Saturday, October 08, 2016

Presidential Predictions 2016

I guess it's a good thing I waited a week to post these Presidential predictions.  The dynamics of the race have changed just a bit in the last 10 days.....and has potentially really changed in the last 24 hours with the release of Trump's dirty comments on video which has led to a flurry of phony outrage by Republican officeholders who have known all along that Trump talks like that all the time, but since he's trailing in the polls they see this as a window to unload him as their nominee.  I'm making these predictions aware of the slim possibility that Trump ends up not being the GOP nominee, but I don't think an egomaniac like Trump will drop out of the race and I suspect it's too late to make any kind of candidate swap with the ballots printed in most states and touch-screen machines with no write-in options in other states.  Hard to the believe the GOP isn't stuck with Trump....and honestly it's hard to believe the trajectory of the race will dramatically change anyway.  Trump has had multiple comebacks already and on three separate occasions has pulled into a statistical tie with Hillary after having been left for dead in weeks prior.  I don't think Trump can win, but I also think it's more likely than not that he'll win back many of the voters who've drifted away from him.  That's not the way it works in typical election cycles when a candidate starts reeling in October but 2016 is definitely not a typical election cycle.  Even one month ahead of the election in a race this volatile I'm going out on a limb making predictions based largely on a campaign dynamic that largely reflected the conventional wisdom a week ago, and I could end up being dramatically wrong, but I will proceed anyway with state-by-state predictions....

Alabama--It's been 35 years since Alabama was even loosely competitive for a Presidential election but Republican strength hardened during the Bush years and hardened even more in the Obama years.  It has the right-wing politics of the rest of the Deep South with fewer African-Americans than other Deep South states to counter it, making it one of the most inelastic Republican states in the country.  Romney got nearly 90% of the white vote in 2012 and I suspect Trump will do just about as well this year with whites, but without Obama on the ballot I suspect black turnout will crater, meaning Trump's overall margin will grow.  Prediction:  Trump by 29 (Romney by 22)

Alaska--Very quietly over the years, Alaska's population has seen significant ethnic diversity and as a result, the dominant Republican margins in Presidential elections have shrunk.  Republicans will still win easily but it's very hard to predict by how much.  Obama had a strong turnout operation that successfully mobilized the friendly Eskimo population in the furthest reaches of the state, but I'm skeptical we'll see such a strong operation this year.  Plus, third-party Gary Johnson looms large in highly libertarian Alaska and could really be distorting.  Prediction:  Trump by 19  (Romney by 15)

Arizona--The Grand Canyon State has remained stubbornly Republican in the last 20 years despite demographic changes that typically favor Democrats, primarily because the upscale white retirees moving there now are much more conservative than those of a generation ago.  Nonetheless, the state is on the periphery of the battleground this year for two reasons....Hispanics and Mormons.  The fast-growing Hispanic population has long been poised to turn Arizona blue (or at least purple) and given their alleged fury with Trump are supposed to be mobilized in unprecedented numbers this year.  I'll believe it when I see it.  More promising for Democrats is Trump's unpopularity among Mormons (including AZ Senator Jeff Flake who refuses to vote for him), one of the most reliably Republican demographics in the country.  Even if few Mormons go so far as to support Hillary, if significant numbers vote third-party, it'll bleed votes that Trump depends upon to win the the state.  In a perfect storm I could foresee this playing out as planned for Democrats, but I suspect they'll still fair decisively short in 2016.  Prediction:  Trump by 6 (Romney by 9)

Arkansas--Just three Presidential elections ago, Arkansas was a swing state.  Wrap your mind around that as we fast forward to 2016 when the state's former first lady is poised to see it become one of her worst states in the country....a state I suspect she'd have won in 2008 if she was the nominee.  They hate Obama in Arkansas, and it's affected the state's perception of the Democratic Party across the board.  And while Arkansas' black population is only about 17%, expect turnout to crater among blacks and for Hillary to underperform even the hated Obama.  Worse yet for Hillary, Donald Trump is a perfect ideological fit for the populist state and will probably win over most of the last few Yellow Dog Democrats.   Prediction:  Trump by 31  (Romney by 24)

California--I suspect most regions of the country see weaker performances for Hillary Clinton than Barack Obama, but the exception to that rule should be the West Coast.  California in particular should be a demographic perfect storm of white liberals, nonwhites, and Orange County-style country club Republicans not interested in Trump's populism.  The big question though is turnout.  Given that the state will not be competitive in the Presidential race and has a Democrat vs. Democrat Senate race, I could see a dramatic decline in turnout compared to 2012 that could ultimately mean little to no popular vote margin of difference for Hillary versus Obama four years ago.  Prediction:  Hillary by 26  (Obama by 22)

Colorado--The first battleground state on this alphabetical list is slipping away as a battleground state as it has by this point trended Democrat to the point that the Dems are favored most cycles.  Making matters worse for Trump this year, the state is a demographic perfect storm for Hillary with its large numbers of center-left white college-educated suburbanites, a rising Hispanic population, and a Mormon population in the western part of the state that's likely to underperform for Trump.  Polls have been quite a bit stronger for Hillary this year than they were for Obama in 2012 and I suspect those polls will hold.  Republicans have a strong rising star in Senator Cory Gardner and if the GOP is smart enough to put him on a national ticket in the years ahead, the state of Colorado would be in play again.  Outside of that, it's likely Colorado will be a blue state in most future cycles.  Prediction:  Hillary by 8 (Obama by 5)

Connecticut--There have been some disturbing tea leaves to read throughout the Midwest and northeast showing a mass migration of working-class whites north of Mason-Dixon line drifting to Trump.  Connecticut has a smaller white working-class population than most northeastern states but I suspect it's still enough to soften Hillary's margin compared to Obama's 2012 numbers, particularly in the more rural eastern portion of the state.  We could well be looking at a Connecticut map where some of the richest jurisdictions in the country like Greenwich and New Canaan go for Hillary while blue-collar New London and Norwich go Trump.  Prediction:  Hillary by 14  (Obama by 18)

Delaware--Obama probably got a bit of an extra bounce in 2008 and 2012 by having native son Joe Biden as his running mate, but Delaware is still a strong demographic match for Hillary with a combination of upscale suburbanites who think and vote similarly to the left-trending Philadelphia suburbs on the other side of the river along with a good-sized black population.  I'm guessing it'll be a pretty status quo cycle here.  Prediction:  Hillary by 18  (Obama by 19)

District of Columbia--There are two competing themes here.  Almost nobody who works in the federal bureaucracy and lives in D.C. has any interest in Donald Trump being President, so I could even see some of the 7% of D.C. residents who voted for Romney in 2012 flipping to Hillary this year.  On the other hand, the plurality of the population in the District of Columbia is African-American, and it's hard to believe they'll turn out in comparable numbers for Hillary than Obama, meaning the margin is likely to decline a tick.  Prediction:  Hillary by 82  (Obama by 85)

Florida--The Sunshine State seems poised to be in a permanent state of diverging coalitions with white retirees and white working-class natives trending heavily to the Republicans while the fast-rising Puerto Rican population and native-born Cuban-American population trending Democrat.  The fallout in the immediate future is likely to be Democrats having the edge in Presidential cycles and Republicans having the advantage in lower-turnout midterms.  Given that this is a Presidential cycle and GOP nominee Donald Trump is wildly unpopular with Hispanics, including the Cubans who were a monolithic bloc of reliable GOP voters just a couple of cycles ago, Republicans will be in a particularly tough spot this year.  Beyond that, the Jewish seniors in Palm Beach and Broward Counties were a bit cool towards Obama in both of his runs but should have less pause in voting for Hillary this year.  With all that in mind, the polls showing narrow Hillary leads in Florida will probably hold and she'll outperform Obama's very narrow 2012 win in the state.  Prediction:  Hillary by 3 (Obama by 1)

Georgia--Aside from the Pacific Coast, the New South (coastal southeastern states) may well be another place where Hillary could see some gains versus Obama because of demographics.  In Georgia in particular, the black population is soaring, which by itself is moving Georgia closer to purple state status.  Beyond that though, both the upscale and downscale white population was pretty locked in for Romney to the point where it's hard to imagine Hillary having much room for further decline.  In fact, the more cosmopolitan suburban whites in metro Atlanta are probably some of the prime examples of potential Romney-Hillary voters.  Unfortunately for Hillary I suspect this will be offset some by declining turnout rates among blacks and college students, preventing her from getting the perfect storm needed to win Georgia or even from getting particularly close.  Prediction:  Trump by 6  (Romney by 8)

Hawaii--While it's a pretty certain bet that Hillary Clinton will win Hawaii's four electoral votes this year based on the state's voting history and partisan advantage, the margin she gets will be one of election night's biggest mysteries.  Since it was Obama's de facto home state, he pulled in enormous 70+% margins in both 2008 and 2012.  Hillary won't do that well.  But in 2004, John Kerry got a surprisingly weak 54% there.  I suppose it's possible Hillary could do that badly but it would surprise me.  My guess is the margin falls pretty much exactly in the middle of those extremes and she does somewhere in the 62-63% range.  Prediction:  Hillary by 25  (Obama by 43)

Idaho--Here's another tough one.  The Interior West, particularly the northern states of the region, has seen very little polling.  It's pretty obvious that Idaho will not be Hillary country but is Trump their guy?  Idaho has the second-largest Mormon population in the country and Trump is very unpopular with them, raising the prospect that third-party Gary Johnson and fourth-party Mormon conservative Evan McMullin could slim down Trump's margin compared to that of Romney.  Let's say because of the splintering of the non-Hillary vote that she ends up doing a tick better in the head to head versus Trump.  Prediction:  Trump by 30  (Romney by 33)

