For Democrats, signs everywhere suddenly look rosy.
They won smashing victories last week in Virginia and other states. With voters giving the Trump presidency and the Republican-led Congress dismal grades, and the Democratic grass roots re-energized, hope is widespread for a takeover of the House of Representatives and a strong run in the Senate in the 2018 midterm elections.
But for all the optimism, the elections in Virginia last week vividly reflected why the reality might be a good deal harsher. While Democrats won the governorship by nearly nine percentage points and won a similar margin in total votes in legislative races, it appears likely, unless recounts reverse seats, that they will fall just short of taking control of the state’s heavily gerrymandered House of Delegates.
And around the country, gerrymandering, refined to a high art, and increasingly restrictive voting laws have left many experts wary of assuming that the intensity of Democratic voters will translate into equally robust electoral gains.
For some, the lesson of Virginia is that grass-roots organizing and voters eager to turn out can pull off big wins in unlikely places. But for others, the gap between votes and legislative seats is a cautionary reminder that Democrats face daunting structural obstacles in turning around Republican majorities in Congress and in state legislatures.
“If Democrats win 52, 53, 54 percent of the national House vote, we’re likely to see Republicans hold onto control,” Nicholas Stephanopoulos, a University of Chicago law professor and an expert on gerrymanders, said in an interview. “Unless there’s a true wave, I think Democrats will be disappointed in 2018.”