These Democrats flipped House in 2018. 2022 will be harder.
Moments after she flipped a longtime Republican congressional seat in 2018, Iowa Democrat Cindy Axne declared that “Washington doesn’t have our back and we deserve a heck of a lot better.”
Now seeking a third term in one of the most competitive House races, Axne is sounding a similar tone, telling voters she’s delivered for Iowans “while Washington politicians bicker.”
But Axne and other Democrats from the class of 2018 are campaigning in a much different political environment this year. The anxiety over Donald Trump’s presidency that their party harnessed to flip more than 40 seats and regain the House majority has eased. In its place is frustration about the economy under President Joe Biden.
And many districts that were once competitive have been redrawn by Republican-dominated state legislatures to become more friendly to the GOP.
“It was a very different world,” pollster John Zogby said of 2018. “Inflation’s now where we haven’t seen in 40 years and it affects everybody. And this is the party in power. With campaigns, you don’t get to say, ‘But it could have been’ or ’But look at what the other guy did.’”
Many swing-district Democrats elected four years ago were buoyed by college-educated, suburban voters, women and young people shunning Trump. That means many defeats for second-term House Democrats could be read as opposition to Trump no longer motivating voters in the same way — even though the former president could seek the White House again in 2024.
Trump continues to shape politics in a far more present sense, too. He’s dominated the national Republican Party despite spreading lies about 2020’s free and fair presidential election and now facing a House subpoena for helping incite the mob that attacked the U.S. Capitol last year.
Tom Perez, who headed the Democratic National Committee from 2017 until 2021, noted that midterm cycles are historically tough for the president’s party and that — plus grim U.S. economic news — would normally raise the question “are Democrats going to get shellacked?”
Instead, Perez thinks many of the toughest congressional races remain close because of the strength of Democrats elected four years ago.
“All these folks from the Class of ’18, what they have in common is they’re really incredibly competent, accomplished and they’ve earned the trust of voters in their districts across the ideological spectrum,” said Perez, co-chair of the super PAC American Bridge 21st Century. “That, to me, is why we have a chance here, not withstanding the headwinds of the moment, is that incredible combination of candidate quality contrasted with the extreme views of the people who are running against them.”