Sunday, November 04, 2018

Campaign 2018: Closing Thoughts

The closing weekend of the 2018 midterm campaign feels like a time when momentum is building for Democrats and the likelihood for a decent-sized wave is about to crest at the right time.  Then again, I thought the same thing on the closing weekend of the 2016 Presidential campaign, only to reverse that assessment sharply by Monday night and into Tuesday when the tide felt like it was going the other way.  My intuition has generally been pretty good on these things, but this year the variables are considerably higher than they were in the previous three midterm campaigns (2006, 2010, and 2014), all of which pointed to pretty clean waves for the out-party.  If Democratic momentum had continued to build without any speed bumps, this cycle would be just as predictable.  But the headlines in the past month have provided some headwinds for Democrats, including a Supreme Court battle fought over a hot-button culture war issue, an immigration story that has fired up low-propensity GOP voters, and blistering economic and job growth with historically low unemployment rates that could keep center-right independents on the Republican train.

Working to Democrats' favor is a deeply polarizing President who hasn't exactly played the fantastic cards he's been dealt very deftly along with a GOP overexposure in statehouses, legislatures, and suburban Congressional districts.  It's a different story in the Senate where it's Democrats who are extremely overexposed defending their massive 2012 Senate class, but even there it's now looking possible to thread a needle and have some key red-state Senate races break late in Democrats' favor, but it will only happen if the media narrative of the GOP's certainty of retaining the Senate holds for 48 more hours.

But then again, maybe the GOP will get Trump's country bumpkin coalition out in full force underneath everybody's radar just as he did two years ago.  That still probably wouldn't be enough to save the House but could result in multiple Senate seats staying in Republican hands, much like I predicted two weeks ago in my final Senate predictions.  I'm out on a limb predicting Manchin loses in West Virginia, but none of my other picks seems too out of line as there are so many races that continue to be on the knife's edge, and I think I'm standing by those final Senate predictions where the GOP gains four seats.

In the Governor's races, I'm standing by every prediction except Nevada where I now think Sisolak is a slight favorite over Laxalt.  The Florida polls have tightened this week and given Republicans' habit of outperforming the polls in the Sunshine State, I'm still betting on a narrow DeSantis win over Gillum.

As for the House, I'll relist the races I think will flip from blue to red given that the playing field has changed quite a bit in the last six weeks....

AZ-02, CA-10, CA-25, CA-39, CA-45, CA-48, CA-49, CO-06, FL-15, FL-27, IL-06, IA-01, IA-03, KS-02, KS-03, ME-02, MI-08, MI-11, MN-02, MN-03, MT-AL, NJ-02, NJ-03, NJ-07, NJ-11, NY-19, NY-22, NC-09, PA-05, PA-06, PA-07, PA-17, TX-32, UT-04, VA-02, VA-07, VA-10, and WA-08. 

On top of that, the GOP will pick up two seats currently held by Democrats....MN-08 and PA-14.

This list has changed some since my September ratings, but my diagnosis hasn't, giving Democrats a net of 36 seats.  I could see the tide being a handful of seats fewer than that but conceivably several seats more.  I'd be stunned if the Republicans were able to hold their losses to fewer than 23, the tipping point where Democrats take control of the in just as stunned when Donald Trump got the Electoral College inside straight that he got on November 8, 2016.  But I would only be equally shocked in Democrats got more than 50 seats, which shows how big the battleground is this year. 

Had a Republican President Marco Rubio or John Kasich, or possibly even Ted Cruz, been presiding over a nation with fundamentals as strong as what we're seeing now, the Democrats would not likely be poised to make these kinds of gains.  Donald Trump is the reason why so many of these suburban Republicans are poised to lose their jobs.  We'll see if he regains his footing after Democrats take over the House.  My guess is he very well might.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Final Calls on 2018 Senate Races

There are some political cycles where everything goes right for the party who ends up winning that cycle.  The Democrats had that kind of year in 2008 when Obama won his first term, and fared almost as well in 2012 when Obama was re-elected.  This year, with a nominally unpopular President in the White House and the entire government in the control of the Republican Party, the Democrats looked poised for the kind of political cycle where everything was supposed to go right...but instead everything has been going wrong for them in the most consequential weeks of the cycle.  Trump has been getting one win after another with favorable reports with jobs and the economy, as well as a successful renegotiation of NAFTA for which even I have to give him some credit for pulling off.  And then the GOP was able to bait Democrats into a Supreme Court fight that was fought over the divisive hot-button cultural flashpoint of the moment (sexual assault) which drove up Republican voter enthusiasm.  But right when that Supreme Court fight started to fade from voters' memories, Republicans have now won the culture war lottery with a multi-thousand-person "migrant caravan" marching through Mexico towards the U.S. border.  The Republicans could not have dreamed of a more perfect scenario for the lead-up to a midterm election two weeks away that is being fought primarily on red-state turf.  Who knows exactly how this plays out....but it's hard to imagine it'll end well.  I waited till after the "Kavanaugh bump" ended to make my final predictions, meaning I'm a week or so later than usual in an election cycle with these final picks, with more uncertainty than ever.  Here goes...

Arizona--In the open seat to replace Republican Jeff Flake, Democratic Congresswoman Kyrsten Sinema had been in the catbird's seat for months and seemed poised to defeat Republican Congresswoman Martha McSally and flip the seat blue.  But Sinema's past as a far-left radical in her youth is producing a drip-drip of effective soundbytes for McSally to exploit and undermine Sinema's reinvention as a moderate.  Most recently, some video has been dropped of Sinema saying disparaging things about Arizona voters in out-of-state speeches.  Polling has been inconsistent in the weeks since but most indications are that McSally has drawn blood and Sinema is reeling.  Sinema is still acting like she's leading in this race but I'm starting to doubt she is.  There are a half dozen Senate seats on the knife's edge and this is one of them.  If and until I see polling numbers that indicate Sinema has found her footing, I'm gonna assume a narrow McSally victory is forthcoming and the GOP will hold a seat that Democrats have considered as good as in their column since early summer.  Prediction:  McSally by 2.

California--For several months, the Democrat versus Democrat California Senate race seemed unlikely to be competitive.  State Senator Kevin de Leon was just not catching on fire in his attempt to replace octogenarian incumbent Dianne Feinstein.  That's still probably true but after Feinstein's controversial role in the Kavanaugh hearings, there's some speculation that de Leon has an opening.  If de Leon can hold his liberal and Hispanic base, perhaps angry Republicans looking to vote against Feinstein can put together a coalition and take down Feinstein.  Seems like quite a reach, but there's so little polling that I have no idea if de Leon has been closing the gap or not.  Ultimately, however, I think Feinstein still pulls it out without breaking a sweat as I suspect if there are a huge wave of enraged Republicans, they'd be more likely to leave the ballot blank than vote for de Leon, who's further to the left than Feinstein.  Prediction:  Feinstein by 18.

Connecticut--Democratic incumbent Chris Murphy is poised for an absolute cakewalk against his invisible GOP challenger, rich guy Matthew Corey.  I never expected this race to be competitive but it's such a foregone conclusion that Murphy wins in a blowout that I don't really have anything specific to say about it.  Prediction:  Murphy by 28.

Delaware--The real fight for moderate Democratic incumbent Tom Carper this year was the primary, where he was challenged from the left but ultimately prevailed comfortably.  After getting the nomination, the general election will be a breeze for Carper against fourth-rate GOP challenger Rob Arlett.  Prediction:  Carper by 35.

Florida--Given how almost every close race seems to go to the Republican in Florida, particularly in midterms, I was an early skeptic of laid-back Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson's attempt to win a fourth term against well-funded and suddenly popular GOP Governor Rick Scott.  But as this cycle began to develop into a Democratic wave, I figured Nelson might get a needed tailwind...enough to pull this out.  There is scant evidence that that is happening even now in the last couple weeks of the campaign, and in fact Scott's raised profile during the recent hurricanes might be giving him a tick of momentum in the home stretch, all while Nelson is paying the consequences for a late start to his campaign generally and more specifically in letting Scott outflank him in his outreach to the Puerto Rican community which Nelson desperately needs to hang on to if he's to win.  Suddenly, Nelson's best hope is a surge of African American voters expected to come out on behalf of gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum.  What a strange world when the Bernie-endorsed Tallahassee Mayor under FBI investigation is being counted on to provide three-term Senate incumbent Bill Nelson the coattails needed to eke out a win.  It could still happen, but I'm afraid the polling models will have to be skewed to undercount Democratic enthusiasm, and that's a fool's bet in the Sunshine State.  This is a very close call at this stage but I'm afraid I've gotta go with Scott here.  Prediction:  Scott by <1 .="" br="" gop="" nbsp="" running="" total:="">

Hawaii--I was not impressed with the way Democrat Mazie Hirono acquitted herself during the Kavanaugh hearings, but luckily for her she's living in one of the nation's bluest states and there's unlikely to be any consequences.  It's possible Hirono could lose some soft support but her "some dude" challenger Ron Curtis is not and never was positioned to put up a real fight against Hirono.  Prediction:  Hirono by 30.

Indiana--A few months ago, I figured the large number of battleground Senate races would see enough movement to one candidate or the other to make final calls easier, but that has not happened.  Part of it has to do with far less polling than in the past, but even more so, the momentum that Democrats were starting to build in September was erased during the Kavanaugh hearings, and one conservative Democratic Senator who had to make a tough political choice was Joe Donnelly, the accidental Senator from 2012 who only got his job because then GOP candidate Richard Mourdock disqualified himself with a stupid comment about rape in a debate.  This year's Republican challenger, state legislator and rich guy Mike Braun, isn't perfect, but hasn't made any unforced errors which is enough to make him competitive in the red-leaning Hoosier State.  This race was expected to be a heavy lift for Democrats, but Donnelly appeared to have a lead in September.  Polling since has been limited but indicates the race has narrowed, but with a narrow Donnelly lead within the margin of error continuing to hold.  This is another race that's a tough call and the vagaries of Indiana laws probably means polling moving forward will continue to be minimal, so all I have to go on is gut feeling and the reliability of the polling models used so far as being reflective of the electorate we're likely to see.  I don't have a strong sense either way of how this is going but I tend to think Braun might have the edge in the end.  Prediction:  Braun by 1.  Running Total:  GOP +2

Maine--If this was a traditional three-way race in Maine I'd be entirely confident that Independent Angus King, who caucuses with the Democrats, would win a solid uncontested majority, but Maine has implemented ranked-choice voting this year, and I still don't really understand how that works and how it will affect the final tally.  I'm still entirely confident that King defeats both Republican challenger Eric Brakey and Democrat Zak Ringelstein, but I have no idea who to expect will finish second or how much closer the "second-ranked" candidate will get in the final margin than he would have with a traditional counting all I can do is through out a guess....and hope this ranked-choice voting doesn't catch on and make my job that much more difficult.  Prediction:  King by 16.

