The road to the new Congress begins today in the state of Texas, where voters are going to the polls to cast ballots in the first 2018 primaries for the U.S. House and Senate which will be seated in 2019, as even before today, a number of lawmakers on Capitol Hill had opted to hang up their legislative cleats, and leave their jobs in the U.S. Capitol.
While no members of Congress Texas seem to have a life-or-death primary fight on their hands today, this voting is officially the beginning of what Democrats hope will result in enough wins to carry them back to majority status in at least the U.S. House, as they look to capitalize on their party's backlash to President Donald Trump's election in 2016.
The primary calendar starts today in Texas, and stretches into September, when New Hampshire and Rhode Island wrap up voting with their primaries for the Congress.
So, what might we see in the months ahead?
1. In Texas, some familiar warnings signs for GOP. We have seen it play out in a number of special elections for the U.S. House and Senate since Donald Trump became President - Democrats have had a big edge in enthusiasm about voting. That was true in a number of House races, and was certainly true as the Democrats won an upset in a Senate race in Alabama last December. So far in the Lone Star State, some of the same clues are appearing, as the Democrats are more excited about voting. Think back to the 2010 Tea Party wave, and it was the exact opposite back then, when GOP voters were the ones who would walk over broken glass to get to the polls.
2. Primaries usually don't cause much turnover. While voters go to the polls today in Texas, it would be surprising for the voters to knock off incumbents from either party. In the last seven election years for the Congress, the average number of lawmakers who lose a primary is just five - and that's skewed because of a large number - 13 - who lost in the 2010 Tea Party wave year. Much of what's going on in Texas right now seems to be more about setting up races for November, rather than booting out someone who is already in office. And President Trump has been trying to convince GOP voters that is their best course as well.
3. Change in the House is already taking place. I know I sound like a broken record about this stuff, but there has been a rather constant turnover in Congress in recent years, which I think most people don't think is happening. As of today, 52 House members won't be back in January of 2019 - that's already a 12 percent turnover in the House, and this is the first day of primary voting. The House is averaging a 14 percent turnover since 2004 - that's a lot of new people and a lot of new faces cycling in and out of the Congress on a regular basis. And right now, Democrats think they will be able to defeat a number of GOP lawmakers in November to increase those turnover numbers even more. Here is my current breakdown of where we stand in terms of change in the Congress:
4. Some key special elections also on the horizon. The Texas primaries are just a palate cleanser for the big battle that will take place next week in Pennsylvania, with a special election for a U.S. House seat that was held by the GOP. Recent polls have shown a very tight race - and that enthusiasm gap as discussed above - could play a big role in the outcome of this race in the 18th district of Pennsylvania. President Trump will hold a rally in the Pittsburgh area on Saturday, a reminder of just how important these elections are for his administration. The GOP candidate there is not running away from him, but the Democrat seems to have a lot of momentum. That's next week.
5. Senate turnover much smaller - for now. If you notice one thing from the graphic above, while the House is already assured of a number of new faces in 2019, that's not guaranteed for the Senate, where only three Senators have decided not to run for re-election. There was news about change on Monday, as veteran Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS) announced that he would resign in coming weeks, because of health problems that have obviously plagued him in recent months. That will set up dual Senate races in two states this year - Minnesota and Mississippi - where voters will vote for both a full 6-year Senate term, and then for someone to fill out the rest of an unexpired term. If there is going to be change in the Senate, it will most likely come in November.