Closing Thoughts on Election 2014
Likely or Safe Democratic Senate Seats
New Jersey--Cory Booker
New Mexico--Tom Udall
Rhode Island--Jack Reed
Likely or Safe Republican Senate Seats
Montana--Steve Daines (GOP +1)
South Carolina--Lindsey Graham
South Carolina--Tim Scott
West Virginia--Shelley Moore Capito (GOP +2)
Alaska--Accidental Democratic Senator Mark Begich was doing so well through the summer, but in attempt to stay on offense, ran a vicious ad against Republican challenger Dan Sullivan that left a bad taste in people's mouths and killed his momentum. And now Sullivan has small leads in most polls. This was always a heavily lift for Begich in dark red Alaska and it probably isn't gonna happen for him, but the one wild card is Begich's stellar operation which includes campaign outposts in Eskimo towns like Barrow and Nome. In a state Alaska's size that operation could be worth 2-3 points in Begich's favor if it's close, but I still don't think it'll be enough. Prediction: Sullivan by 4 (GOP +3)
Arkansas--Republican challenger Tom Cotton leads Democratic incumbent Mark Pryor by low-to-mid single digits in most polls, and the narrative and momentum is slipping away from Pryor for a variety of reasons. Bill Clinton's doing a lot of campaigning in Arkansas this month and theoretically he could turn a few votes but the more likely scenario is a win for Cotton more lopsided than polls indicate, as the polls often understate GOP momentum in Arkansas. Prediction: Cotton by 10 (GOP +4)
Colorado--One of the biggest surprises in the last month is the collapse of Democratic incumbent Mark Udall who led Republican challenger Cory Gardner all summer but suddenly saw the tide turn a few weeks ago, with Gardner now leading in most polls and Udall's back to the wall. The culprit: Udall ran the most idiotic campaign for a Democratic Senate incumbent in recent memory, betting the farm on the single issue of reproductive rights based on Gardner's past support for a "personhood amendment". But when Gardner changed his position on personhood and came up with another clever jujitsu on birth control, he knocked Udall off balance and exposed the superficiality of Udall's single-issue campaign. When The Denver Post, one of the nation's most liberal daily newspapers, endorsed Gardner last week and trashed Udall's campaign to the point that Gardner went up with ads the next day quoting the paper, it seemed like a fatal blow for Udall. Udall's last best chance is that polls often understate Democratic strength in Colorado races and a new vote-by-mail option could enhance Democratic turnout. Still, I think Udall is now where Russ Feingold was at this point in 2010....hopelessly behind without enough time left to turn the tide. And I suspect Udall's campaign will be held up as a cautionary tale for a generation how too much of a good thing is a bad thing when it comes to campaign issues you think are an asset. Prediction: Gardner by 4 (GOP +5)
Georgia--I'd be elated right now by Democrat Michelle Nunn's general election positioning if this was any other state but Georgia. If the election were held today, I suspect Nunn would get more votes, as rich-guy GOP challenger David Perdue is on defense following revelations of his outsourcing past. But getting more votes on November 4 won't be enough for Nunn. She needs 50% to avoid a runoff....and I'd be shocked if she got it. And if she can't get 50% on November 4, forget about motivating lethargic Democratic polls to go to the polls against for the January runoff. Prediction: Nunn by 2 in the general; Perdue by 8 in the runoff.
Iowa--A perfect storm has allowed Republican wingnut Joni Ernst to be positioned with at least 50-50 odds of picking up Tom Harkin's Senate seat, but I take some comfort in anecdotal evidence that she peaked too soon. Polls a few weeks back were showing Ernst ahead by mid-single digits, but more recent polls have been showing it a jump ball again, with Braley having momentum. Partly because I can't stomach the idea of the lunatic Ernst being the Senator in the state where I live, I'm hanging on by my fingernails to a prediction that Braley pulls this out. My confidence level is low though. Prediction: Braley by 1.
