As the Alliance’s go-to person for a day-after analysis of the November 6 mid-term election and ballot measures, Brian Sobel, principal consultant with Sobel Communications, has been the one to hear from for a concise analysis of results. Sobel admitted that in connection with several races, results are not yet in, so this recap is based on the tally as of November 7.

He said if he appeared a little tired, he didn’t get much sleep the night after polling places closed. Sobel devoted more than 12 hours to providing on-air television commentary this year.

“I’m usually the speaker after the election where you can have assurance in your predictions. Last year I spoke the day before and predicted Hilary Clinton would beat Donald Trump – we all know how that turned out!  However, this time I can be 100 percent accurate.”

Sobel said election day was interesting across the U.S. with record turnouts and a lot of very close races – some have still to be finally decided, including five in California costing $30 million per race – as well as the governor’s race in Florida. The cost of campaigning continues to rise with candidates like Ted Cruz in Texas spending in excess of $100 million.  “We will see the scope of the overall wins by Democrats in a few days, as well as the situation for Republican Governor Rick Scott in Florida’s race.”

The latest Town Hall online report, seconded by CNN, has the headline:  “Barring a Miracle, Rick Scott is Going to Win” as of noon on November 15. With Senator Bill Nelson trailing Scott by 12,000 votes during the recount, unless widespread voter fraud is discovered. 

Sobel said the Democrats are very happy, having taken 30-35 new seats with two more added after very close contests. It was a significant victory for this party, not enormous on a larger scale. From 1910 forward only three presidents added seats in a mid-term. If you combine wins in the House and Senate, only two presidents added seats in both houses during mid-terms, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and George W. Bush. 

In his view, the general public has the concept of checks and balances and is uncomfortable when one party maintains a majority in both Congressional houses.  While the Republican majority was lost in the House, the party retained control of the Senate, picking up three to four new seats as of November 7.

Another interesting dynamic is what will the Democrats do with Nancy Pelosi? “We will see if she is challenged for the Speaker’s job in the house – I suspect she will be named speaker,” Sobel said. “Even the ‘Tweeter-in-Chief’ reached out after the election to congratulate her for the overall Democratic win in the House.”

According to Sobel, President Trump continues to surprise us. He campaigned up to the last minute for Republicans to get the firewall they need in the Senate. Losses by Republicans were fewer than those for former Presidents Clinton and Obama.

Sobel observed, “This was not a referendum on the president, that’s still two years away. Historically we cannot find that connection at this point. Trump was able to save seats in key districts through personal appearances and appeals.  What is even more fascinating to me is the fact that the 2020 campaign will begin in 30 days.”

He said a key question for Democrats is will it take the next two years to make their case that this current government doesn’t work, or will they be more willing to come across the aisle and work more cooperatively — given the number of pressing issues being faced today.

Sobel talked with analysts around the country in an attempt to see who they thought would be the next president.  Gavin Newsom’s name came up. His acceptance speech as California’s new governor sounded a lot like someone with a larger vision who has already become a national figure in D.C.  Kamala Harris has gone back to Washington after running as the incumbent U.S. senator and is also seen as a future presidential hopeful.

Governor-Elect Newsom makes the argument that because of California’s size and large Hispanic population, the state should play a national role when it comes to immigration policy. This hot issue has given Newsom a very high profile and is yet another indicator of his future prospects.  Sobel said he expects Newsom to stump at stops all across America rather than just within California, saying this a third sign of his future ambition.

Political forecasting has changed dramatically.  Two years ago, polling estimates were totally incorrect when it came to which party would win the White House. After this election, Sobel said Democrats admitted they were wrong in 2016 and attempted to determine what actually happened.

“Many people who would not talk in 2016 or did not tell the truth about who they favored.  This silent majority tipped the scales. Some came out then who never voted before. Another variable was found due inaccuracies when it came to measuring voter preferences via landlines vs. mobile phone.

However, in 2018 pollsters got it right – the Senate would remain Republican and the House for the Democrats.  Some six to eight projection firms Sobel contacted were in agreement. 

Turning to proposition results, Sobel said Measure M for parks won by 70 percent, and Measure O providing funding for vital emergency services won by 60 percent. Measure N needed a 2/3rds vote and came up short with only 59 percent. 

