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What the midterms may hold for science and innovation policy

July 26, 2018

SSTI board member Bruce Mehlman, a former George W. Bush administration official and founder of Mehlman Castagnetti Rosen & Thomas, recently published a midterm election presentation that has been discussed by numerous DC publications. Mehlman included an analysis of the last 10 senatorial midterm elections (see slide 15). The results suggest that incumbent senators of a different party than the president are very likely to win reelection, even in states carried by the president. Translating this to the 2018 midterms: Democrats hold 10 seats in states won by President Donald Trump. Based on this historical analysis, the party would have a 61 percent chance of carrying all 10 seats.[1] Meanwhile, Mehlman’s presentation states that seats held by the same party as the president face significantly lower odds. In the 2018 midterms, Republicans would have a 17 percent chance of retaining all three seats where one seat is in a state lost by the president, and two where the incumbent is not running for reelection.[2]

In the House, Mehlman points out that Democrats do not have many easy targets, but that historical indicators, such as generic ballot performance and congressional job approval, would suggest the party is likely to pick up many seats.

The political uncertainty surrounding the midterm election may further complicate debates around a series of complex issues that Congress may need to consider during the remainder of the session. In addition to the annual requirements of the budget (by September 30) and National Defense Reauthorization Act (by December 31), and the Supreme Court nomination, Mehlman notes that Congress may consider the National Flood Insurance Program (expires July 31), Farm Bill (expires September 30), Federal Aviation Administration (expires September 30), a second tax cut package, intelligence reauthorization and a collection of health-related authorizations. With a short Congressional calendar remaining in the year, other potential priorities — such as NASA and NIST reauthorization and the Startup Act — face stiff competition for floor time in both chambers.

[1] If the races are all independent. To the extent that national momentum both exists and affects senatorial races, the exact chances would rise or fall, accordingly.

[2] Dean Heller in Nevada is running for reelection while Arizona and Tennessee are open.


elections, congress