Election reveals deepening divide

November 7, 2018

Tuesdays election produced enough of the forecast blue wave of Democratic victories to put a change of control in the U.S. House in sight as this edition of the Star Tribune went to press.

Thats a welcome result. A Democratic House should lead to more vigorous exercise of the Constitutions checks-and-balances design in the remainder of Donald Trumps presidency than has been seen from the GOP House majority in the past two years.

The Senate appeared likely to remain in GOP hands as expected, given that 10 Democratic incumbents were on ballots in states that Trump carried in 2016. Only one Republican incumbent, Dean Heller in Nevada, ran for re-election in a state that Democrat Hillary Clinton won.

That suggests that Congress in the next two years will be a reflection of the country sorely divided on partisan and, increasingly, regional, gender and racial lines. Rather than yielding a new direction for the country, this midterm election and the no-holds-barred campaign that preceded it appear to have produced deeper partisan entrenchment.

Trumps strategy in the campaigns final days seemed to be aimed at deepening the animosity that Americas two political tribes harbor toward each other. The president doubled down on opposition to immigration, an issue that roils his GOP base, employing inflammatory accusations about illegal immigrants effect on American life and wild distortions of Democrats positions on the issue.

But for several decades, both parties have been guilty of demonizing the opposition for the sake of mobilizing their own supporters. If the takeaway from this election is that those tactics worked, Americans can expect to be subjected to more of the same. The regrettable result has been that campaigns rarely settle the questions that divide Americans, and the nation becomes increasingly ungovernable.

Its worth noting that not every candidate won by appealing solely to his or her fellow partisans. Minnesotas U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar was elected to a third term with what may be a larger share of her states vote than any other contested Democratic Senate incumbent achieved Tuesday. Her 66 percent share of the vote (as of this writing) attests to an appeal that reaches well beyond her DFL base, and that positions her for national prominence. Minnesota voters apparently approve of Klobuchars bipartisan lawmaking style.

Our hunch is that Klobuchars refusal to wage a negative campaign against Republican challenger Jim Newberger and her similarly positive campaigns in 2006 and 2012 have contributed to her popularity at home and effectiveness in Washington. We wish the next cycles candidates would take note of her winning formula.

The victory by DFL challenger Dean Phillips in Minnesotas Third Congressional District might also be seen as an endorsement of his call for more grassroots control of campaign messaging and financing. But Phillips defeat of five-term Republican Rep. Erik Paulsen is also a Minnesota manifestation of a national trend. Around the country, suburban congressional districts gave Democrats their best opportunities for gains.

One other early Minnesota result attracted national notice. In the DFL-dominated Fifth Congressional District, Ilhan Omar was elected handily. Omar will join Rashida Tlaib of Michigan next year to become the first two Muslim women to serve in the House. Her election burnishes Minnesotas reputation as a place in which immigrants will find welcome and opportunity. That message is a needed counterpoint to the immigration tropes that have come from Trump in recent days. Its one Minnesotans should be glad to send.

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