January 17, 2018



The salient question going into the 2018 congressional elections is not WHETHER President Donald Trump is unpopular. Recent tracking polls pinpoint his approval and disapproval ratings at roughly 38/55 percent, and have not fluctuated for months. The operative question, however, is WHERE he is unpopular.

There will surely be an anti-Trump rub-off effect in November on Republican U.S. Senate and House candidates. But, as realtors proclaim, it's all about "Location. Location. Location." Just because nationwide polls peg Trump's average nationwide popularity at less than 40 percent doesn't necessarily mean that that result is the same in all of the country's 435 congressional districts. The inclusion of minorities and urbanites skews the results.

Trump's approval/disapproval in minority congressional districts is 15/80, with some undecided. In upscale suburban districts, it's 35/55, in working-class suburbs it's 45/45 and in rural areas it's 60/30. The fault lines of the 2016 Trump-Clinton presidential elections have not much changed: Those who neither liked nor voted for Trump have hardened their animosity; and those who backed him have basically got what they wanted, and aren't about to vote Democratic in 2018. The Republicans' fear is that they just might not vote.

Massachusetts's Senator Elizabeth Warren (D), a prospective 2020 presidential candidate, has been loudly proclaiming that "progressive" voters are "angry" with Trump and the Trump Administration's policies. They can't be angry with the state of the economy, since there is a booming stock market, low inflation, low interest rates, low unemployment and GDP growth over 3 percent annually. And they can't be angry because the Constitution still exists and the 1st Amendment hasn't been abolished, but attempts to amend the Constitution's assurance of "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness - as long as it doesn't offend anybody" isn't catching on.

The "progressives" - which means the Democratic establishment, and all those who have a vested interest in the perpetuation and expansion of government at every level - are angry because they're out and Trump is in. They're angry because Trump is doing what he promised to do, and that includes attempting to undo what the Obama Administration did. They're angry because Trump will be in office for 3 more years. And they have a two-step plan to rectify the situation.

First, focus on the president's numerous and sundry character flaws. Trump is self-destructive. He makes stupid comments and Tweets. He is what he is. "Progressives," to beat him in 2020, must create an indelible image of mis-governance and misconduct. No credit for any accomplishment must be conceded. Misdirection is paramount. With the active complicity of the news media, that drumbeat will continue.

Second, the 2018 elections must result in a Democratic congressional takeover. At present, Republicans hold a 51-49 Senate majority, and a 239-193 House majority, with 3 vacancies. With 26 Democratic senate seats up for re-election, and just eight Republicans, Democrats will have to retain all that they have, and pick up Republican seats in Nevada and Arizona. That won't happen.

In the House, in order to restore Nancy Pelosi to the speakership, Democrats need to flip 25 Republican-held seats, including at least one in Illinois. To be successful, Democrats must configure the 2018 election as a referendum on Trump personally, and make a Democratic vote an anti-Trump vote. It's all about transference.

"Progressives" choose to disremember that 2016 was also all about anger, and Trump won. But they dismiss that anger, as it emanated from those whom even Trump had called "poorly educated" supporters. Their anger, however, is pure, as they are righteous, moral and compassionate. "Good anger" will prevail in 2018. Maybe.

To be sure, there are a good number of Republican congressmen from urban-oriented districts where the 2016 Trump-Clinton vote was close, or where Clinton won. In Illinois, that includes: (1) Peter Roskam (R-6), from west suburban DuPage County and the Northwest Cook County suburbs, who won with 59 percent. (2) Randy Hultgren (R-14), whose suburban and exurban district stretches from northern Lake County through McHenry, Kane and then south to Kendall County near Yorkville, who won with 60 percent. (3) Mike Bost (R-12), from the Downstate East Saint Louis area, which the 2010 census ranked as 65 percent suburban and 28 percent rural, who won with 54 percent. And (4) Rodney Davis (R-13), whose district runs from Champaign-Urbana through Decatur to Collinsville at the Mississippi River, and is deemed to be 48 percent urban 26 percent suburban and 27 percent rural; Davis won by 60 percent.

