Forecasting the Political Storm: A
A prediction of the 2018 Midterms
November 5, 2018
The playing field for the 2018 Midterm has shifted dramatically throughout the last several months, with ups and downs for each party, but two things have remained pretty clear; Democrats have been consistent favorites for the House, while the GOP has maintained an increasingly likely chance of holding the Senate.
Why is this sharp contrast between chamber elections so prominent in a midterm of a controversial President’s term? The answer lies within the fundamentals of each election; Democrats are defending far more vulnerable seats than the GOP in this Senate cycle, several Democratic incumbents in red states seem to be in deep peril following Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation.
The Republican party is significantly favored to hold the Senate chamber. Though the GOP holds a very slim 51-49 advantage, and this year will be good for Democrats, the state of each election tells a much different story.
Democrats have 26 seats up for election, including 10 in states Trump won in 2016, while Republicans have only 9 seats up for election. Only 5 of these Republican seats are at all competitive, with only 2 being very realistic pickup opportunities for Democrats. On the other hand, at least 5 Democratic held seats are very close, with several more potential upsets.
The House, on the other hand, will almost certainly confirm the longtime trend of the President’s party losing seats in the midterms. The so called “generic” ballot, which measures the nationwide party preference for congressional races, has more of an impact here. The GOP holds almost all competitive seats, meaning they are at significant danger of losing the House, but they might just hold on to power.
While Republicans hold a 23 seat advantage, Democrats have held an advantage for several months, but the playing field has expanded significantly over the past few weeks. Republicans hold a significantly larger number of vulnerable seats, and quite a few open seats and even some incumbents seems like lost causes at this point as GOP spending shifts away.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) has begun spending in fringe districts not considered competitive a few months ago, which spells bad news for House Republicans.
It has been fun to watch the competitive seats shift; Rep. Rod Blum (R) of Iowa, once considered a lost cause, has apparently gained some ground in recent weeks, while incumbents in Colorado, Minnesota, and Kansas now stand as clear losers. Races like PA-10, FL-15, UT-4 and VA-5 have tightened significantly in the last week or two.There are two basic types of competitive districts.
Suburban D trending districts, like nearby IL-6, have long been considered Democrats’ best bet at taking the House. College educated women seem to be a lost cause for the GOP, and Trump’s approval ratings have gone off a cliff in many of them.
Quite a few of these suburban districts swung very sharply from 2012 to 2016, with well known incumbents like Rep. Roskam running as fast as they can away from Trump. Races like the previously mentioned IL-6, MN-3, VA-10, TX-7, and CA-48 are all pretty tight, and definitely worth watching as potential bellwethers on election night.
Rural R trending districts are the 2nd type of race to watch; all of these races have strong Democratic DNA, but swung sharply towards President Trump in 2016 due to his inroads in the union vote.
Coal remains a top issue in many of these races, so Democratic candidates have attempted to distance themselves from the national party on issues like these.
The marquee race of this category is in West Virginia’s 3rd District, where State Senator Richard Ojeda (who voted for Trump in 2016) gives quite a strong challenge to State Delegate Carol Miller. Ojeda has greatly outraised Miller, and has had over a million dollars in outside support from the DCCC and VoteVets. This race, as well as KY-6 and IL-12, are my top picks to watch on election night.
Some Republicans feel confident about their chances in these sorts of races, but Democrats will probably pick up several on election night.
Governor races are an altogether different beast, with significantly different factors at play, with partisanship having less influence in voter decisions. Thus, competitive races can pop up in reliably blue or red states.
Governor races are much more difficult to predict, and often have much less to do with the partisanship of a state than congressional elections; for example, Republican Governor Charlie Baker of blue Massachusetts seems certain to win by at least 30%, while Governorships in deep red Kansas, South Dakota, and Oklahoma are totally up for grabs.
Aspects of certain elections could very well change in the few days before the elections, and some unusual upsets could occur–very much like Trump’s 2016 win.
Republican Held Seats:
Nevada: Only one currently red seat is in a state Hillary Clinton won in 2016 (and only by 2%). Incumbent Senator Dean Heller faces a very tough re-election bid against Rep. Jacky Rosen. Heller has positioned himself as somewhat of a moderate, and the election will likely be determined by Hispanic turnout. Polls show a very close race, but Heller appears to be leading by just a few percent. This race is Tilt R.
Arizona: When moderate GOP Senator Jeff Flake said he wouldn’t run again, Democratic Rep. Kyrsten Sinema announced her intention to run for the seat. Democrats had a good feeling about picking up this state where Trump won by 3%. Sinema, a member of the centrist Blue Dog Coalition , led every poll before the divisive GOP primary which placed establishment favorite Rep. Martha McSally against conservative firebrand Kelli Ward and controversial Sheriff Joe Arpaio. McSally won the primary, and has gained some ground by attacking Sinema for controversial activism. The race is Tilt D.
Texas: Senator Ted Cruz faces a tougher than expected re-election bid against El Paso Rep. Beto O’Rourke. This race has received great national attention due to O’Rourke’s unconventional and energizing campaign and insane fundraising numbers. Due to changing demographics, Texas has been trending blue for quite some time, but it will be very difficult for O’Rourke to dislodge an incumbent in a traditionally red state. National pundits and news have been too optimistic about the Democrat’s chance, and it has been incredibly foolish to spend so much money in a race so difficult. Race is is Lean R.
