This week Pawnee, Indiana City Manager Ben Wyatt announced that he would seek the Democratic nomination for the Indiana 9th congressional district in the 2018 midterm election. While many are enthusiastic about his decision (especially Deputy Director of the Midwest National Parks Service Leslie Knope), I must admit that I’m not too optimistic about his prospects for electoral success.
First, campaign consult Jennifer Barkley informed Wyatt that he would be challenging the Republican incumbent. Challengers to sitting incumbents historically do very poorly in U.S. House races. Based solely on that information, Wyatt’s chances are already likely less than 10%.
Second, the southern Indiana 9th congressional district is a heavily Republican district, with a Partisan Voting Index score of R+9. Even if it the incumbent were to choose to retire, any Democratic candidate would have a strong uphill battle to fight in that congressional district.
Third, while we do not yet have enough information to accurately predict the outcome of the 2016 presidential election, we can apply political science forecasting models to say that if the election were held right now (January 2015), the Democratic candidate would be favored to win the election, given the incumbent Democratic presidential job approval rating of 46% and a 2014 economic growth rate of 2.6%. This means that the 2018 midterm congressional election will very likely favor Republican candidates, as the president’s party almost always loses seats during midterm elections.
In sum, the cards are stacked against a Ben Wyatt victory in 2018. This could be an opportunity for him to get his name out, however, and to build a campaign infrastructure for an election year when the fundamentals would be more favorable to a Democratic candidate.