Illinois--Another interesting one.  At one level, the upscale Chicago suburbs and exurbs are exactly the kind of place where a lot of Romney voters are likely to flip to Hillary rather than vote for Trump.  On the other hand, the long-standing realignment of downstate Illinois is almost certain to cancel out whatever gains Obama gets in metropolitan Chicago.  The working-class white vote will swing hard to Trump and, coupled with smaller black turnout and college student turnout, stands poised to flip the vast majority of Obama holdouts downstate to the red side.  The worst-case scenario for Hillary is if the Chicago suburbs don't come out for her as expected.  She'll still win the state handily, but could cost Tammy Duckworth the Senate seat pick-up due to the lack of coattails.  I stand by my expectation that Hillary will do well in Chicago's upscale suburbs though. Prediction:  Hillary by 16  (Obama by 17)

Indiana--Always a Republican state, Indiana's flirtation with Democrats in the 2006 midterms and the 2008 Presidential race seems like a lifetime ago now as the state has reverted to its Republican roots big-time.  At one level, it seemed like the 2012 numbers probably represented the new baseline in the state, solidly Republican but not as hard-core GOP as it was in the Bush years and before.  This year, however, Trump's appeal among working-class whites combined with native son Mike Pence sharing a ticket with him is likely to boost the Republican margins closer to what we saw in the Bush years.  The fact that the Carrier air conditioner plant that Trump has held up as a bloody T-shirt for his trade demagoguery is in Indiana is also a feather in his cap.  Prediction:  Trump by 15  (Romney by 10)

Iowa--Living in Iowa, I've been bombarded by millions of dollars worth of Hillary Clinton ads that were until recently unanswered by the Trump campaign.  The return on Hillary's investment thus far from these ads?  The worst performance in any 2012 Obama state and a decisive Trump lead in the last few major polls.  Even in the weeks after the Democratic convention when polls showed Hillary up 8-10 points nationally, she was still lagging dramatically in Iowa, up 2-3 points.  Trump's 7-8-point leads came at the peak of Trump's mid-September comeback, but it's still very clear that Hillary has a huge problem in Iowa.  There have been plenty of indications in past primaries that Iowans are just not that fond of Hillary, and couple that with the Trump campaign's direct appeal to the blue-collar union voters who make up the Democratic party's base vote in eastern Iowa who held out very nicely for Obama in 2012 and it goes a long way to confirming my prediction last spring that Iowa would be a Trump state.  It'll be interesting to see if the latest major problems in Trump's campaign have changed this dynamic, and a new poll coming out Saturday afternoon should be quite telling, but right now I'm sticking with my original call and predicting a Trump win.  Prediction:  Trump by 2  (Obama by 6)

Kansas--There was some polling a couple of months ago showing Trump leading by only mid-single digits in this crimson red redoubt in the heart of the Plains.  Don't buy it.  There are some indications that center-right Kansas City suburbanites might be unusually strong for Hillary this year, but we saw similar polls in 2014 suggesting Republican Senator Pat Roberts and Governor Sam Brownback were about to be thrown out.  Both prevailed decisively as I suspect Trump will.  And Trump will probably do just as well as Romney in the rest of the state, holding his losses to a minimum.  Prediction:  Trump by 19  (Romney by 22)

Kentucky--The Democratic collapse in Appalachia will continue in 2016.  There will be next to nothing that goes Hillary's way in Kentucky.   The Yellow Dog Democrats in west Kentucky that already flipped to the GOP will only get redder.  The formerly indigo blue coal counties of east Kentucky that already flipped to the GOP will only get redder in lieu of Hillary's "putting a lot of coal miners out of business" comment.  And even the union town of Louisville, basically the last Democratic bastion left in Kentucky, will probably see some of its Democratic coalition splinter based on Trump's phony blue-collar populism.  A bright red state moves yet again more bright red.  Prediction:  Trump by 30  (Romney by 23)

Louisiana--Crazy to think that in the 1990s Bill Clinton won Louisiana handily....twice.  In 1996, he won the state by double digits.  Those days are over and the new baseline for Presidential elections in Louisiana is probably something like a 20-point Republican win, as the formerly swing-ish Cajun vote has swung hard-right and stayed there while the coastal oil influence has turned even more people into Republicans and tens of thousands of African-Americans left the state following Hurricane Katrina.  The state should swing even further right in 2016 as Donald Trump is the exact sort of populist brew that will play in the Pelican State and black turnout will likely plummet without Obama on the ballot.  Prediction:  Trump by 23  (Romney by 17)

Maine--From the beginning of this general election cycle, there were some indications that Maine was very likely to see a major shift to Trump after two landslide Obama wins in 2008 and 2012.  And while I never considered it at the outset, it makes sense as Maine, particularly northern Maine, has more working-class whites even than Iowa and a more populist Republican nominee would have tremendous appeal to them, as evidenced by prior victories by offbeat (to put it as complimentary as possible) Governor Paul Le Page who defied everybody's expectations and got re-elected in 2014.  While polling has generally shown Hillary with a modest statewide lead, there's another wrinkle in that Maine allocates its electoral votes to the winners of Congressional districts.  Hillary will get two of four electoral states for winning statewide and a third electoral vote for a likely big win in the Portland-centric district in the southern part of the state, but every bit of polling evidence has shown her trailing in the blue-collar northern Maine district, and in some cases decisively.  I now suspect Maine will split its electoral vote distribution for the first time in the state's history (Gore won the northern Maine district by about 500 votes in 2000 and kept the split from happening that year).  Prediction:  Hillary by 7 (Obama by 16)    (*ME-02  Trump by 5) (*ME-02 Obama by 10)

Maryland--I was shocked when a Republican took advantage of an electoral perfect storm and won Maryland's gubernatorial race in 2014 because I didn't believe that the state was winnable for a Republican any longer given its current demographics.  Blacks make up 30% of the population and educated white liberals are abundant throughout the D.C. suburbs.  That would be enough to make life impossible for a typical Republican in a Presidential race but this year Trump will face additional headwinds with the desire for continuity and predictability in the way Washington works amongst the many federal workers throughout the state.  Even the conservative ones who voted Romney are less likely to want to gamble on Trump's brand of "change" this time around, meaning I think there's room for Hillary to grow even compared to Obama in Maryland.  The wild card is turnout slippage among blacks and a huge shift to the right in the state's rural Eastern Shore.  Prediction:  Hillary by 28  (Obama by 26)

Massachusetts--Most people assume Massachusetts is one of the epicenters of American liberalism, but the state is slowly and quietly experiencing some of the same demographic sorting seen in Middle America.  The working-class white regions in the central part of the state and the outlying Boston and Providence exurbs have been voting Republican in more and more elections.  None of the state's 14 counties have gone Republican in the last six Presidential cycles, but this year I predict at least two and possibly four of them will.  It will still be a Hillary blowout, but I suspect a lot of people will be shocked to see Trump's degree of inroads compared to previous GOP nominees.  Prediction:  Hillary by 18  (Obama by 24)

Michigan--Trump's appeal to working-class whites was the reason the blue state of Michigan was placed on the list of battleground states in 2016, although Trump has never really gotten the needed traction to win the state and trailed in all Michigan polls even when he was neck-and-neck nationwide.  I suspect the unpopularity of Governor Rick Snyder and the state's GOP legislature is helping Hillary's cause in Michigan and keeping some of the center-left white union guys on board even though Hillary is probably not their cup of tea.  The positive consequences of the auto bailout are also probably still keeping the Democratic legacy vote afloat better in Michigan than most other Midwestern states.  Speaking of legacy votes, Romney's familial affiliation with Michigan where his dad was Governor probably helped him trim away some of Obama's advantage in the state, particularly in the more rural northern reaches of Michigan less affected by Obama's popular auto bailout, so it'll be interesting to see what way those areas go in 2016.  Overall I suspect just a little slippage for Hillary compared to Obama.  Prediction:  Hillary by 7  (Obama by 9)

Minnesota--Even though the limited number of public polls in my home state have been showing decisive Hillary leads the entire general election cycle, it's been understood that there's some sorting going on with the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area, including a number of Republican exurbs, are propping out Hillary while she collapses in outstate Minnesota, particularly in the DFL stronghold of the Iron Range, a bastion of blue-collar whites who have been economic Democrats for generations but are drawn to Trump's promises to rebuild the American steel industry.  This sorting pattern may not end up being as pronounced as predicted but if there is Democratic slippage throughout outstate Minnesota, one of the few states where Democrats still have a baseline of support in rural areas, then it portends rough sledding ahead for the state as I suspect if Hillary wins, Democrats are gonna have a much harder time getting those blue-collar outstate voters back than the Republicans will have in getting Romney voters from exurban Minneapolis back.  Either way, Hillary should win Minnesota decisively in November.  Prediction:  Hillary by 6  (Obama by 8)

Mississippi--The 2012 election was a window into what the best-case scenario is for Democrats in the state of Mississippi for a Presidential race as black turnout exceeded white turnout and Romney was held to only a 11-point win.  My guess is that plenty of working-class whites weren't enthused with Romney--and perhaps unwilling to vote for a Mormon specifically--and sat out the election.  These voters are far more likely to favor Trump over Romney while black turnout will probably slump without Obama on the ticket, suggesting Mississippi reverts to its usual margins in 2016.  Prediction:  Trump by 17  (Romney by 11)

