Senate Democrats Look To Be On The Defensive In 2018

As things stand, Democrats will have a hard time winning back control in the Senate in 2018.

2018 Senate Map

The 2016 election is just a month behind us, and attention is already shifting to the mid-term elections that will occur 23 months from now in 2018. At that point, of course, we’ll be roughly halfway through Donald Trump’s first term in office and Democrats will no doubt be eager to pick up seats in the both the House and the Senate. For reasons that we’ve been over before, including the lack of true “swing” districts and Republican advantages in state legislatures that helped with redistricting that will remain in effect until 2022, the odds that we’ll see a shift in party control in the House are quite low. Republicans gained control of that body in the 2010 midterms and are likely to remain there until at least the midterm elections in 2022 when redistricting in the wake of the 2020 Census will take place. Even then, change is only likely if the current Republican dominance in state legislatures comes to an end, and that seems just as unlikely as change in control in the House of Representatives. The Senate is a different story. In this year’s election, we saw a closely fought battle for control of the Senate and many believed that Democrats would be able to pick up enough seats to win at least narrow control. Instead, Democrats only managed to win two of the Republican seats in vulnerable states, in Illinois and New Hampshire and appear unlikely to win the runoff in the Senate election in Louisiana, which will be held on Saturday. As a result, the balance of power for the next two years will most likely be 52-48, meaning that Democrats would need to pick up four seats in order to win the Senate back two years from now. Unfortunately for the party now headed in the Senate by New York’s Chuck Schumer, that appears to be something that is unlikely to happen.

Larry Sabato and his team at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics appear to be the first to take a glance at 2018, and the news for Democrats isn’t good:

A potential silver lining for Democrats is that they head into the 2018 midterm as the party that does not hold the White House, and the “out” party typically makes gains down the ballot in midterms. But it will be difficult for Democrats to make Senate gains in 2018: Despite being in the minority, they face a near-historic level of exposure in the group of Senate seats being contested in two years, Senate Class 1.

It’s hard to overstate how disappointing 2016 was for Democrats in the Senate. Yes, the party did net an extra two seats by defeating Republican incumbents in Illinois and New Hampshire despite Hillary Clinton losing her bid for the presidency, so the next Senate will be 52-48 Republican. But given that for most of the cycle it looked like Clinton would win the White House and also deliver the Senate, the Democrats clearly did not realize their potential this year.

One of the big reasons why the Senate majority appeared in reach for the Democrats in 2016 was that the Republicans were, and still are, overexposed in Senate Class 3, the 34 seats that were up for election this past November. Republicans controlled 24 of 34 seats on a map where they had made substantial gains the last two times it had been contested, the GOP wave year of 2010 (when the Republicans gained six seats) and President George W. Bush’s reelection in 2004 (when they gained four). But the GOP largely held the line and now hold a 22-12 advantage in this Senate class, which won’t be up for election again until 2022, which could be President Donald Trump’s second midterm election (although that’s of course a very long way off).

Always looming over 2016, though, was the 2018 map. Including the two independents who caucus with the Democrats, the party holds 25 of the Class I Senate seats that are up for election in 2018, while the Republicans hold only eight. Again, a look back at the last few times this group of seats was contested explains the Democrats’ exposure. After Republicans netted eight seats on this map in the 1994 Republican Revolution (and party switches by Sens. Richard Shelby of Alabama and Ben Nighthorse Campbell of Colorado from Democrat to Republican would essentially make it 10 by the time of Campbell’s switch in March 1995), Democrats made big gains in Class 1 in both 2000 (four) and 2006 (six). Going into 2012, it appeared that Democrats would lose seats, but they upset expectations and instead gained two, which is why they are so overextended now.

Only three times before in the era of popularly-elected senators has a party begun a midterm cycle as exposed as the Democrats are in 2018, and only once since World War II. When we say “begun,” we mean the partisan makeup of the class up for election in December about two years prior to Election Day — where we are in the calendar right now.

Of more concern to Democrats, it would seem is the fact that Democrats will be required to defend seats in ten states that Donald Trump won last month, at least five of which are states that Republicans have consistently won over the elections dating back to 2000 and earlier. Republicans, meanwhile, will only have to defend seats in eight seats, all of which are states that Republicans have won in Presidential elections on a consistent basis for at least the past two decades. This puts Democrats in the difficult position of trying to flip a seat in a state such as Mississippi, Utah, or Tennessee, which is unlikely, while at the same time defending seats in states such as Montana, North Dakota, and West Virginia, all of which have become solidly Republican states. Picking up enough seats to regain control of the Senate in this scenario is going to be difficult to say the least. Republicans, on the other hand, stand a good chance of adding to their majority if they can win seats in the aforementioned states, or in states such as Missouri, Indiana, or Ohio. Additionally, the fact that turnout in midterm elections tends to favor Republicans could place other seats, such as those in traditionally Democratic states that Trump won such as Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, in jeopardy for Democrats. Obviously, if the GOP is able to add to its majority in 2018 that would make its task in 2020 of holding onto control of the Senate somewhat easier.

