received Trump’s endorsement (characteristically, delivered in a tweet.)
Cook and Donnelly came in first and second in the nonpartisan primary, (ahead of, among others Marjorie Doyle, a Democrat and a registered nurse from Joshua Tree). Accordingly, Cook and Donnelly faced each other again in the general election.
Donnelly criticized Cook as an “establishment” figure who is afraid to “speak out against the political correctness that puts us all at risk.” In particular, Donnelly has expressed enthusiasm for a rider that some in the House attempted to attach to the budget last December. This rider would have suspended the admission of new refugees from Syria and Iraq. Cook’s sin of political correctness was apparently voting in favor of the budget without any anti-refugee rider on it.
Cook employed the National Rifle Association to present his own conservative bona fides. The congressman is both a member and an endorsee of the NRA, which has consistently given him an A rating as a legislator.
In the end, the voters were not desirous of going further right than the NRA. Cook defeated Donnelly handily, 60% to 40%.
Each of these three winning Republicans — Cook, Rodgers, and Spano — is a member of the minority party in the new House. Yet each is in the House because she or he is an adaptable political tacticians, and each will help shape the look of the next two years.