Missouri--Excited Democrats thought back in the spring that Trump would be such an easy target that Hillary had a good chance at picking up Missouri.  That was never gonna happen given the degree to which white working-class-heavy Missouri has trended Republican proportional to the country a little more each cycle going back to the mid-90s.   And Trump's blue-collar populism is a far better fit for Missouri conservatives than Romney's country club Republicanism, meaning Trump will likely improve upon Romney's impressive 10-point victory.  The only wild card is the degree to which center-right suburbanites in Kansas City and St. Louis stay in the GOP fold.  If a significant percentage flip to Hillary it could offset some of Trump's gains, but I suspect that will be less of a factor in suburban Missouri than most of the country.  Prediction:  Trump by 13  (Romney by 10)

Montana--We've seen very little polling in the northern Plains and Rocky Mountain states, making Montana a real wild card.  I'm pretty sure they're not Hillary fans and they also don't have the Mormon influence other Rocky Mountain states do that are depressing Trump's numbers.  Plus, the blue-collar pedigree of Montana's Democratic-leaning locales such as Butte and Anaconda would seem to suggest Trump is likely to poach some traditionally Democratic votes.  Couple that with a likely turnout decline on college campuses and Indian reservations and I think Trump is poised to make some serious gains over Romney in Montana.  Prediction:  Trump by 22 (Romney by 14)

Nebraska--I frequently quip that Republican margins in the bright red state of Nebraska have gotten smaller in the past 20 years even as the state has become more reliably Republican.  This used to be a two-party state if conservative Democrats played their cards right but those days are over.  However, the state's population center of Omaha has gotten more competitive in recent cycles.  And that's the one area of ambiguity with Nebraska this year as, like Maine, the state allocates its electoral votes according to Congressional district winners.  Donald Trump is all but guaranteed four electoral votes, but there's a possibility that Hillary could pick off enough suburban Omaha Romney voters to score one electoral vote, just as Obama did by narrowly winning the Omaha district in 2008.  I think she's gonna come up short by a few points though.  Prediction:  Trump by 23  (Romney by 22)  *Trump by 3 in NE-02 (*Romney by 6)

Nevada--There have been 49 states this election cycle that have voted exactly as I predicted they would at the beginning of the general election campaign cycle.....and then there's Nevada.  It seemed pretty obvious in 2012 that the state was moving out of the "battleground" and would be leaning Democrat moving forward as it's heavily unionized with a fast-growing nonwhite population that made up 38% of the electorate in 2012.  Not so fast, Nevadans are saying this cycle as Donald Trump is showing surprising strength in the polls, even narrowly leading in them a few weeks back.  I laughed at the notion that Trump's background as a casino baron was giving him some bonus points among Nevada voters, particularly he drove his Atlantic City casinos into bankruptcy, but there's some indication that it might be happening. It's still hard to figure out exactly what's going on here, as Nevada's "cow counties" are heavily Mormon which would suggest even more headwinds for Trump based on demographic trends seen thus far.  For years know, the Democrats' wild card in Nevada has been the "Reid machine", the army of SEIU members that come out for Democrats on election day and vastly outperform the polling.  That's been the case going back nearly a decade in Nevada politics and I suspect it will come into play this year as well, and combining that with Hillary's surge in polling in the last couple weeks generally, Hillary should pull it out rather decisively but still not the kind of margin that she should be getting given the demographics.  Prediction: Hillary by 4 (Obama by 7)

New Hampshire--The voting patterns in New England are diverging some this year with typically swing-state New Hampshire appearing to trend Hillary's direction while blue-state Maine is moving Trump's direction, perhaps on top of a loss of blue-collar white attrition in the southern New England states that are less frequently polled.  But New Hampshire's demographics favor Hillary this year as the state's conservative base tends to be libertarian-leaning and college-educated, and thus not receptive to Trump.  It remains to be seen whether more working-class areas in northern New Hampshire follow Maine's lead and move heavily towards Trump but the upscale Boston exurbs in southeast New Hampshire where Massachusetts residents are known to flee to avoid Massachusetts taxes are likely to dramatically underperform for Trump this year.  The state should be at least as strong for Hillary as Obama in 2012 if not a tick better.  Prediction:  Hillary by 6 (Obama by 5)

New Jersey--Another state that's being completely ignored this cycle for conventional reasons as it's been trending Democratic for a quarter century now, but where I suspect eyebrows might be raised at Trump's gains among white working-class ethnics.  After getting good reviews for his handling of Hurricane Sandy in 2012, Obama probably got artificially strong numbers out of Jersey rather than setting a new Democratic baseline.  This will still be a decisive Hillary win but I suspect the racial stratification of voting patterns are no less likely to materialize in Jersey than in the industrial Midwest this cycle.  Hillary by 12 (Obama by 18)

New Mexico--Libertarian Gary Johnson used to be New Mexico's Governor and it was naturally his best state in 2012.  He'll likely do above his national baseline there this year as well and potentially scramble the margin of victory outcomes for winner.  New Mexico is majority-minority and even though polling has been scarce to nonexistent, it's a safe bet Hillary wins here decisively.  But does Johnson take more away from Hillary or Trump in his home state?  That's a big question mark for me and makes this one tough to predict, meaning I'll circle the wagons around the 2012 race margin as a reasonable baseline expectation.  Prediction:  Hillary by 9 (Obama by 10)

New York--The media scoffs about Trump's claims that he might win New York.  He won't, but he's on to something that the Trump persona will have more appeal to white New Yorkers upstate and in metro NYC than any recent prior Republican nominee.  And sure enough, the one tea leaf we've been provided showed that Long Island counties Nassau and Suffolk, which have both gone Democratic in the last five Presidential elections, are currently polling small leads for Trump.  Hillary might trim her losses some given that she's the state's former U.S. Senator, but I still expect working-class redoubts of upstate New York like Buffalo, Rochester, and Binghamton to produce much smaller margins of victory for Hillary or perhaps even flip to Trump.  And again, the media who believe white working-class losses will be primarily confined to the Industrial Midwest are likely to be surprised on election night when it hits their own backyard in New York.  Prediction:  Hillary by 20  (Obama by 27)

North Carolina--Polling currently indicates that Hillary has a small lead in North Carolina, which is pretty incredible when considering how conservative the state was 10 years ago.  But Obama's comparative resilience even in narrow defeat in 2012 foreshadowed the state's trajectory being increasingly challenging for Republicans.  Racial diversity is only modestly accounting for the shift here but the biggest factor is the state's metro areas are filling up with liberal whites transplanted from the northeast, leaving quite a culture clash with the remnants of Jesse Helms' version of North Carolina that still seems to come out in numbers sufficient to win in midterm cycles.  Ultimately, I'm standing by my original prediction from the spring that Trump ekes out a win here, aided by diminished turnout by African-Americans and college students.  Prediction:  Trump by >1 (Romney by 2)

North Dakota--Expect big movement to Trump here, particularly with the state mired in a slumping oil economy and having inherited tens of thousands of new oil workers who are amongst the most conservative voters in the country.  The only question mark is whether upscale and white-collar Fargo, the largest city in North Dakota, continues to follow national demographic trends and flips back to the Democrats after going narrowly Romney in 2012.  Even if Hillary can get a blue Fargo, the shift to Trump in the rest of the state should more than cancel it out.  Prediction:  Trump by 27  (Romney by 20)

Ohio--The most consequential swing state of most election cycles dating back generations has lost some of its significance in 2016, which is good news for Hillary for two reasons.  First, it means other states like Colorado and Virginia have gotten bluer and created a path to victory for her that doesn't involve Ohio.  And second, Hillary is not doing very well in Ohio!  After Trump's rough couple of weeks, Hillary has returned to margin-of-error one and two-point leads in a couple of Ohio polls, but throughout September Trump was leading in Ohio rather decisively.  And given the number of working-class whites in Ohio who held out for Obama because of a smart campaign and a corporate raider opponent like Romney, I always figured Ohio would be extremely vulnerable for Democrats this year and moving forward, and the anecdotal evidence suggests Trump's populist pitch is resonating among traditional Democrats in northern Ohio.  This may be offset some by Hillary picking up traditional Republicans in upscale Columbus suburbs but I still think Trump maintains an advantage here.  Whether that sticks in the aftermath of Trump's latest possible death spiral remains to be seen, but I'm standing by it for now.  Prediction: Trump by 2  (Obama by 3)

Oklahoma--The Sooner state has always been very conservative but a strong case can be made that in 2016, it's the most conservative state in the country, a bastion of working-class whites where the last Yellow Dog Democrat holdouts flipped en masse to Republicans during the Obama years and won't be coming back.  Trump should fit the populist conservative voters of Oklahoma like a glove and may very well exceed Romney's impressive margins this year.  Prediction:  Trump by 38  (Romney by 34)

Oregon--Moving from a red state that keeps getting redder to a blue state that keeps getting bluer, Oregon has really solidified as a Portland-centric Democratic stronghold in the last few cycles and Trump seems like a particularly ill-suited fit for the state.  I said in my California prediction that I suspected the Pacific Coast would be one of the few regions of the country where Hillary would outperform Obama and I will double down on that prediction with Oregon.  Prediction:  Hillary by 17  (Obama by 13)