Maryland--And another three-candidate race will transpire in Maryland where Democrat Ben Cardin is running for a third term and is certain to win handily.  In 2012, Cardin won a three-way race with 56% and split opposition.  I suspect his numbers will look about the same this year, but am not entirely sure which of his unimpressive challengers, Republican Tony Campbell or independent Neal Simon, will take home the second-place trophy.  I'm guessing Campbell but no guarantees.  Prediction:  Cardin by 23.

Massachusetts--Last year I predicted that while Democrat Elizabeth Warren would get a second term, the numbers wouldn't be as overwhelming as many suspected as she's just never caught on with the more blue-collar voters of the Bay State.  I went so far as to say if Hillary had won in 2016, Warren's seat would likely be a battleground.  The fierce opposition to Donald Trump in Massachusetts has changed my thinking on that, however, as I suspect the supermajority of the state's voters will all vote for Warren over lightweight Republican challenger Geoff Diehl just to stick it to Trump.  But I still don't see Warren as playing well in a Presidential race which she is clearly setting herself up for.  Prediction: Warren by 27.

Michigan--Democratic incumbent Debbie Stabenow is like so many Dems in this Senate class and has benefited from lucky timing in that all four contests she's run in have been in Democratic years.  Her fourth bid is the latest example as every indication points to a very good year for Democrats in the Wolverine State. Stabenow's Republican challenger John James is straight out of central casting as a candidate....a young black entrepreneur and veteran who is articulate and charismatic.  But James picked a very bad year to run and has not found any momentum at all.  I suspect if Hillary had narrowly won in 2016, this race would be going quite a bit differently.  Prediction:  Stabenow by 17. 

Minnesota (A)--Two-term Democrat Amy Klobuchar has the number of the Gopher State, scoring blowout wins in both of her primary races.  She won by 30 points in 2012, and while she has token opposition again in Republican legislator Jim Newberger who she was demolish, I suspect overall voter polarization since then may shrink her margin a bit this time....but wouldn't be surprised if she dominated just as strongly as last time.  Prediction: Klobuchar by 25.

Minnesota (B)--In the special election to replace Democrat Al Franken, I've been a little nervous we could be looking at a sleeper race between appointed Democratic quasi-incumbent Tina Smith and state Senator Karin Housley, her Republican Senator, given that Smith is largely unknown and doesn't exactly leave much of an impression.  But Housley's campaign has not been strong and polling is not giving much indication of an opening for her, while Smith will have an incredible wind at her back with Klobuchar and a strong Democratic gubernatorial candidate.  I'm not fully conceding that Smith has put this race away yet, but it's getting very late for Housley to stage any kind of comeback.  Prediction:  Smith by 11.

Mississippi (A)--This is the uncomplicated Senate race in the Magnolia State this year, where Republican incumbent Roger Wicker is seeking a third term.  His opponent is Democratic state lawmaker David Baria, who is a solid candidate for the Dems but Mississippi is just to Republican and Wicker is too inoffensive of an incumbent for him to take down.  Prediction:  Wicker by 17.

Mississippi (B)--This is the complicated Senate race in the Magnolia State this year, replacing Republican Thad Cochran who retired because of health issues and whose seat is open to a jungle primary on November 6th, going to a December runoff if nobody gets 50%, a threshold unlikely to be met on November 6th.  The safe money is on appointed Republican Cindy Hyde-Smith who will be running to fill out the rest of Cochran's term, and also likely to get a position in the top-two is Democrat Mike Espy, the former Congressman and Agriculture Secretary.  But the wild card in the race is right-wing Republican lawmaker Chris McDaniel, who came within a hair's breath of beating Cochran for the Republican nomination in 2014 and is running again, but has ruffled some feathers in the state GOP after his sour grapes response to the 2014 loss.  Still, polling has been light and it's not clear if McDaniel might stage a surprise surge and outrun Hyde-Smith or Espy for the second position on the ballot.  It's very hard to imagine a scenario where Espy gets the 50% needed to win either on November 6th or the December runoff, so my money is on Hyde-Smith getting the most votes, but not a majority, on November 6th, and then cruising in the runoff.  Prediction:  Hyde-Smith by 21 (in December).

Missouri--At the beginning of this cycle, the scuttlebutt was that two-term Show Me State Senator Claire McCaskill was the most endangered of a handful of highly endangered Democratic incumbents.  But McCaskill has a history of running skilled campaigns and getting very lucky with her opponents.  It looked like her luck may hold as her GOP challenger, Attorney General Josh Hawley, was putting up a weak challenge and was the subject of intraparty drama given that as AG, he had to prosecute the state's Republican Governor who has since resigned.  But McCaskill's weak standing in the getting-more-red-every-day state of Missouri has kept her on defense in the race's home stretch, with her best polls showing her tied and the remainder of the polls showing her 2-3 points behind.  I guess it's possible that in a year with robust Democratic enthusiasm and less energy on the Republican side that McCaskill could extend her winning streak, but it's odds-against.  Any McCaskill victory will come almost exclusively from the Kansas City and St. Louis metro areas as every other corner of the state has become hopelessly red....and there is no precedent for any Democrat ever winning Missouri with Kansas City and St. Louis alone.  I don't see it happening this time either.  Prediction:  Hawley by 4.  Running Total:  GOP +3

Montana--Last fall when I made my first round of Senate predictions, I said Jon Tester would probably be the only one of the five deep red state incumbent Democrats to prevail.  This past summer, Tester was really looking strong and it was an easy call to predict he would walk over his Republican challenger, state Auditor Matt Rosendale, in November.  But the GOP invested heavily in attacking Tester's liberal-for-Montana record and they drew some blood, with Tester's lead falling to low-to-mid single digits in September....and that was before the Kavanaugh hearings.  Unfortunately for everybody, not a single Montana poll has been released since the Kavanaugh hearings to show if Tester has lost more ground, as would be entirely plausible in the patriarchal Treasure State.  But neither national party is making any noise that would suggest the race has changed so I'm inclined to think Tester is holding his own.  Hopefully there will be some kind of polling released between now and election day to clarify, because it could definitely result in me changing my call, but right I'll go with Tester hanging on to win.  Prediction:  Tester by 3.

Nebraska--Considering the soft approval ratings for first-term Republican Senator Deb Fischer, I considered this a possible sleeper race if absolutely everything went right for the Democrats, but there has not been any openings for Democratic challenger Jane Raybould, a Lincoln City Councilwoman, to exploit, and zero public polling to indicate how strong Fischer is or isn't.  But based on the complete lack of chatter even amongst the campaigns, it seems pretty likely that Fischer is cruising in the deep red Cornhusker State.  Prediction:  Fischer by 20.

Nevada--The Silver State almost always shows tight polls or Republican leads, but the vaunted Harry Reid machine of Hispanics and union voters can usually be counted on to nudge the Democrats to victory.  And going into this cycle, it seemed likely that incumbent Republican Dean Heller was a dead man walking....but he's been remarkably resilient, doing no worse than a tie in most recent polls.  But Heller's standing remains tenuous as he fights to keep his job against Democratic Congresswoman Jacky Rosen who is challenging him.  Last week, I'd have probably guessed Heller hung on based on his long-standing representation of the Reno area which would probably mean he overperforms there as he did in 2012 when he won by one point.  But after this weekend's early voting figures, I'm tilting the race to Rosen.  Nevada is the only state in the country where I give much heed to early voting patterns, but voters can be isolated based on party registration and with only two counties producing 80% of the state's voters, there are some definitive tea leaves to read.  The first two days of early voting this year have shown blistering turnout advantages for Democrats in the two populous counties (Clark and Washoe).  I'm sure Democrats are hoping these early voting patterns out of Nevada are indicative of the electorate they see nationally.  That remains to be seen, but I've seen enough to think Rosen has the advantage.  Prediction:  Rosen by 3.  Running Total:  GOP +2

New Jersey--Thanks to the famously corrupt Democratic Party of the Garden State, a seat that should have been a slam-dunk is on the periphery of the battleground as the party machine just had to circle the wagons in support of Democratic incumbent Bob Menendez, rescued from criminal conviction and prison time by a hung jury last year.  In just about any other state, that would have been the incumbent's cue to retire, but Menendez is seeking a third full term and is likely to get it because of how Democratic and how anti-Trump New Jersey is.  Had Hillary won in 2016, I think Menendez would have lost.  But the Republicans are still gonna make him work for it this running, with rich guy Bob Hugin investing millions of his personal fortune to unseat Menendez.  Polling has shown Hugin within striking distance, but he picked the wrong year to be a Republican in Jersey and Menendez is likely to prevail despite himself and despite his party.  He should be ashamed, however, that he forced the national party to divert scarce resources to save his corrupt ass this year.  Prediction:  Menendez by 9.

New Mexico--This race got shaken up late when former Republican Governor and libertarian Presidential candidate Gary Johnson got into the race as an independent.  By doing so, Johnson will likely perform better than the lightweight Republican nominee Mick Rich, but this race is still Democratic incumbent Martin Heinrich's to lose...and I don't think he will.  Johnson maintains some residual goodwill in New Mexico and will likely get some votes that would have otherwise gone to Heinrich, but I still think Heinrich does better than 50% in the divided field, with Rich very possibly getting less than 20% of the vote.  Prediction:  Heinrich by 15.

New York--Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand comes across as an even more craven opportunist than the New York Senator who preceded her in the seat (that would be Hillary Clinton), but it won't hurt her against token GOP challenger Cheli Farley in the heavily Democratic Empire State in what will be a very anti-Trump electorate.  Expect a comprehensive Gillibrand win of about 2-1.  Prediction:  Gillibrand by 32.

