A special election in Pennsylvania is a good sign for Native American #NativeVote18 candidates running for office. Why? Because this cycle is already favoring out-of-power Democrats and, quite possibly, independents. It’s hard to peg any constituent group more out-of-power than those who would represent Indian Country in the Congress of the United States.
First, the news from Pennsylvania, then we will look at the map. Democrats are claiming victory in a special election for that state’s 18th Congressional District. Perhaps. Officially, the race is too close to call between Democrat Conor Lamb and Republican Rick Saccone. It’s a practical tie with Lamb holding a tiny lead. But Lamb has claimed victory and Democrats are celebrating no matter what happens next because this is a district that favors Republicans, it was won by President Donald J. Trump by 20 points. So even normally red districts are up for grabs come November.
Or as Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Rep. Ben Ray Lujan (New Mexico) posted Tuesday night: ““These results should terrify Republicans. Despite their home field advantage and the millions of dollars ... We have incredible candidates with deep records of service running deep into the map this year, and it’s clear that these Republican attacks are not going to stick.”
Back to the map: Sharice Davids, who is running in Kansas fits that storyline precisely. She is running in a district that Republicans should win easy. Rep. Kevin Yoder won re-election in 2016 with an 11-point margin. But remember the Pennsylvania 18th favored Republicans by 20-points.
Davids is Ho-Chunk, an attorney, and she worked in the Obama administration. This is pretty much an anti-Trump-agenda resume’.
The most immediate boost from Tuesday’s vote should be more campaign donations.Another #NativeVote18 candidate who could benefit from a re-imaging of the election landscape is Amanda Douglas in Oklahoma. After Lamb claimed victory in Pennsylvania she tweeted: “Yes! his is exactly what I’m talking about!!! I can’t wait to work with newly elected Congressman @ConorLambPA!”
Douglas, Cherokee, is running in the state’s 1st Congressional District. Two years ago Democrats did not field a candidate in that race. It’s rated as a “plus-17” Republican district -- in other words, awful similar to the Pennsylvania 18th.In another part of Oklahoma, two Cherokee Nation citizens could both potentially be on the fall ballot. Rep. Markwayne Mullin is running for his fourth term as as Republican. Democrat Jason Nichols, the mayor of Tahlequah, is running as a Democrat. Mullin won 70 percent of the vote in his last election bid.
Rep. Tom Cole is also running for re-election as a Republican in Oklahoma’s 4th congressional district. Cole, Chickasaw, also earned more than 70 percent of the vote in the last election.One #NativeVote18 candidate who had a good week before the Pennsylvania election was running in New Mexico.
Haaland’s challenge is to win the Democratic primary in June because, unlike most Native candidates, she’s running in a district that favors Democrats. Last weekend Haaland was the top-vote getter at the state’s party convention, winning nearly 35 percent of the vote in a crowded field. She told delegates: “Congress has never heard a voice like mine.”
Haaland, is Laguna Pueblo. Congress has never elected any Native American woman to its ranks since voting began in 1789.Haaland, Davids, or Douglas could be the first.The Pennsylvania race also raises questions for the #NativeVote18 candidates who are Republicans. Former Washington State Sen. Dino Rossi would be at the top of that list. Rossi, Tlingit, is hoping to succeed a moderate Republican, Rep. Dave Reichert, in Washington’s 8th congressional district. That district has been trending Democratic. The president’s popularity is reflected by Rossi’s own words. He told The Seattle Times that he is “not running to be ‘The Apprentice.’ I am running to be the congressman from the 8th Congressional District. The way I am going to treat Donald Trump is just the same way I would have treated George W. Bush or Barack Obama. If I agree with them I agree with them, and if I don’t, I don’t.”One #NativeVote18 candidate who is not running away from President Trump is Gavin Clarkson in New Mexico’s 2nd Congressional District. His campaign website proclaimed “the best way to help President Trump stop the swamp and protect New Mexico is to run for the Republican nomination to make sure we retain this Congressional seat in November.”Then this Southern New Mexico district is changing too. The seat is now held by Rep. Steve Pearce is running for governor -- making this an open seat. Pearce won easily, capturing 60 percent of the vote. But the district is now 54 percent Hispanic and in a wave election, it could be the ideal seat for a Democratic pickup. Trump won the district by 10 points, half of the margin in Pennsylvania. There are also three #NativeVote18 candidates running as independents or on third-party lines. Eve Reyes Aguirre is running for the U.S. Senate in Arizona on the Green Party ticket. Aguirre is an Izkaloteka Mexican Native. She recently tweeted that she is an “unconventional politician” and is rounding up signatures to make the ballot. Henry John Bear is running as a Green Party candidate in Maine’s 8th Congressional District. Bear is a citizen of the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians. And, finally, in Minnesota, Ray “Skip” Sandman is running in the 8th Congressional District as an independent. Sandman is Ojibwe.Can an independent or third party candidate win in this environment? It’s hard to say, there is no real evidence yet. But as the Pennsylvania results show, this is an election cycle where anything is possible.
Mark Trahant is editor of Indian Country Today. He is a member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. Follow him on Twitter Follow @TrahantReports