Pennsylvania--In 2012, Mitt Romney poured resources into Pennsylvania at the last minute while Obama held his fire, probably giving Republicans a best-case scenario given their candidate but Obama still won decisively.  Romney's gains seemed to come largely from the most upscale of the otherwise Democratic-trending Philadelphia suburbs.  Unfortunately for Donald Trump, this demographic of voters in the Philly suburbs is a disaster for him in 2016 and polls indicate Hillary is running up the score to unprecedented levels in the region.  Those numbers alone should be good enough for Hillary to win the state decisively, but she'll ending up needing it because there's plenty of indications that Trump is running away with it in western Pennsylvania steel country, which was still heavily Democratic as recently as 10 years ago.  The wild card area of the state should be the Lehigh Valley and the Scranton-Wilkes-Barre area in northeastern Pennsylvania, a white working class area demographically similar to western Pennsylvania but which has still been going strong for Democrats in recent cycles.  I don't know how that area will go but I suspect the swapping of coalitions will make Pennsylvania a wash in 2016.  Prediction:  Hillary by 6  (Obama by 5) 

Rhode Island--Over the last  half dozen cycles, perhaps no other state in the country has been bluer than Rhode Island on average, going for the Democrat by more than 20 points going back to 1992, but the state's significant numbers of blue-collar Italians and Irish make it a particularly ripe target for Trump to dramatically trim Democratic margins.  Hillary win still win Rhode Island, but I suspect it'll be with the softest margin for a Democrat since Michael Dukakis.  Prediction:  Hillary by 16  (Obama by 28)

South Carolina--There's been a fair bit of polling in South Carolina showing Trump putting up weak, low-single-digit margins.  For the same reason as Georgia, this doesn't surprise me.  South Carolina has more college whites than the inland South states do, relatively moderate conservatives for whom Trump doesn't have much to offer.  And since nearly all working-class whites in South Carolina are already Republicans, Trump doesn't have significant potential for gains.  The wild card is the 30+% black population and how substantial of a turnout decline Hillary has with them.  I suspect it will be enough to cut Trump's loss margin.  Prediction:  Trump by 8  (Romney by 10)

South Dakota--The southern of the two Dakotas doesn't have the oil industry presence driving it to the right at the speed North Dakota does, but it will still be Trump country in a big way and if turnout collapses on Indian reservations and in college towns, it will only be more painful for Hillary.  Just like Fargo in North Dakota, South Dakota has its own white-collar town full of college whites in Sioux Falls.  If center-right Romney voters in Sioux Falls move to Hillary out of fear of Trump, it could soften the blow a little for Hillary but it's still gonna be a blowout.  Prediction: Trump by 22 (Romney by 18)

Tennessee--For decades, Tennessee was a swing state, but there were signs in the 90s it was trending sharply conservative and those signs played out every bit as strongly as expected if not more so.  Having a smaller black population to counter the loss of the white working-class majority, Tennessee has become one of the most conservative and brightest-red states in the country, with Memphis and Nashville basically being the only blue islands left after the last of the rural Yellow Dog Democrats realigned in 2008.  Trump is exactly the populist conservative that will play in Tennessee and the state can expected to keep getting redder this year.  Prediction: Trump by 25 (Romney by 21)

Texas--There's likely to be diverging trendlines in Texas this year, as the fast-diversifying cities shift significantly to Hillary both because of larger numbers of minority voters and center-right suburbanites drawing a line over Trump, but that will be countered by the rural areas moving even further to Trump.  If we're to believe that Hispanic turnout finally ticks up a little based on an energized anti-Trump vote, which I'm definitely NOT convinced of, then Texas may have reached a tipping point where its lopsided GOP margins trim down some.  Unless turnout is not as bad as that of a midterm, Hillary should do at least a tick better than Obama, even though the state's trendline away from the GOP is likely to be slower than the Democrats' expectations, probably by about 30 years.   Prediction:  Trump by 14 (Romney by 16)

Utah--There's a crazy amount of uncertainty in the typically predictable state of Utah this year.  Mormons represent a supermajority of the state's population but they're notoriously cool to Trump to the point where some were legitimately wondering if right-wing Utah would be a swing state this year.  It won't--not even close--but a new wrinkle has been added to the dynamic with fourth-party "movement conservative" candidate Evan McMullin, who happens to be a Mormon.  One poll has showed McMullin pulling in something like 10% in the state, and his protest vote could really serve to drain Trump's would-be margin as almost all of McMullin's voters are likely to be conservative Romney voters.  Between McMullin and Johnson, I'd imagine 15% of Utah's vote this year will be third-party, probably the highest in the nation.  Even with that level of non-Trump vote, Trump will still win by a landslide.  Prediction:  Trump by 25 (Romney by 50)

Vermont--The state that had longest streak of Republican voting in American history (from the early 1800s to 1960, and then again from 1968 to 1988) has morphed over the last 20 years into the nation's most liberal state.  While it's more than 90% white, it's a hippie-like environment where Trump is not likely to have any more appeal than Romney did, unlike the rest of New England.  Prediction:  Hillary by 36 (Obama by 37)

Virginia--It was clear around 2000 that the long-standing Republican stronghold of Virginia was softening, with the suburban Washington, DC, counties in northern Virginia leading the way to the coming realignment.  The state officially flipped in 2008 when Obama decisively won and it hasn't turned back since, with Democrats now dominated every statewide and federal office in the state.  Given its history, Virginia remained on the periphery of the 2016 battleground but particularly with Donald Trump as the GOP nominee, it became quickly clear that Virginia would be staying blue in a major way.  Aside from growing racial diversity, the rising number of federal workers in northern Virginia and military contractors in the Tidewater region of southeast Virginia prefer policy continuity and don't care to gamble on a change agent like Trump.  Couple all of that with the fact that running mate Tim Kaine is a former Governor and current Senator from Virginia and it explains why Hillary has led decisively in Virginia all season long and will win handily on November 8.  Prediction:  Hillary by 8  (Obama by 4)

Washington--Another already-blue Pacific Northwest state that's likely to move further blue this cycle.  Hard to believe Washington was a swing state as recently as 2000 because it's unthinkable a Republican could win it now.  Prediction:  Hillary by 19 (Obama by 15)

West Virginia--If it's hard to believe that Washington was a swing state in 2000, it's even harder to believe that West Virginia was as well as the two states have polarized about as far as two states can in the 16 years since.  A general cultural shift, along with union-busting, was part of the original rightward shift of West Virginia but more recently it's been the Democrats' position on coal, the lifeblood of West Virginia's struggling economy, and as the coal economy contracts, West Virginians have become ever more hostile towards Democrats, particularly those who let it slip that she plans to "put a lot of coal companies and miners out of business" as Hillary said.  I suspect Democrats will long for good old days of Obama's numbers this year as the state races even further to Republicans, particularly with Trump making the reopening of coal mines a centerpiece of his campaign.  Prediction:  Trump by 42  (Romney by 27)

Wisconsin--Most election cycles, Wisconsin and Iowa track pretty closely but that has not been happening this year as Iowa has been Trump's strongest battleground state for months now while Wisconsin has remained pretty strongly in the Democratic fold, with polls showing the state sticking with Hillary even amidst her lowest point this cycle.  It'll be interesting to see the coalitions though as I could see Hillary doing a little better than Obama in the upscale and crimson red Milwaukee suburbs while Trump could well be doing better than Romney did in working-class northern Wisconsin.  Either way, I suspect it'll be a wash and the margins will be similar to 2012.  Prediction:  Hillary by 5  (Obama by 7)

Wyoming--In the last 20 years, Wyoming has rivaled Utah as the nation's most Republican state.  On top of the friendly demographics of cowboys and Mormons, Wyoming is also now the nation's largest coal-producing state, adding another element to the GOP coalition pushing the state further to the right.  Despite soft support among the state's Mormon population, Trump should more than make up for that with heightened support from coal voters, coupled with softer support for Hillary in college towns and build his margins compared to Romney.  Prediction  Trump by 45  (Romney b 42)

Back in the spring, my first prediction of this general election contest was 308 electoral votes for Hillary Clinton and 230 electoral votes for Donald Trump.  My amended forecast is nearly identical except that I've tipped the one electoral vote from the northern congressional district of Maine from Hillary's column to Trump's, making my new calculus 307-230 in Hillary's favor.  Considering how terrible of a candidate Trump is at every conceivable level, that's not exactly a confidence-filling margin for the future of the republic and leaves the country open to further demagogic manipulation by future Presidential aspirants in 2020 or future cycles.  The fact that the country is experiencing peace and prosperity yet still is a hair's breath away, on some days, from electing Donald Trump Presidency makes it really terrifying what's coming the next time the country is either on war footing or in a recession.

This latest Trump scandal poses an interesting time for me to make these final predictions.  The conventional wisdom is that Trump will suffer a death spiral and turnout will suffer as a result, but he's defied expectations before and I'm not convinced that his base will follow the establishment rats fleeing his ship en masse.  I highly doubt that enough voters will be deterred by this revelation to turn the race into a 15-point Hillary landslide or anything of the like.  And furthermore, Hillary had a scandal of her own unfold quietly last evening as well with more hacked e-mails from her campaign by WikiLeaks revealing language from her well-guarded speeches made to Wall Street firms espousing policy positions quite different from those she's taken as a Presidential candidate.  She's already wildly unpopular for this exact sort of two-faced behavior and now has given voters who already don't like her one more reason not to vote for her.  Now that voters who planned to hold their nose and vote for Hillary just to stop Trump are being told that Trump has been put away for good by his latest scandal, that could further increase their likelihood of just staying home on election night, greatly reducing Hillary's ability to run up the score and to provide coattails to downballot Democrats.  Furthermore, WikiLeaks has promised multiple damaging revelations against Hillary.  They've delivered so far and may well again with more damaging information about Hillary that doesn't get lost in the news cycle as badly as this last one did.  And, of course, more Trump scandals could yet emerge too, particularly since everybody knows he always talks about women the way he did in that "Access Hollywood" video.

