A post-mortem of the 2018 Midterm Election

Dan Morain moderates panelists Paul Mitchell, Rose Kapolczynski, Rob Stutzman, Cynthia Bryant, Parke Skelton, Katie Merrill in a conversation on the hyped “Blue Wave.”  Photo by Scott Duncan, courtesy of Capitol Weekly.

Dan Morain moderates panelists Paul Mitchell, Rose Kapolczynski, Rob Stutzman, Cynthia Bryant, Parke Skelton, Katie Merrill in a conversation on the hyped “Blue Wave.” Photo by Scott Duncan, courtesy of Capitol Weekly.

Two days after November’s midterm election, Capitol Weekly and the McGeorge Capital Center for Law & Policy brought some of California’s top political experts to Sacramento for the conference A Post-Mortem of the 2018 Election. Panelists considered whether the anticipated “blue wave” swept the nation, and the consensus was that we actually saw a less impressive “blue splash.” Rose Kapolczynski, who has more than 30 years’ experience in the political arena as a campaign manager and strategist, attributed the opportunity for a blue movement to President Trump, who seemed to ignore the impact of his approval rating during campaign season, motivating only his core base of supporters and inadvertently driving the all-important suburban vote away from the Republican party.

Suburban Democrats found themselves motivated to give, with what panelist Cynthia Bryant, executive director and COO of the California Republican Party, referred to as a “green wave” sweeping through campaigns in the form of small donations. These types of donations added up to big spending by Democratic candidates, particularly in California. In hot media markets like Los Angeles, Republican candidates may have found their high-dollar competition insurmountable.

The panel debated how messaging can affect voter support, particularly for non-affiliated or swing voters, comprised heftily of white, middle-class Americans. Bryant reported from her experience this year that positive campaign messaging opened pocketbooks at a much higher rate than attack ads. Both sides of the political spectrum found themselves wondering: Are moderate candidates the answer?

In Florida, progressive candidates failed to turnout a majority of voters. Ohio managed to transform from a battleground state into a fully red state. But Democrats saw successes elsewhere. “The Democrats did a masterful job of sticking to the issues killing [Republicans] in the suburbs. That kind of discipline is what you need,” Bryant said. Katie Merrill, partner and national campaign director of California-based political consulting firm Baughman Merill, noted, “Bill Clinton ran persuasion campaigns and achieved success. We need a candidate who can talk to swing voters.” Kapolczynski added that it may be too soon to tell if moderates will win big in 2020, but one thing is certain when it comes to strategy: candidates must mobilize their bases and convey persuasive messages.

Photo By Scott Duncan, courtesy of Capitol Hill.

Photo By Scott Duncan, courtesy of Capitol Hill.

This year the nation also witnessed what Merrill referred to as a “pink wave,” with a record number of female candidates being elected to public office. “This was completely driven by the president and pushed over the finish line by Kavanaugh,” Merrill said. Other demographics are still underrepresented in key aspects of elections. For example, Paul Mitchell of Political Data, Inc. (PDI) noted that Latinos are more reluctant to turn out to vote on Election Day, with the number of Latino voters being disproportionate to the size of their population. He speculated that age and frequent relocation may be factors, with Latinos moving 30% more than the average American between the ages of 18-28.

Looking forward to 2020, the panelists didn’t conclude that either moderate or independent candidates are the answer to voter motivation. Perhaps we’ll see a third party led by Michael Bloomberg on the ballot (Merrill pointed out that Bloomberg spent time in San Francisco this year touting his experience on both sides of the aisle). Perhaps we’ll find out just what “moderation” really means when it comes to both a candidate’s temperament and policies. The struggle to win the ballot remains an evolving process, and the panelists agreed that efforts like increasing access to voting-by-mail across the state and country are necessary and overdue. Only time will tell if these efforts can continue to attract and sustain voter participation and if the blue splash will transform into a wave after all.