Kansas--If Ernst may have peaked too soon in Iowa, then Independent Greg Orman almost certainly peaked too soon in Kansas. It struck me as a stretch that Orman would be able to run out the clock for two months after he became the de facto Democratic nominee when the real Democrat in the race dropped out. Kansans have no love for out-of-touch Republican incumbent Pat Roberts at this point, but they don't dislike him as much as they dislike the national Democratic party, and the combination of Roberts' campaign throwing the kitchen sink at Orman over his business associations and reminders that he'll likely caucus with Democrats. And polls in the past week are showing Roberts either tied or pulling ahead of Orman. Roberts isn't out of the woods yet though as there's some ambiguity in the newer polls and Roberts' approval ratings are still absolutely abysmal, but I think he lucked out in having enough time to recover after this became a two-candidate race. Prediction: Roberts by 5.
Kentucky--I remain surprised that Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes has kept this race close as long as she has and it makes me wonder if she could actually have pulled it off with a more aggressive campaign in which she wasn't in a permanent defensive crouch hiding from the D next to her name. But there's never been a juncture I believed she could win and I still don't. The media lost its mind earlier this month when Grimes refused to answer who she voted for in the last election and it's unclear whether Kentucky voters believed that was "disqualifying" the way Beltway pundits did. It could make the difference between a mid-single-digit defeat or a double-digit defeat I suspect, but right now I'll split the difference with my guess. Prediction: McConnell by 7.
Louisiana--Democrat Mary Landrieu has been a maestro at ekeing out victories in her increasingly Republican state for nearly two decades now, but most indications are that the borrowed time she's been living in on has run out in 2014. Even in 2008, a race the opposition barely even contested, she only managed 52% of the vote in a state where 50% is required to avoid a runoff. At this point, a runoff seems inevitable as there are two Republicans running in the state, Tea Partier Rob Maness and mainstream GOP Congressman Bill Cassidy, the latter of whom is the favorite to prevail on November 4. Cassidy has thus far been effective in skating into a Senate seat in this red state by running as "Inoffensive Generic R", but may have given Landrieu a desperately needed opening in the debate earlier this week when saying he'd like to see the Social Security eligibility age raised to 70. I suspect it's too little, too late for Landrieu though. Prediction for December runoff: Cassidy by 8. (GOP +6)
Michigan--This one's barely hanging onto "battleground race" status as the Republicans have withdrawn campaign funds to hapless GOP nominee Terri Lynn Land, whose amateur-hour incompetence as a candidate turned what was a top-tier battleground race into a likely cakewalk for Democrat Gary Peters running for Carl Levin's seat. Prediction: Peters by 10.
New Hampshire--Only in the last couple of weeks has the seemingly impossible feat of carpetbagging Republican Scott Brown, formerly of Massachusetts, waging a genuinely competitive race against Democratic incumbent Jeanne Shaheen started to materialize. But the polls had tightened considerably and Brown really has a chance here in swingy New Hampshire as Shaheen's leads have dropped to low-to-mid single digits in recent polls. It was always hard to take Brown's candidacy here seriously and while that's no longer the case, I'm not yet to the point that I think he will win. But in no way is it the most far-fetched scenario in the world right now. Prediction: Shaheen by 3.
North Carolina--Democrats' desperation to latch onto any good news cycle has led them to be overconfident about the small leads that incumbent Kay Hagan is posting in this race, primarily because she's been able to make the race a referendum against her challenger, Republican Thom Tillis, and his stewardship over the unpopular GOP-controlled state legislature which Tillis leads. But Democrats could still get caught napping here as Hagan's lead is small and predicated heavily on a mid-single-digit showing by a libertarian candidate that may not materialize. Tillis' wildly controversial reparations comments may boost African American turnout and pad Hagan's margin, which leads me to think she'll pull this out, but by no means do I think Hagan has it in the bag. Prediction: Hagan by 2.