The fact that so many things can yet go awry this election cycle makes it the most unpredictable in my lifetime.  It would be thrilling if every new revelation wasn't another black mark against the character of these two knuckleheads who were nominated by their parties.  Overall, I think they'll end up canceling each other out and submerging turnout to a nearly 100-year low with the final outcome not much different than what the polling average has shown since spring.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

My Final Call on the 2016 Senate Races

Long-time readers will recall that I think it's cheating to predict election outcomes in the days preceding election day, so I make a point of making my final calls several weeks in advance.  I usually begin with Presidential predictions but not this year.  I'm waiting at least one week because of the uncommonly wide range of possible outcomes, and I'm holding off to see at least one Presidential debate before even pretending to believe I have this year's Presidential race electorate figured out.  Typically, the downballot races are carried along by the respective headwinds and tailwinds on the Presidential ticket, but this year I don't believe they will be, at least not as much, and that's why I'm proceeding with these Senate race predictions first.

As is often the case, I will dissent from the conventional wisdom that Donald Trump is or ever was "hurting" Republicans down the ballot.  In most cases, I think Trump is actually helping downballot Republicans.  There may be a couple of states where he is, but the Trump phenomenon has changed the Democratic Party's conversation in a way that has normalized conventional Republicans and conventional Republicanism.  Wave elections occur when the voting public has high unfavorables with one party and not the other.  In that respect, the Democrats have failed in making this election a referendum against the Republican Party at large and their method of governing which should be disqualifying, instead making this election a referendum against Trumpism, with an unspoken acceptance that the conventional Republicanism of a pre-Trump world wasn't so bad by comparison.  Centrist and center-right voters are thus walking away thinking that perhaps Rob Portman, Kelly Ayotte, and Marco Rubio aren't so bad by comparison.  Worse yet, these voters do not like Hillary Clinton and even if they plan to support her they want as many checks on her power as possible.  The result is likely to be a relatively status quo Congressional election where any Democratic gains will come primarily because the GOP is overexposed, holding Senate seats in blue states that they won in the very Republican year of 2010 and poised to forfeit some driftwood in the House that snuck in during the next GOP midterm wave of 2014.

So let's start with the seats that are not being contested by either party at this point in the race, not even remotely part of the battleground.

The Democrats will hold these seats:
Connecticut--Richard Blumenthal
Hawaii--Brian Schatz
New York--Chuck Schumer
Oregon--Ron Wyden
Vermont--Pat Leahy
Washington--Patty Murray

The Republicans will hold these seats:
Alabama--Richard Shelby
Alaska--Lisa Murkowski
Georgia--Johnny Isakson
Idaho--Michael Crapo
Kansas--Jerry Moran
North Dakota--John Hoeven
South Carolina--Tim Scott
South Dakota--John Thune
Utah--Mike Lee
Oklahoma--Jim Lankford

Many of the races I'm profiling are also very close to foregone conclusions but I'll cover any open seats or any races that are now or ever have been part of the battleground....

Arizona--I was unusually bullish on Democrats' chances of making a competitive race against 30-year Republican incumbent John McCain up until the last month when he won his primary and the Democratic Party money stopped flowing in the direction of the state, indicating McCain must be hanging on to a decisive lead.  It was the most promising dark horse race, with McCain having to fend off a primary challenge from his right that would theoretically weaken him, and then have to take on the strongest Democrat in Arizona, Congresswoman Ann Kirkpatrick, who holds a right-tilting seat in northern Arizona and was looked at as one of the party's top recruits this cycle.  McCain seems as out of touch as anyone in Washington, going on Sunday morning shows weekly to aggressively call for getting America into more and more unpopular military entanglements.  He should be an easy target in a change political environment where voters are sensitive to out-of-touch career politicians.  But the complete lack of polling or party money going into this race tells a different story.  It'd be nice to see a couple of serious polls to confirm my hunch, but it looks like McCain is poised to be re-elected to his sixth term, and probably by a double-digit margin.  GOP hold.

Arkansas--I include this race in the battleground only because young Democratic U.S. Attorney Conner Eldridge was touted early on as a potential superstar, and who made waves out of the starting gate with his campaign's first ad attempting to nationalize the race in an anti-Trump direction.  Couple that with the lukewarm feelings on one-term Republican incumbent John Boozman and the speculation that the Clinton name might yield some residual goodwill in a red-trending state and this race was viewed on the outer periphery of the battleground.  The 2014 midterms confirmed without a glimmer of ambiguity that Arkansas realigned, at breakneck speed since 2008 when they had Democratic supermajorities in the Legislature and a 5-1 Democratic Congressional delegation, into one of the nation's most Republican states and was not going to be turning back.  Both Trump and Boozman will win the state by more than 20 points.  GOP hold.

California--There's no question at all that another Democrat will hold the seat vacated by long-term Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer, it's just a matter of which one.  California now has a (frustrating) new law where the top two vote-getters in the primary, regardless of party, face off against each other in the general election.  The state's intense Democratic lean in recent years created a situation this year where two Democrats got more votes in the primary than any Republican.  The frontrunner is Attorney General Kamala Harris and polling indicates she has a double-digit lead, but not majority support in the polls.  Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez, the less liberal of the two candidates, has a wild card in that she might get a fair amount of crossover support from Republicans, as she already has from GOP Congressman Darrell Issa.  It's likely most Republicans will simply skip over the Senate race on the ballot entirely, but Sanchez still has a path to victory if there's movement by conservative voters, coupled with Latino Democrats who favor Sanchez, to elect the least liberal of the two candidates.  Either way, the balance of power in the Senate won't be changing.  Dem hold.

Colorado--Even after running one of the worst campaigns in recent memory, Democratic Senator Mark Udall lost by only two points to a very strong GOP challenger in a very Republican year in 2014.  That pretty much describes the demographic shift that has occurred in Colorado in recent cycles, which portends a pretty safe re-election bid for Democratic Senator Michael Bennet, up for re-election this year and having narrowly holding his seat in the tough 2010 cycle. This year, Bennet seems poised to have an easier go of it against Darryl Glenn, a Republican challenger who was not his party's first choice in the primary.  Colorado polling has been erratic this cycle but even the more bearish polls show Bennet with a comfortable lead.  The majority of the polls show him leading by double digits, which is where I suspect the race will end. Dem hold.

Florida--What a difference a couple of months make!  The Democrats were in the catbird seat to hold this seat two months ago with their promising young moderate candidate Patrick Murphy the frontrunner for the primary and a fairly weak selection of Republican challengers that didn't seem likely to be up to the job of taking Murphy on.  But then the open seat quit being an open seat as Republican Marco Rubio was talked out of retiring and cynically decided to run for re-election to the Senate seat he said had no interest in only weeks earlier.  Suddenly, Florida voters seem likely to re-elect the guy who very recently refused to show up for work because he said the Senate was such a worthless wasteland.  Interesting choice.  Rubio's secret weapon here is the Miami Cuban vote.  In the past this voting bloc was a monolithic wall of Republicanism, but younger voters who don't care about Castro have been pushing the Cuban vote dramatically leftward in recent cycles, and are poised to move it even more leftward against Donald Trump at the top of the ticket.  At this point, Cubans could be described as the swing vote in Florida, an unthinkable scenario a generation ago, and identity politics seem poised to lead the Cuban vote to rally towards fellow Cuban Rubio.  Most polls show Murphy is still within striking distance, but at this point the national Democratic Party has been starting to pull money out of this race, which is not a good sign at all.  Rubio is likely poised to win by mid-to-high single digits.  GOP hold.

Illinois--Republican Senator Mark Kirk slipped into office in 2010 by less than two percentage points in a very blue state against an unappealing Democratic challenger.  He had a stroke during his term and was away for more than a year, returning to ill health and making some controversial comments that hurt his popularity further.  He was considered a dead man walking going into re-election and still is as he's losing in most polls.  Democratic challenger Tammy Duckworth is a Chicago-area Congresswoman who is also a paraplegic veteran injured in a helicopter crash during the Iraq War with a great candidate profile but a history of underperforming in her elections.  While I still think Illinois is too high of a mountain for the Republicans to climb in a Presidential year, I think Kirk may stand to benefit from the phenomenon I mentioned above of non-Trump Republicans being normalized, and Kirk has been taking every step imaginable to make himself look moderate in the last year.  I'm not at all ruling out the prospect of Kirk winning.  He should be losing by double digits given his inherent disadvantages, but I think his worst-case scenario is losing by about five points, and if Duckworth wins, she'll win no more than five of the state's 102 counties, her strength limited almost entirely to Chicago.  The fact that Duckworth still hasn't put this race away underscores how bleak the Democrats' fortunes are this year compared to expectations.  Dem gain +1

Indiana--While the Republicans turned around their bleak fortunes at holding their seat in Florida, the Democrats did the same by parachuting popular former Democratic Senator Evan Bayh into the race at the last minute and instantly changing the odds from a likely Republican hold (Senator Dan Coats is retiring for the second time) to a likely Democratic gain.  I was a little skeptical of the certitude with which prognosticators suggested Bayh would skate back into the Senate as Indiana has really hardened into a Republican stronghold these last few cycles and his challenger, Republican Congressman Todd Young, seemed like a promising emissary for his party.  Worst of all, Bayh cashed in as a lobbyist after leaving the Senate in 2010 and has gone Washington to the point that he couldn't recall the address of his Indiana residence when pressed.  Most polling still shows Bayh with a lead, but I still see him as very vulnerable.  This is one of four races I qualify as pure tossups and one of the hardest for me to predict at this time.  Gun to my head, I'll predict Young narrowly wins and holds the seat for Republicans.  GOP hold.