North Dakota--I said in an earlier writeup that Claire McCaskill of Missouri was considered likely to end up the most vulnerable Democratic incumbent.  While McCaskill continues to look incredibly vulnerable, she's not the not endangered Democrat.  That title goes to North Dakota Democratic freshman Heidi Heitkamp, who was not expected to be quite so vulnerable and as recently as this past spring, the Republicans couldn't find any top-tier candidate willing to challenge her.  But then they convinced the state's at-large Congressman Kevin Cramer to run and it's been all downhill ever since for her.  I'm not sure what went wrong here but reports started coming out in the late summer that Heitkamp was behind in internal polling, and when a couple of public polls came out the narrative was reinforced in a major way, showing Heitkamp losing by double digits.  The Kavanaugh hearings clearly played a part in her troubles, making her high-profile vote against Kavanaugh all the more impactful.  A staff screw-up last week may have dug Heitkamp's role deeper or at least forced her to play defense when she desperately needed to be on message.  Everything has gone wrong for Heitkamp and her party in this race, and particularly up against the crude empty suit Cramer, it's hard to see why.  I figured from the outset that this race would be just out of Heitkamp's reach because North Dakota has just gotten impossibly red, but I figured she'd at least keep it close.  There's no way of knowing if she's closed the gap from those ugly early October polls but it's very hard to imagine she's gained enough momentum to come from behind and pull off the minor miracle she performed by winning by one point in 2012.  Prediction:  Cramer by 8.  Running Total:  GOP +3

Ohio--After Donald Trump's big Ohio win just two years ago, it would have been hard to imagine that liberal Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown would be coasting to re-election just two years later.  I have serious doubt Brown could have survived this year if Hillary had won, but instead Brown is polling so well that he could carry downballot Ohio Democrats across the finish line with him.  Republican Congressman Jim Renacci has been a gigantic disappointment as the party's nominee and hasn't laid a finger on Brown in the campaign. Brown now looks poised to exceed his 12-point win from 2006 this year and might even do as well as GOP Senator Rob Portman did in his state two years ago.  Prediction:  Brown by 16.

Pennsylvania--Two-term Democratic Senator Bob Casey was never poised to be as vulnerable as Sherrod Brown was in neighboring Ohio in an alternative world where Hillary won, but I still think Casey was beatable in that world.  But in the world we live in where Trump is President, the Keystone State seems poised to have a very Democratic year up and down the ballot, and Casey will be among the big winners.  Republican Congressman Lou Barletta got the timing all wrong for his very Trumpy candidacy and at this point could end up faring worse against Casey than Rick Santorum did in 2006.  Prediction:  Casey by 17.

Rhode Island--The indigo blue state of Rhode Island would be sending Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse back for a third term no matter what, but with Trump's unpopularity in the northeast, Whitehouse should really have a blowout this year against weak Republican challenger Robert Flanders.  Prediction:  Whitehouse by 35.

Tennessee--I gotta hand it to former Democratic Governor Phil Bredesen for staying relevant in this Senate race longer than I expected he would in what has become one of the most brutally Republican states in the country.  If you believe the polls, Bredesen remains very competitive with right-wing Republican Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn even two weeks before election day in the race to replace retiring Republican Bob Corker.  Unfortunately for Bredesen, I don't believe the polls.  Republicans almost always exceed their polling in Tennessee come election day and I expect the "undecideds" in this race are likely Republicans who will break decisively towards Blackburn in the end.  For Bredesen to win this race, it would have required a perfect storm comparable to what got Doug Jones elected in last year's special election in Alabama.  Instead, red-state Democrats are getting pretty much a perfect reverse storm this October, between contentious Supreme Court fights and "migrant caravans" marching through Mexico towards the U.S. border.  I'd love to be wrong but I suspect this campaign will end very badly for Bredesen.  Prediction:  Blackburn by 11.

Texas--Almost as impressive as Bredesen's run in Tennessee has been Democratic Congressman Beto O'Rourke running as an unapologetic liberal in right-wing Texas and hanging in there for months in his quest to unseat Republican incumbent Ted Cruz.  There was a time last month where O'Rourke had enough momentum that I allowed myself to consider for a hot minute that he might possibly win.  But then that minute passed and the Kavanaugh hearings raised Republican enthusiasm and reasserted tribal fault lines.  Cruz is unlikely to win by the huge margins Republicans have been accustomed to winning by in recent years, and especially in midterms, but he will still likely win decisively as Beto's momentum stalled at a key point in the campaign and seems unlikely to bounce back with "migrant caravans" front and center in the national headlines.  We got a first taste of what a Democratic coalition in Texas would look like when Hillary got within single digits in 2016 and will probably inch closer to that in 2018, but I suspect it will be too little, too late.  Prediction:  Cruz by 7.

Utah--It's pretty darn rare than a candidate for an open Senate seat is a former Presidential nominee but that's exactly the situation this year in Utah as Mitt Romney is the Republican candidate running to fill Orrin Hatch's vacated seat.  Romney is wildly popular in Utah while Trump is not, and it's entirely possible the right Democrat (say, former Congressman Jim Matheson) could have been competitive in a Utah Senate race this year if any other Republican but Romney was running.  Democratic challenger Jenny Wilson is unlikely to get much traction at all.  Prediction:  Romney by 41.

Vermont--My pick for the biggest landslide victory in this year's Senate class is left-wing Independent incumbent Bernie Sanders.  Sanders has always been wildly popular in liberal Vermont and in a midterm cycle poised to be a huge backlash against Trump, Bernie should really clean up against invisible GOP challenger Lawrence Zupan.  Prediction:  Sanders by 48.

Virginia--Two years ago at this time I'd have expected to write about this race in terms of a challenging fight to retain the Senate seat of Vice President Tim Kaine....but of course Kaine didn't become Vice President so now he's defending his Senate seat and poised for a huge blowout against a dreadful GOP challenger in Corey Stewart who has ties to white nationalists and is about 50 years too late to be a serious contender in blue-trending Virginia.  The only question is whether Kaine can outperform Mark Warner's 25-point blowout in 2008....but I think the 2018 electorate is too polarized.  Prediction:  Kaine by 18.

Washington--Democrat Maria Cantwell is probably poised for her biggest win yet in Washington state in what looks like a really Democrat year in a state getting more blue all the time.  Her GOP opponent is newswoman Susan Hutchinson who doesn't seem likely to get anything outside the Republican base in the rural central and eastern part of the state, and could very well underperform even there.  Prediction:  Cantwell by 23.

West Virginia--On the surface, it looks like conservative Democrat Joe Manchin seems poised to defy his state's tremendous Republican lean and re-elect him to a second full term over his Republican challenger, Attorney General Patrick Morrisey.  Manchin's lead in the polls is a remarkable feat in a state Trump won by 42 points, but Trump's continued sky-high approval ratings in the Almost Heaven State continues to make Manchin's lead extremely shaky.  A couple of well-timed Trump rallies on Morrisey's behalf and some bad national headlines (like, say, a "migrant caravan" marching towards the U.S. border) could be the difference.  And considering that the polls have been off in Democrats' favor many times in the past in West Virginia, I'm reluctant to call this one for Manchin.  The guy has surprised me in the past with his political resilience, but I just can't bring myself to believe this race holds together for two more weeks.  Prediction:  Morrisey by 1.  Running Total:  GOP +4

Wisconsin--Freshman Democrat Tammy Baldwin would likely be in a lot of trouble in the Badger State had Hillary Clinton won in 2016 given the state's trajectory, but every indication is the state is poised for a correction after years of Republican ascendancy, a trend consistent with the state's past tendencies.  Republican challenger Leah Vukmir will probably put up more of a fight than some of Herb Kohl's lightweight GOP challengers in the previous decade, but every polling indicator suggests Baldwin is poised for a double-digit victory.  Prediction:  Baldwin by 12.

Wyoming--Republican Senator John Barrasso is fortunate to be running in the reddest state in the county and should be immune from any Democratic wave that does or doesn't happen nationally.  Democrats are putting up a reasonably strong candidate in Gary Trauner, who came extremely close to winning the state's at-large House seat in 2006, but there hasn't been any polling or any indication that the race is competitive so I'm gonna operate under the safe assumption that Trauner hasn't drawn any blood at all against Barrasso and will lose by a typical blowout margin that the average Wyoming Democrat loses by.  Prediction:  Barrasso by 35.

The Democrats needed an inside straight in a very red-leaning map if they were to win back the Senate this November, and for a hot minute in the period after Labor Day it looked possible.  But Democrats began suffering their first round of setbacks in early October, at the very time they would normally be expected to start pulling away in a "wave" cycle.  Now it looks more likely to be a "red wave" in these Senate races, and it could play out simultaneously on the same election night where the Democrats are having a moderate "wave" in the House.  How is this possible?  Two completely different electoral battlegrounds.  Control of the House will be determined in upscale suburbs filled with college-educated professionals.  Control of the Senate will be determined in heavily rural states full of working-class whites, a group that voted for Trump with 64% of the vote and who approves of his job performance by 65% two years later.

The best the Democrats can hope for is polling samples too heavily weighted to Republican-friendly 2010 and 2014 midterm models.  That's certainly possible, but would require diminished Republican voter enthusiasm to credibly pull off....and subdued Republican voter interest seems less likely with every mile closer the "migrant caravan" gets to the U.S. border.  If there's any bright side, it's that Democrats are gonna get a real-time preview of how the immigration issue plays this midterm before they run on an expansionist platform in 2020 which I believe would be a political disaster.  Only time will tell how it goes, but I'm a little surprised at this point in the race that these Senate races look this bleak.  I can only imagine how bad they'd look if Hillary Clinton was President this year.

Friday, October 05, 2018

2018 Governor's Race Calls

I always try to make final predictions for elections relatively early since it seems like cheating to make the calls a few days before election night.  The downside to early calls is that some primaries don't even wrap up until early-to-mid-September so the race is often just taking form by the end of September.  Nonetheless I'm making my final gubernatorial race calls more than a month early and then taking on the Senate with final calls in the next couple of weeks.  This midterm seems likely to lean Democratic in the first place, and in the case of the gubernatorial races, the Republicans are coming off of two very good midterm cycles in 2010 and especially 2014, and are pretty overexposed heading into this year.  We'll see how much that helps Democrats and I'll speculate in the reviews ahead....