South Dakota--I'm patting myself on the back with this one as nobody but me expected that a low-budget independent bid by former Republican Senator turned lefty Larry Pressler would turn this into a battleground. Particularly after an ugly fight over candidate selection on the Democratic side left the party divided with a seemingly weak candidate in Rick Weiland, everybody thought Republican Mike Rounds would easily pick up this Democratic held seat following Tim Johnson's retirement. But the combination of a scandal from Rounds' tenure as Governor hurting his lethargic campaign and a stronger-than-expected showing from Pressler, it's now a three-way tossup that the national parties began pouring money into last week. There's a path to victory for all three but given his limited funds and the emerging attacks against him, I think Pressler is the least likely to prevail. But if Weiland is to win, he needs Pressler to stay at least modestly relevant (15% or more) because I can't imagine him getting more than 40%. Rounds probably still has the best chance of winning even though he's unlikely to clear 40% himself, simply because Weiland and Pressler look poised to continue cannibalizing each other's support, with both of them having too much of a chance of victory to consider dropping out and endorsing the other. A very winnable race is still more likely than not to go to a Republican. Prediction: Rounds by 5. (GOP +7)
So right now, I'm predicting Republicans pick up seven Senate seats, leaving them with a 52-48 Senate majority, but the battleground is such that a 10-seat Republican pick-up is entirely plausible if Republicans pick up NH, NC, and IA on top of those I predicted would flip. It seems unlikely the GOP will get a clean sweep of the battlegrounds as even in the most lopsided wave years, the incumbent party seems to hang onto one or two, but with absolutely everything going against Obama and the Democrats right now, I'm not betting the farm on that.
Onto the gubernatorial races, which hopefully should be less volatile to national trends vis a vis Obama and Ebola or whatever the bogeyman of the moment might be by November 4, and there are quite a few battleground gubernatorial races there as well, arguably even more than Senate races. We'll start off with races that are most likely settled.....
Likely or Safe Democratic Governor Races
New Hampshire--Maggie Hassan
New York--Andrew Cuomo
Pennsylvania--Tom Wolf (Dem +1)
Likely or Safe Republican Governor Races
New Mexico--Susana Martinez
South Carolina--Nikki Haley
South Dakota--Dennis Daugaard
Alaska--Another example of a race where a Democrat dropped out and endorsed an independent challenger to Republican incumbent Sean Parnell, and as is so often the case in Alaska, polling is all over the place. My gut says the Independent Bill Walker gets it, however, with an assist from Mark Begich's turnout operation which, ironically, I don't expect to be enough for Begich. Prediction: Walker by 2. (Ind. +1)
Arizona--Polls have been scarce but the open Arizona seat looks to be reasonably tight, although Republican Doug Ducey has a lead over Democrat Fred DuVal, and considering Republicans typically outperform polls in Arizona, I think it's a fairly safe bet that Ducey prevails. Prediction: Ducey by 6.
Arkansas--This one is just barely a battleground at this point as the national Democrats have pulled money out of the race. Retiring Democrat Mike Beebe is the most popular elected official in Arkansas but his popularity can't trump Barack Obama's unpopularity as his heir apparent, former Democratic Congressman Mike Ross, is trailing by mid-single digits in most polls. Long-time GOP loser Asa Hutchinson looks like he may have final gotten the timing right in this race. Prediction: Hutchinson by 9. (GOP +1)
Colorado--The conventional wisdom a month ago was that Mark Udall would likely win his Senate race but incumbent Democratic Governor John Hickenlooper was in trouble. Hickenlooper may still lose, but at this point he looks like he's in better shape than Udall and I suspect that Democrats' tendency to outperform polls in Colorado will help Hicklenlooper prevail over Republican challenger Bob Beauprez. Prediction: Hickenlooper by 1.
Connecticut--Democratic incumbent Dan Malloy, who won a squeaker against Republican Tom Foley four years ago, faces another tight race in the rematch. The unpopular Malloy should be a dead man walking here and looked to be a few months ago, but Foley's controversial business record (outsourcing, again!) and too-conservative-for-the-state policy positions will probably deny him victory again. Prediction: Malloy by 2.
Florida--A gubernatorial race deemed "the worst choice in America" lived up to its reputation again this week with a petty debate dispute over a fan underneath the podium. Incumbent Republican Rick Scott somehow managed to turn what should have been a prison term for his fraudulent business practices into a successful gubernatorial campaign in 2010, and is facing off against a former Florida Governor, Republican turned Democrat Charlie Crist. The disregard in which both of these guys are held is likely to mean a very low turnout, and without any Senate races on the ballot, I suspect a low turnout helps Scott. Polls are close, with a slight advantage for Crist, but given the massive sums of Scott's personal wealth he plans to pour into ads in the final two weeks, I can't help but feel that Scott is poised to eke out another win here. Prediction: Scott by 2.