Iowa--I submit that if Chuck Grassley had run for re-election in the Iowa of 2006 or 2008 with his current age and profile of accelerating partisanship, he'd have been defeated.  But the Iowa of 2016 is a much different place than 2006 or 2008.  This is Joni Ernst and Donald Trump's Iowa, resembling Kansas more than its own recent past, and Grassley is poised to hang on yet again.  His margin seems likely to be less than the 2-1 blowouts he usually gets with former Democratic Lieutenant Governor Patty Judge running, but even that's no sure thing as Judge is mostly off the airwaves with empty campaign coffers and a national party that has written her off while Grassley continues to saturate. Polling currently shows Grassley with a 10-15 point lead, and I'd say Judge would be lucky if she was able to hold him to that come November 8th.  GOP hold.

Kentucky--Like Arkansas, few ever considered Kentucky to be genuinely competitive this year, but incumbent GOP Senator Rand Paul looked weak enough at the end of his failed Presidential bid that it put the race on the very outer periphery of the Senate battleground.  The Democrats ran Lexington Mayor Jim Gray who is openly gay.  I think we're at the point where sexual orientation wouldn't matter that much in most places, but I think it would still be a tough sell to the electorate in Kentucky even in the best of circumstances, and with Trump poised to dominate at the top of the ticket and Rand Paul looking far more like a moderate than was expected six years ago, these will definitely not be the best of circumstances for Kentucky Democrats.  I expected Paul will win by about 30 points.  GOP hold.

Louisiana--It seems likely that a Republican will win the seat being vacated by two-term incumbent David Vitter, but we probably won't know on November 8th because of the state's jungle primary.  It's very possible that the top two to come out of the primary will be Republicans, with John Kennedy and John Fleming being the most likely to face off in the typical December runoff in Louisiana.  After last year's amazing Democratic victory in the Louisiana Governor's race following a perfect storm of events, one has to conceded anything is possible in this environment, but the only way a Democrat could realistically prevail here is if the top-polling Democratic challenger manages to face off against disgraced Republican David Duke, who is running but with little support.  Seems wildly unlikely.  GOP hold.

Maryland--I include this race only because it's an open seat, vacated by long-time Democratic Senator Barbara Mikulski.  Maryland has become one of the bluest states in the country and its demographics portend a particularly bad night for Donald Trump, meaning Democratic Congressman Chris Van Hollen should have no problem whatsoever scoring his promotion to the Senate up against anonymous GOP challenger Kathy Szeliga and should win by more than 20 points.  Dem hold.

Missouri--One race that shouldn't be competitive but is is in the red-trending state of Missouri, where quintessential Republican insider Roy Blunt is running for a second term and found himself in a surprisingly close race with Democratic Secretary of State Jason Kander, whose proven himself a fantastic candidate and recently got a windfall of cash from the DSCC to take on Blunt.  Given that Missouri is racing to the Republicans and will undoubtedly go for Donald Trump by double digits, a victory by Kander here is an exceptionally tall order, but it's a dark horse race that has defied gravity thus far and Blunt has shown no signs of pulling away yet.  Unfortunately, I suspect he will in another month.  GOP hold.

Nevada--Going from a Republican-held seat that shouldn't be competitive to a Democrat-held seat that shouldn't be competitive, Senate leader Harry Reid is retiring and attempting to bequeath his seat to his hand-picked successor, Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto.  The Republicans have a strong candidate of their own in Congressman Joe Heck, who has represented an Obama-voting swing-ish seat in the Las Vegas suburbs for several cycles now, but Nevada's rapidly diversifying electorate made this seat seem like a heavy lift for the GOP.  Polling suggests otherwise, both in the Presidential race and in this Senate race, showing the race either tied or with Heck holding a small lead.  Polling in Nevada almost always undercounts Democrats though, largely thanks to the stealth "Reid machine" of SEIU nonwhite voters that come out en masse for Democrats on election day and dramatically overperform what Democrats ultimately do in the polls.  This has been true for most recent election cycles and while there's no guarantee it will this time, this year's particular dynamic pitting the Reid machine versus a completely disorganized Donald Trump candidacy at the top of the ticket leads me to believe Cortez Masto pulls this out, but it's still likely to be far closer than it should have been given that Nevada's electorate will probably be 38% or more nonwhite in 2016.  Dem hold.

New Hampshire--One of the battleground states where Hillary has been holding up okay even as her numbers crater nationally is New Hampshire, which is historically libertarian and has been trending Democratic for a generation now.  This is theoretically a bad combination for Republicans, but incumbent Senator Kelly Ayotte was elected in a landslide in the GOP-friendly year of 2010 and still has some residual political capital that might be enough to help her weather the Trump storm at the top of the ticket.  Democratic Governor Maggie Hassan is challenging Ayotte and it's been a tight race in most polls, but operating under the premise that the party of the challenger is better positioned to pick up the late-breaking voters, especially when there are liable to be some coattails in the Presidential race, I'm giving Hassan a small edge here.  It wouldn't surprise me if Ayotte found a way to hold on though.  Dems +2

North Carolina--Two-term Republican Senator Richard Burr is a milquetoast backbencher in the Senate who hasn't made much of a name for himself and faces the prospect of a backlash in a Democrat-trending state.  DSCC funds are now flowing into the state to help otherwise unimpressive Democratic challenger Deborah Ross, so the potential exists for an upset here.  There's always a ton of polling out of North Carolina and this year is no different, with most polls showing the race a toss-up.  Ultimately I think the Republicans still have a bit of an edge here and I suspect will be helped at the margins by voter response to the ongoing Charlotte protests.  Ross could get very close but I'm not yet convinced she can get more votes than Burr.  GOP hold.

Ohio--There were warning signs a year ago that former Democratic Governor Ted Strickland wasn't doing what he needed to do to effectively take on the savvy GOP incumbent Rob Portman, with soft fund-raising numbers quarter after quarter, but Strickland's residual love from Ohio's conservative Appalachian counties coupled with Democratic Party resources expected to fill the holes where Strickland fell short still led most to believe this would be one of the marquee Senate races of 2016.  Unfortunately for the Democrats, Portman built up a massive warchest and effectively fired an arsenal of missiles at Strickland, who responded with a few verbal blunders that really put his back against the wall in this race.  I was still skeptical that Strickland would be triaged by the national party that's exactly what happened a few weeks ago as he fell further and further behind.  Polls now show Strickland, one of my favorite Democrats around, losing by 10 points or more and too broke to make up any ground, limiting his campaign ad buys to only two Ohio media markets.  It's an epic fail of the highest order and Portman appears poised to be gifted this seat.  It would have been hard to imagine six months ago that Missouri and North Carolina would stay competitive longer for the Democrats than Ohio but that's where we are.  GOP hold.

Pennsylvania--I was very much on Team Sestak in the Democratic primaries, but the national party made a top priority out of crushing Joe Sestak, the 2010 Senate nominee who came within two points of victory in an extremely tough year for Democrats.  Their Manchurian candidate of choice was Katie McGinty, Chief of Staff to the Democratic Governor, who has always struck me as about as generic of a candidate as the party could find.  The national party got their way though and McGinty won the primary.  I was at first skeptical she'd be able to topple incumbent Republican Pat Toomey, given that Toomey has been moderately successful in selling himself as a moderate to the key voters in suburban Philadelphia who pretty much decide every election in Pennsylvania these days.  Polling indicates that McGinty built a small lead though, most likely buoyed by Hillary's strength in those socially liberal Philly suburbs.  I definitely don't count Toomey out though and could imagine a scenario where a mismatch in the debates helps Toomey regain his footing, but I'm calling this as a narrow McGinty win for now.  Dems +3

Wisconsin--There's only one race at this point in the campaign where I am supremely confident that the Democrats will gain a seat, and that's in Wisconsin, where popular former Democratic Senator Russ Feingold seems to have learned his lesson from six years ago and is taking this race seriously.  Every poll I've seen has shown him decisively leading accidental Republican Senator Ron Johnson who beat Feingold six years ago in the GOP wave that crashed upon Wisconsin particularly hard.  I've seen no indication that Johnson has a path for a comeback here.  Something big would have to come up to change the trajectory of this race.  As it stands, I'll call this one for Feingold by 7 points.   Dems +4

So there it is.  I have the Democrats picking up four Senate seats on November 8, which would get them to 50 total seats.  If Hillary wins the Presidential election that will be enough for a majority, but if Trump wins they'll be one short.  Considering what Democrats were anticipating a few months ago based on their delusional "Trumpocalypse" forecast, it must be humbling for them to be at the end of September in a position where there are only four races that are pure tossups (IN, NH, NV, PA) and that they need to win three of those four to have a chance at winning back the Senate.  They do still have the semi-promising dark horse races in MO and NC to hang their hopes on, but both of those are long shots.  I'll get more into the impact the Presidential race is having on the shape of the 2016 electorate when I make my state-by-state predictions for that race in the next week or two, but for the time being suffice it to say that the unthinkable weakness of Hillary Clinton's candidacy has needlessly turned a golden opportunity for Democrats into a nailbiter, and one that is likely to have devastating consequences for Congressional Democrats in the years to come if Hillary ekes out a win.

