In 11th, Meadows is ‘about as invulnerable as they come’

This story was written by Jim Buchanan, originally published in The Sylva Herald.

“Meadows is about as invulnerable as they come,” according to Chris Cooper, a professor and department head of political science and Public Affairs at Western Carolina University.

If anything, Cooper, widely regarded as the go-to political expert for this region, might be understating the political future of 11th District U.S. Rep. Mark Meadows, R-Asheville.

He appears to be a lock heading into next year’s election.

Given early readings of 2018 election trends, Meadows’ entrenchment in Congress might come as a surprise to many who hear predictions of a Democrat wave in 2018.

After all, a slew of recent polls show generic Democrats enjoying a sizeable lead on the congressional ballot.

Quinnipiac shows a +13 D advantage, Marist +15 and others ranging from +15 to +7 in Fox, ABC/Washington Post and NBC/Wall Street Journal polls.

But Meadows appears comfortably safe for a number of reasons. There are structural advantages, political advantages and advantages Meadows himself brings to the table.

The redrawn congressional maps bring a considerable structural advantage. Cooper said. “After the last cycle of redistricting, the 11th went from the most competitive district in the state to the most Republican-leaning in the state. That means that the odds of a Democratic victory are about the same as it snowing in July.

“The Democrats may be successful building a party, making Meadows spend more money, and competing for lots of other offices in the geographic area of the 11th congressional district, but save a massive scandal or a political tsunami, this is a safe Republican seat.”

The numbers bear out Cooper’s argument. In the three general elections since Blue Dog Democrat Heath Shuler retired after winning the 2010 contest, Meadows won 57.4 percent to 42.6 percent over Hayden Rogers, 62.9 percent to 37.1 percent over Tom Hill and 64.1 percent to 35.9 percent over Rick Bryson.

Meadows’ seat is rated “Solid R’’ by the Cook Political Report and “Safe R’’ by Inside Elections and Sabato’s Crystal Ball.

As to political advantages, consider this: While incumbent Republicans have been challenged – and beaten – in recent political cycles, many of the successful challenges have been in GOP primaries with challengers running to the right of sitting elected officials.

That tactic seems unlikely to work against Meadows as there simply isn’t much room to his right. He’s chairman of the Freedom Caucus and aligned himself early with President Donald Trump, thus claiming the conservative high ground.

But isn’t Trump deeply unpopular and aren’t some of the policies being pushed by Meadows, such as the current tax plan, unpopular as well?

Yes, in that according to the RealClearPolitics average of polls, Trump’s approval rating is 38 percent, historically low for a president at this point in his first term.

Also true is the GOP tax plan doesn’t enjoy a groundswell of support. A Nov. 15 Quinnipiac University Poll found most American voters (52 percent) don’t approve of the plan while 25 percent do. More than 60 percent say it would mainly help the wealthy, 59 percent say it would favor the wealthy at the expense of the middle class, and more than half disagreed that the plan would create jobs and economic growth.

But dig down a little deeper into those numbers and you realize they don’t impact Meadows.

A Harvard CAPS/Harris Poll found 79 percent of Republicans and 86 percent of Trump voters approve of his job performance. If anything, Meadows’ alliance with Trump likely helps instead of hurts him.

And that brings us back to Meadows himself and the matter of inevitability.

Cooper says, “Here the reason is more about Meadows than about the district.

“In less than three terms Mark Meadows has become one of the most powerful and recognizable figures on the hill. He heads the House Freedom Caucus and a week rarely goes by when he’s not appearing on national television. Whether you love Mark Meadows or wish for a different candidate, you must admit that he’s brought attention to the district and himself. And those are the types of things that strengthen the incumbency advantage.’’

As the curtain ends on 2017, there are currently two Democrats – Scott Donaldson and Phillip Price – vying in the May primary to face Meadows in the General Election. A third, Matt Coffay, withdrew in early summer. Meadows apparently will have a primary challenge from Christopher Money, a political unknown.

We’re a year out from the election, an eternity in political time. Many things could happen, such as a scandal on the GOP side of the aisle that resonates with the public, an appointment of Meadows to a federal post by President Trump, or any number of things could change the outlook of the 11th District race.

But those scenarios are remote possibilities.

In the end, the smart money says Meadows has a lock on this seat.