Sunday Political Brunch—October 22 - Could There be a “Trump Effect” in 2018?

Sunday, October 22, 2017


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We are just over a year away from the 2018 midterm Congressional elections. While Republicans hold a big lead in the House and a slim lead in the Senate, how much those margins change could be determined by the popularity or unpopularity of President Trump. Let’s “brunch” on that this week:

“Not So ‘Sweet Home Alabama’” – The first indication of a problem for President Trump and the Republicans was the Alabama primary. Trump backed appointed Senator Luther Strange (R-AL) over controversial former State Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore. Strange was the establishment candidate against the rebel Moore. Despite the President's campaigning in person for Strange, the incumbent lost to challenger Moore. This may not be a bellwether nationally because of the uniqueness of Moore’s history in Alabama, but it’s hardly a ringing endorsement of the Trump agenda either.

“Could Alabama Really Turn Blue?” – It’s a fascinating question. Intra-party turmoil is usually a bad sign, even in a state as red as Alabama. Contentious primaries often leave a nominee wounded and broke with a weak opponent for the other side. The Democratic nominee in Alabama is former U.S. Attorney Doug Jones. Some polls show Moore ahead by a comfortable margin, but a Fox News poll this past week had Moore and Jones dead even at 42 percent each. The election is December 12.

“Arizona on My Mind” – Like Alabama, Arizona is a Republican stronghold, although perhaps not as red as its southern counterpart. But Arizona is the home of such Republican legends as Barry Goldwater, John McCain and Sandra Day O’Connor. With that in mind, you’d think that Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ) would be a shoo-in for reelection in 2018. Not so! Former State Senator Kelli Ward (R-AZ) is now leading Flake in most polls, though it is early. Ward challenged Senator John McCain (R-AZ) in 2016, and lost in the primary 51 to 39 percent. Still, she’s a gamer; and many see her as a real up-and-comer in Arizona politics. And, yes, she is endorsed by President Trump, who has a long-standing feud with Senator Flake. After a GOP primary bloodbath, Democrats could win this seat. Stay tuned!

“Obamacare Repeal Times Three (or Is It Four?) – President Trump may not be helping his own cause. Yes, he wants to repeal Obamacare, but mixed signals are not helping him. Right now in the Senate, there is a bipartisan health care reform bill sponsored by Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) and Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN), with 24 co-sponsors (12 Republican, 11 Democrats, and 1 Independent). At first, President Trump praised their work, but then later the White House said Mr. Trump would oppose the plan. The Obamacare repeal will likely be a central issue in campaign 2018 and could affect the outcome in close House and Senate races.

“Almost Heaven, West Virginia” – U.S. Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) remains perhaps the top target of the Republican Senate Campaign Committee. In some ways, that seems counter-intuitive with Manchin the most conservative of Democratic senators, who supports the GOP on many initiatives. Still, West Virginia has gone from predominantly blue state to solidly red on the political spectrum. Plus, the GOP has two solid primary candidates in State Attorney General Patrick Morrisey (R-WV) and U.S. Representative Evan Jenkins (R-WV-3). Various polls show a close race; but in terms of the most recent fundraising period, it was Manchin with $4.8 million cash-on-hand, to Morrisey with $548,000, and Jenkins with $1.2 million. In politics, the biggest war chest doesn’t always win, but it can’t hurt.

“The Ones to Watch” – Aside from the races mentioned, the vulnerable incumbents include Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), Senator Joe Donnelly (D-IN), Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO), and – potentially - Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) and Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH). On the GOP side, Senator Dean Heller (R-NV) could be in trouble in a competitive race.

“Predictions” – Republicans have a big Senate advantage in 2018. They are defending only eight Senate seats, while Democrats are defending 23. Democrats have a statistical likelihood of losing more seats whether people view this as a Trump Referendum, or not. Right now, the Senate balance is 52 Republicans to 48 Democrats, including the two independents who caucus with them. Early this year, I predicted a Republican gain of five seats, but now I am scaling that back to a three-seat gain.

“Why All of This Matters” – Politics is – in part – about manpower and momentum. Despite his failure to get legislation passed in Congress so far with an outright majority, President Trump might have better success if the GOP margin in the Senate grows. But a lot of Republicans who are not beholden to the President may simply choose to go their own way to win in their districts and states. The oddity is that although Mr. Trump’s party could gain seats in both the House and the Senate, he could still lose support for his agenda. That’s unusual.

Are the midterm elections really a referendum on President Trump? To leave your opinion, just click the comment button at

Mark Curtis, Ed.D., is Chief Political Reporter for the five Nexstar Media TV stations serving West Virginia and five surrounding states, as well as the Washington, D.C., TV market.


Related Slideshow: RI Democrats React to Trump’s Budget - 2017

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Gina Raimondo 

RI Governor 

"Rhode Island is making strong progress to provide our people with the education and job training they need to be successful and to expand access to affordable, quality health care to virtually everyone in our state. 

President Trump's budget betrays Rhode Islanders by giving huge tax cuts to corporations and the wealthiest Americans while drastically reducing federal funding for vital programs that create jobs, raise wages, and protect low-income Americans. 