Friday, September 23, 2016

"MacGyver" Reboots

All summer I've bounced back and forth between skepticism and restrained excitement that my favorite boyhood show, "MacGyver", was being rebooted by CBS.  On one hand, my youthful attachment to the original series will be nearly impossible to duplicate now that I'm a crusty, middle-aged cynic, so part of me wished they'd leave well enough alone.  On the other hand, what's the harm in giving another creative team a chance to pay homage to a series that meant so much to me and my peers at the time.

Early indicators were not good.  A pilot was made and despite disastrous reviews by fans of the original and CBS executives, the series was still picked up and put on the fall schedule, with the series passed off to a new showrunner, Peter Lenkov, who successfully commandeered the long-running and well-received remake of "Hawaii Five-O".  This was encouraging as "Hawaii Five-O" is one of the few remakes worthy of the original product, suggesting more effort would go into authenticating the original franchise. Throughout the summer, updates about the remake gave me equal measures of relief and concern about the treatment that my beloved "MacGyver" would get.  And tonight was the night I'd see how it measured up.

My thoughts on tonight's premiere were about what I expected, which is neither a firm compliment nor a snarky putdown.  It was a decently entertaining hour of television that set a foundation for some characters I might be able to get into with further development.  The plot was serviceable and the pacing and suspense were on point.  It was the definition of a Friday night popcorn show.  Did it in any way measure up to the good name of "MacGyver"?  Certainly not tonight's pilot.

My biggest problem from the get-go with the new "MacGyver" is that he's simply the member of a team, and not the lone wolf tour de force who needed no other man or woman's help to get shit done back in the 1980s.  The result is that the "MacGyver" reboot feels more uninspired than a conventional reboot, and instead comes across more like an assembly line procedural indistinguishable from any number of other current crimefighter series, particularly on CBS.  In what way is the new "MacGyver" different from "Scorpion", a series that was a MacGyver-by-committee clone itself when it premiered two years ago?   There was little to this hour that didn't feel entirely conventional.  Even the majority of the MacGyverisms were recycled to some degree from the original.

Given a chance to ease into their respective roles, perhaps the cast can fit their respective characters like a glove and carve out a distinctive identity that raises this reboot to another level.  There was nothing disqualifying about what I saw tonight, unlike the ridiculously awful WB "Young MacGyver" pilot that thankfully never made it to the air back in 2003, so I will continue watching it with my fingers crossed.  Thus far, though, they have a very long way to go to be worthy of the "MacGyver" legacy.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Hillary Does Her Best Romney Impression

Four years ago, nobody's blood boiled more than mine when Mitt Romney was caught on hidden camera telling a fund-raiser full of oligarchs that "47% of Americans" were freeloading parasites who he had no interest in appealing to.  With that in mind, I'd be a hypocrite if I didn't also object to Hillary Clinton's shockingly offensive reference to fully "half" of Donald Trump's voters as a "basket of deplorables", ascribing the most pernicious possible motives to scores of millions of Americans she's never met.  There are an endless number of ways Hillary could condemn bigotry and racism, and call out Donald Trump and individual supporters personally for appealing to that bigotry and racism, but to name-call scores of millions of people not voting for you is way over the line to the point of being borderline disqualifying for the constitutional duties of the office of Presidency.

Now to put this in context, Trump makes comments almost daily that are as offensive as Hillary's, but I'm not interested in grading Hillary on a curve here as she is supposed to be the statesman alternative to Trump's vile loose cannon but last night sunk to Trump's level.  Just like Romney's comment four years ago, Hillary's comment concedes--to the highest level of public service--a trench-warfare tribalism where those who don't support you are viewed as cartoon villains, and it's absolutely toxic to the prospects of good-faith government.  If Hillary becomes President, how can she be seen as a good-faith arbiter of the basic functions of her job if she viewed somewhere close to 25% of the country in the prism of a "deplorable"?  It's a word that feels like it's straight out of the archaic Indian caste system, and here we have the frontrunner for President using it refer to more than 30 million Americans she expects to be governing in four months!  Do you suppose after hearing this, Hillary's many critics may further question her interest in serving their needs, desires, and aspirations?

Most depressing, the Democratic partisans are circling the wagons to defend her and the comment just as Romney's partisans defended the 47% comment four years ago.  "It's true!" each group said then and now.  "What does he/she have to apologize for?", reinforcing the instincts of politicians to speak in such monstrously denigrating terms about not only their political opponents, but their political opponents' supporters.  Another victory for trench warfare least on the surface.  Just yesterday, I speculated that Hillary may be in an electoral danger zone where all Trump has to do to win over enough undecideds and soft Johnson supporters to win is to exceed abysmally low expectations.  This unforced error by Hillary could well be the trigger to do just that.  Most polls indicate that somewhere in the neighborhood of 55% of Americans intend to vote for someone other than Hillary on November 8th.  They may take personal offense to her designation of them as "deplorables" and consolidate around the challenger best positioned to beat her, and that of course is Trump.  I suppose it's possible that the opposite could happen and she may have successfully shamed the undecideds to her side so they wouldn't be among those "deplorables", but that seems an unlikely response to such elitist grandstanding.

The ramifications of a Trump Presidency will almost certainly compel me to proceed with my plan to hold my nose and vote for Hillary.  But she's making it harder.  Not only do I find it repugnant and beneath the dignity of the office she seeks to issue a blanket condemnation of that many millions of Americans in such crude, dehumanizing terms, I think it portends the law of physics will take hold and this action will produce an equal and opposite reaction, rendering the country more polarized, more distrusting, and more ungovernable in the years to come. Hillary deserves every bit of criticism that comes from this comment, but whether she wins or loses, the bulk of the penalty will be imposed on the republic and its people.

Friday, September 09, 2016

Is This Election The Second Coming of 1980?

In the past two days, in the aftermath of the "Commander in Chief Forum" broadcast on NBC, two impressions of the state of the race have stuck with me for conflicting reasons.  A coworker today said today that he thinks most people have made up their mind who they're gonna vote for.  I didn't respond to him, but more than most election cycles of the past generation, I don't believe that's true.  Both candidates are so disliked and so distrusted that I suspect that the final chapter of this campaign is likely to bring about pretty significant polling swings.  The other impression of the race that stuck with me came from liberal New York magazine columnist Jonathan Chait, who watched Wednesday night's forum where the thumb was put on the scale by moderator Matt Lauer to keep Hillary Clinton in a permanent defensive posture while allowing Donald Trump to basically hold court, and for the first time concluded that Trump could actually win this thing.  When it comes to politics, the soft bigotry of low expectations has tremendous kingmaking power, and since Trump's expectations bar couldn't possibly be lower, he has nowhere to go in the eyes of the public but up.

We saw this to a degree in 2000, where George W. Bush was considered such a frat boy dunderhead that he couldn't possibly compete with the alleged debating wizard Al Gore heading into the first Presidential debate.  Bush put forth a competent performance and was suddenly elevated to equal intellectual footing with Gore.  But perhaps even more relevant to the current cycle was the similar situation in 1980, where voters were itching for a reason to fire Democratic incumbent Jimmy Carter but were not yet convinced that GOP challenger Ronald Reagan was Presidential timber.  When Reagan showed up and not only stood his ground with Carter but alpha-dogged him twice, Reagan was finally positioned to take full advantage of Carter's vulnerabilities and went on to crush Carter by 10 points in a race that was tied before the debate.

It really feels like we're in the same place in 2016, albeit without an incumbent.  Hillary Clinton is incredibly unpopular and voters won't need too much provocation to cast a ballot against her.  Trump is not looked at as Presidential but something about him is subliminally attractive to a large number of voters who don't yet support him but can be won over.  And also just like 1980, a third-party candidate is hovering in the shadows with a significant share of soft support that could very easily break towards one of the two major party candidates in the end.

Donald Trump's standing is not quite as strong as Reagan's was at this point in 1980, given that pretty much all 50 states were "swing states" that cycle, but the fact that he's even within striking distance given his endless litany of seemingly disqualifying conduct speaks volumes of Hillary's vulnerability and how hollow her current polling leads are.  Couple that with how low the bar has been set for Trump's performance, the media treating him with kid gloves in the interest of making a race out of it, and the public's inability to be shocked by just about anything he says or does at this point and it becomes more clear just how dangerous he could be for Hillary in the next 60 days.  Jon Chait first saw the template by which Trump could win Wednesday night on NBC and I can see it too, with the additional context of recent history adding even more clarity to Trump's path.

The high rate of undecideds in just about every race fully contradicts my co-worker's observation that most people are dug in to their pre-selected choice.  I guess technically that may be true since "most people" on requires 51% of voters, but there are easily enough undecided voters out there to give Trump not just a victory, but a relatively easy one.  For all the talk of Hillary's Electoral College advantage, there are more than enough undecideds in just about every poll of every swing state to get Trump not only to 270 electoral votes, but to more than 300 if he can consolidate support in the ninth inning as Reagan did in 1980.  It's still probably odds-against, but Hillary has shown no indication she's getting better at this, particularly commensurate with how little Trump has to do to show he is getting slightly better at this than he was a month ago.

