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Sunday Political Brunch—October 22 - Could There be a “Trump Effect” in 2018?

Sunday, October 22, 2017


We are just over a year away from the 2018 midterm Congressional elections. While Republicans hold a big lead in the House and a slim lead in the Senate, how much those margins change could be determined by the popularity or unpopularity of President Trump. Let’s “brunch” on that this week:

“Not So ‘Sweet Home Alabama’” – The first indication of a problem for President Trump and the Republicans was the Alabama primary. Trump backed appointed Senator Luther Strange (R-AL) over controversial former State Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore. Strange was the establishment candidate against the rebel Moore. Despite the President's campaigning in person for Strange, the incumbent lost to challenger Moore. This may not be a bellwether nationally because of the uniqueness of Moore’s history in Alabama, but it’s hardly a ringing endorsement of the Trump agenda either.

“Could Alabama Really Turn Blue?” – It’s a fascinating question. Intra-party turmoil is usually a bad sign, even in a state as red as Alabama. Contentious primaries often leave a nominee wounded and broke with a weak opponent for the other side. The Democratic nominee in Alabama is former U.S. Attorney Doug Jones. Some polls show Moore ahead by a comfortable margin, but a Fox News poll this past week had Moore and Jones dead even at 42 percent each. The election is December 12.

“Arizona on My Mind” – Like Alabama, Arizona is a Republican stronghold, although perhaps not as red as its southern counterpart. But Arizona is the home of such Republican legends as Barry Goldwater, John McCain and Sandra Day O’Connor. With that in mind, you’d think that Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ) would be a shoo-in for reelection in 2018. Not so! Former State Senator Kelli Ward (R-AZ) is now leading Flake in most polls, though it is early. Ward challenged Senator John McCain (R-AZ) in 2016, and lost in the primary 51 to 39 percent. Still, she’s a gamer; and many see her as a real up-and-comer in Arizona politics. And, yes, she is endorsed by President Trump, who has a long-standing feud with Senator Flake. After a GOP primary bloodbath, Democrats could win this seat. Stay tuned!

“Obamacare Repeal Times Three (or Is It Four?) – President Trump may not be helping his own cause. Yes, he wants to repeal Obamacare, but mixed signals are not helping him. Right now in the Senate, there is a bipartisan health care reform bill sponsored by Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) and Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN), with 24 co-sponsors (12 Republican, 11 Democrats, and 1 Independent). At first, President Trump praised their work, but then later the White House said Mr. Trump would oppose the plan. The Obamacare repeal will likely be a central issue in campaign 2018 and could affect the outcome in close House and Senate races.

“Almost Heaven, West Virginia” – U.S. Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) remains perhaps the top target of the Republican Senate Campaign Committee. In some ways, that seems counter-intuitive with Manchin the most conservative of Democratic senators, who supports the GOP on many initiatives. Still, West Virginia has gone from predominantly blue state to solidly red on the political spectrum. Plus, the GOP has two solid primary candidates in State Attorney General Patrick Morrisey (R-WV) and U.S. Representative Evan Jenkins (R-WV-3). Various polls show a close race; but in terms of the most recent fundraising period, it was Manchin with $4.8 million cash-on-hand, to Morrisey with $548,000, and Jenkins with $1.2 million. In politics, the biggest war chest doesn’t always win, but it can’t hurt.

“The Ones to Watch” – Aside from the races mentioned, the vulnerable incumbents include Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), Senator Joe Donnelly (D-IN), Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO), and – potentially - Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) and Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH). On the GOP side, Senator Dean Heller (R-NV) could be in trouble in a competitive race.

“Predictions” – Republicans have a big Senate advantage in 2018. They are defending only eight Senate seats, while Democrats are defending 23. Democrats have a statistical likelihood of losing more seats whether people view this as a Trump Referendum, or not. Right now, the Senate balance is 52 Republicans to 48 Democrats, including the two independents who caucus with them. Early this year, I predicted a Republican gain of five seats, but now I am scaling that back to a three-seat gain.

“Why All of This Matters” – Politics is – in part – about manpower and momentum. Despite his failure to get legislation passed in Congress so far with an outright majority, President Trump might have better success if the GOP margin in the Senate grows. But a lot of Republicans who are not beholden to the President may simply choose to go their own way to win in their districts and states. The oddity is that although Mr. Trump’s party could gain seats in both the House and the Senate, he could still lose support for his agenda. That’s unusual.

Are the midterm elections really a referendum on President Trump? To leave your opinion, just click the comment button at www.MarkCurtisMedia.com.

Mark Curtis, Ed.D., is Chief Political Reporter for the five Nexstar Media TV stations serving West Virginia and five surrounding states, as well as the Washington, D.C., TV market.


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