Georgia--Michelle Nunn's fortunes have increased in the Georgia Senate race but it seems as though Democrat Jason Carter (Jimmy's grandson) has seen his fortunes slip in recent weeks and generally unpopular Republican incumbent Nathan Deal has the advantage. But it's entirely possible that neither candidate in this race will reach 50% and avoid a runoff either, triggering a nightmare scenario where there will be a gubernatorial runoff in December and a Senate runoff in January. I can't imagine any situation where Deal doesn't win a second term and he may well reach 50% in November. Prediction: Deal by 7.
Hawaii--Incumbent Democrat Neil Abercrombie was crushed by a more than 2-1 margin in the primary over the summer, leaving an open seat to be fought over between Democrat David Ige (who beat Abercrombie) and Republican Duke Aiona. There's also an independent candidate getting a significant share of the vote as well and potentially complicating the situation for the frontrunner Ige who is favored largely because of the D next to his name in the state of Hawaii. I don't know a ton about this race but considering Ige is already ahead and Democrats tend to outperform the polls there, so I'm betting on Ige. Prediction: Ige by 8.
Idaho--Yes, there's a potentially competitive gubernatorial election even in Idaho this year, with never-all-that-popular incumbent Republican Butch Otter running for a third term. Democratic challenger A.J. Berkuloff has seen a few polls where he's competitive, and Otter's numbers aren't anywhere near the target zone suggesting he's highly vulnerable, but he still leads and I suspect that given that this is Idaho, the undecideds are more likely than not to break for Otter. Prediction: Otter by 12.
Illinois--The most unlikely survivor story of 2010 was Democrat Pat Quinn who was behind in every poll but rallied to narrowly win. Nobody wanted his thankless job on the Democratic side leaving Quinn to run again this year, with very low favorables and polls showing him way behind Republican challenger Bruce Rauner all year. But in the past month or so, Rauner's business background and arch-conservative proposals have become a liability and Quinn has rallied once again, leading in most recent polls. The odds are now in Quinn's favor, but considering how unpopular everybody is I anticipate a low turnout, which still leaves Quinn vulnerable particularly if turnout is lower in Chicago than elsewhere. Still, it's looking now like Quinn might pull it off again. Prediction: Quinn by 3.
Kansas--Even though I was skeptical about Independent Greg Orman hanging onto a lead long enough to win the Kansas Senate race, I had always figured GOP Governor Sam Brownback was finished, his approval ratings in the toilet and his ideological stewardship of the state bringing about a self-inflicted financial disaster. And for months, polling indicated that Democrat Jim Davis was poised to beat Brownback, but the last two or three polls have shown the race tightening or even a small lead for Brownback. Is this just a cluster of bad polls or are Republicans coming home for both Roberts and Brownback? It's unthinkable to me that Brownback can bounce back after his disastrous stewardship of the state, but at the very least it's clear he's gonna make this closer than it looked a month ago. Prediction: Davis by 2. (Dem +2)
Maine--One thing seemed clear last year at this time....that unpopular Tea Party ideologue Paul Le Page, who snuck his way to a 37% plurality to prevail in a three-way race four years ago would not win a second term. Democratic Congressman Mike Michaud was running for the seat and seemed poised to win handily even though Independent Eliot Cutler, who played the spoiler allowing Le Page to win in 2010, was running again. But surely voters have learned their lesson about Cutler this time around, right? Right? False. Cutler is still polling in the mid-to-high-teens in the polls and Le Page is polling above what was perceived to be his ceiling (around 35%) to create an effective tie in the 40% range between Le Page and Michaud. I'm still predicting Michaud will eke it out in the end but this one shouldn't be close yet is, and it wouldn't surprise me at all if Le Page manages to thread the needle again. Prediction: Michaud by 2. (Dem +3)
Maryland--This one is only on the outer edges of being competitive as Democratic candidate (and current Lieutenant Governor) Anthony Brown leads by mid-to-high single digits in this deep blue state which at this point is nearly impossible for a Democrat to lose. But clearly Brown is underperforming GOP challenger Larry Hogan in the fight to succeed two-term Democrat Martin O'Malley, whose leaving office with weak approval ratings that are likely dragging down Brown. I would ordinarily say that in the end, Brown is likely to pull away because of Maryland's heavily Democratic baseline votes, but since there aren't any other high-profile races in Maryland this year, turnout might not be strong enough to boost Brown to the double-digit win he's hoping for. Prediction: Brown by 8.
