Progressives Standing in the Way of the Blue Wave

As we approach the November elections there has been a lot of discussion about a “blue wave” coming to Congress. What proponents of this theory often reference is the idea of the “presidential penalty”—voters voting against the president’s party in the midterm election cycle. This “penalty” can be seen in recent history with losses of 69 seats in 2010 for Democrats under the Obama administration, Republicans losing 36 in 2006 under the second term of the Bush administration, and most memorably, the Gingrich revolution of 1994 when Democrats lost 60 seats under the Clinton administration. When applying this theory to the 2018 election cycle, many believe it will appear by flipping the House from Republican to Democratic leadership, as Democrats only need to pick up 23 of the 435 seats to gain control. 

While 23 is the magic number for foiling the Republicans’ administrative agenda for 2019 and 2020, a big factor stands in the way: Progressives.

Nebraska’s Second Congressional District is a prime example of where Progressives may lose the House for Democrats. This district is represented by one-term Republican incumbent Don Bacon, who is considered vulnerable in the moderate, predominately suburban, Omaha district.

Earlier this year, things were looking gloomy for the Bacon campaign when former Congressman and Mayor Brad Ashford decided to rerun for his seat. As a moderate Democrat, running in a moderate district, Ashford could very well have used his middle-of-the-ground stance on abortion and track record of supporting free trade to carry him back to Congress. This stint didn’t last long, however, as Ashford’s hopes came to an end three months ago when progressive political outsider and nonprofit Executive Kara Eastman beat him in the Democratic Primary winning 51.4 percent of the vote.

Eastman, an advocate of progressive policies such as Medicare for All, free college education, and wanting Nebraska to “look to states like California” when it comes to environmental policy, may find it hard to run a successful campaign in a state that voted for Donald Trump by over 25 percent.

The disconnect Democratic candidates have from anyone outside their base may very well squander the structural advantage they have in winning the midterms. While such progressive policies find wide-scale support on the liberal coasts, the Democrats have already saturated this base for congressional seats. Running socialist-minded candidates like Eastman in middle America may prove to be a big challenge in their hopes of winning back the House.

Jack Campbell is an intern at Center of the American Experiment.