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Comparing Republican And Democratic Theories About The 2018 Midterm Elections


Democrats are hopeful about this year's midterm elections. The party that's out of power usually has big gains in a midterm. For Republicans, a strong economy has calmed some of their worries about this year's campaign, but the volatility in the markets this week also shows that's a risky bet. Here's NPR political correspondent Mara Liasson.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: On Monday in Ohio, President Trump tried to explain that in congressional elections, the party in power - in this case, his party - usually loses seats because, he said, their supporters get complacent.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: So what happens is they sort of take it for granted. They sit back, and then they get clobbered because the other people are desperate. And they get out, and they have more energy.

LIASSON: Trump said he was sure Republicans would do just fine. But...


TRUMP: History's not on our side, but it's not because of that word - complacency. You win the presidency, and you take it easy. And then they come and surprise you in the midterms. They call them the midterms.

LIASSON: Trump seemed to be preparing Republicans for losses. And the big question of the 2018 elections is, how big will those losses be? Democrats need to pick up 24 seats to get the majority in the House. Republican pollster Bill McInturff says the GOP still has a lot of advantages.

BILL MCINTURFF: Number one is these are not particularly fair congressional seats. There's an inherent Republican advantage, and that means that Democrats don't have to win. They have to win by a lot.

LIASSON: Meaning that to a certain extent, Republicans can count on the mighty fortress of redistricting. They also have a huge national financial advantage. And then there's the Republicans' secret weapon, the economy.

MCINTURFF: We have some tough political numbers, but it's very different sitting on the best economy in terms of consumer confidence since 2000. Despite the last few days of the market, in general, economic confidence is at a generation high.

LIASSON: The latest polls show Americans are feeling better about the economy. In this week's Quinnipiac poll, a whopping 75 percent of voters said their financial situation was excellent or good. The Republican tax plan is getting more popular. And finally, says McInturff, so is President Trump.

MCINTURFF: Most midterms are a referendum on the incumbent president. Donald Trump defied history by winning the presidency, and that's to his credit. But sooner or later, political gravity tends to affect every president. This is a midterm that's still going to involve attitudes about the president. But when we talk about signs of progress, look; the president's numbers have floated up.

LIASSON: President Trump's numbers are still historically low, but it seems they are starting to benefit from people's feelings about the economy. And the president is counting on that trend continuing. Since the stock market gyrations this week, he's stopped bragging about the Dow, but he's never stopped bragging about the economy.


TRUMP: And wait till you see GDP over the next year or two. Wait till you see what happens to our country 'cause people can feel it.

LIASSON: Democrats have a theory of the case for 2018, too, and it's based on learning some hard lessons of the past. Despite historic trends, Democrats say they have an uphill battle this year. They have to harness the organic enthusiasm that's been fueling high Democratic turnout and keep it going till November. And they have to be a big-tent party.

Yesterday at a House Democratic retreat, former Vice President Joe Biden told Democrats they didn't have to choose between appealing to their liberal multi-ethnic base and reaching out to the white, working-class voters they lost in 2016.


JOE BIDEN: All these so-called racists who voted against us last time out - remember; a black man and an Irish Catholic kid won all those places before. And so folks, let's not rip ourselves apart in a debate that is irrelevant.

LIASSON: Democrats say they also need to avoid another trap. Yes, midterms are referendums on the president. But...

STEVEN SCHALE: I think it's a dangerous assumption to assume that people are just going to vote for anybody because they're angry at Donald Trump.

LIASSON: That's Steven Schale, a Democratic political consultant in Florida.

SCHALE: You know, as we've seen in special elections around the country, Trump has been, you know, one of our best allies in electing Democrats. But that being said, like, you still have to recruit good candidates. You've still got to deliver a good message. And so I do think candidates that base their entire argument on the fact that I'm not Trump do so at their own peril.

LIASSON: Like the stock market, the polls have been volatile, and they may continue to seesaw for the rest of the year. If there's been one constant of the Trump presidency it's that every day is unpredictable. Plus, it's only February. Mara Liasson. NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.
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