The national media are scaling back their prediction for a Democratic "blue wave" in the 2018 midterms, just as a new poll shows some Democrats are vulnerable this year, and the Texas primaries showed a healthy GOP vote.
Even before those events, some were noting that things might be tougher for Democrats than many believed. Fueled in part by Republican-backed tax cuts that increased the paychecks for most people, Republicans and President Trump have seen their own poll numbers rise, and what was previously viewed as a coming reckoning by Democrats has stalled.
New York Times’ Washington correspondent Charlie Savage said on March 3 it was even possible that Republicans “win” in the midterms, even though the party that controls that White House usually loses seats in Congress.
“A significant factor in keeping the peace [under Trump] has surely been anticipatory catharsis: The widespread expectations of a big Democratic wave in the coming midterm elections are containing and channeling that indignation, helping to maintain order,” he wrote last weekend. “What will happen if no such wave materializes and that pressure-relief valve jams shut?”
The primary race in Texas on Tuesday was seen in its run-up as a potential case study in what may happen in other parts of the country, given Texas’ status as a deep-red state. It drew widespread media attention, but though Democratic turnout was historically high, it fell well short of Republican turnout.
The Democratic candidates drew just over a million votes, according to the New York Times, while Republicans took in over 1.5 million. The Democratic nominee, Beto O’Rourke, got 641,324 votes, while Republican Sen. Ted Cruz got 1,317,450.
After that vote, the Washington Post’s Amber Phillips wrote that “momentum is on the Democrats' side, but no wave is guaranteed.”
On Thursday, the website Axios published a poll that showed “big warning signs for Senate Democrats.” It noted that in 10 states where Democrats are defending Senate seats, a Republican opponent polls either ahead or close to the Democrat in five of those states (though in most of the races, the GOP has not chosen its nominee yet).
The poll also showed that in most states, Trump’s approval rating is 50 percent or higher, which could be a sign that he will not have a negative impact on those state races.
Democrats had seen some electoral success during Trump’s first year in office. New Jersey elected a Democrat to take over as Republican Chris Christie finished his final term. Virginia elected a Democratic governor and red state Alabama filled Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ vacant Senate seat with Democrat Doug Jones in a special election.
Those wins gave rise to a narrative that Democrats were set to sweep Congress in 2018.
Harry Enten at the statistics website FiveThirtyEight said in December that the “Democrats’ wave could turn into a flood” and that the parties candidates “are probably favorites to win the House.”
In January, Vanity Fair said Democrats were “on the precipice of a blue midterm wave.”
“There is a wave,” declared Charlie Cook, editor of the popular politics blog Cook Political Report, in a Feb. 8 appearance on MSNBC.
New York magazine’s Ed Kilgore published a blog post in December headlined, “The Democratic wave is coming in 2018.” Two months later, however, he published a separate post that said, “The coming Democratic wave may be smaller than expected.”
Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this story said the Washington Post story came out after the Axios poll, and that the New York Times story came out after the poll and the Texas primary.