Even as we analyze President Trump's budget in the coming days to determine its specific impacts on Rhode Island, I appreciate the members of Rhode Island's Congressional Delegation for their leadership and advocacy, and I join them in calling on their colleagues in Washington, D.C. to stop the Trump administration from making massive cuts to health care, public schools, affordable housing, and other programs that Rhode Islanders rely upon."

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Jim Langevin 

U.S. Congressman

“In March, President Trump released a budget outline that I strongly condemned for its drastic cuts to programs that help everyday Americans. Unfortunately, the President’s full budget proposal continues these harmful policies by gutting programs that invest in our economy, create jobs and provide crucial assistance to families across the country. 

This proposal slashes funding for education, food assistance and health care for low-income seniors, children and people with disabilities. It makes cuts to worker training, environmental protection, and investments in medical research and advanced manufacturing. These are not mere luxuries, but programs that make meaningful differences in the lives of Rhode Islanders. 

Congress must reject this cynical and misguided budget. Instead, we should work together in a bipartisan manner, as we did on the recently passed 2017 funding bill, to find a balanced approach to funding priorities that will support families, promote economic growth and provide for our national security.”  

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David Cicilline

U.S. Congressman

“If a budget is a statement of your priorities and values, then Donald Trump’s budget shows he doesn’t understand the challenges facing honest, hardworking Rhode Islanders. This is a budget written by the wealthiest Americans for the benefit of the wealthiest Americans. But it’s a setback for the middle class. It makes life harder for anyone who’s trying to punch a ticket to the middle class.”

Donald Trump has already proposed a huge tax cut for billionaires. But the budget he released today says everyone else is on their own. This budget eliminates hundreds of millions of dollars for job creation. It zeroes out funding for workforce training and good-paying manufacturing jobs in Rhode Island. And it makes it even harder for young people to succeed by cutting teacher training, eliminating afterschool funding, and making it harder to pay off student loans.”

This budget does nothing to address Rhode Island’s crumbling infrastructure. It eliminates the TIGER grant program, which is critical to supporting local infrastructure projects like the new commuter rail station in Pawtucket. And it cuts funding for public transit by $928 million.”

And most worrisome of all, this budget makes our towns and cities less safe. It actually cuts funding for firefighters. It cuts billions from the EPA and other resources to protect the water we drink and the air we breathe. And it slashes $978 million from the Army Corps of Engineers – meaning Rhode Island will be less prepared for hurricanes and have fewer resources to protect the quality of our waterways.”

Plain and simple, this is not a budget that any Member of Congress should be comfortable supporting. Along with my colleagues in the House Democratic Leadership, I will do everything I can to reverse these devastating cuts and shape a budget that invests in the future of our country and puts honest, hardworking families first.”

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Sheldon Whitehouse 

U.S. Senator

“This budget is reckless, plain and simple. The President proposes massive cuts to Medicaid, breaking yet another campaign promise. He seeks to decimate the federal government’s central command in the battle against the opioid crisis affecting communities from Burrillville to Westerly. He pursues tens of billions of dollars in cuts to student loans and loan forgiveness programs.

His plan would slash funding for research into life-saving cures; lay waste to endowments that support Rhode Island’s world-class cultural institutions; hamstring the EPA so big polluters can poison our air and water; and weaken NOAA, sapping critical resources for coastal economies like Rhode Island’s. The list goes on.

These senseless, irresponsible choices serve one purpose: to pave the way for tax cuts for the very wealthiest.  The good news is that this extremist proposal will go nowhere in the Senate. I look forward to moving past this political stunt of a budget and working on one the American people will support.”

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Jack Reed 

U.S. Senator

“President Trump’s budget is bad news for Rhode Island because it weakens our economy and places new burdens on families, businesses, and communities across the country. 

The Trump budget takes a less is more approach: less investment in education, health care, transportation and safety for the general public and more pollution, outsourcing jobs overseas, and tax breaks for the wealthy and well-connected.

This irresponsible budget would be a real setback for middle-class families and seniors in particular.  The $800 billion in Medicaid cuts could cause over 10 million low-income Americans to lose their health coverage.  If this budget were enacted, more elderly Americans could be forced to go from assisted living to living on the streets.  That is immoral and ill-advised.

The Trump cuts also threaten federal funding for public education, medical research, job training and economic development. These cuts are counterproductive and won’t achieve real cost-savings.  In fact, they would impede economic growth.

Families with limited incomes who are trying to make ends meet get hit hardest by the Trump budget.  It takes food, health care, and retirement security away from children, seniors, and people with disabilities while adding funds for an ineffective border wall and tax cuts for millionaires.  It eliminates the LIHEAP energy assistance program, Community Development Block Grants, and many other critical, cost-effective programs that have a positive impact on Rhode Island. 

While our military deserves to be well-funded, cutting diplomacy and foreign aid won’t help prevent war.  These are the wrong priorities for America and don’t reflect our core values.

I will work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to fight these disastrous cuts and enact a more balanced, fiscally responsible budget that focuses on job creation and strengthening the middle-class.”


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