Alabama--In most states, the successor to a Republican Governor who resigned in disgrace over a sex and corruption scandal, and endorsed an accused pedophile for nakedly partisan reasons, would probably be a longshot for re-election in a climate like we're seeing in 2018, but Alabama is not just any state.  Incumbent Kay Ivey should have little trouble riding the partisan advantage of her state to her first full term over her Democratic challenger, Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox.  Over course, a Democrat did just win a U.S. Senate special election in Alabama late last year, but that was in an extreme scenario unlikely to be replicated.  Ivey should win by double digits and oversee Republican party corruption in her state continuing to deepen in the years to come.  Prediction:  Ivey by 23

Alaska--The popularity of Alaska's Governor at any given time depends heavily on the price of oil since every Alaskan gets a check in the mail from the state based on oil industry profit-sharing.  Currently, oil prices are down and the state's budget isn't in the best shape, meaning Independent gubernatorial incumbent Bill Walker isn't in good shape either when it comes to re-election.  He might have a fighting chance if his only opponent was Republican challenger Mike Dunleavy, but for some reason former Democratic Senator Mark Begich has gotten into the race as well and it seems extremely unlikely he'll play any role beyond easing Dunleavy's walk to victory in a state that already leans Republican. Unless Begich drops out, it's hard to see how Dunleavy doesn't win.  Prediction: Dunleavy by13.  GOP +1

Arizona--All the tea leaves are suggesting that the political climate in Arizona is terrible for Republicans right now, and some of the polling before the primary showed Republican incumbent Doug Ducey to be vulnerable.  But after Ducey's Democratic challenger David Garcia won the primary and moved into the general election contest, the trendline has been in Ducey's direction, and often by decisive margins.  Back in August, it looked no worse than even money for Garcia to pull this race out but Ducey has the momentum again now and showing no sign of letting it up.   Prediction:  Ducey by 10.

Arkansas--Even as most of the country is seeing a shift towards Democrats heading into this midterm, the not-so-long-ago former Democratic stronghold of Arkansas seems to be lurching even further towards Republicans, with the Natural State being one of only a couple states where the turnout gap in this year's primary grew more in favor of Republicans than in 2014.  The state's transformation from a single-party Democratic state to a single-party Republican state has been quite unlike anything I've seen before and Republican Governor Asa Hutchinson should be a cinch for a landslide second term over Some Dude Democratic challenger Jared Henderson.  Prediction:  Hutchinson by 32.

California--For a Republican running statewide in California these days, just getting on the ballot in the state's top-two all-party primary is a major feat and the good news for the GOP is that they crossed that hurdle when rich guy John Cox got that second slot on the ballot.  The bad news for Cox is that the long-standing toxic political environment for Republicans has gotten even worse in the Trump era, and despite not being everybody's cup of tea, Democratic candidate Gavin Newsom should vanquish Cox by more than 20 points in the open seat gubernatorial race.  Prediction:  Newsom by 27.

Colorado--After three consecutive terms holding the Colorado statehouse, it would seem as though the Democrats should be very vulnerable there for the open seat in 2018.  Instead, pretty much everyone believes Democratic Congressman Jared Polis is the prohibitive favorite in the race against Republican state Treasurer Walker Stapleton.  It shows the degree to which Colorado has shifted to a blue-leaning state in the last decade, and how the Republicans are really gonna be swimming against the tide there in the Trump era.  Prediction:  Polis by 7.

Connecticut--Outgoing two-term Democratic Governor Dan Malloy is one of the least popular governors in the country with approval ratings well below 30%.  In normal times, that would make the open seat a cinch for Republican victory, but these aren't normal times and Connecticut voters are far more likely to vote against Trump than Malloy.  Democrat Ned Lamont thus far looks like he'll have a lay-up in defeating rich guy Republican challenger Bob Stefanowski to hold the statehouse for his party for another term.  Prediction:  Lamont by 11.

Florida--On primary night last month when Democrats selected left-wing Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum over former Congresswoman Gwen Graham as their standard-bearer for the state's gubernatorial race, my first instinct was that they made an O'Donnell-beats-Castle-caliber screw-up of historic proportions that effectively handed the statehouse to right-wing Republican nominee and Congressman Ron DeSantis.  I've walked that assessment back a little and indeed early polling has shown Gillum to be quite competitive, but I still think it's a very uphill climb for Gillum for two reasons.  First, the coalition required for a Democrat to win Florida has required poaching some center-right white voters, either suburban soccer mom types or the Dixiecrats of northern Florida, and I really don't see Gillum as being well-positioned to tap into either of those voting groups given his muscularly progressive policy agenda.  Second, Gillum is under an ongoing FBI investigation.  He insists that he's a minor player in the investigation which is targeted towards one of his donors and there's some indication that may be accurate, but the very existence of an FBI investigation haunting him will be easy picking for his opponent.  I also think DeSantis can and will effectively litigate the "abolish ICE" position that Gillum has taken, a position I believe to be kryptonite for the Democratic Party.  Gillum might be able to take advantage of DeSantis' Tea Party radicalism and the overall Democratic-leaning climate with only one of these issues dogging him, but with the headwinds of all of them together, I suspect DeSantis pulls it out in the end and that Florida Democrats will deeply regret not having gone with the safe choice in Gwen Graham.  Prediction:  DeSantis by 4.

Georgia--A more comprehensive identity-based challenge played out in Georgia's Democratic primary and the clear winner was left-leaning African-American state House leader Stacey Abrams, arguing on behalf of a more progressive alternative to the state's conservative Republican mainstream of recent years.  Outgoing two-term Republican Nathan Deal is being succeeded by GOP Secretary of State Brian Kemp who scored a win in a hotly contested primary of his own.  Abrams will be the most liberal candidate to ever run for Georgia Governor, which would ordinarily disqualify her, but the state's demographics are changing quickly with a black population growing at among the fastest rates in the country and bringing the state to the verge of becoming majority-minority.  Couple that with the general Democratic climate and the swing towards Democrats that was seen in upscale Atlanta suburbs in 2016 and Abrams has a chance, but I suspect she's a cycle or two too soon for the math to work out for her, particularly given that she needs to clear 50% to avoid a runoff.  My money's on Kemp keeping this seat in Republican hands.  Prediction:  Kemp by 5.

Hawaii--Democratic Governor David Ige was quite unpopular and seemed poised to be defeated in the Democratic primary by Congresswoman Coleen Hanabusa who gave up her seat to challenge him.  But after getting high marks for his handling of the volcano over the summer, Ige pulled it out.  Hawaii is as close to being a cinch as there is for the Democrats, meaning he should have less drama in pulling out the general election against fourth-rate GOP challenger Andria Tupola.  Prediction:  Ige by 28.

Idaho--Republican Butch Otter has held the Idaho statehouse for three terms but is finally departing, leaving an open seat that heavily favors Lieutenant Governor Brad Little over Democratic challenger Paulette Jordan.  I haven't seen any polling but Idaho is one of the most Republican states in the country and given that there are no tangible scandals and a pretty strong economy, it's hard to see Idahoans opting not to stay the course.  Prediction:  Little by 25.

Illinois--Rich guy Republican Bruce Rauner seized the advantage and pulled out a rare GOP win in the Land of Lincoln in 2014, upsetting an unpopular Democratic incumbent.  But the state's gridlocked government slumped further into dysfunction under Rauner's tenure and several Republicans in the legislature ended up voting with Democrats and overriding Rauner's veto to keep the place running last year.  Rauner is now deeply unpopular himself and a fellow rich guy on the other side of the aisle, Democrat J.B. Pritzger, is very heavily favored to pull out a comprehensive victory against Rauner in November.  Prediction:  Pritzger by 18.  Running Total:  Even.

Iowa--It's anybody's guess who is leading or who will win in the Iowa gubernatorial race, pitting Republican quasi-incumbent Kim Reynolds, the sitting Governor who replaced Terry Branstad after he resigned, against Democratic rich guy Fred Hubbell.  Iowa has been trending Republican in recent cycles but early indicators suggest a backlash in Democrats favor might be coming.  This race is underpolled and hard to read at this stage of the campaign, but I'm currently tilting very narrowly in Hubbell's direction as it just doesn't seem like Reynolds has established herself with voters outside of her base yet.  It's a jump ball though.  Prediction:  Hubbell by 2.  Running Total: Dems +1

Kansas--In theory, Democrats caught a break when controversially right-wing Secretary of State Kris Kobach narrowly prevailed in the GOP primary against incumbent Governor Jeff Colyer, who was filling out the term of former Governor Sam Brownback after he resigned.  Unfortunately for Democrats, independent Greg Orman, who ran for Senate against Republican Pat Roberts in 2014 as the Democratic stand-in, remains in the race and is probably closing off a path to victory for Democrat Laura Kelly.  At least on paper, the polarizing Kobach could be beaten with a coalition of Democrats and moderate Kansas City-area Republicans, but far less likely with a divided opposition.  If Orman can be convinced to drop out of the race, that definitely resets this race, but if he doesn't Kobach is likely to win.  And even if Orman does drop out, we've seen this movie before in 2014 when Brownback was deeply unpopular and widely expected to lose, but defied the polls and prevailed, so even in a two-candidate race I wouldn't count Kobach out.  Prediction:  Kobach by 7.

Maine--It's tough to get a feel for where the politics of Maine are at this moment, having taken a hard-right turn with the unlikely re-election of Governor Paul Le Page in 2014 followed by Donald Trump's solid showing in the state in the Presidential race in 2016 where he picked off the electoral vote from the northern part of the state.  I suspect that, like Iowa, the state is probably about to see at least a mild backlash favoring Democrats including Attorney General Janet Mills who is likely in the catbird seat to pick up the open Governor's race against Republican rich guy Shawn Moody.  It's no sure thing though and the limited polling has been tight, but unlike 2014 it seems more likely that the late vote in a state like Maine should swing towards the Democrat this year.  Prediction:  Mills by 4.  Running Total:  Dems +2

Maryland--The Old Line State is one of the toughest states in the country for Republicans, but in 2014, the combination of low turnout and a weak Democratic nominee helped GOP candidate Larry Hogan pull it off.  This year Hogan is running for re-election and while he's no sure thing, he's a favorite to beat his Democratic challenger, former NAACP Chairman Ben Jealous.  The swing vote in this race is likely to be white liberals in Montgomery County, but Jealous is probably not the candidate best-positioned to pick them off against the inoffensive Hogan.  Trump's recent decision to cancel the raise of federal workers, heavily represented in the DC suburbs, is not likely to help Hogan's cause though.  In 2006, a similar situation played out where a Republican managed to win the Governor's race in 2002 but in a tough political climate, lost to Democrat Martin O'Malley despite being relatively popular simply because Maryland is such a difficult state for Republicans.  The same thing could happen again but my money is on Hogan. Prediction:  Hogan by 9.