All of this, of course, is just ‘back of the envelope’ speculation based on what the map will look like in 2018 and what we know about how Senate elections tend to go based on what has happened in the past. At this point, there are still plenty of factors we don’t know that are likely to play a role in how 2018 will turn out. For example, it’s likely that one or more of the Senators up for re-election will decide to retire, thus creating an open seat that both parties will be competing for two years from now. We also don’t know who will be running against any of the incumbents who do stand for re-election and what strengths or weaknesses they might have. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we have no idea what will happen over the next two years in the areas, most especially including what the public perception of the Trump Administration in particular and Republicans in general. This will obviously have a huge impact on how 2018 plays out. As things look right now, though, the GOP is clearly in a far better position than Democrats.

FILED UNDER: 2018 Election, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. C. Clavin says:

    We now live in a Banana Republic, which will very soon have toxic air and water, and that will likely start a Third World War by 2018.
    Regaining the Senate, even if Democrats could, is unlikely to change any of that.
    But hey…the Dow is up.

  2. grumpy realist says:

    Yes, no one could have predicted this.

    If the average population of the U.S. is too stupid to realize what is going on, then I guess “fiat justicia, ruat coelum.” It’s hard to have sympathy for idiots and what happens when stupidity catches up with them.

  3. john430 says:

    @grumpy realist: …the average population of the U.S. is too stupid…

    Y’see Grumpy. That’s just the attitude that marks an elitist and why Anglo blue collar America turned on you, with the help of a goodly portion of Latinos, African-Americans and Asian-Americans.

    So…justice has been done, Grumpy.

  4. john430 says:

    @C. Clavin: A Cliff Clavin screen name no longer fits you.

    Try Chicken Little, or Know Nothing.

  5. C. Clavin says:

    Trump was elected by white racists like yourself.
    Stop deluding yourself.

  6. john430 says:

    @C. Clavin: I’m a white racist? Guess I better tell my Hispanic wife about that. Moron! She has a PhD in Education and a goodly number of other Hispanic women in her professional organization voted for Trump plus many other Republicans down the ballot.

  7. john430 says:

    This just in and too good to pass up…

    Hey Cliffie…

    Cheers” star John Ratzenberger was one of the first Hollywood types to support Donald Trump, telling “Fox and Friends” on Thursday that he was already on the “Trump train” when he went on Neil Cavuto’s show last year “pledging his support.”

    Ratzenberger played Postal Service employee Cliff Clavin on the long-running comedy

  8. C. Clavin says:

    Oh…you’re one of those racists who insists they have minority friends so you can’t be a racist.
    Got it.
    Of course if your argument had any factual basis…domestic abuse wouldn’t exist.
    But it does.
    Ipso – facto…

  9. KM says:

    Of more concern to Democrats, it would seem is the fact that Democrats will be required to defend seats in ten states that Donald Trump won last month, at least five of which are states that Republicans have consistently won over the elections dating back to 2000 and earlier.

    Trump winning the states doesn’t necessarily mean they went Republican. As gleefully noted by many, it was a referendum on Hillary as the Democratic candidate rather then the Democratic Party itself. Pennsylvania, Wisconsin et al will most likely not go red – its pretty unusual for a state to flip without hitting the purple maybe stage for a while. Add in two years of them not getting what Trump promised, Dems pushing the mid-terms (they’d be STUPID not to shove GOTV) and general blue state tendencies that haven’t magically vanished in the last year, I think holding those seats shouldn’t be a problem.

  10. KM says:

    @grumpy realist :
    Trump will save them! He’s gonna swoop in and pull a Carrier, dramatic AF like back in the WWE days. Believe him, he’s got this. Congress is gonna do what he says. The deal’s gonna be huge!

    Meanwhile, WV is going to learn there’s such a thing as instant karma. Or for the fundies in the room; “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.” A bitter harvest awaits them so I really hope they had a great time at the FU parties – It might be the only high point they have to look forward to for half a decade.

  11. C. Clavin says:

    If you support Trump then you support policies and behavior that says minorities and women and LGBT folks are lesser than white folks.
    If you support policies and behavior that says minorities and women and LGBT folks are lesser than white folks…then you are a bigot.
    So, yes…you are.
    Deal with it.

  12. grumpy realist says:

    @john430: Well, if “justice” means “an accelerated trajectory towards being a banana republic.” You guys want this? You’re going to get it.

