September 14, 2018

Primary Season Comes to An End

Casie Daugherty

With the conclusion of last night’s New York primary for its state races, the 2018 primary season has come to an end. With 53 days until November 6, we thought we would take a look at the results from over the last six months, which kicked off with Texas on March 6. Miss a primary? You can catch up here.

Congressional Incumbents Were Mostly Successful in Defending Their Seats

There were only four sitting members of Congress who were beaten by primary challengers – two Democrats and two Republicans. Reps. Joe Crowley (D-NY-14) and Rep. Michael Capuano (D-MA-7) both lost to women of color, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ayanna Pressley, respectively, who mounted challenges from the left. Rep. Mark Sanford (R-SC-1) was defeated by Katie Arrington, at least in part because President Trump threw his support behind the challenger, saying that Sanford was “very unhelpful” and “better off in Argentina.” Rep. Robert Pittenger (R-NC-9) became the first incumbent ousted when he lost to Mark Harris in May. That race, like Sanford’s race, was colored by accusations of insufficient loyalty to President Trump.

Progressive Democratic Candidates Had Mixed Success

Though there were noticeable successes for progressive Democratic candidates during the primaries, the success of Democratic Socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez being the most high-profile, their overall success is absolutely more of a mixed bag. For every Kara Eastman (who defeated former Rep. Brad Ashford in Nebraska’s 2nd district primary) and Rashida Tlaib (who defeated establishment candidates in Michigan’s 13th district primary), there are House candidate failures in Kansas and Missouri and gubernatorial candidate wipe-outs in Michigan.

Additionally, when progressive candidates did have success, they were often men and women of color. In addition to Ocasio-Cortez, Tlaib, and Pressley, Stacey Abrams (the Democratic gubernatorial nominee in Georgia) and Andrew Gillum (the Democratic gubernatorial nominee in Florida) came out of their primaries ahead of their more moderate opponents.

It is important to note, because some have compared this year’s Democratic primaries to 2010’s Republican ones, progressive challengers were unable to defeat any sitting U.S. Senators. In 2010, Sen. Robert Bennett (UT) and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (AK) were both toppled by Republican primaries, though Murkowski memorably came back to win her seat in a write-in campaign. This of course, does not take into account the defeat of Rep. Mike Castle by Christine O’Donnell – of “I am not a witch” – fame in the Delaware Senate Race.

The Number of Women Running – And Their Success – Surges

In 2018, more women ran for Congress than in any other year: there were 53 female Senate candidates and 476 female House candidates. Those numbers, by themselves would be stunning, but their success rate is just as eye-catching. There will be 22 female Senate nominees and 234 women running for the House on ballots across the country in November. According to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University, Democratic women enjoyed the highest win rate on any group; 52.6 percent of Democratic female House candidates won their races 52.6% of the time, the next highest group was Republican men who won 45.3% of the time.

Women also enjoyed success at the gubernatorial level. The previous record for female candidates was 34, but in 2018, 61 women ran for the highest office in their state. In November, there will be 4 Republican women and 12 Democratic women on the ballot; for Democrats, that number is 25% higher than their previous high of 9 in 2002.

However, even with the success of women during the primary season, even the most bullish predictions in November find them significantly underrepresented. If every woman who is favored in a race or wins a race that is considered to be a “Tossup” by the Cook Political Report wins, women will still only make up 24% of the House; currently they constitute 19.3% of members of the House of Representatives.

President Trump Remains the Single Most Important Factor in the Republican Party

The president’s endorsement seemed to be the single biggest indicator of success for Republican candidates across the country. In addition to helping topple Rep. Sanford in South Carolina, Trump’s endorsement helped propel a number of candidates to victory over opponents who had previously considered to be the favorite. Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-FL-6) capitalized on his endorsement and scored a substantial victory over Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, long considered to be a significant favorite, in the Florida Republican Gubernatorial primary. Trump also played a role in the Georgia Gubernatorial Race, bucking the candidate preferred by many state Republican officials, Trump endorsed Brian Kemp who went on to win the nomination.

Trump’s two most notable endorsement failures are Rep. Evan Jenkins (R-WV-3) who was defeated by Patrick Morrissey in the West Virginia Senate primary and Foster Friess, who lost his primary in the Wyoming Gubernatorial race. The president blamed the latter on his son, Donald Trump Jr., whom he said asked him to do it.

November Will Feature a Lot of “Firsts”

With the ballots now set across the country, candidates who win in November will provide a lot of “firsts” for both their states and the country. Arizona is guaranteed to elect its first woman Senator this year – either Rep. Martha McSally (R-2) or Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-9). Ilhan Omar, from Minnesota’s 5th district, and Rashida Tlaib, from Michigan’s 13th District, are poised to become the first Muslim women to be elected to Congress. If Marsha Blackburn wins her Senate race in November, she will be the first woman ever elected to the Senate from Tennessee.

Lauren Baer (D), who is running in Florida’s 18th district stands to become the first same-sex married member of Congress this fall if she is able to knock off Rep. Brian Mast. Jahana Hayes is likely to become the first African American representative from Connecticut, as she is heavily favored in her 5th district race. Debra Haaland is also likely to be the first Native American woman to serve in Congress, if she prevails as expected from New Mexico’s 1st district.

If either Stacey Abrams (GA) or Andrew Gillum (FL) are elected their state’s governor in November, they would become the first African American elected to that position. In fact, if Abrams is elected, she would be the first black female elected governor in any state.

Whatever the Results, the 116th Congress Will Have a Huge Freshman Class

Without a single result from November, we already know that next year’s freshman class for the U.S. House of Representatives will be the bigger than the last two. In the 115th Congress, there were 56 new Members (including those that had won special elections), and there were 59 in the 114th Congress. In 2018, there are 61 open races due to member retirements, meaning at least 61 new faces come January.

However, with 63 races by the Cook Political Report classified as either “Toss Up” or “Leans,” the actual number of new members is likely to be much higher. It is not unreasonable to believe that the 116th Congress freshman class could equal that of the 112th, where there were 94 new members, the 104th, where there were 86, or even the 103rd Congress, which had the largest freshman class in history with 110 new Members.

These new members – from both parties – will mean new Committee assignments and even possibly leadership changes.