Massachusetts--The Bay State also elected a moderate Republican Governor in 2014, but unlike in Maryland, there's no ambiguity about the extreme likelihood that Republican Charlie Baker will get a second term as he's been popular, inoffensive, and seen as a check against an overwhelmingly Democratic legislature.  Baker has token opposition from Democrat Jay Gonzalez and is expected to win in a landslide despite a particularly toxic climate for Republicans right now in Massachusetts. Prediction:  Baker by 33.

Michigan--In the open seat vacated by Republican Governor Rick Snyder, all indicators point to Michigan voters having buyer's remorse from their dalliance with Republicans, both with Trump who very narrowly won the state in 2016 and with the two-term Snyder.  It would be a shocker if Lansing-area Democratic legislator Gretchen Whitmer didn't win decisively over her challenger, Republican Attorney General Bill Schuette.  There's still plenty of opportunity for Schuette to swim against the tide enough for a win but his campaign has been making plenty of rookie mistakes since the primary and he wasn't even endorsed by Snyder.  Prediction:  Whitmer by 7.  Running Total:  Dems +3

Minnesota--After a drama-filled primary season, the Democrats picked the guy who is likely their best candidate, southern Minnesota Congressman Tim Walz, in their attempt to hold this seat for another term after two terms of incumbent Democrat Mark Dayton, who is retiring.  On the GOP side, an attempted comeback by former Governor Tim Pawlenty cratered in the primary and the Republicans bizarrely opted for their losing 2014 nominee Jeff Johnson.  Johnson didn't put up a particularly great fight and lost against a soft incumbent in a strong Republican year, so it's hard to see much of an opening for him at this point this year unless he runs a much better campaign than he did in 2014.  Walz, meanwhile, has a parochial advantage on top of the general political climate since his geographic baseline is a conservative-tilting region of the state, further narrowing Johnson's chances.  Prediction:  Walz by 7.

Nebraska--In the deep red Cornhusker State, incumbent Republican Pete Ricketts has given voters little reason to fire him so it seems almost certain that Ricketts will have an easy victory against Omaha-area lawmaker Bob Krist, his Democratic challenger.   Prediction:  Ricketts by 34.

Nevada--This open seat vacated by moderate Republican Brian Sandoval is a wild card right now and will come down to whether the union-affiliated Reid machine is sufficiently motivated to turn out to the polls.  With an open Senate seat, two open House races, and this open gubernatorial race featuring Democratic Clark County Commissioner Steve Sisolak and Republican Attorney General Adam Laxalt, I suspect they will be, but at the same time the cow counties of Nevada have responded to the leftward shift of Vegas and Reno by lurching even more Republican and producing wider margins for the cities to overcome.  With the state's economy doing pretty well, the legacy of the Laxalt name in Nevada, and the age differential favoring the youthful Laxalt, I think he might be slightly favored over the Vegas-centric Sisolak.  It's anybody's guess at this point though and polling has been limited.  Prediction:  Laxalt by 2.

New Hampshire--One of the last gubernatorial races to take form following a mid-September primary is the New Hampshire race.  Former state senator Molly Kelly won for the Democrats and will face off against Republican incumbent Chris Sununu.  In normal political circumstances I would figure Sununu would have a coronation, but New Hampshire has swung leftward in recent years and particularly if 2018 turns out to be a Democratic wave, I wouldn't underestimate Kelly's prospects for an upset.  Barring any polling data showing Sununu to be imminently vulnerable, however, I'll stick with predicting he edges Kelly out.  Prediction: Sununu by 4.

New Mexico--Thanks to fairly weak competitors and a strong political climate for Republicans, GOP Governor Susanna Martinez got two terms even in a state that has trended strongly Democratic in recent years.  It seems unlikely the GOP will keep the streak alive this cycle with its battle of two Congresspersons.  Albuquerque-area Democrat Michelle Lujan Grisham should mop the floor up with the conservative Steve Pearce who represents the southern portion of the state.  I'd be surprised if it ended up being close.  Prediction:  Grisham by 11.  Running Total:  Dems +4

New York--After two-term incumbent Democrat Andrew Cuomo prevailed in his primary last month against actress Cynthia Nixon, he pretty much assured himself a third term in the deeply blue Empire State.  Republican Assembly member Marc Molinaro may end up doing better than some expect simply because of Cuomo fatigue upstate but it's not a particularly good time to be a Republican in New York and Cuomo seems likely to win by more than he did in 2014.  Prediction: Cuomo by 22.

Ohio--Another of this year's marquee gubernatorial races is the Buckeye State race to succeed two-term Republican John Kasich.  While Kasich is popular and Ohio has been trending Republican, it feels like this could be a decent Democratic year in the state as they have a good candidate in former Obama consumer protection head Richard Cordray while the Republicans are running the former Senator and current Attorney General Mike DeWine.  With an overwhelmingly Republican legislature, I could see voters opting to check their power by electing Cordray over the fossilized DeWine in a year like this one.  Polling has showed the race competitive and I wouldn't be surprised either way by the outcome, but figure Cordray ekes it out.  Prediction:  Cordray by 1.  Running Total:  Dems +5

Oklahoma--If there's ever been a year where the Democrats could pull it out in the Sooner State, 2018 is that year with outgoing Republican Mary Fallin deeply unpopular and voters displeased with the state's dysfunctional education funding, evident by the massive shift towards Democrats in the state's special elections this past cycle.  And Democrats have a decent candidate in former Attorney General Drew Edmonson while his Republican challenger, rich guy Kevin Stitt, is among other things an anti-vax nutter.  This is definitely a race to watch but this is still Oklahoma where the path to victory for a Democrat was tough 20 years ago but has gotten much worse with the former Democratic base in the southern and eastern portions of the state having realigned firmly Republican.  In the end I think Stitt gets it, but it will probably be the closest statewide election in Oklahoma this decade.  Prediction:  Stitt by 9.

Oregon--It seems to be the same story every four years in Oregon's gubernatorial races...where a Democratic incumbent with soft approval ratings appears vulnerable but always pulls it out come election day.  Unsurprisingly that same dynamic is showing up this year with Democratic incumbent Kate Brown.  If this was another Republican midterm year I could see Brown being taken out, but GOP lawmaker Knute Buehler is gonna have his hands full being a Republican in Oregon in a year like this and I don't see it happening or even coming particularly close.  Prediction:  Brown by 7.

Pennsylvania--Democrat Tom Wolf defied the toxic political climate of 2014 to unseat an unpopular Republican incumbent, and heads into 2018 in the catbird seat to win a second term.  All indications point to a strong Democratic climate in Pennsylvania this year that could help Wolf build on his comprehensive 2014 victory, this time against Republican legislator Scott Wagner from York who has made some missteps and does not appear like a particularly strong candidate at this stage.  Prediction:  Wolf by 16.

Rhode Island--It's a rematch of 2014 in Rhode Island this year with incumbent Democrat Gina Raimondo, who prevailed with an unconvincing 41% showing in a three-way race last time, up against the same Republican challenger in Cranston Mayor Allan Fung, with Independent Joe Trillo not well-positioned to win but poised to pick up a decent share of the vote mostly from Democrats dissatisfied with Raimondo.  Mostly due to the favorable Democratic climate, I think Raimondo probably manages a second term, but probably with another modest showing.  Prediction: Raimondo by 6.

South Carolina--Republican Henry McMaster, who took over for Nikki Haley after she joined the Trump administration, is running for a full term and there's no reason to doubt he'll get it in the conservative Palmetto State.  Democratic lawmaker James Smith is challenging him and has already made the headlines for some inside baseball issues regarding appearing on the ballot as the emissary for minor parties.  Ultimately, Smith doesn't seem poised to do any better than a generic Democrat running in South Carolina and I suspect he underperforms Vince Sheheen's numbers from 2014 and especially 2010.  Prediction:  McMaster by 14.

South Dakota--The open seat to replace retiring Republican Dennis Daugaard has always struck me as the best opportunity for a major Democratic upset even if polls have not yet reflected it.  Republicans are going with Congresswoman Kristi Noem who seems easy to pin down with being a Washington insider in this climate while Democratic state legislator and paraplegic Billie Sutton is a candidate with an interesting profile and great story to tell, with the backdrop of some sleazy headlines to come out of South Dakota's Republican-controlled Legislature in recent years.  The state has the longest streak of Republican Governors in the country and Sutton is better positioned than any Democrat in memory to break that streak if he finds a winning message.  With all of that said, he still has a long way to go and I'm betting Noem ultimately wins....but as I said, keep your eye on this one.  As of this writing, the Cook Report has moved the race from Likely R to Tossup, and while there hasn't been public polling to back that up, Cook must be seeing something to indicate the race is closing.  Prediction:  Noem by 5.

Tennessee--It's rather amazing that with as intensely red of a state that Tennessee has become that the Senate race remains very much a tossup well after Labor Day, but the gubernatorial race looks a lot more like business as usual.  Republican Governor Bill Haslam is retiring after two terms and rich guy Bill Lee recently won the contested primary to be the GOP emissary while the Democrats went with Nashville Mayor Karl Dean.  I think Tennessee Democrats blew it by going with Dean over folksy rural West Tennessee lawmaker Craig Fitzhugh, but Fitzhugh would have struggled against Lee's big bucks and the overall conservatism of Tennessee as well.  It seems like a safe bet that the Tennessee statehouse remains in Republican hands.  Prediction:  Lee by 18.

Texas--Just like Tennessee, the Lone Star state has an unexpectedly competitive Senate race, but a Governor's race that looks quite predictable.  In this case, Republican incumbent Greg Abbott, despite being deeply conservative even by Texas standards, is very popular and poised to win in a landslide against former Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez, his Democratic challenger.  Prediction:  Abbott by 27.

Vermont--Republican incumbent Phil Scott has the unenviable position of running as a Republican in one of the nation's most liberal states in what's expected to be a very Democratic year, but is probably at least a slight favorite against Democratic challenger Christine Hallquist, the first transgender major-party candidate for statewide office.  The Democratic lean of the state coupled with the prospect of "making history" on the identity politics front might lead to Hallquist performing better than expected but I suspect Scott will be seen as the inoffensive steady hand serving as a check against a very liberal Democratic legislature.  Prediction:  Scott by 6.