    But don’t worry. You can start tripping over the corpses of people who have died from black lung disease any day now.

  13. MBunge says:

    @C. Clavin: you are a bigot.
    So, yes…you are.
    Deal with it.

    And if you support Obama, then you support drone strikes that kill innocent Arabs and Muslims, which makes you a bigot against both a race and a religion.

    And if you supported Bill Clinton, you supported executing people with brain damage and the torture-by-proxy of rendition, which doesn’t necessarily make you a racist but a thoroughly horrible human being anyway.

    And if you supported Hillary Clinton, congratulations! You share in the responsibility for the current mess in Libya, which has killed thousands of people and inflicted grotesque suffering on hundreds of thousands more.

    We can do this all day.

    Deal with it.


  14. C. Clavin says:

    Again…collateral damage happens in armed conflicts.
    Are you really saying Obama intentionally murders people?
    C’mon, Mike…you’re being ridiculous.
    Donald Trump made racism and misogyny and hatred and fear the centerpiece of his campaign…a feature, not a bug.
    If you support that piece of shit then you support those things.

  15. grumpy realist says:

    OT, but John Glenn just died, at 95.

    And another of one of America’s heroes slips away from us. Sigh.

  16. anjin-san says:


    And if you support Obama, then you support drone strikes that kill innocent Arabs and Muslims,

    Of all the stupid memes that are floating around, this is one of the dumbest?

    What is your plan for fighting terrorists without violence?

    For extra credit, please name all the wars in history that did not involve the deaths of innocents.

  17. anjin-san says:


    Also, can you direct us to some of the posts you wrote decrying the deaths of innocent Muslims during the “Shock & Awe” bombings?

  18. C. Clavin says:

    @grumpy realist:
    And what a hero he was.
    A hero’s, hero.
    RIP, sir.

  19. john430 says:

    @grumpy realist: Let’s see…we voted in a quasi-Republican and we automatically turn into a banana republic? Given that the two least effective Presidents ever, were Democrats (Carter and Obama) one could safely say that after Obama, being a banana republic would be a step up.

  20. john430 says:

    @C. Clavin: Cliffie: You throw such crap around I can’t help but wonder if your stench permeates your whole neighborhood. You are such a little man. A coward who resorts to name calling when he has no argument.

    I would continue this battle of wits with you but I never fight an unarmed man.

  21. Pch101 says:


    We can do this all day.

    Admittedly, your capacity for tortured logic appears to be boundless. Waterboarding would be less painful.

  22. dxq says:

    I heard someone earlier say, “Trump’s going to destroy the GOP.”


    Republicans do not give a shit about reality. His children running his company (which he’ll really still own) while being ‘informal ambassadors’, and sitting in on meetings with heads of state while their subordinates negotiate business deals with companies owned by…that state? Republicans don’t care. Hillary Benghazi Email Cosmic Pizza!

    GWB and lassaiz-faire economists wrecked everything, and here we are 8 years later, republicans control most state legislatures and executives, the federal legislature, the federal executive, and very possibly SCOTUS soon. Creating disaster, debt, raising STIs, taking healthcare away from their own voters, poverty, raising teen pregnancy and abortion, pollution, war–it doesn’t seem to have a real downside for them. They can do anything, their voters will still pull that lever.

  23. C. Clavin says:

    I see you have no argument…just ad hominem attacks.
    Racist child.

  24. C. Clavin says:


    Given that the two least effective Presidents ever, were Democrats (Carter and Obama)

    If your opinion is based on nonsense…then your opinion is nonsensical.
    Obama has, in fact, been one of the most effective Presidents…in spite of reflexive opposition from Republicans. If the guy was a white Republican you would already be carving his face on Mt. Rushmore. But you are a racist, so he’s not effective. Hooey.
    And Reagan’s economy would not have been nearly the same without Carter’s appointment of Volcker.
    So again…your opinion is nonsense.
    Per usual.
    (I’m sure you will respond with more ad hominem attacks sans any real argument.)

  25. Ben Wolf says:

    The Democrats’ 2018 strategy will be to find billionaires to run as candidates, more money for David Brock’s various superpacs, and quadrupling the numbers of young ivy-league consultants on six-figure salaries who will tell us demographics make victory inevitable.

    It will be glorious.

  26. the Q says:

    After two years of a national nightmare, the Dems will have a historic midterm run.

    I’ve been involved in politics for 8 decades and the American people have gotten extraordinarily fickle recently.