Some city council races, such as District 4 in Santa Rosa – for this city’s first round of district elections — were very close, separated by as few as 100 votes, but John Sawyer beat Lee Pierce by 59 to 41 percent. In Petaluma, Teresa Barrett won a decisive victory as the new mayor over challenger and former councilman Mike Harris by 52 percent. This council also had two newcomers, moving it more to the progressive side.  There were lots of local results too numerous to mention at the SCA meeting.

Sobel also observed that social media has changed the dynamics of politics, and TV coverage has increased the amount of instant information available to everyone – overwhelming everything for weeks prior to the election with literally hundreds of data points coming at you daily.

“It used to take a long time to get down to the basics of a story, but now the instantaneous nature of electronic journalism and reporting has created a challenge – yet fun – environment.

I was on TV after the election and got a lot of emails, including one personal recommendation. One notable comment came from Josie Smith via Yahoo. She said she has been watching me on TV for years and had a suggestion – please shave off your mustache…it looks like you have a hair lip!”

Question:  In light of the progressive results, what is the future of this movement?

Answer:    I see this group as a whole becoming more moderate than in the past. Democrats recruited more quality candidates than before, and many are veterans.  But there is a divide in the Blue party between the old guard and the new progressives who must come to an agreement if the party is to be effective.  On the Republican side, there were a lot that did not run a good race. They thought their seats were safe and were mistaken. 

Question:  About Trump in 2020, are there chances we still will hear from him?

Answer:    The key is who the Democrats will put forward – will it be Joe Biden vs. Trump?

They must find issues to run on, beyond just hatred of Trump.  They are facing a fork in the road between realizing that issues matter versus spending the next two years just saying Trump is not a good president.   Trump IS getting something done to stimulate the economy.

Question:  What are your thoughts on hearing more from Robert Mueller and his probe into the Trump campaign?

Answer:     There will be a follow-up investigation. It all depends on what the first 90 days of the next two-year term will look like. People are being cagy about how aggressive they are going to be in this matter. I expect to hear much more from Mueller. My view is that Democrats have to be careful they don’t get bogged down in this investigation. They could take the U.S. by storm with a real-life agenda.

Question:  About Prop. 6, people voted not to repeal this gas tax to improve highways, but initially this never had the vote of the people.

Answer:     The attempt to repeal is losing by 10 percent and more. It is a systemic sign that the legislature has not been doing its job for some time – a fundamental flaw for several years.  We all need to hold our legislature accountable.  Collectively, there were too many things on the ballot.

Question:  In local politics, are city councils becoming more pro-business or progressive?

Answer:   In Petaluma, the progressive shift will have a big impact on development, and city councils in general are taking on more social issues.  In the old days, 95 percent of their focus was on land use issues.  That has all changed.  Years ago the focus was not on whether candidates were Republicans or Democrats.  That, too, has changed. Now party affiliations are more of a concern everywhere to rally voters around one banner or the other.  In my opinion, the real discussions should be about how to run our towns. 

Question:  With Democrats controlling the House, will we see more relevant work done in coming years?

Answer:     That depends on their ability to find common ground across the aisle and their ability to cooperate on mutually beneficial issues – such as the opioid crisis – versus just harsh rhetoric. The president has to come toward this direction.

Question: Senator Feinstein won her race, but the question is the issue of her age. Is she still viable?

Answer:   The age factor has been raised over the years in connection to several individuals. Senator Feinstein was well funded, Kevin DeLeon’s campaign was not.  Look back in history to the tenure of Strom Thurmond and Claude Pepper, who some used to say was so old that he once flew with the pterodactyls!   Many politicians have been viable well into their 90s.

Some criticized Feinstein in regard to the Brett Kavanaugh hearing and her demeanor. She will be a senator to age 90.  Nancy Pelosi will be the Speaker of the House until age 76. 

Question:  What is going to happen to the Republican Party in California?

Answer:    Things are cyclical.  The Republicans are making a comeback contrary to those who say this party is out of business.  There will be a day for California Republicans, but not today. There is also growth among independents. The state’s demographics are changing with more Latinos influencing elections. The question is, who will emerge to attract new voters?  Democrats have been in control since the mid-1980’s. Republicans have hard work ahead.