Tennessee: This race for retiring Senator Bob Corker’s seat is very competitive, and probably a better pickup opportunity than previously mentioned Texas. Tennessee is a very red state by all accounts, but Democrats have the best possible candidate: former Governor Phil Bredesen, who remains very popular, having won every county in the state in his 2006 reelection, and has been campaigning as an effective and pragmatic moderate. His opponent, Rep. Marsha Blackburn, is very conservative, which does not fit the state’s tendency to send moderates to the Senate. Polling has been generally close. The race is Tilt R.
Other races to watch: The only other potentially competitive GOP held seat is in Mississippi, where a nonpartisan special election is occurring to fill Thad Cochran’s seat. Appointed Republican Sen. Hyde-Smith faces two challengers: former Rep. Mike Espy (D) and very conservative State Senator Chris McDaniel (R) who nearly beat Cochran in the 2014 primary. If no candidate breaks 50%, the race proceeds to a runoff, and Espy seems favored if the runoff is between him and McDaniel, but this possibility seems very unlikely. I rate Mississippi Likely R.
Democratic Held Seats
North Dakota: Senator Heidi Heitkamp seems the most vulnerable of this cycle. In a State where President Trump won with 63%, facing against a top recruit, Rep. Kevin Cramer, Heitkamp has long been viewed as in a very shaky position, but her reelection prospects have sunk in recent weeks. Though she has emphasized her political independence, she has long trailed in polling, with the nail in the coffin being her vote against Kavanaugh. Democrats are already eulogizing her as a person of great integrity, but Heitkamp seems to have made a political miscalculation. The race is now Likely R.
Missouri: Probably the next most vulnerable seat is in Missouri, where Senator Claire McCaskill faces a very tough reelection in a red state. McCaskill has long been unpopular, but is a crafty politician; in 2012, she aided Todd Akin in the GOP primary because she knew he would be easy to beat, and she won by about 15%. This race is not as much of a given; she currently is behind State AG Josh Hawley. Hawley seems to have recovered from connections to the scandal several months ago resolving in the Governor’s resignation. The race is Tilt R.
Indiana: Incumbent Senator Joe Donnelly has been notoriously low key, winning in an upset in 2012 over a flawed candidate, and has been running a strong campaign against former State Senator Mike Braun, who has positioned himself as a political outsider. The race is very close, with mixed polling, but appears to be Tilt D.
Florida: Considered one of the closest elections this year, Senator Bill Nelson seeks a 4th term in office, facing off against Republican Governor Rick Scott. Scott and Nelson have both spent colossal amounts of money on their campaigns, with Scott being able to self fund, but Nelson has had a slight edge in recent polling, making Florida Tilt D.
Montana: Senator Jon Tester has had a somewhat closer than expected re-election challenged by State Auditor Matt Rosendale. Tester has been considered popular and in a strong position to win, but President Trump has held several rallies in an attempt to unseat him, who he is more at odds with than some other red state Democrats. Tester has strongly positioned himself as a common sense farmer in ads, while attacking Rosendale for being a carpetbagger. A University of Montana poll released Friday showed Tester leading 49-39. The race is Lean D.
West Virginia: Republicans have long been bullish in their chances to unseat Joe Manchin, a conservative Democrat who also served as the Governor of the state. Republican AG Patrick Morrisey has fallen quite short of expectations after winning a damaging primary in May. 3rd District Rep. Evan Jenkins would have likely been a much better fit for the state because he could cut into Manchin’s large advantage in the southern part of the state (which now gives a boost to the Democrat running to replace Jenkins). Manchin led the most recent public poll, conducted October 12-19, by a whopping 16% margin, likely boosted by his controversial vote for Kavanaugh. Still, President Trump won the state by over 40% and is holding a last minute rally in Huntington. In my eyes, Manchin holds a decent advantage, and the race is Lean D.
Other races to watch: Several other Democratic held seats remain mildly competitive. Senators Stabenow, Brown, and Baldwin, all from midwestern states Trump won in 2016, appear to be in solid positions to win, but these races could all come pretty close. Former Lieutenant Governor Tina Smith of Minnesota, appointed to the Senate to fill a vacancy created by Al Franken’s resignation, also faces a close challenge from GOP State Senator Karin Housley. Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey is not as safe as he could be; he was recently involved in a corruption scandal, and faces wealthy Pharma Executive Bob Hugin who has self funded millions of dollars into a race within single digits in a solidly blue state.
House Chamber Rating: Likely D
States to watch: A few states have a large abundance of competitive races; New Jersey will be one of the first to report on election night, and features 2 key battlegrounds, districts 3 and 7, as well as 2 favored Democratic pickups. Virginia is another state to watch, with 4 competitive seats being dragged down by GOP Senate nominee Corey Stewart’s horrendous campaign. In the middle of the night will be Minnesota, which features 4 top tier races; 2 suburban Democratic favored pickups and 2 open seats where Republicans have a shot to mitigate their losses. California has multiple top tier suburban races, including half a dozen “Tilt” ratings and an all but assured Democratic pickup, CA-49.
Democrats are clear favorites for House control, but there is a decent chance that they fall just short of the 23 seats needed; there is a similar chance that a true wave of 50 or 60 seats are gained, so the likeliest outcome is somewhere in the middle. The math is very, very tough for the GOP, but luck could cause them to keep the majority. Many seats this cycle are very close and fall to the “Tilt” rating for either side, meaning quite a few of these seats will almost certainly be different from my prediction.
Competitive Seats Safe Democrat Flips: PA-5, PA-6, NJ-2
|Likely D||Lean D||Tilt D||Tilt R||Lean R||Likely R|
|7 D, 3 R||1 D, 7 R||3 D, 17 R||27 R||1 D, 20 R||1 D, 30 R|