Massachusetts--For some bizarre reason, Democrats facing the retirement of Governor Deval Patrick selected Attorney General Martha Coakley as their nominee even though she pulled off the seemingly impossible in 2010 and pissed away a special election to fill Ted Kennedy's Senate seat, losing to Scott Brown. Republicans went with perennial nominee Charlie Baker who trailed in the polls most of the summer but, true to form, has pulled much closer to Coakley in recent weeks and has positioned himself for a possible upset. Recently, however, Baker has had to contend with some negative headlines about his outsourcing history from past business dealings. Outsourcing is the issue that seems to move votes and in this case I suspect it could help Coakley pull this out despite herself. Don't underestimate her ability to still lose though. Prediction: Coakley by 5.
Michigan--Republican Governor Rick Snyder was elected in a landslide in 2010 on the grounds of being a mushy moderate who wouldn't wage ideological fights. To put it lightly, he didn't keep that promise, directing unelected emergency managers to take over local governments in struggling communities and even backdoored a right-to-work law in union-heavy Michigan. The pundits were nonetheless confident that Snyder would coast to re-election against former Democratic Congressman Mark Schauer, who at least on paper wasn't a very strong candidate, but Schauer is giving Snyder a race due to his controversial governance in a blue state. Unfortunately, it seems more likely than not that Schauer will come up just short barring an unexpectedly strong Democratic turnout as polls show Snyder with small leads. Like so many of these gubernatorial races, however, this one could still go either way. Prediction: Snyder by 2.
Oklahoma--This one is only barely on the battleground list as a couple of polls have shown Democrat Joe Dorman within striking distance of Republican incumbent Mary Fallin. The flow of financial resources is not confirming that this race is seen as all that competitive however as the national parties are not pouring much money into the race. And this is Oklahoma, which is now one of if not the most inhospitable states in the country for Democrats, so it's hard to see how Fallin doesn't win over the majority of the undecideds. Prediction: Fallin by 13.
Rhode Island--I'd be sitting out this year's gubernatorial election in Rhode Island where a crowded Democratic primary field which split liberal allegiance yielded a plurality victory for state Treasurer Gina Raimondo, a union-busting, pension-raiding, Wall Street Democrat whose victory is probably more the product of identity politics with her ethnic Italian surname than anything else. The state's public employee union base is predictably giving Raimondo the finger and it's creating a battleground race between Raimondo and GOP challenger Allen Fung with the polls neck and neck. Typically, close races in Rhode Island break towards Democrat because of partisan advantage, but with so many disgruntled Democrats refusing to vote for Raimondo, I'm not so sure that'll be the case this year. I'm giving the edge narrowly to Fung. Prediction: Fung by 2. (GOP +2)
Wisconsin--I've saved the marquee gubernatorial race of the nation for last with Republican incumbent Scott Walker in a tighter-than-expected race against business Democrat Mary Burke. Having survived his 2012 recall, the odious Walker was thought to have a decent if narrow advantage in scoring a second term and positioning himself for a 2016 Presidential run, but polls were tight throughout the summer. Either polls were a little off or Walker gained a slight edge in the early fall, but the polls are back to being deadlocked now. Ultimately, however, Walker's perseverance in the past has left me gun-shy in predicting his demise this time, and his approval ratings are at a place--for whatever inexplicable reason given his poor stewardship of the state--where he still seems favored. I'd love to be wrong about this as Walker's scalp would be the one I'd most love to claim this fall, but I think Burke will fall short. Prediction: Walker by 3.
So with the caveat that so many of these races remain on the razor's edge, my prediction is for a fairly neutral year in terms of partisan control of statehouses, with Democrats, Republicans, and independents nearly canceling out each other's gains. There is potential for significant Democratic gains if they can get on the winning side of tight races in places like Michigan, Wisconsin, and Florida, but I don't think they're well positioned to do that right now.
In the coming week I may press forward with House predictions as well, but I'm still fuzzy on the new district lines after redistricting and would undoubtedly confuse some things, so I may just bypass that one. Right now, I'd say the GOP is well positioned for gains in the 8-10-seat range in the House, but with Democrats poised for a few gains of their own that will offset inevitable GOP gains.