With a Week to Go, Two States Explain the 2018 Midterms

After a week that saw a barrage of pipe bombs aimed at Democrats and Trump critics, a historically horrific hate-fueled massacre at a Pittsburgh synagogue during a baby-naming ceremony, the racist killing of two Black people at a Kentucky supermarket by a shooter who could easily have murdered many more people had he succeeded in breaking into a Black church moments before, and the president of the United States trying to erase the 14th Amendment to the Constitution as he marches thousands of soldiers to the US-Mexican border, I believe it goes without saying that we stand on the cusp of the most significant midterm election of our lifetime.

We have seen our fair share of gross and disreputable midterm elections, to be sure. Recall, if you will, the 2002 midterms: The scent of poison smoke still hung over the hole in the sky where the Twin Towers once stood in Manhattan, and here was Karl Rove telling Republicans to “Run on the war,” which became two wars we are still fighting, in one form or another, 16 years later.

Somehow, this feels worse. There is a profound sense right now of a nation trapped in an existential crisis, a vicious confrontation over who gets to call this place home. The siren of inflicted panic blaring from the White House – white people are losing the country! – has ignited the violence of the few against the many. It is the shriek of dying paradigms we bear witness to today – white supremacy, the patriarchy, perhaps even mighty capitalism itself – and no paradigm departs without a bloodletting.

This looming election contains all that, and more. The first Tuesday of November provides the people with their first real opportunity to grade the performance of Donald Trump and his Republican allies in Congress. After two long years of mayhem, here stands a moment to take concrete action and deliver a report card that has the power to cost people their jobs (assuming the voting machines actually work). No more opinion polls, no more angry letters. Nightfall on Tuesday brings a reckoning of sorts, and some very bad clowns could get kicked out of the circus.

In that spirit, then, let us see where matters stand.

As of Halloween, the pollsters at FiveThirtyEight.com put the chances of Democrats taking majority control of the House at 85 percent. Those same pollsters place the chances of Republicans maintaining control of the Senate at 85 percent. The Cook Political Report is reading a similar batch of tea leaves; the Senate seems safe for the GOP, but a “Blue Wave” is coming that will probably hand majority control of the House to the Democrats.

The question then becomes, “How high the wave?” The actions of the Trump administration — in combination with a confluence of history that includes the #MeToo and Black Lives Matter movements, and all with the climate collapsing vividly around us — have unleashed mighty forces into the political slipstream. The degree to which this translates into voter participation is anyone’s guess, but the massive early voting taking place across the country would seem to portend an election with historic turnout is in the offing.

It is impossible to accurately take the pulse of an election where all 435 House seats and a full third of the Senate are up for grabs, but there are bellweathers out there that can serve to tell us what is to come before we get there. For myself, the states of Indiana and Georgia will tell the tale in full when the deal goes down.

In Indiana, Republicans enjoy the fat end of the state’s nine House seats by a score of 7-2. The 4th and 6th District seats are currently vacant because their previous Republican occupants ran for Senate and were defeated in the primary. The odds favor GOP candidates winning those two seats (Greg Pence, brother of Mike Pence, is the Republican candidate in the 6th), but the 9th and 2nd Districts are another matter.

In the 2nd, GOP Rep. Jackie Walorski faces health care company executive and former minister Mel Hall. The district leaned Democratic until Republican gerrymandering in 2010 altered the math, so Hall’s chances are better than most. In the 9th, GOP Rep. and notorious carpetbagger Trey Hollingsworth faces Bloomington attorney Liz Watson in what has become the race to watch in the Hoosier state. Victory is a very hard dollar for Democrats to make in Indiana. We will know the “Blue Wave” is high if Walorski and/or Hollingsworth lose their gigs next week.

The other race I’m watching intently has nothing to do with control of Congress and everything to do with the fate of democracy in the United States. The governor’s race in Georgia has become ground zero for the massive manifestation of vote suppression being perpetrated nationally by the Republican Party.

Democrat Stacey Abrams is seeking to become the first Black woman governor in US history. Her opponent, Republican Brian Kemp, is the sitting Secretary of State, putting him in charge of the election he is personally running in. Kemp has been accused of removing more than 300,000 Georgia voters from the rolls because, he says, they changed residences. As investigative journalist Greg Palast has documented in his most recent Truthout report, however, those people never moved and should still be allowed to vote.

There is also the matter of the 53,000 Georgia voters – predominantly Black – who are being blocked from voting by Kemp because of tiny imperfections in the paperwork. The racist vote suppression in Georgia by Kemp and the GOP has become so egregious that former President Jimmy Carter himself felt compelled to step in.

“In order to foster voter confidence in the upcoming election,” Carter wrote to Kemp, “which will be especially important if the race ends up very close, I urge you to step aside and hand over to a neutral authority the responsibility of overseeing the governor’s election.” As of this writing, Brian Kemp remains Secretary of State in Georgia.

Two states, four districts and one governor’s mansion. Amid the screaming noise and relentless horror of this unprecedented midterm election season, it will be Indiana and Georgia that will show us where we’re at. The former will measure the substance of whatever “Blue Wave” may be rolling in, and the latter will show us just how far Republicans are willing to go to maintain the crumbling paradigms that sustain them.

One more week.