Analyst: 2018 election results may be 'normal'
Political analyst Jim Moore says Democrats had a lot to cheer about — especially in Oregon — and Republicans only a little as a result of the 2018 midterm elections.
Moore, who teaches politics and government at Pacific University, spoke at a Washington County Public Affairs Forum on Nov. 19, while ballots were still being counted or recounted in some states.
An exception was in Oregon, where Democrats held onto the governorship for a 10th straight election since 1986, secured 60 percent majorities in both chambers of the Legislature, and prevailed in Washington County as they have not done before.
But even though Democrats wrested a majority from Republicans in the U.S. House, Republicans held onto control of the U.S. Senate.
"When we sift through all of this, this may be a normal election overall, when the president's party loses seats at all levels in the off-year election," Moore said.
"Republicans did not do that badly. Looking at the Senate, even though they had a built-in advantage, they increased their number of seats. It's good news for both, though not what either wanted."
A breakdown of Moore's observations by topic:
"Washington County is now firmly Democratic," he said. "We look exactly like Multnomah County did in the early 1990s."
Washington County was one of just six in Oregon to favor Democratic Gov. Kate Brown, but those counties were more than enough for her to prevail over Republican state Rep. Knute Buehler of Bend.
Moore said the county's Democratic wave made itself evident in two other ways.
Two of the three Democratic gains in the Oregon House were in districts that include the county. District 26, where 71 percent of the ballots came from county voters, unseated Rich Vial of Scholls after one term in favor of Courtney Neron of Wilsonville. District 37, where 36 percent of the ballots came from county voters, unseated Julie Parrish of West Linn after four terms in favor of Rachel Prusak of West Linn.
Neron's majority was 51 percent; Prusak's, 53 percent.
"The election victories for those seats were not overwhelming," Moore said. "But we are clearly moving in that (Democratic) direction and firming up in that direction."
Moore said two Hillsboro-area House seats and the Senate seat won by Democrat Chuck Riley of Hillsboro in 2014 have now become solidly Democratic.
Of 21 legislative seats that cover parts of Washington County, Moore said, Republicans now hold only four — House districts 24 and 25, the latter with just a single precinct in the county, and Senate districts 12 and 13.
The other part of the wave was evident in the race between Commissioner Bob Terry and Metro Councilor Kathryn Harrington to lead the Washington County board. Harrington won with 58 percent.
"This was a nonpartisan race. Yet both of them identified as the Republican and the Democrat — and we have not seen that in a big way before." Moore said.
"As Washington County has become more Democratic, we have continued to vote for Republicans to serve as county chair and on the county commission. But this was a pretty partisan nonpartisan race."
"Bob Terry ran a nasty campaign at the end. You could tell he was panicking. The result was that he got creamed. The Democrats clearly turned out and voted for Harrington."
The contest between Brown and Buehler was a rematch of 2012, when Brown won a second term as secretary of state, 51.3 percent to 43.2 percent. On Nov. 6, Brown won 50.1 percent for a full four-year term as governor, Buehler 43.7 percent. Total ballot returns were comparable to 2012.
Six years ago, they raised a total of $3 million, but this time, their total will set a record $39 million in a race for governor.
"What on earth did they get for the extra $36 million? Lots of TV ads, but did they move anybody? All that money did not move people very much from six years ago," Moore said.
"With all those new voters coming in, it's basically the same result."
Although Oregon's ballot return rate Nov. 6 was around 70 percent — the same as in 2014 — Moore said automatic voter registration has swelled Oregon's numbers so that the total of 1.9 million ballots cast was just 100,000 shy of the record set in the 2016 presidential election.
What Brown will do with her mandate isn't clear from the television ads aired during the campaign, Moore said, although Brown and the newly enlarged Democratic legislative majorities will face budget-balancing challenges in 2019.
"Each tried to define the other person as evil. It was entertaining, but we did not get a sense of what they were going to do," he said. "We were getting messages about the problems with the other candidate."
Donald Trump was not on any ballot, but the Republican who won the presidency in an upset in 2016 sought to make the midterm election a referendum on him.
Moore said the political party that controls the White House normally loses congressional seats in the first midterm election — in the past 90 years, that pattern was broken only in 1934 and 2002 — and Democrats managed to gain 40 seats to win their first majority in the U.S. House in eight years.
Republicans kept their majority in the Senate, where they had to defend nine seats against 26 by Democrats. The GOP gained Democratic seats in Florida, Indiana, Missouri and North Dakota, but Democrats won Republican seats in Arizona and Nevada. (An appointed Republican in Mississippi faced a runoff on Tuesday.)
A divided Congress could mean continued political gridlock. But Moore said voters expect congressional Democrats to do more than oppose Trump and congressional Republicans to do more than oppose Democrats.
"They need to figure out what they can come to an agreement on," he said.
One potential issue is how to renew federal spending authority on transportation and infrastructure, which expires in 2020 although Trump's initial proposal went nowhere in the current Republican Congress.
Oregon Democrat Peter DeFazio is in line to lead the relevant committee in the House with its new majority.
"It does not mean Oregon is going to get a bunch of stuff," Moore said. "But it does mean Oregon is going to be at the table as they try to figure out where these projects should be."