- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 29, 2018

The White House political team is gaining confidence that Democrats’ predictions of a “blue wave” in midterm elections won’t materialize the same way the “blue wall” that was supposed to stop President Trump crumbled in 2016.

They acknowledge it will be a grueling midterm fight — especially to keep a Republican majority in the House — but record fundraising for the Republican Party and polls showing an uptick in the number of Americans who think the country is on the right track have buoyed spirits at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

More than the job approval rating, the political team is closely watching the right-direction/wrong-track polls that they say are the best predictors of a wave election.

“Everyone talks and asks about job approval. Every morning I look at that right-direction/wrong-track. That’s the number,” said White House political director Bill Stepien.

Though the party in power historically loses seats in Congress in midterm elections, the number of seats lost have been fewer when polls put the right-direction number near or above 40 percent.

About 35 percent of Americans think the country is going in the right direction, according to the Real Clear Politics average of recent polls.

A Rasmussen Reports poll in mid-April found that 40 percent of Americans say the country is headed in the right direction.

Mr. Trump is confident that those number will continue to improve because of the strong economy, tax cuts and other achievements, including a potential deal for North Korea to give up nuclear weapons.

Indeed, for the president’s supporters, the predictions of a Democratic wave sound a lot like predictions that Mr. Trump couldn’t reach the White House because he couldn’t win the “blue wall” of longtime Democratic strongholds of Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, which did vote for him.

In 1990, 1998 and 2002, the right-track number was at or above 40 percent and the sitting president’s party lost an average of just two seats in the House.

In 2002, the country was rallying behind President George W. Bush after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Republicans gained eight House seats and two Senate seats.

The other factors that are encouraging for Mr. Trump’s team are his rising job approval rating and the narrowing of the generic ballot, which in some polls has cut the Democrats’ advantage in half to about 5 percent since January.

The Rasmussen Reports daily tracking poll, which is a favorite of Mr. Trump’s, found his approval/disapproval split at 47 percent/52 percent. It is the same score President Obama had in the poll at the same time in his presidency. But Mr. Trump surpassed his predecessor, with 35 percent of voters saying they “strongly approve,” compared with 30 percent who said the same about Mr. Obama in late April 2010.

“Just got recent Poll - much higher than President O at same time….Well, much more has been accomplished!” Mr. Trump tweeted Sunday.

Still, Democrats believe they have the advantage of enthusiasm in the electorate. They point to growing momentum glimpsed in strong performances by Democrats in recent special elections in Republican strongholds and places where Mr. Trump won in 2016, as well a string of victories in state legislative races.

“The grass-roots energy and enthusiasm is unmistakable, and the GOP should be terrified as they look towards November,” said Sabrina Singh, deputy communications director for the Democratic National Committee.

Democratic Party officials insisted that the growing wave was more than an anti-Trump movement. They noted the enthusiasm for Democratic causes that was on display in the recent Women’s March, the Tax March against Republican tax cuts and the student-led March for Our Lives for gun control.

The energized Democratic base helped flip longtime Republican seats in special elections for Senate in Alabama and for the House in southwestern Pennsylvania. They narrowly lost a special election for a House seat this month in a Republican stronghold in Arizona that Mr. Trump won by 21 points in 2016.

In response, Mr. Trump has been touring the country to showcase the benefits of the tax cuts and to fire up his base with campaign rallies.

“We cannot be complacent. We got to go out and we have to fight like hell,” Mr. Trump declared at a rally Saturday in Washington Township, Michigan.

Republican strategists say Republican candidates can’t rely on Mr. Trump to turn out the vote for them. They say the candidates need to fight too.

Despite the setbacks in the special elections, Mr. Trump’s team continues to see improvements in the environment for Republicans at the district and state levels. Encouraging developments on the ground persuaded Republican Rep. Kevin Cramer to challenge Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp in North Dakota and prompted Sen. Bob Corker, Tennessee Republican, to reconsider his plan to retire.

“That tells me the water is warmer now than it was in 2017,” Mr. Stepien said.

• S.A. Miller can be reached at smiller@washingtontimes.com.

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