Each has what is called a "packed" district, which means that the Mike Madigan-run Democratic legislature in the 2011 remap stuffed as many Republicans as it could into as few congressional districts as possible. Republicans did the same in states where they were dominant. The goal was to maximize the number of Illinois Democratic seats. Before 2012, Republicans had an 11-8 delegation majority. After 2012 they were a 12-6 delegation minority, with four incumbents - Joe Walsh, Judy Biggert, Bob Dold and Bobby Schilling - losing, and one district eliminated due to population loss. Democrats created the new west suburban 8th District, won by Tammy Duckworth (D), and the new southwest suburban 11th District, won by Bill Foster (D). They also made the North Shore 10th District much more Democratic by excising areas around Arlington Heights and appending them to Roskam's 6th District, causing incumbent Dold's (R) defeat.

Republicans rebounded in 2014, with Dold ousting Brad Schneider (D) in a rematch by 4,856 votes, and Bost beating an incumbent 52 to 42 percent. It was now 10-8. In the 2016 Dold-Schneider rematch, the Democrat won by 14,900 votes, or 52 percent. It was now 11-7. If Democrats are to retake the U.S. House, they will need a plus-2 pickup in Illinois, and they definitely need to oust Roskam.

In off-year non-presidential elections, like 2018, turnout is generally down 25-30 percent, and, if the incumbent president is marginally or very unpopular, his party loses congressional seats. It's called the "Anger Factor," and those who are the most disgruntled tend to vote the heaviest. In 2010, as a blowback to Obamacare, Democrats lost 63 House seats, but Obama won an easy re-election in 2012 when turnout was higher. With a 2016 Clinton win statewide by 859,319 votes, Roskam saw his 2014 percentage fall from 67 to 59, and Hultgren from 65 to 60, while Bost inched up from 52 to 54, and Davis from 59 to 60.

In 2014 Republicans kept their House majority and won nine Senate and 14 House seats. Historically, 2018 shapes up as a Democratic-friendly year. The question is how severe will be Republican losses. If Democrats win a Senate and House majority, Washington in 2019-20 will be in total gridlock.

In a "wave" election, the swing-and-switch is about 10 percent. That means the out-party's vote is at least 5 percent higher than in the prior election, and the in-party's 5 percent lower. And that means any incumbent who won with 55 percent or less is vulnerable. To beat any of the four Republicans, Democrats will need a 20 percent switch, which means a massive anti-Trump wave, and voters in a mood to punish all Republicans on the ballot. That is far from certain.

6th District: Seven Democratic candidates filed against Roskam, in a district that Clinton carried in 2016. No contender is particularly well-known, but the frontrunners are all women:
Amanda Howland, an attorney who lost 208,555-143,591 to Roskam in 2016, has raised $99,694; Becky Anderson Wilkins, a Naperville alderman, has raised $102,936; Kelly Mazerski, who lost a state senate race in 2016, has raised $419,079; And Carole Cheney, who lost a legislative primary in 2012, has raised $125,254. The leading male contender is Sean Casten, a scientist and engineer, who has raised $277,839. As of the end of 2017, Roskam raised $1,907,921.

Roskam's voting record is definitely conservative and attackable. He supported the Unborn Child Protection Law, which banned abortions after 20 weeks, the No Sanctuary Law, which cut off funding to cities which do not deport illegal immigrants, the repeal of Obamacare, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which was the Republicans' "tax reform" plan, Kate's Law, which increased criminal penalties against illegal immigrants deported but having returned and committed crimes, and the congressional FY18 budget.

The question is this: Roskam won by a 64,964-vote margin in a 2016 turnout of 352,146, having spent $3,213,383. In 2014, he won by an 81,813-vote margin in a turnout of 238,743, having spent $4,079,870. Roskam's vote increased by 48,277, from 160,278 to 208,555, and the Democrat's by 65,126, from 78,465 to 143,591.

The outlook: Both parties' spending in the 2016 Dold-Schneider contest exceeded $5 million, with most going into pricey Chicago market TV ads. With Schneider now secure in the 10th District, national money will flow copiously into the 6th District contest, where Roskam will be painted as a toady of Trump and the Republicans' "extremist" agenda. If turnout drops to a normal off-year 250,000, and even if the current "sexual harassment" environment augments women's turnout, Roskam still needs to be held under 125,000 votes, which means losing 83,000 votes from his 2016 base, and 35,000 from his 2014 base. That is just not going to happen.

Send an e-mail russ@russstew art.com or visit his Web site at www.russstewart.com.