At this point, all eyes are on this November’s toss-up races. The Texas Senate race was a prime topic of conversation this week among many news sources after Republican Senator Ted Cruz and Democratic Congressman Beto O’Rourke held their first public debate, prompting Cook Political Report to move the contest into its “toss-up” category. The two candidates disagreed on virtually every topic of discussion: gun control, immigration, healthcare and President Trump. Cruz, a highly experienced debater, maintained composure, yet there seemed to be no clear “winner” of the event. Both candidates faced difficult attacks and questions: Cruz was forced to acknowledge his willingness to cooperate with President Trump despite Trump’s targeted insults toward his family during the 2016 election, and O’Rourke had to face his past when confronted about his arrest for drunk driving. The two candidates are scheduled to hold two more debates before November.
A few House districts in Virginia are drawing attention as well. Particularly, Republican Denver Riggleman, who is running for District 5, has branded himself as a “liberty Republican” and has policy positions that align with neither the far right nor far left. Oddly enough, Riggleman has taken a more moderate stance on social issues that young Republicans say are necessary to appeal to the up-and-coming generation. So far, he’s been considered the favorite due to his ability to unify the different wings of the Republican Party. Despite these opinions, his Democratic opponent dismisses the notion that Riggleman has anything new to offer the Republican district. Meanwhile, In Virginia’s 2nd District, where Republican Representative Scott Taylor is seeking reelection, Taylor’s popularity is threatened with accusations of improper conduct to get an independent candidate on the ballot, and these allegations have warranted the appointment of a special prosecutor. Taylor’s background as a Navy SEAL has made him very popular with the military-connected voter base. The fate of his campaign now remains unclear.
Going into the election cycle, the consensus of the 2018 House elections seemed consistent: The House map is favorably drawn for the Republicans, which would make for a very difficult task for Democrats to win a majority. However, weeks from Election Day, Democrats are finding strength from several special elections that have been held since President Trump was elected and from the 25 districts that historically vote Republican during presidential elections but favored Clinton in 2016. Although the chance of flipping the House is driving a sense of optimism on the left, many voters are determined to tackle that issue of the House map.
Grassroots calls to ban gerrymandering, the manipulation of election districts to gain partisan advantage, have been increasing in anticipation of the midterm elections. At the forefront of the movement is a group called Voters Not Politicians in Michigan, whose members have pledged to support a solution for one of the most gerrymandered state in the nation that wouldn’t favor either party. The group held dozens of town halls throughout Michigan counties. They created a citizens’ redistricting commission, on which anyone except political insiders could participate. During those meetings, the commission wrote a proposal that would establish rules for the political makeup of the commission and embed fairness in redistricting into the state’s constitution. The group eventually gathered enough signatures (425,000) in time to be reviewed by the Michigan Supreme Court. Of course, the group has its fair share of critics, who worry that the process will be manipulated along partisan lines. But the group is proving that redistricting reform is an issue that can gain bipartisan support, even in divisive times.