WASHINGTON - Even though votes are still being counted in Florida and other states from last week’s midterm elections, both major U.S. political parties are turning their attention to the next contest: the 2020 presidential election.
Democrats are somewhat hopeful after winning back control of the House of Representatives and shoring up the vote in key Upper Midwest states such as Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania.
Republicans are celebrating victories over Democratic Senate incumbents in Indiana, Missouri and possibly Florida, though the recount continues in the Sunshine State.
Both parties can take away positives from this year’s midterm results. But there are warning signs as well.
At his post-election news conference, President Donald Trump tried to put a positive spin on the results that left Democrats in control of the House for the first time in eight years.
“This was a great victory for us,” Trump told reporters at the White House. “And again, from a deal-making standpoint, we are all much better off the way it turned out, because I really believe that if the Democrats want to, we can do a tremendous amount of great legislation.”
Republicans believe Trump’s intensive campaigning in key Senate races in states he won two years ago made a difference in defeating Democrats Joe Donnelly in Indiana, Claire McCaskill in Missouri and, if Rick Scott’s lead holds up, Bill Nelson in Florida. A repeat of strong Republican turnout in the so-called Red or Republican states would help Trump’s re-election bid two years from now.
Democrats are pointing to this year’s election returns, though, as a warning sign for the president as he prepares for the 2020 election.
“Republicans lost women, minorities and suburban voters across the country by such margins that it should worry every Republican candidate in 2020 and President Trump,” Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said.
Analysts parsing the results also concluded that Trump was, as predicted, a key factor in this year’s midterms for voters in both parties.
“Donald Trump did very well in Red (Republican) states, in rural places, in smaller cities,” John Fortier of the Bipartisan Policy Center said. “But Democrats really built their victories on the waves of the suburbs, where more educated white voters came out strongly against him.”
Public opinion expert Karlyn Bowman of the American Enterprise Institute also noted that independent voters this year told exit pollsters they supported Democrat House candidates over Republicans this year by a margin of 52 to 42 percent. Independents supported Republican contenders in the previous two midterms in 2010 and 2014.
One challenge for Democrats now is to find a balance between trying to work with the president and investigating his administration.
University of Virginia analyst Larry Sabato said it will be tricky.
“They have got a comfortable buffer (margin), but it is nothing like the Republican sweep of 2010,” Sabato told the Associated Press via Skype. “And if Democrats don’t remember that, they are going to be in power for two years in the House and then Trump will get re-elected and bring the Republicans back in (to power).”
Democrats also won some key governors races in the Upper Midwest, including Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota. And those victories could pay dividends in the 2020 presidential race.
“Democrats broke through in the states where Trump had broken through in 2016,” said Jim Kessler, of the center-left public policy group Third Way. “In Michigan, in Wisconsin and in Pennsylvania, Democrats nominated moderates for governor. They all won in their states. The Blue (Democratic) wall that crumbled in 2016 is being rebuilt again if Democrats nominate the right person in 2020.”
Writing in The Wall Street Journal, Brookings Institution analyst Bill Galston noted that Democrats winning back Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin in 2020 is the party’s best chance of regaining the White House.
But Nate Cohn in The New York Times wrote that while Democrats did better in suburban areas of the Midwest and the country in general, they “struggled to a surprising extent” in the old mining and industrial towns that used to be Democratic strongholds.
In January, Democrats will alter the balance of power in Washington by taking over the House. At the same time, the party also will be looking ahead to 2020 and the complicated and lengthy process of choosing a presidential nominee who will try to deny President Trump a second four-year term.
The race for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination appears to be wide open.
A Morning Consult/Politico poll, taken right after the midterms, has former Vice President Joe Biden leading the field with 26 percent support, followed by Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders with 19 percent, and losing Texas Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke at 8 percent. Fifteen other potential Democratic contenders also are listed in the poll.