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Analysis: Beyond the myth and spin, Pennsylvania race forecasts a blue wave

In the aftermath of any election, there is always quite a bit of spin put out on all sides about what it all means. There is also a good deal of myth that develops which have no real basis in fact.

But the incredibly close special election in Pennsylvania's 18th Congressional District, along with results over the last six months in other races, gives us some strong indicators of what might be coming in November in the midterms.

First, Tuesday evening (and nearly every single election in the last half a year) was a very bad night for the GOP and President Donald Trump. This was a district won by Trump in 2016 by nearly 20 points, and it was won in 2012 by Romney by 17 points.

PHOTO: Campaign volunteer Chloe Chappell checks early election results at an Election Night event for GOP PA Congressional Candidate Rick Saccone as the polls close on March 13, 2018 in Elizabeth Township, Pennsylvania.Jeff Swensen/Getty Images
Campaign volunteer Chloe Chappell checks early election results at an Election Night event for GOP PA Congressional Candidate Rick Saccone as the polls close on March 13, 2018 in Elizabeth Township, Pennsylvania.

By all measures, it is a very solid GOP district.

But, after the results of last night were in, the number of vulnerable GOP incumbents in the House increased from around 50 to about 100, according to my own analysis.

The incumbent president’s job approval rating is also a big indicator of what tends to happen in a midterm election.

Right now, President Trump’s national approval rating is 39 percent in the latest weekly Gallup polling. History suggests that this will mean a loss of not only many GOP seats in Congress but could impact governors races around the country as well as other down-ballot offices including state legislative seats.

The GOP should prepare for a large blue wave coming at them in November.

Second, House Speaker Paul Ryan, Fox News and other commentators on cable shows have stated falsely that Conor Lamb, the Pennsylvania Democratic candidate who appears to have a narrow advantage over his GOP opponent Rick Saccone, is really a Republican and a conservative candidate.

He isn’t.

Lamb favors "pro-choice policies" on abortion, he supports Obamacare, he opposed the GOP tax cuts, he opposes cuts to Medicare and Social Security and is pro-union.

PHOTO: Democratic congressional candidate Conor Lamb exits after taking his his grandmother, Barbara Lamb, to vote in Carnegie, Pennsylvania, March 13, 2018.Brendan McDermid/Reuters
Democratic congressional candidate Conor Lamb exits after taking his his grandmother, Barbara Lamb, to vote in Carnegie, Pennsylvania, March 13, 2018.

It shows that the best model for Democrats to win in the heartland is that they can be progressive on many issues, but they must be culturally in line with the district or state. Those two things can go together in a compelling message and candidacy.

Third, because of President Trump’s dismal approval ratings (he is at lowest point of any president at this stage of their term), this is a major anchor weighing GOP candidates down around the country.

This could change by Election Day, but if history is any indicator, that rating is highly unlikely to improve that much in the next seven months.

A year ago I suggested that the best strategy for the GOP to try and stem their losses was to take on the president when he is out of step with the country and hold him accountable for his words and actions which divide the country and don’t move us forward.

The GOP has done the exact opposite of this strategy, enabling President Trump each day.

And the GOP has underperformed or lost nearly every race held.

It is probably too late now for them to implement an accountability strategy in regards to this president. Their enabling has now been baked into the cake. And that is bad news for them.

Fourth, after the 2016 elections, GOP leaders talked about the fact they were going to pick up a net of three or four seats in the United States Senate. This now looks like a fleeting pipe dream.

While the number of Democrats potentially vulnerable in the Senate far exceeds the number of Republican vulnerable Senators this year, the election results show that vulnerable Democrats are in a much more stable position, and the number of vulnerable Republicans has increased.

In the GOP wave elections in 2014 and 2010, no incumbent GOP Senator lost their seats, even in those states President Barack Obama carried in his previous election or re-election. The fact is in a wave election favoring one party, it is very hard to beat an incumbent senator of that party even if the opposing Presidential candidate did well in those same states.

Fifth, there has been much talk that Democrats need more than just an anti-Trump strategy to win, and that they need some broad economic argument to convince voters to support them.

That is only true in part.

Democrats need to enunciate a message that will hold Trump accountable, and that they will do their constitutionally mandated job of being a check and balance on this White House. Don’t run against Trump because you hate him (or worse because you despise people that voted for him), but because you care about the institutions in Washington that once served the needs of all Americans.

They need to couple this with a message of restoring American values again in Washington, DC and looking out for the local communities they represent. It is as simple as that.

Overly complicating the message with a long platform of issue positions will only dilute a fairly clear and concise message.

I gave up predicting exactly what will happen in elections after my wrong prediction in 2016 and because these very disruptive times predictions are in many ways a fool's errand.

I will say this, a large wave is building and the only question is how big a wave it is and if the GOP has a capacity to build a big enough wall to repel that wave.

So far, GOP leaders have had no desire to confront an unpopular president, and while that shortsighted strategy may help them in primaries it hurts them badly in the general elections ahead.