Along with losing the presidency to Donald Trump, Democrats came out of the 2016 election in bad senatorial shape. Several Senate seats they had hoped to pick up in blue or purple states — Pennsylvania, Florida, North Carolina, Ohio, Wisconsin, and others — remained resolutely red. And even worse for the party, the Senate seats up in the next election in 2018 are brutal for Democrats.
Several Democratic senators have to hold on to their jobs in states that Trump won by double digits — North Dakota, Indiana, Missouri, West Virginia, and Montana — along with several others in swing states like Florida and Ohio. Meanwhile, the only real potential for Democratic pickups is in Nevada (which has slowly been moving from purple to more solidly blue as its Latino population grows), Arizona, and Texas (both of which are seeing the same trend as in Nevada, but are still far from blue at this point). Midterm elections usually good for the party out of the White House, but Democrats have drawn the worst hand in decades. Even if there's a wave election boosting the fortunes of Democrats nationwide, Democrats like Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.), Joe Manchin (W.Va.), and Jon Tester (Mont.) have to hope that thousands of people in their states who voted for Donald Trump decide to flip parties or stay home in two years.
2018 is not at all easy! This is the senate map. Look at all the defense in red states we have to play. pic.twitter.com/3HT2GCQJby— Nerdy Democrat (@NerdyTraveler) December 15, 2016
But in the midst of their difficulties, Democrats are receiving the gift of a free campaign message from Republicans — plans to repeal Obamacare. While the law isn't especially popular, individual provisions of it often are, and furthermore, millions of Americans are covered through it, a number that just keeps growing. This is even true in red states, and it's starting to affect their politics.
On Tuesday, the Billings Gazette, a local paper in Billings, Montana, reported that the state's House Speaker Austin Knudsen, a Republican, is worried about Congress's plans to repeal the law and take away federal expansion of Medicaid, which the state has used to insure over 60,000 residents since it accepted funds earlier this year. Knudsen joins with the state's Democratic governor, Steve Bullock (who won a slim reelection in November, despite Trump winning the state 55-35), who told the Gazette, “It would be grossly irresponsible to rip healthcare away from tens of thousands of Montanans and millions of Americans without presenting a real and viable alternative that patients, providers, states and insurers can all plan around.”
Though Montana politicians are expressing how bad Obamacare repeal could be for many of the residents of their state, there's one person it could really benefit — Montana Senator Jon Tester. Tester voted for the Affordable Care Act in 2010 and still managed to hold on to his Senate seat when up for reelection in 2012, even as Obama lost his state. If a Republican repeal of Obamacare without a replacement leads to the kind of crisis Montana's top state politicians fear it will, Tester has a clear message — "I fought for your healthcare when the Republicans took it away."
If Trump is unpopular in 2018, it could lead to difficulties for Republicans nationwide, even if they have a favorable Senate map going for them. If Republican policies are seen as having seriously hurt the voters that put Republicans into office, it could save Democrats who otherwise might have gotten unseated.