    Lets look since 2000. They got rid of a successful, peaceful 8 years of Dem rule by putting in an imbecile twice. But by 2006, they tired of the loon and put in a Dem Congress for the first time in years. And two years later, elected an African American, much earlier historically than was predicted. Then, two years later, totally turned on said African American POTUS and brought in a wingnut Congress, then two years later, re-elected Obama by a true “landslide” only to again, four years later, swing wildly again to the current lunatic.

    Trust me, after two years of this lunatic, the Spartacus Revolutionary Youth Brigade could gain seats against the GOP if Trump turns out to be as horrible as he seems he could be.

    The Dems problem is telling BLM, the TGs, the contraceptive zealots and the Dreamers to shut the phuck up for the next 18 months so we can actually win and THEN address their concerns with a Dem majority in both houses.

  27. C. Clavin says:

    Trumps nominee for Labor Sec is a spousal abuser.
    Makes perfect sense.

  28. Guarneri says:
  29. Pch101 says:


    I would continue this battle of wits with you but I never fight an unarmed man

    Doctors Dunning and Kruger will see you now.

  30. john430 says:

    @C. Clavin: Obama could have green skin with yellow polka dots and he’d STILL be ineffective. You loons always play a race card when you lack a comprehensive argument.

  31. Pch101 says:

    Mitt Romney, 2012: “I can tell you that over a period of four years, by virtue of the policies that we’d put in place, we’d get the unemployment rate down to 6%, and perhaps a little lower.”

    Bureau of Labor Statistics, November 2016: “The unemployment rate declined to 4.6 percent

    Even when Obama outperforms the GOP by leaps and bounds, it just isn’t good enough for the right-wing whiners.

    If Obama cured cancer, Republicans would be complaining about oncologists losing their jobs. For a bunch of supposed tough guys, conservatives spend a lot of time crying like babies.

  32. Guarneri says:

    “If Obama cured cancer, Republicans would be complaining about oncologists losing their jobs.”

    Got a link?

  33. Guarneri says:

    “Obama has, in fact, been one of the most effective Presidents”

    You got that right. After eight years of the Obama presidency, Democrats hold fewer elective offices than at any time since the 1920s.

    You’re doing a heckuva job, Bammy.

  34. C. Clavin says:

    You support racist policies and behavior. You’re an ignorant racist child. Period.
    Obama was tremendously effective. Period.
    The two have nothing to do with each other…except that your prejudices keep you from acknowledging demonstrable fact.

  35. C. Clavin says:

    Dude…you’re linking to Zero-Hedge and you expect anyone to take you seriously? Hahaha.
    They are the ones that said the EU was going to collapse in 10 days. Was it you that linked to that, or that other idiot, JKB?
    No wonder everything you say is wrong. Stop reading conspiracy theory websites.

  36. JKB says:

    @C. Clavin: We now live in a Banana Republic, which will very soon have toxic air and water, and that will likely start a Third World War by 2018.

    Keep it up. You and the Left media. When none of that comes to pass, it’ll created even more Trump voters as their Leftist indoctrination is revealed.

    We’ve had 8 years of no/low growth and the “new normal”. Not unlike the “malaise” of Carter. In a year, the Obama years will be seen as how bad they were when compared to the Trump resurgence. Already, hope abounds for deregulation and prying the strangling hands of government from the throat of the economy.

  37. JKB says:

    Hell, the real problem is how many of the Democrats are likely to make it another couple of years. Look life expectancy is good for the elite Democrats, but even they eventually die off from old age. The Democrat’s Klansman, Sen. Robert Byrd, eventually succumbed. And, boy, look at that diversity in that crowd.

  38. C. Clavin says:

    We’ve had low growth because of Republican austerity which you support.
    Now you will support deficit spending under your Cheeto-Jesus.
    Because your principles are non existent.

  39. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @Guarneri: Go back to your grammar teacher and ask her about “subjunctive mood” and “conditionals contrary to reality.” He doesn’t need a link and it’s only stupid of you to ask for one. You’re losing ground Drew; it’s time for you to go out and buy business number 201. You need a more fulfilling hobby in your dotage.

  40. Dazedandconfused says:

    If Trump continues to fill posts with ideological wingnuts and indulges in grandiose stunts it is likely the Dems will do well two years from now, pendulums being pendulums and all. Simple counts of seats up for grabs may well prove to be analysis lacking critically necessary bandwidth.

    The odds of Trump’s presidency panning out to be “politics as usual” seem long.

  41. Terrye Cravens says:

    It is hard to say what things will look like in 2018. Two years of Trump might have changed the climate.

  42. Blue dog says:

    @grumpy realist: I have been a blue dog all my life, voted Obama 2x , I cant even express a view to progressives without being called some name, it’s like if I don’t agree with everything they agree with I’m the enemie, I’m sick of it, looks like a paradigm shift to me, moderate dems are now trump voters.