Wasserman: Tariffs add to reasons Dems likely to win House
August 6, 2018
TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. — President Donald Trump's program of tariffs on imported steel and aluminum that have led other countries to impose tariffs on U.S. farm products have become one of the five reasons Democrats are now favored to win control of the House of Representatives in the November election, David Wasserman, the House analyst for The Cook Political Report, said here today.
"The tariffs are adding to the GOP's heartland heartburn," Wasserman told American Sugar Alliance's International Sweetener Symposium, a gathering of beet and cane growers.
He said he had been skeptical about whether the tariffs would be important to voters, but realized the issue could have an impact when he gave a speech in Minnesota's first House district, where Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn., is running for governor, creating an open seat that makes the race competitive.
Wasserman said a farm leader told him that the Trump administration's decision to offer $12 billion in aid to farmers hurt by the tariffs is like trying to help someone after you've hit him.
"If you are going to punch me in the face and give me an ice pack, why not just not punch me in the face?" the farm leader told Wasserman.
In districts like Minnesota's first, Republican candidates are under pressure to separate themselves from Trump on the tariffs, Wasserman said.
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"The longer commodity prices remain in the gutter, the less wiggle room (voters) are willing to give congressional Republicans," he explained.
Democrats have real opportunities and can "do well" if they attract moderate Republicans who don't agree with Trump on the tariffs, he said.
Wasserman said the other four other factors in the elections are:
1. This is the year of the angry female college graduate. Only 27 percent of women with a college degree approve of Trump while 72 percent disapprove. Lots of Democratic women are running for office, he added, creating "not a gender gap but a gender canyon."
2. Republicans can't count on Democrats who voted for Trump in the midterm elections. Trump won by winning over white working-class Democrats, but many of them voted for Trump because he criticized Republican members of Congress, and Trump is not on the ballot.
3. Many people who voted for Trump want to create a check-and-balance on the president.
4. The Democratic Party does not have a single leader, which means it is harder to attack the Democrats than if House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., or someone else is perceived as the party leader. "The Democrats can run as anyone they want to be," depending on the makeup of their district, Wasserman said.
If anything keeps the Republicans from "falling off a cliff," it will be the structure of the districts whose lines were drawn under Republican control after the 2010 Census.
Democrats do suffer from the concentration of college-educated voters in a few states, but Republican House members have retired in 42 districts, the most since at least 1930. Races in only five states could deliver the seats that Democrats need to take the House: California, Illinois, New Jersey, Virginia and Pennsylvania.
The Democrats need 7 to 8 percent more votes than the Republicans to win the House, but polls at present show they have that margin.
IN THE SENATE
Just as it will be difficult for the Republicans to keep control of the House, Wasserman said, it will be difficult for the Democrats to gain control of the Senate.
"This is not going to be one midterm election. It is two elections happening at once," he said, explaining that the House will be decided by blue, suburban states while the Senate will be decided by red rural states.
Wasserman said The Cook Political Report sees Democratic Sens. Claire McCaskill of Missouri and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota as the most vulnerable.
Heitkamp, he said, "has to run against tariffs without running against Trump." She is "well liked," but the state has become very Republican, he added.
Democrat Joe Donnelly of Indiana is "probably in better shape" than McCaskill or Heitkamp, he said. Democrat Joe Manchin of Virginia is a "slight favorite" to win and Democrat Jon Tester of Montana is "a decent favorite" because his opponent is viewed as coming from out of state.
Democrats Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin and Debbie Stabenow of Michigan have challengers, but Democrat Bill Nelson of Florida "is probably in the worst shape of the states Trump won," Wasserman said.
A wild card in all the elections is voters' attitudes toward Trump compared with the economy. Trump's approval rating ranges from 38 to 42 percent, a level that in past elections has indicated the president's party would not fare well in the midterm elections. But 66 percent of voters think the economy is doing well.
Sugar beets and sugar cane are grown in 22 states, and Wasserman pointed out that those states could determine the elections.
"You are a constellation from some of the highest-stake states," he said.