Wisconsin--Polarizing Republican incumbent Scott Walker, who took a gamble to run for a third term but from the get go, seemed to have buyer's remorse with that decision soon thereafter, twice speaking out to warn Republican voters that a major Democratic wave appeared to be brewing.  A crowded field of mostly B-list Democrats ran against him with the state's Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers prevailing.  And indeed, early polling has shown Walker deeply vulnerable and in some cases behind.  Walker has proven in the past that it's a fool's errand to count him out, but it really seems like he overreached running for this third term in such a defensive political climate.  It's early and Evers has plenty of opportunity to blow it with any fumbles on the campaign trail but right now I'd give him the edge.  Prediction:  Evers by 2.  Running Total:  Dems +6

Wyoming--Two-term Republican Governor Matt Mead threw in the towel and left an open seat.  Democrats were hoping that controversial rich guy Foster Friess would prevail in the GOP primary, potentially giving them a fighting chance in Trump's best state in the country, but Republican voters refused to cooperate and instead nominated Treasurer Mark Gordon.  Gordon is very likely to prevail against Democratic legislator Mary Throne who is challenging him.  Prediction:  Gordon by 25.

By conventional metrics of leftward-shifting PVI, I believe the Democrats are poised for something closely resembling a wave election if not an outright wave election in November 2018.  And I expect this will play out most strongly in state politics which is a little less tribal than federal politics.  Some serious Democratic gains could be seen downballot in legislative races where Republicans picked up hundreds of seats nationally this decade.  On the other hand, I suspect the overall Democratic gains will seem more dominating than they actually are simply because the Democratic Party is in such a ditch going into November 2018 that even a 50-50 popular vote would produce huge gains. More specifically to the gubernatorial predictions, in an ordinary cycle one party picking up six statehouses, as I predicted above for the Democrats while full acknowledging that might win two or three more if the wind is really at their back, would seem like a huge year for that party, but do keep in mind that with as heavily as Republicans cleaned up in 2014 statehouse races, the law of averages says they're gonna lose some of those seats in a less favorable climate.  Unfortunately for Democrats, the state of the battleground in the Senate races will be a lot less tilted in their favor, and I'll make my final predictions for the Senate races in the next 10 days.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Handicapping Minnesota's Battleground House Districts

Based on the available polling data and my expectations of the parochial tendencies and recent localized voting patterns in Minnesota, I figured I’d take a stab at handicapping what I think the most realistic path to victory looks like in the four primary House race battlegrounds in the state as well as the 7th district which is not expected to be a battleground this year but wasn’t in 2016 either yet ended up being a five-point race.  Without further adieu, let’s get rolling…..

MN-01 (Dan Feehan vs. Jim Hagedorn)

I’ve stated before that I think Democrat Dan Feehan, a political novice who moved to southern Minnesota since the 2016 election to run for office, seems to be a strong political talent but is probably suffering right now from a name ID disadvantage against his Republican challenger Jim Hagedorn.  There’s a month left for Feehan to raise his profile, but Hagedorn begins this race with a couple of advantages.  Despite being considered too conservative for the district, Hagedorn has run in the past two cycles and overperformed expectations both times, especially in 2016 when he came within a point of winning.  His father was a Republican representative in the central portion of the district in the 1970s and that legacy surname clearly moved some votes even when Hagedorn was challenging the incumbent Walz.  With a lesser-known Democratic challenger on the ballot, it’s reasonable to believe the Hagedorn surname will move even more votes, particularly in the district’s western counties.

So we’ll start with the defensive posture counties for Feehan.  I expect Hagedorn to do at least as well as he did in 2016 in counties such as Brown, Martin, Faribault, Watonwan, and Jackson, which are more rural counties in the western and central portions of MN-01.  Most of these are politically elastic counties but Hagedorn likely moved thousands of votes away from Walz there in 2014 and 2016 because they were part of his father’s district, and I expect he will take away a significant number of would-be Feehan votes in 2018 as well.  And while I expect Feehan to win, and perhaps decisively, in Blue Earth and Nicollet counties in this same region which make up the immediate Mankato area, it’s still reasonable to believe his margins will be weaker than they would be if not for Hagedorn’s familial legacy representing the area.

Moving east, Presidential year turnout in Rochester and the college city of Winona was the difference in Walz keeping his job by about 3,000 votes in 2016, and Rochester and Winona will be integral in a path to victory for Feehan too.  Rochester has the kinds of upscale demographics that could really see a shift towards Democrats this cycle, but it’s still optimistic to believe that in a midterm cycle, Rochester can itself make up the number of raw votes in Feehan’s favor that Hagedorn’s parochial advantage in the greater Mankato area will produce for him.  Feehan almost certainly needs more than Rochester if he’s gonna win district-wide.

Traditionally Democratic and union-heavy Freeborn County (Albert Lea) and Mower County (Austin) voted for Walz in 2016 but with softer margins than usual.  If this race ends up competitive at all I suspect Feehan will win in those counties, and probably better than Walz did in 2016.

That brings me to the five counties which I suspect will be the epicenter of the 2018 battleground.  Four of them are in between Mankato and Rochester, with little to no influence from Hagedorn’s legacy vote….

The first two, and in my opinion the counties that will likely decide the winner, are Waseca County (Waseca) and Steele County (Owatonna).  Steele County in particular has a significant number of voters while Waseca is the more rural of the two but still highly relevant.  Both are German-settled and ancestrally Republican, but have shown signs in the last decade of becoming more bipartisan.  Walz won both in 2014 while losing them both by five points in 2016.  I don’t think Feehan has the luxury of narrowly losing them in 2018 and still prevailing, which makes them the election night bellwethers I’ll be checking out on the November 6th map.  If Waseca and Steele counties are blue on election night, Feehan probably wins.  If they’re red, my money’s on Hagedorn.

The next pair of bellwether counties I’ll point to are just north of Waseca and Steele…..Le Sueur County and the non-Northfield portion of Rice County.  MN-01 inherited these two counties in 2012.  Unlike Waseca and Steele, they were historically Democrat-tilting but have grown more conservative as they’ve transformed to exurbia in the last 20 years.  Walz narrowly won the two counties in 2014 but they shifted hard to Hagedorn in 2016.  I’m inclined to think Hagedorn wins them both again this year, but Feehan probably needs to shave those numbers down from the 10+ point victories for Hagedorn in 2016.  If either of them does go Feehan, it’s hard to imagine Hagedorn is winning district-wide.

The final bellwether to watch is Nobles County in southwestern Minnesota, which is outside the orbit of Tom Hagedorn’s old Congressional district, and is ancestrally Democratic and Irish Catholic heavy, with a population center of the meatpacking town of Worthington which is majority-minority.  Walz won Nobles County in 2014 and Hagedorn won in 2016.  Without having any parochial biases and a generally elastic and wave-prone electorate, Nobles County is very up-for-grabs this year.

MN-02 (Angie Craig vs. Jason Lewis)

Minnesota was full of surprises on November 8, 2016, and one of the biggest was the victory of conservative firebrand Jason Lewis over his Democratic challenger in a race where “Hillary’s coattails” were considered certain to push Craig over the finish line.  Instead, Lewis won the district by a wider margin than Trump, although he got a major assist from a third-party candidate not on the ballot this year who I suspect played the role of the spoiler.  I remain pretty confident that with the district’s demographics and Lewis’ position of weakness from the outset that it’s ripe for a decisive mid-to-high single-digit victory.  Let’s break it down….

Dakota County is the center of gravity in this district with about half of its population and three distinct political identities.  The northern portion of the county (South St. Paul, Inver Grove Heights) is blue-collar and traditionally Democratic, but saw a slight shift in Trump’s direction in 2016 as most WWC-heavy areas did, but I still expect it to come out soundly for Craig this year.  The central portion of the county (Eagan, Burnsville, Apple Valley) has always been its primary political battleground, with a moderate and upscale profile and has been trending Democratic for several cycles now.  Hillary outpaced Obama’s margins in this part of the county and I expect Angie Craig to really boost her margins compared to 2016.  The exurban southern portion of the district (Lakeville, Farmington) has always been Republican and much of it shifted a little further towards Trump in 2016 but coming out even stronger for Jason Lewis.  The southern portion of Dakota County is by no means its most heavily populated region, but it’s definitely not a small number of voters we’re talking about either, which is why Craig won the northern and central precincts of Dakota County soundly in 2016 yet only prevailed by 2 points countywide.  I’ll predict a slight shift towards Craig in this portion of the district coupled with more considerable movement towards her in the northern and especially the central part of the county, leading to an Angie Craig win of around 10 points in Dakota County.

Bordering Dakota County to the west is Scott County, which has somewhat similar demographics to Dakota yet far more conservative politics, being the GOP voter base of the 2nd district.  It was Jason Lewis’ best of the six counties in 2016 and I fully expect him to win it again in 2018.  But particularly in the more moderate and educated quasi-suburbs Shakopee and Savage in the northeastern part of the county, I expect considerable shift towards Craig.  If Lewis only wins Scott County by single digits, which I figure is a real possibility, then he’s definitely toast district-wide.

The small portion of southern Washington County in MN-02 is working-class and Democrat-leaning, but probably won’t produce the deciding margins of the election unless it ends up being really close.  The Rice County portion of MN-02 includes the very liberal college town of Northfield and will be Craig’s base as it was last time.  But I don’t see her netting too many if any more votes out of Rice County than in 2016, since she probably tapped out the college vote in a Presidential year.

And certainly worth keeping an eye on are the more rural Goodhue and Wabasha counties on the district’s southeast side.  They lean Republican and went strongly for Lewis, but are also quite elastic and if Craig ends up really pulling away in the end, it wouldn’t surprise me to see either or both of Goodhue and Wabasha going blue as well.  Al Franken won Wabasha in 2014, after all.  If either of them do go blue, it’s certainly game over for Lewis, but my guess is the baseline here will be in central Dakota County.  If Eagan goes Craig by more than 15 points, while Burnsville and Apple Valley go Craig by more than 10 points, and maybe throw in a narrow Craig win in Shakopee, then I think she’s a safe bet for victory.