I was fully invested in the idea that Hillary was probably going to win for the past several months.  She still may win decisively, but I'm no longer sticking my neck out to predict it.  Perhaps in the weeks to come, after at least one debate, I'll make my usual state-level predictions, but right now I don't feel like this race is settled enough to waste my time.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Don't Expect A Downballot Wave For Democrats On November 8th

The anecdotal evidence is piling up that Donald Trump is more likely than not to take a pounding at the polls in less than three months.  The usual caveats apply here as Trump has been left for dead many times in the past before landing on his feet again a couple of weeks later, but there are an endless litany of conventional campaign metrics that point to Trump having dug himself a massive hole by which no candidate can be reasonably expected to climb out of this close to the election.  Naturally, Democrats' response has been a sky's-the-limit cockiness about their chances of swamping not only Trump at the top of the ticket, but sweeping in Democrats downballot in Congressional and legislative races throughout the country.  I'm skeptical.

Let's start with the Senate.  The Democrats have a favorable map this cycle and if Hillary wins, they'll only need to pick up four seats for control.  That's always been odds-on to happen even in a 50-50 Presidential contest.  Three Republican-held Senate seats already seem heavily tilted in the Democratic direction, and if they go the Democrats' way they'll only need one more victory in a handful of competitive races.  If the Democrats emerge with only 50 or 51 Senate seats on November 8, they'll have a barely functional majority but will have fallen short of what they should have given the Senate race map and Trump's countercoattails.  Only if the Democrats have 53 or 54 seats come November 9th will there a sign that Trump was a serious anchor downballot in these Senate races.  It's certainly possible, but thus far the stars don't seem to be aligning the way they did in 2012 where Democrats swept virtually every competitive Senate race on the table....and a couple that weren't really expected to be competitive.  If you see Republican incumbents felled in Ohio, North Carolina, and Missouri in three months, then you'll know I was wrong and Trump really did burn the Republican Party down.

The House of Representatives is where I really doubt the effects of a wave at the top of the ticket to be felt.  The district lines are drawn and geographically sorted in a way that makes a Democratic takeover next to impossible except in a once-in-a-generation partisan wave.  Obama's 2008 election was one such wave.  Obama beat McCain by a decisive 7 points that year, but the Democrats won the generic Congressional ballot by an astounding 11 points that year.  There was a mandate for the Democratic Party that year at the peak of Bush fatigue among the electorate, with the Democrats expanding their Congressional coalition into previously Republican portions of suburbia while hanging on to their tenuous Yellow Dog Democrat seats in the South for one more cycle.  Fast forward to 2016 where a couple dozen of those seats previously held by Southern and Appalachian Democrats have realigned hopelessly to the Republican column and will not in any situation return to the Democratic fold this year.  Republicans controlled redistricting in just about every battleground state after the 2010 census and further isolated Democrats.  It would take at least an 8-point generic Congressional vote advantage for Democrats to regain a House majority this year.  The most recent poll showed Democrats with a mere four-point generic House advantage.  And keep in mind the Democrats held a four-point generic House advantage in the polls right before the 2014 midterms as well....when they lost 13 seats to plunge to the smallest Democratic House minority since the 1920s.  The difference between 2008 and 2016 is that this year is not a referendum against one party's governing agenda as 2008 was.  Even if it's a referendum against Trump, nobody should expect voters to punish other members of his party in numbers meaningful enough to alter the balance of power to significantly in a polarized legislative body of 435 members.

The story might be slightly more favorable to Democrats in at least some of the 50 state legislatures where elections will be held, simply because 2014 was such a disaster for Democrats that they'll likely win back many seats they lost simply because of rotten midterm turnout rising back to Presidential year levels and reinstalling some Democrats previously unseated.  Again though, there's a limit to Democrats' prospects for picking up seats because the same 2010-2011 redistricting that boxed them in for Congressional races has boxed them in for legislative races too.  It's not out of the question that the legislative chambers in a few states could flip, but key swing state bodies like Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Florida, or even blue states like Michigan and Wisconsin, are likely out of reach because of the redistricting hand the Democrats were dealt after their 2010 midterm wipeout.

Ultimately though, redistricting will only be part of the problem keeping Democrats from fully taking advantage of hypothetical weakness by Trump at the top of the GOP ticket.  The biggest problem is that most voters don't see a problem with the Republican Party beyond Trump.  Perhaps if the Democrats were running a more broadly popular nominee, the party would be better positioned to take advantage of Trump's troubles.  Instead it seems as though millions of voters may be willing to hold their nose and vote for Hillary Clinton to stop Trump, but they don't trust her and want a check on her power.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Philadelphia's New Soda Tax: Everything That's Wrong With Modern "Liberalism"

For the last two decades, we've been seeing one of the most dramatic resortings of political coalitions that the republic has ever experienced.  It couldn't have been more clear in the World War II era until the dawn of the Clinton era.....young professionals voted Republican and steelworkers and coal miners voted Democrat.  The flipping of these coalitions has been playing out at a healthy clip over the last quarter century but is really accelerating in the Trump era, with many of the arguments that used to be made by Republicans now being made by Democrats and vice versa.   We've seen it play out a great deal this weekend in response to a majority of British voters who cast a ballot in favor of leaving the European Union.  Conservatives at home and abroad are cheering on the kind of populist peasant uprising based on the principles that used to be attributed to liberals....while liberals are looking down their noses at the disproportionately working-class demographics who chose to rebel against the "too big to fail" elites who have wired the global economic spider web in a way that is working for fewer and fewer people.  It would be harder to know who the good guys are right now if one side wasn't being led by a puerile, demagogic huckster of the highest order like Donald Trump, but moving forward beyond 2016 I really see self-identified "liberalism" continuing to move away from people like myself who are interested in public policy that lifts up the working class rather than sees their life choices and priorities as a pox on society that has to be civilized and neutered by the "enlightened".

But there's been one sphere of public policy where liberals have made great strides in recent years, and that's recognizing the ruinous effects of growing income inequality.  There have been a number of proposals put out there to help ameliorate this growing chasm--most prominently higher minimum wages that force profitable companies to spread their own wealth to their workers rather than pass on the costs to taxpayers vis a vis public assistance--but the same subset of policymakers are also staining these efforts with regressive proposals that are as contradictory to the goal of reducing income inequality as they are monstrously cynical.  And the best encapsulation of this trend so far this year occurred in the city of Philadelphia earlier this month, where the city council voted 13-4 to separate disproportionately low-income residents from the City of Brotherly Love from $91 million a year of their money.

That's right....the same policymakers who have made income inequality the centerpiece of their policy platform have decided that the poorest residents of one of America's largest city who have limited access to supermarkets with healthy food alternatives should pay $1.02 more for a two-liter of root beer and $2.16 more for a 12-pack of ginger ale.  The proceeds from this scheme were originally intended to pay for education in general and more specifically universal pre-K, creating a perverse incentive curve where adequate funding for worthy education goals is dependent on robust sales of the very sugary beverages we're told are such a scourge on society.  But lo and behold, at the last minute before the vote, the cynical assholes of the Philadelphia City Council decided they could raid this new pinata full of blood money for general fund purposes if they so desire as well.  Charming.

There are so many things wrong with this brand of policymaking it's hard to know where to begin, but my most fundamental takeaway is the degree to which society's elites deem their own constituents' lifestyle choices are censure-worthy, something to be preyed upon for their own ends.  It wasn't so long ago that the political left was aghast at the "religious right" for attempting to commingle public policy with social engineering to cleanse the unwashed masses of their sins, but when it comes down to it, the consensus opinion of the left is little different, albeit on a different subset of issues, weaponizing public policy in the most regressive possible way to keep the misbehaving proletariat on a short leash.  Yet for all for their embarrassment at the lifestyles of these peasants, they are desperately hoping the embarrassing lifestyles continue so their universal pre-K is fully funded.

Tobacco users  have been on the receiving end of this treatment for generations, and particularly in the last 10 years or so.  My home state of Minnesota was arguably even more cynical than the city of Philadelphia, with its pseudo-"liberal" legislature and Governor of 2013 bankrolling a new welfare stadium for billionaire Minnesota Vikings owner Zygi Wilf through a massive cigarette tax paid for by the low-income workers, abuse victims, and mentally ill that make up the primary demographics of modern tobacco users.  It was only a matter of time until tobacco taxes yielded diminishing returns and cynical policymakers moved onto new "naughty" pastimes of the working-class to prey upon for path-of-least-resistance revenue streams, and the Philadelphia City Council marks the official transition to the public's dietary habits as a way for the state to impose financial punishment.

It's obviously hard to draw a straight line from the peasant uprising in Britain on Thursday and the City of Philadelphia's soda tax, but it's hard not to miss the tone-deafness of elitist policymakers facing their comeuppance at the hands of the people who they are not only failing to deliver a higher standard of living for, but are wagging a righteous finger at for being the cause of the problems.  Neither a soda tax or a cigarette tax--or whatever their next incarnation may be (fast food tax, cookie tax, ice cream tax, Mr. Freeze tax)--will individually elicit the kind of peasant uprising seen in Britain, but the success of Donald Trump in tapping into the frustrations of the downscale is indicative that there's a collective boiling point that at some point in the not too distant future will be reached.  If the left wants to get there more quickly, nickel-and-diming micromanagement on every minutia of the lifestyles of an already agitated voting public seems like a fantastic way of doing it.  Whether it be a peasant rebellion of the existing economic order in Britain or resistance to poor people paying double what they used to for a two-liter of Pepsi, the political left would be well advised to figure out that blaming downscale voters for everything that's wrong in society is not a wise course.