Harvard Kennedy Center Analyzes Implications of Midterms on 2020 Elections

As the first snowflakes of the year began to sprinkle Boston’s streets on Thursday night, students and residents sought refuge from the cold and gathered at the Institute of Politics at the Harvard Kennedy School to discuss the results of the midterm elections.

In a lecture entitled “Post Midterms: Looking Ahead,” speakers sparked conversation on election results and offered insights into how the new electoral map will impact the primary election in 2020.

Dan Balz, a senior fellow at the institute and the chief correspondent at The Washington Post, delivered the opening remarks.

“Tonight you are going to find out what really happened and look ahead to the implications of what this very interesting midterm may hold for the future,” he said.

The event featured a diverse array of speakers, including Michael Glassner, executive director of the Donald Trump for President Campaign Committee; Beth Myers, former campaign manager for Senator Mitt Romney in 2012; Stephanie Schriock, president of EMILY’s List, a political action committee that works to help elect female Democratic candidates who favor abortion rights into office; and Amy Dacey, former chief executive officer of the Democratic National Committee and current executive director of EMILY’s List.

Alexander Burns, who currently serves as the national political correspondent for The New York Times, was unable to attend, as his flight was cancelled due to the snow. Maria Teresa Kumar, president of Vote Latino—a civic media organization that seeks to engage the Latino community in politics—was also unable to attend in person, but joined the conversation via Skype.

Rick Klein, current political director of ABC News, served as the moderator for the night and kicked off conversation by delivering raw numbers on voter participation.

“Just nine days ago, we made history,” he said.

A total of 115 million Americans, nearly half of the voter eligible population, voted in the election. This was the biggest turnout in a century, emphasized Klein.

Turning to panelists, Klein posed his first question, directed specifically toward Glassner.

“The day after elections, the president came out and declared it ‘very close to complete victory,’” Klein said. “Really?”

While Republicans held control of the Senate, they lost close to 40 House seats, giving Democrats control of Congress.

“Today and all days, I do not speak for the president—he speaks for himself,” Glassner said. “And I don’t make a habit either of interpreting publicly what he says, so I can’t say that,” he added, receiving a few laughs from the audience.

Glassner went on to warn the audience about the dangers of jumping to conclusions or predictions for the future too quickly and encouraged them to approach analysis from a historical perspective.

“The number of seats lost by a party that controls the executive branch I think was in line more or less with what has happened historically, and the retention of the Senate was very powerful for the Republican party,” Glassner said.

“Our focus, particularly in the last two weeks, was on those contended Senate races,” he said. “We went to 11 states in six days, and nine of those Senate races that we campaigned for were successful.”

Myers echoed Glassner’s warning to not draw any haste conclusions and argued that the Republicans’ loss of the House and several governor seats closely followed the historic norm.

“We have 24 long months between now and the election in 2020, and a lot can happen,” she said. “I don’t read too much into it as far as it being impactful on the presidential race.”

Conversation shifted, as Dacey jumped in to remark on what these Republican victories mean for the Democratic Party.

“Winning back the House was significant,” she said. “Not only for a public policy position or having a balance of power in government, but we won in a lot of different districts where we can organize now, and that will have an impact when you are building a national campaign.

“I don’t underestimate how difficult it will be to run against Donald Trump, and flipping Senate seats in Arizona and Nevada will have a negative impact in the 2020 election, but I think these House victories will have an impact on the map in 2020. It’s a different map.”

Kumar agreed.

“People are paying attention, and young people are paying attention,” she said. “One in six voters were new voters—they were first time voters. When you start looking at the electoral map for 2020, for the very first time we are going to have 12 million more young voters than baby boomers.”

Kumar shifted attention to Texas, which she argues has potential to become a swing state by 2020.

“When folks say that Texas is not in play, I encourage them to think about the fact that Pete Sessions—an 11-term incumbent, who was part of the Republican leadership—just lost,” Kumar said.

Today, Sessions’s district has 11 percent Latino representation, but by 2020 it’s going to bump up to 17 percent, and by 2024 it’ll be around 24 percent. Targeting this new pool of voters is essential for a Democratic victory in 2020, she said.

“The more that the Democratic Party can embrace diversity, not just in what individuals look like, but diversity in modernizing policies, that is what is going to get people excited,” Kumar added.

“But in order for them to win the imaginations of these voters that voted for the very first time, for the next two years Democrats are going to need to differentiate what makes them so different from the Trump agenda.”

Featured Image by Isabel Fenoglio / Heights Editor