MN-03 (Dean Phillips vs. Erik Paulsen)

I will have quite a bit less to say about this race than most of the others I’m profiling because the district’s demographics are uniform enough that I expect it will largely swing pretty evenly from precinct to precinct in the Democrat’s direction if the polls are right and Paulsen is in as big of trouble as it seems.   One of the reasons Paulsen has been so hard to beat is that the Democrats have very few reliable strongholds in MN-03.  The eastern half of Bloomington and the majority minority city of Brooklyn Park are it, and a decade ago even they were quite a bit more competitive.  But they’ve trended Democratic and I suspect have a lot more room for Democratic growth as evidenced by the degree to which Hillary dominated Trump there in 2016.

Beyond that, I predict the swing in Phillips’ direction to be fairly consistent from a PVI standpoint whether we’re talking about Democrat-leaning Minnetonka, Republican-leaning Maple Grove, or the tony lakefront suburbs on Lake Minnetonka which have always been staunchly Republican but don’t fit the demographics of Trump’s Republican Party.  Even Chanhassen in Carver County, the brightest red county in the metro area, is very likely to go for Phillips if the early polls prove correct.   The only exceptions where Paulsen might hold up better compared to his past wins include his long-time home base of Eden Prairie (leaning Republican but anti-Trump), the more working-class Coon Rapids across the river in Anoka County which actually bucked the district and flipped from Obama to Trump in 2016, and the exurbs on the western fringe of Hennepin County like Rogers and Medina, which make up the core vote that keeps Republican gubernatorial candidate Jeff Johnson on the Hennepin County Board.   Barring a huge polling error or a late-breaking disqualifier against Phillips, I suspect the MN-03 race will closely reflect the 2016 Presidential outcome.

MN-07 (Collin Peterson vs. Dave Hughes)

Nobody expected Collin Peterson, the most conservative Democrat in Congress, to be at any risk in 2016 against his fourth-rate GOP challenger Hughes….but nobody expected he’d be facing a headwind of 2-1 Trump in what had previously been a Republican-leaning but competitive district in western Minnesota farm country.  It seems less likely that Peterson will prove as vulnerable in this environment but I figure it’s worth analyzing to point out his 2016 weaknesses and where the potential lies for him to get back to the kinds of dominating margins he posted in the district during the Bush years.

Peterson’s base going back 30 years and then some is the Red River Valley of northwestern Minnesota, home to a lot of sugar beet and wheat farms along with the Minnesota side of the Fargo-Moorhead and Grand Forks “metro areas”, and I suspect he’ll get his strongest support there in 2018 as he has in the past.  As for the southern half of the district south of I-94, Peterson inherited most of that turf after 2002 and has never had quite the connection to that part of the district as he has in the Red River Valley, but has still prevailed in most of southwest Minnesota’s thinly populated farm counties, even in 2016.  It’d be surprising if he didn’t get better numbers than in 2016 or even 2014 this year.

Part of the reason MN-07 is such a tough nut for a Democrat to crack is because its most heavily populated counties (Otter Tail, Douglas, Stearns) are its most Republican.  Even though Peterson won the district by more than five points in 2014 and 2016, he still lost these three counties both times.  It’ll be interesting to see if he wins them back this time.  My guess is he does, but I suspect Douglas (Alexandria) will be the least likely of the three as for some reason he’s always underperformed there.  The biggest shift away from Peterson in 2016 came from the counties in the southeastern portion of the district, and since they’re also among the more populated counties of the district, the impact was felt in the overall margin districtwide.  Already Republican McLeod County (Hutchinson) went narrowly for Torrey Westrom in 2014 but Dave Hughes won it by 15 points.  Meeker County (Litchfield) went from Peterson +4 in 2014 to Hughes +10 in 2016.  And Kandiyohi County (Willmar) went from Peterson +9 to Peterson +3.  I’ll be curious to see if those counties swing back Peterson’s direction this year.

My best guess is that Peterson wins decisively, somewhere between 15 and 20 points.  I’d love to see him crest 60% again and it wouldn’t completely blow my mind if he did, but I feel like there’s been some conservative consolidation in this district since the Bush years and that the days of 2-1 Peterson victories are likely over.  I hope he holds off retirement until 2022 though, ensuring the Republicans don’t have an incumbent heading into the next district configuration, whatever happens with that.

MN-08 (Joe Radinovich vs. Pete Stauber)

I suspect of all the battleground House races in Minnesota, Democrat Joe Radinovich in the open seat in northeastern Minnesota has the narrowest and most complex path to victory.  In the last two cycles, Democrat Rick Nolan eked out narrow victories to hang onto a seat that was a Democratic stronghold only a decade ago, but there are significant fractures in the coalition that made Democrats so formidable in the district for decades.  In particular, the heavily unionized mine and steelworkers on the Iron Range are trending Republican for some general reasons and some very region-specific reasons, even as the areas of MN-08 seeing population growth are heavily Republican and getting more so.

With that in mind, I think Democrat Radinovich is gonna lose quite a bit of the support Nolan got in St. Louis County, particularly since his challenger is a county commissioner who has scored a number of endorsements from DFL mayors on the Iron Range.  Nolan won St. Louis County by 23 points in 2016 while Hillary won it by 12, mostly on the strength of Duluth.  And Stauber’s county commissioner district is actually in the portion of the county surrounding Duluth, meaning he’ll likely overperform near Duluth as well as the Iron Range.  My guess is Radinovich’s margin in the county will fall somewhere between the margin of Nolan and Hillary, but probably closer to that of Hillary.  I’m betting a 15-point Radinovich win in St. Louis County.

If I’m right, Radinovich needs to make up votes elsewhere in the district to make up for lost votes on the Iron Range.  His best bet is the upscale and heavily populated Brainerd Lakes area.  Stewart Mills, the Republican nominee in 2014 and 2016, was from the Brainerd area and scored strong margins there.  If Trump fatigue is gonna be felt anywhere in the otherwise demographically favorable MN-08, it’s likely to be among the McMansions around Brainerd.  The fact that Radinovich briefly held a House seat in this area gives him a competitive advantage that could prove very handy in peeling away some of those Mills voters from 2016.

Another option for Radinovich to outperform Nolan is the Twin Cities’ northern exurbs in Isanti and Chisago counties.  These are ancestrally Democratic counties whose population has more than doubled with mostly conservative transplants in the past generation.  The problem for Radinovich is that Nolan was already unusually strong in these counties, performing well above the recent Democratic baseline.  Nolan won in 2014 and 2016 largely because he didn’t completely collapse here in MN-08’s southeast side.  It’s expecting a lot to believe Radinovich will outpace Nolan here and net too many additional votes from 2016.

More promising for Radinovich is the northwest side of MN-08 which remains Democratic and went narrowly for Nolan in 2016 despite flipping decisively for Trump at the top of the ticket.  Koochiching County (International Falls) is thinly populated and won’t net too many votes, but Itasca County (Grand Rapids) could theoretically net more if Radinovich scores numbers consistent with the Democratic baseline.  There’s an Iron Range influence in Itasca County, however, that is a wild card.

Duluth is the largest city in MN-08 but it seems unlikely that Radinovich can net more votes in the heavily Democratic city than Nolan did in a Presidential cycle and as I said before his ties to Duluth are more likely to result in Stauber inroads in the area. Ditto for the other counties on the north shore of Lake Superior.  Carlton County south of Duluth has significant potential to become bluer, however, and could nudge Radinovich incrementally closer to the finish line.

This is the race I’ve been by far the most bearish about amongst the Minnesota battlegrounds.  It strikes me that there will be a lot of moving parts needed for Radinovich to eke out a win as the Democratic Party attempts to squeeze out the last drops of residual strength it has to salvage a seat slipping away from them before the next round of redistricting.  Even if they win it in 2018, it’s a tall order to hold it in 2020.  Maybe I’m overestimating how much Democratic bleeding we can expect from the Iron Range, however, as they surprised me with how well they held up in 2014.  If Radinovich did as well as Nolan did in St. Louis County, then he would quickly become the favorite in this race.  That will be far from easy against Stauber though.

And Radinovich has an additional obstacle on his path to victory from Independence Party candidate Ray “Skip” Sandman, a perennial candidate from the left in this district who ran with the Green Party in 2014.   Sandman’s candidacy was a headwind for Rick Nolan in 2014 as the 4.3% of the vote that Sandman scored very likely came at Nolan’s expense, and it was extremely lucky for Nolan that Sandman didn’t run in 2016 because he would probably have been the difference in such a challenging cycle for Democrats.  Sandman’s candidacy is exactly what Radinovich does not need this year as it likely means thousands of diverted votes far more likely to go in his column than in Stauber’s.

Friday, September 21, 2018

2018 House Battlegrounds: Can The Democrats Pick Up The Lower Chamber?

A decade ago, I could have given detailed profiles of every Congressional district in the country and opined with more clarity on which direction I figured it to go and why.  But I never fully divested myself into the district map and renumbering that came after the last reapportionment.  With that in mind, I considered doing the sort of deep dive into House race predictions that I did at this time in 2006, but ultimately decided that it would be less time-consuming and more appropriate at this stage with so many races still in flux to break down this year's battleground races into three categories.  The first category is districts where I think the incumbent party is more likely than not to ultimately lose their seat.  In some cases, these are coin flips or gut calls based on the national environment.  The second category is districts where I think the incumbent party hangs on.  And the third category is "races to watch", seats that are not yet at the forefront of the House battleground, but where I believe there is potential for an upset given the political environment.  If 2018 ends up being an anti-Trump wave in these House races as many are speculating, you can expect some cannon fodder in places not currently on most people's radar where the tide sweeps out an incumbent who fancies himself or herself safe until very late in the cycle but then finds out otherwise.  I suspect quite a few of these flipped seats that Democrats pick up in 2018 will be rentals, poised to flip back either right away in 2020 or else 2022.  We saw dozens of those kinds of seats following the big Democratic waves of 2006 and 2008 and I expect more to come.  Anyway, here are my predictions:

