On November 6th, 2018, I woke up at 5:30 a.m., drove to a polling place right outside the city of Lexington, and sat down to greet voters, armed with literature, coffee, and butterflies in my stomach. It was the end of a journey that began a few months earlier, as I became involved with the midterm elections in the middle of August, working on the Tim Kaine reelection campaign and the Jennifer Lewis campaign for the House of Representatives here in deep-red Virginia, Congressional District 6. I remember, vividly, knocking on my first of probably hundreds if not over a thousand doors I’d knock on throughout the cycle. I took a deep breath, very, very nervous, and knocked. Nobody answered. Most doors didn’t get answered. Later that day, though, I spent thirty minutes on a porch with a woman, discussing her around 60 years in Lexington, the people she’s known, the issues she cared about most. She gave me a Gatorade – apparently I looked sweaty, nervous, and my shirt was covered in pen marks. She didn’t mention the word “democrat” or “republican” or “conservative” or “liberal” once. She cared about her health care, more than anything. What she, and so many others I talked to, seemed to care about most, was being heard. Everybody in America, if we are to build a healthy democracy and a progressive majority, has to be heard. We need to be willing to defend liberal, progressive values, and we need to be willing to defend and fight for democracy, especially in the era of Trump. On November 6th, for just a little bit, we successfully defended that democracy.
Let’s start with some numbers: we took the house, winning 40 seats. 40 seats. We won the aggregate popular vote by over 8 million votes, the highest aggregate popular vote house victory in the history of the country. There will now be more women in the House of Representatives than ever before, and the overwhelming majority of them will be Democrats come January 21st. Our freshman are diverse and more than willing to push entrenched leadership towards a more progressive agenda, as seen by Representative-Elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez already pushing Nancy Pelosi (who should be elected speaker – but that’s a topic for another day) towards pursuing the establishment of a “green new deal” to strengthen infrastructure and combat increasingly dangerous climate change. On the Senate side, we slightly lost two seats. However, this cycle featured the most challenging Senate map for Democrats in a century, with ten of twenty-four incumbent seats being ran for re-election in states that Trump carried in 2016. One of the nine incumbent Republicans ran in a state carried by Clinton – we took that one, with Jacky Rosen defeating Dean Heller. We also took Arizona and mounted a significant challenge in Texas, giving hope for years to come. The numbers prove it - the blue wave rose high and ran deep.
In Lexington, we won Kaine. We lost Lewis. If we want to understand, however, what we really won over the course of the campaign, it doesn’t just begin with numbers, with seats taken, with chambers controlled or not controlled. It begins with the message. It begins with what our candidates stood for, what they believed in, and how they fought for those policies and values. The reason this midterm election saw the largest margin of victory in the history of midterm elections, in terms of popular vote, isn’t just because of an incredibly unpopular President sitting in the White House. In fact, despite his unpopularity, a President presiding over a strong economy should be able to defend against a wave this significant. However, the reason this midterm election saw that margin, that massive 8 million vote margin, emanates from candidates who told a story. Candidates like Lucy McBath, who ran against gun violence in honor of her son Jordan, gunned down six years ago simply for playing music too loud in his car. Candidates in Virginia, such as Abigail Spanberger, Elena Luria, and Jennifer Wexton, all of whom were highly qualified, inspiring, and flipped previously red districts. Even candidates such as Ayanna Pressley and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, both of whom primaried and defeated Democrats in blue strongholds in a push for more progressive policies. Over 150 Democratic candidates ran without accepting corporate donations, pushing against common knowledge, sometimes winning, and frequently offering inspiration for the future. We won this election not because of unpopular Republicans – yes, it certainly helped, but unpopularity alone does not make a wave. We won because we ran better, smarter candidates with inspiring messages and the determination, we hope, to carry their messages through.
What does this all mean? Democrats now control a federal lever of power. Democrats can subpoena the corrupt people surrounding and working around Trump, ensure that legislation reaching the White House is at least tinged with a note of progressivism, and begin laying ground work for a hopefully progressive House, Senate, and White House in 2020. Furthermore, we took back over 300 state senate and delegate seats and 9 governorships, giving us the power to begin limiting gerrymandering, especially given the upcoming 2020 census, and the ability to put forward state-level progressive legislation while developing a strong, progressive bench that can matriculate into the federal House and Senate. The work done this election cycle, even in races we lost, such as Beto O’Rourke’s, helped to build messaging that works going forward and has established inroads into states previously considered out of reach of democratic control.
There was not a complete rebuke of Donald Trump, his racism, his sexism, his xenophobia, his overwhelming awfulness, etc. The results still hurt, in some cases, because they show us just how far we still need to go. The 2018 midterms, especially with inspiring candidates such as Beto O’ Rourke, Andrew Gillum, and Stacey Abrahams losing, proved that there continues to exist far too many Americans willing to buy into candidates that either promote Trump’s beliefs or are complicit with Trump’s beliefs in exchange for tax cuts, conservative judges, and other elements of their corrupt bargain, both of which present a serious danger to American democracy. However, if I had to give advice, perhaps it’s this: take a deep breath. Take a step back. We won something, after two years of receiving loss after loss after loss, seeing everything we believe in as a coalition eroded systematically, seeing special election after special election, outside of Doug Jones and Connor Lamb, be dubbed a nice little moral victory. The fight for progressive values and policies is far from over. But, to quote President Obama, “better is really good.” During the midterms, our country got a lot better. Whether you voted, canvassed, volunteered, ran for office – however you contributed during the midterms – thank you. We did it.