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WASHINGTON — Labor Day traditionally begins the homestretch of a campaign season, or the moment when uninterested voters actually tune into the election. As the runners near the last turn in 2018, the numbers show some clear trends: An enthusiastic electorate, a diverse pool of candidates and a solid advantage for Democrats in the House.
Enthusiasm has been apparent throughout the primary season in a long list of states, from Iowa to California. That voter interest showed again last week in Florida and Arizona.
The number of voters participating in Arizona's primary on Tuesday was up by more than 146,000, almost 17 percentage points, compared to 2014. In Florida, the numbers were even more remarkable. Tuesday’s total vote tally was up by more than 1 million, a 50 percent spike from the 2014 numbers.
Democrats led the way in the state. Votes cast in the Democratic gubernatorial primary were up more than 80 percent compared to 2014.
And the numbers out of primary season reflect a Democratic edge in a few different ways.
First, in perhaps the most meaningful way, there are the dollar amounts. Yes, politics is about ideas and candidates, but it doesn’t mean much without the money to get the message out. And, on the whole, Democratic candidates have an edge there.
So far in 2018, Democratic House candidates have raised $620 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. That’s $150 million more than the $470 million that Republican House candidates have raised — almost a one-third higher.
And the figures look similar in the Senate. There, Democratic candidates have raised $368 million to the $258 million that Republican candidates have raised — a difference of $110 million or 42 percent more.
Perhaps the most interesting difference between Democrats and Republicans in 2018 is the number of spaces that will be filled on ballots in November.
There are only four congressional districts where Democrats won’t have a candidate on the ballot this fall, according to Ballotpedia. That’s compared to 39 districts where Republicans aren’t running a candidate.
That matters for two reasons.
First, as Wayne Gretzky once said, “You miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take.” That is, Democrats have candidates on the ballot in case something strange happens — a scandal, a news event — in districts where Republicans look sure to win.
Second, that number shows there is enough Democratic enthusiasm in some of those long-shot districts to field a candidate and to make Republicans take a stand on President Donald Trump, who is inherently divisive.
In addition, that number of uncontested districts for the Democrats, four, is remarkably low. There were 27 districts where the Democrats didn’t field a candidate in 2014 and 36 in 2014. The Republican number has been in the 30s for the past three elections.
As we noted in this space just a few weeks ago, the 2018 candidate pool is set to be the most diverse in history. And the numbers show that indeed this looks like the Year of the Woman.
The number of women who have won primaries to become nominees for major offices set a new record this year. There are 14 such female nominees for governor, 21 for Senate and 226 for the House.
Those women running in the House are also mostly Democratic. Excluding incumbents, Democrats have nominated women in half of their races, according to David Wasserman of the Cook Political Report. Republicans have nominated women in 18 percent of them.
So as the horserace and the battle for congressional control move into focus, where does that leave us? There is a reason to believe the Democrats have a very big edge, at least in the House.
The Cook Political Report reports that there are 70 House districts where the incumbent party is dealing with a competitive race — that is a district that is a “lean” or worse for the incumbent party. Of those 70 districts, the GOP currently holds 65 and only five are held by Democrats.
That means Republicans are headed into fall needing to play a lot of defense in the House.
The Senate looks better for the GOP because of the map. Democrats are defending 26 seats this fall to the Republicans' nine and many of those Democratic seats are in states won by Trump in 2018, such as Florida, Indiana, Missouri and West Virginia.
Of course, all these numbers come with a word of warning after 2016’s election surprise. Two months is a lifetime in Washington in most years and several lifetimes in this environment.
But on Labor Day, we can say this for certain about 2018: Voters are engaged, the candidate pool is diverse and Democrats hold an edge.