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Democratic Midterm Gains Would Alter Trump Presidency

U.S. President Donald Trump waves after a campaign rally in Washington Township, Michigan, April 28, 2018.

U.S. voters head to the polls in November for a high-stakes congressional midterm election in which Republican control of both the House of Representatives and the Senate appears to be in jeopardy. The outcome of the elections could have a profound impact on U.S. President Donald Trump as well, and the president is starting to take notice.

At a recent campaign-style rally in Washington, Michigan, Trump turned up the heat on opposition Democrats: "A vote for a Democrat in November is a vote for open borders and crime. It's very simple," he said.

WATCH: Democratic Gains in Midterms Would Alter Trump's Presidency

Democratic Gains in Midterms Would Alter Trump's Presidency
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Opinion polls give Democrats an edge looking ahead to the balloting in November, and Trump is trying to get his supporters excited about turning out at the polls. "You know what it is? You get complacent," he said. "We cannot be complacent. We have to go out, right?"

The president also told supporters not to pay attention to Democrats who insist they have the House all but won in November.

"We've got to go out and we've got to fight like hell and we have got to win the House and win the Senate," Trump told the audience. "And I think we are going to do great in the Senate and I think we are going to do great in the House because the economy is so good."

Democratic advantage

According to the website RealClearPolitics, the Democrats enjoy a generic ballot advantage of nearly 7 percentage points over the Republicans looking ahead to November. RealClearPolitics averaged several recent polls and found that 45.6 percent of those surveyed said they would support Democratic congressional candidates in November, compared with 38.9 percent who said they would vote for Republicans. Analysts see the generic ballot as a key indicator of party strength heading into the midterms.

Historically, the president's party usually loses congressional seats two years after winning the White House.The losses are usually worse if the president's public approval rating is under 50 percent. Trump's approval has recently averaged about 41 percent.

FILE - Billionaire activist Tom Steyer walks from the podium after speaking at a news conference in Washington, Jan. 8, 2018.
FILE - Billionaire activist Tom Steyer walks from the podium after speaking at a news conference in Washington, Jan. 8, 2018.

Democrats are organizing with help from billionaire Tom Steyer, who is on what he calls a "Need to Impeach" tour around the country with the aim of helping Democrats win back the House in November so they can initiate impeachment proceedings against the president.

"We now know that this partisan fight has become a fierce battle for the soul of America, and we, the people, have to win this battle," he said.

Steyer was in Orlando, Florida, this week and said his political action committee, NextGen America, planned to spend $35 million in organizing young people to vote in November.

Trump front and center

Apart from what appears to be building energy on the Democratic side, analysts said the president's low public approval ratings also leave Republicans vulnerable in November.

"He is at a low level — not the lowest ever, but he is in the 41 or 42 percent job approval range," said John Fortier of the Bipartisan Policy Center, a frequent guest on VOA's Encounter program."He still has the support of his Republican base very strongly, but has motivated many Democrats against him, and we see that in the special elections that have been going against Republicans."

In addition, a large number of congressional Republicans have announced their retirements this year, opening up more potential gains for Democrats. As of late April, 38 House Republicans had announced they were either retiring or running for another office, compared with 18 on the Democratic side. Three Senate Republicans have also announced they are retiring.

FILE - House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin speaks to reporters during a news conference, Feb. 15, 2018, on Capitol Hill in Washington.
FILE - House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin speaks to reporters during a news conference, Feb. 15, 2018, on Capitol Hill in Washington.

Jim Kessler of the centrist Democratic group said that was "a real sign of pessimism. Even the speaker [Paul Ryan of Wisconsin] has decided not to run for re-election. Democrats are overperforming in every race and special election since Donald Trump was elected."

Midterm consequences

For Trump, the loss of Republican control of even one congressional chamber could have enormous political consequences.

"Losing control of the House of Representatives would stop the administration's legislative agenda in its tracks. Losing control of the Senate would stop its appointments in their tracks," said Brookings Institution political scholar Bill Galston. He is a guest on this week's Press Conference USA program on VOA.

From the looks of his recent rally in Michigan, Trump seems determined to spend a lot of time on the campaign trail this year. In certain states and congressional districts, that could help boost Republican turnout in a year when Democrats are expected to flood the polls.

Most political analysts believe Democrats have at least a 50 percent chance of taking the House in November, which would require picking up 23 seats now held by Republicans. Some analysts believe if the Democratic wave is big enough, it could also allow them to wrest control of the Senate away from Republicans, who currently hold a narrow 51-49 seat edge.

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    Jim Malone

    Jim Malone has served as VOA’s National correspondent covering U.S. elections and politics since 1995. Prior to that he was a VOA congressional correspondent and served as VOA’s East Africa Correspondent from 1986 to 1990. Jim began his VOA career with the English to Africa Service in 1983.