WASHINGTON - Democrats flexed their muscles in the first primary voting of the 2018 midterm congressional election cycle in Texas on Tuesday. More than one million Democrats cast ballots in the Senate primary for U.S. Senate, the highest number since 1994, the last time Democrats were able to win a statewide race in a state that has remained firmly in the Republican column ever since.
Republicans also delivered a strong turnout showing on Tuesday. More than 1.5 million voters cast ballots in the Republican primaries, setting a new record for a non-presidential election.
WATCH: Texas Voting Shows Surge in Turnout for Both Parties
The Texas primary voting marked the official beginning of the 2018 congressional election campaign when all 435 seats in the House of Representatives and about one-third of the 100 Senate seats will be on the ballot. This year’s midterm election is fraught with huge political consequences for President Donald Trump, his Republican allies in Congress and opposition Democrats.
One trend already apparent from Texas is a huge jump in the number of women candidates, especially Democrats, who are running for Congress and state offices around the country this year. “We feel like it is time for our voices to be heard and for us to have a seat at the table,” said Democratic congressional candidate Lizzie Pannill Fletcher, who will now face a runoff election in May for her party’s nomination.
Trump is focus
Democrats have made opposition to Trump a central theme in their bid to win back control of the House of Representatives and the Senate.
But Republican voters also turned out in force in the Texas primaries this week and many are standing by the president. “He is doing a lot of good for this country and I hope they see that we have people of all ethnicities here supporting our president,” said Trump supporter Jennifer Drabbant. She helped organize a pro-Trump rally this past weekend in Austin.
Trump is also warning his supporters not to be complacent this year.
“You know, you are sitting back, you’re watching television and saying, ‘Ah, maybe I don’t have to vote today. We just won the presidency.’ And then we get clobbered and we can’t let that happen,” Trump told attendees at the recent Conservative Political Action Conference outside Washington.
Despite a politically rocky first year in office, Trump seems to have solidified Republicans behind him. “The more strongly a voter identifies with the Republican Party, the more strongly he or she tends to approve of Donald Trump,” said Brookings Institution analyst Bill Galston. “And so in a very real sense, I think the Republican Party is now the party of Trump.”
But Trump’s success with his base may have come at the expense of his overall approval rating, which remains historically low. And that is a worry for many Republican candidates. “As the president goes down, the trust and desire to vote for Republicans goes down, and that is a trend that is just quietly building against the Republicans,” said Quinnipiac pollster Tim Malloy in a Skype interview. “They have a very rough midterm ahead.”
Even veteran Republicans like Republican National Committeeman Morton Blackwell of Virginia has noticed the energy among Democrats. “There are signs that the Democrats as a movement rather than as a party are doing, I think, more than Republicans are doing to generate grass roots support.”
In another sign of what could be a Democratic surge this year, several Republicans have already decided to retire from Congress. “There are many members who are retiring because of what the political landscape looks like,” said John Hudak of Brookings. “There are many more targets among Republican-held seats than Democratic-held seats.”
Democratic victories in November could stall Trump’s agenda in Congress, setting the stage for a difficult two years for the president leading up to the next presidential election in 2020.
Republicans are hoping to confound history in this year’s elections. The president’s party loses an average of 30 seats in a midterm election, and that number can go higher if the president’s approval rating is below 50 percent. Of late, Trump’s approval has averaged about 40 percent.
Democrats need a gain of 24 seats to retake control of the House, and a pickup of two Senate seats to reclaim a majority in that body.