A Purple Wave in the South

Based on the definition of a blue wave that I proposed, Tuesday’s election results indicate that it didn’t materialize. When it comes to toss up races, it was a mixed bag, as the races I highlighted demonstrate.

House:

KY 06 – McGrath lost
GA 06 – McBath is leading
TX 32 – Allred won
MN 01 – Feehan lost

Senate:

ND – Heitkamp lost
TX – O’Rourke lost
AZ – Sinema is behind
NV – Rosen won

Governor:

GA – Abrams is behind
FL – Gillum lost

Political pundits will be slicing and dicing these 2018 midterm election results for months to come. But the big disappointment for many Democrats came with the fact that it looks like O’Rourke, Abrams, and Gillum all came up short. Let’s keep in mind that the reason those races generated so much attention is that all three were stellar candidates who ran exceptional campaigns in southern states that have traditionally been an uphill climb for Democrats.

While some liberals are already suggesting that their party didn’t perform well in the south this year, a bit of perspective is in order. To demonstrate, let’s start with the huge gains O’Rourke made in Texas. Back in 2012, Ted Cruz won his senate contest by 16 percentage points (over 1.2 million votes). This time O’Rourke came within 2.6 points of Cruz (or just over 200,000 votes).

We see similar results in Georgia where, in 2014, Republican Nathan Deal won by 8.2 percentage points (about 200,000 votes). This time Abrams is behind by only 1.9 percentage points (or 75,000 votes).

Florida has a long history of close elections, but comparing Rick Scott’s win in 2014 to this year, Gillum reduced the margin from 1.0 percentage points to 0.7. While it didn’t get as much attention, we see the same thing in the Arizona senate race where Republican Jeff Flake won in 2012 by 3 percentage points and Sinema has reduced that to 0.9.

My point is that Democrats shouldn’t write off the south—as they have done for decades. While these losses are a big disappointment, these four states are changing more rapidly than the rest of the country. What we learned from these midterms is that great candidates who run exceptional races can capitalize on that to turn them from red to at least purple. That might not feel like enough right now, but it’s progress.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.