Seats I Suspect Will Flip Party Control (Parentheses If Projecting Seat To Flip From Dem To GOP)
AZ-02 (OPEN--McSally)
CA-10 (Jeff Denham)
CA-39 (OPEN--Royce)
CA-45 (Mimi Walters)
CA-48 (Dana Rohrabacher)
CA-49 (OPEN--Issa)
CO-06 (Mike Coffman)
FL-15 (OPEN--Ross) 
FL-27 (OPEN--Ros-Lehtinen)
IL-12 (Mike Bost)
IA-01 (Rod Blum)
IA-03 (David Young)
KS-02 (OPEN--Jenkins)
KS-03 (Kevin Yoder)
KY-06 (Andy Barr)
ME-02 (Bruce Poliquin)
MI-07 (Tim Walberg)
MI-11 (Dave Trott)
MN-02 (Jason Lewis)
MN-03 (Erik Paulsen)
MN-08 (OPEN--Nolan) (flipping from Dem to GOP)
MT-AL (Greg Gianforte)
NE-02 (Don Bacon)
NJ-02 (OPEN--LoBiondo)
NJ-07 (Leonard Lance)
NJ-11 (OPEN--Frelinghuysen)
NY-19 (John Faso)
NY-22 (Claudia Tenney)
NY-24 (John Katko)
NC-09 (OPEN--Pettinger)
OH-01 (Steve Chabot)
PA-05 (OPEN--Meehan)
PA-06 (OPEN--Costello)
PA-07 (OPEN--Dent)
PA-14 (OPEN--Lamb) (flipping from Dem to GOP because of altered district lines)
PA-17 (Keith Rofshus) (Conor Lamb makes an even trade for safer district)
TX-23 (Will Hurd)
UT-04 (Mia Love)
VA-02 (Scott Taylor)
VA-10 (Barbara Comstock)
WA-08 (OPEN--Reichert)
WV-03 (OPEN--Ojeda)

I managed a net of 39 seats for Democrats here, well above the 23 that they need to take power, and gave them about two-thirds of the seats currently on the table in the agreed-upon battleground.  Even if the Democratic wave doesn't materialize to the magnitude expected, the GOP will struggle to limit their losses to less than 23.  And if the Democrats come reasonably close to sweeping the battlegrounds, as is often the case in wave elections, it's entire possible they could clear 50 new seats.

Battleground Seats I Suspect Will Stay With The Current Party
AZ-01 (Tom O'Halleran)
AZ-08 (Debbie Lesko)
AZ-09 (OPEN--Sinema)
AR-02 (French Hill)
CA-21 (David Valadao)
CA-25 (Steve Knight)
CA-50 (Duncan Hunter)
CT-05 (OPEN--Esty)
FL-06 (OPEN-DeSantis)
FL-07 (Stephanie Murphy)

FL-18 (Brian Mast)
FL-26 (Carlos Curbelo)
GA-06 (Karen Handel)
IL-06 (Peter Roskam)
IL-13 (Rodney Davis)
IL-14 (Randy Hultgren)
IA-04 (Steve King)
KS-04 (Ron Estes)
MI-01(Jack Bergman)
MI-06 (Fred Upton)
MN-01 (OPEN--Walz)
MN-07 (Collin Peterson)
MO-02 (Ann Wagner)
NV-03 (OPEN--Rosen)
NV-04 (OPEN--Kiheun)
NH-01 (OPEN--Shea-Porter)
NJ-03 (Tom McArthur)
NJ-05 (Josh Gottheimer)
NM-02 (OPEN--Pearce)
NY-01 (Lee Zeldin)
NY-02 (Peter King)
NY-11 (Dan Donovan)
NY-27 (OPEN--Collins)
NC-02 (George Holding)
NC-13 (Ted Budd)
OH-12 (Troy Balderson)
OH-14 (David Joyce)
OH-16 (OPEN--Renacci)
PA-01 (Brian Fitzpatrick)
PA-08 (Matt Cartwright)
PA-16 (Mike Kelly)
TX-02 (Ted Poe)
TX-07 (John Culberson)
TX-10 (Michael McCaul)
TX-22 (Pete Olson)
TX-24 (Kenny Marchant)
TX-31 (John Carter)
TX-32 (Pete Sessions)
VA-05 (OPEN--Garrett)
VA-07 (OPEN--Brat)
WA-03 (Herrera Beutler)
WA-05 (McMorris Rodgers)
WI-01 (OPEN--Ryan)
WI-06 (Glenn Grothman)
WI-07 (Sean Duffy)
WI-08 (Mike Gallagher)

I undoubtedly got the wrong call on some in both categories as most years, even in a wave, there are some unlikely survivors while other races break late against the incumbent.  For the most part, however, I've considered the situation at the top of the ballot in these states to determine what base turnout is likely to be and which states aren't likely to have the Democratic strength at the top of the ticket to pull downballot battlegrounds over the finish line.  North Carolina, for instance, is a state I expect will be a disappointment for Democrats in the House races since there are no Senate or gubernatorial races that could be expected to propel Democratic turnout.  And Wisconsin is a state that seems poised for a Democratic wave statewide but I suspect the gerrymander is strong enough to hold and keep potentially vulnerable GOP incumbents from being toppled.

Races To Watch Where An Upset Is In Reach
CA-42 (Ken Calvert)
CO-03 (Scott Tipton)

FL-13 (Charlie Crist)
FL-16 (Vern Buchanan)
GA-07 (Rob Woodall)
IL-10 (Brad Schneider)
IN-02 (Jackie Walorski)
IN-09 (Trey Hollingsworth)
MD-06 (OPEN--Delaney)
MI-08 (Mike Bishop)
ND-AL (OPEN--Cramer)
OH-10 (Mike Turner)
OH-15 (Steve Stivers)
SC-01 (OPEN--Sanford)
SC-05 (Ralph Norman)
SD-AL (OPEN--Noem)
TX-06 (OPEN--Barton)

The last list may well end up including some races not at all on my radar even for "races to watch".  There's just no telling what might break late in a cycle like this, particularly with GOP turnout poised to collapse in states like New York, Pennsylvania, and California where Democratic blowouts are expected at the top of the ticket.  In the end though, I think Trump's popularity among the Republican base could save the situation from becoming too disastrous for Republicans.  If Trump finds a pet issue to whip the base into a frenzy about, as he's so often done in the past, that will likely motivate some Republican voters to show up who may have otherwise sat it out.  On the other hand, Trump may well pitch such a narcissistic hissy fit in the weeks before the election, seeing that it's not going his way, that he could choose to roll back his campaign efforts so as not to attach himself to "losers".

But at this stage of the cycle I'm convinced based on past precedent that Republicans are poised to take a drubbing on November, with very little chance of limiting their losses to less than 23 as is needed to maintain House control.  From a tactical standpoint heading into 2020, the best-case scenario for Democrats would be to come up just a few seats short of House control and thus not assume political power. With the political control that would come from winning the House outright, Trump will find a perfect foil in Democrats and, as we've seen time and time again over the years, the President usually wins the messaging war in a feud with a Congressional majority of the other party.  I reserve the right to adjust a few of these calls between now and November 6th based on late-breaking races but for now I think this is a pretty solid set of predictions.

Friday, July 13, 2018

The Passing of Ed Schultz Timed Perfectly For The Passing of the Labor Movement

On the night of the disastrous midterm elections in 2010, when Republicans reclaimed the U.S. House of Representatives and, more importantly, statehouses and legislatures in key swing states across the country, the most sage interpretation of the political situation came from MSNBC host Ed Schultz.  Schultz, a champion of the labor movement, predicted that foremost among the priorities of the newly elected Republican majorities, would be to crush unions in whatever way possible.  I hadn't really thought of it in that specific of terms until Schultz said it, and even then I presumed it would be a general movement to kill the move towards card-check union authorization at the time and other specific priorities of the labor movement.  But Schultz's prediction proved even more prophetic than he likely knew when Republican Governors, led by Wisconsin's Scott Walker, orchestrated a well-planned assault on collective bargaining rights within months of taking office in January 2011. Other states followed, with varying degrees of "success", and in the years since, even more states including Missouri, Kentucky, and West Virginia, have immediately made the jump towards union-busting or right-to-work laws as soon as Republicans claimed full control of state government.

But it wasn't until two weeks ago that the scope of union-busting materialized in a way that will derail the future of collective bargaining nationally and tilt the nature of our two-party system even further down the road of corporate ownership.  The United States Supreme Court voted on a 5-4 margin to nationalize Scott Walker's 2011 gambit in Wisconsin, tossing out decades-old precedent ensuring that a public sector union can collect a fee from nonparticipating employees so they're unable to freeload on the efforts of dues-paying members.  Most red states have already employed this tactic with the express intent of crushing the union, and it works as participation inevitably declines as the freeloaders increase, resulting in a union unable to effectively function moving forward and ultimately either collapsing or losing its negotiating power.  The diminished capacity of the union then affects political campaign donations in two ways, first with shrinking contributions to counter the tsunami of corporate money flooding the system and later with that same lopsided political arrangement leading to an erosion of pay, benefits, and work rules now that the union's opposition has all of the money and all of the political representation.

This should have been a huge headline on June 27th given its implications on campaign financing and worker empowerment for decades to come, but it was overshadowed when hours later, "swing" Supreme Court justice Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement.  Kennedy was no less conservative than the four hard-right jurists on the SCOTUS when it came to economic and business issues, but the fact that Trump gets to nominate a replacement who will assuredly be a tick further to Kennedy's right locks in place a horrifically anti-worker and anti-consumer judiciary for generations to come.  And I get the feeling that most liberals, Democrats, and union workers are still vastly underestimating the stakes here...

With the Supreme Court so lopsided with conservative jurisprudence, the likelihood is that any would-be left-leaning federal or state government elected in the foreseeable future will face a wall with just about any progressive legislation they put forward.  The Court has reinvented itself as something of a "super legislature" in recent years, doing the bidding of the political party they belong to rather than honorably abiding by legal precedent.  If it serves the Republican Party interests to throw out legislation passed by liberals at the state, local, or federal level, you can be sure they will do it more often than not.  This renders the outcomes of this year's Congressional elections and the next Presidential election generally meaningless from a policy standpoint.  The cake is already baked.  In fact, there's a very real chance Trump will get to nominate another SCOTUS judge to replace one of the court's aging liberals, making the balance of judicial power even more impenetrably unfavorable.

Eight days after the union-busting ruling and the retirement of Anthony Kennedy, the strongest champion of labor in popular media (Ed Schultz) passed away.  It's a disturbing coincidence and an ugly metaphor for the new political reality.  Elections have consequences, and the voters' choice on November 8, 2016, now appears to have locked in place a right-wing judiciary poised to rule against labor and consumers for the next generation with hardly any recourse that will have a tangible effect until, at the earliest, most young people today are middle-aged and most middle-aged people today are old.  Insofar as it was Obama-voting union members who swung the 2016 election to Donald Trump, then these Obama-Trump voters will go down in history as the architects of their own demise.