What Would a Blue Wave Look Like?

For months now there has been talk of a blue wave in the 2018 midterm elections. We’re now only four days away from learning whether or not that wave will materialize. If Democrats do well next Tuesday, there will likely be months of discussion about whether or not it classifies as a wave. That’s because almost no one bothers to define what a blue wave would look like.

As we watch the returns roll in on election night, there are some things I’ll be looking for to determine whether these midterms qualify as a blue wave. What it mostly comes down to is whether or not the majority of close races (or toss-ups) are won by Democrats.

In the House, if toss-up races went primarily in favor of Democrats, it would mean a pick up of between 35-40 seats for a majority in the neighborhood of 230 (from their current 193). While there are a lot of fascinating races to keep an eye on, the many paths towards that possibility make it difficult to map out a likely scenario, so the overall numbers will be important to keep in mind.

Because of some of my own history, there are two toss-up races in the House that I’ll be keeping an eye on as potential bellwethers of a blue wave. They are in the 1st congressional district in Minnesota where Democrat Dan Feehan is competing with Republican Jim Hagedorn, and the 32nd congressional district in Texas where Democrat Colin Allred is challenging incumbent Republican Pete Sessions.

That definition of a blue wave presents a fascinating potential scenario in the Senate, where most prognosticators are predicting that Republicans will maintain their majority. According to FiveThirtyEight, there are just two toss-up Senate races: Nevada and Arizona. A blue wave would mean a win by both Democrats—a scenario that is very possible. If the remainder of FiveThirtyEight’s probabilities are accurate, that would mean a 50-50 tie in the Senate, with Vice President Pence giving the Republicans a majority.

But a blue wave would turn into a tsunami if Democrats pull out a win in Texas and/or North Dakota. Given the levels of enthusiasm we’re seeing for Beto O’Rourke, a win by him is slightly more plausible.

Finally, a blue wave in governors races would mean that Democrats pick up about 10, giving control of the executive branch to a Democrat in 26 states heading into the all-important 2020 census and redistricting process. We should have some idea of whether or not that is possible as we watch the returns in the highly publicized governors races in Florida and Georgia.

Keep in mind that what I am documenting here is not a prediction of what will happen, even though I think that all of the above scenarios are very plausible. Rather, it is a yardstick by which to measure whether a blue wave materializes. We’ll find out if that happens next Tuesday.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.