Election Landscape Updates

As we survey the election landscape three weeks out the House is getting bluer and the Senate redder. Republicans are retreating in vulnerable congressional contests even conceding Kansas 3 to a Native American LGBT lawyer.

Meanwhile. Mitch McConnell has ordered more Majority Leader business cards. North Dakota is breaking Republican. Manchin is likely to survive but tightening in that West Virginia race is encouraging to R’s. Buckeye State Republicans are banking on decades-old divorce records to bounce Sherrod Brown with #MeToo momentum but that race has stubbornly clung to the Lean D column.

In New Jersey, Garden State voters all seem to acknowledge their senior senator is a crook, but do they care? Democrats seem poised to snare 4 to 6 governorships next month and collect 400 or so state legislative seats after losing 900 during the Obama years.

Stay tuned for my outlook on November 7 headlines you may not be expecting and my prediction on a 2020 White House contender who, this cycle, may win by losing. 

West Virginia Political Drama

West Virginia is a small state – and since it’s my wife’s home state (and the late Matt Reese’s), I must speak respectfully – but the political drama unfolding with the impeachment of the entire state supreme court has the makings of a novel. The state’s last flirtation with tossing out an elected official dates back decades when U. S. Sen. Joe Manchin’s uncle surrendered the state treasurer’s office in disgrace.

Let me invite you to light a cigar or brew a pot of coffee and catch up on the latest insights from my Hawthorn colleague (and former West Virginia governor’s press secretary) Steve Cohen:

  • A chief justice (who surrendered the title “chief” when the spotlight was on) faces dozens of federal indictments with 400+ years in the pokey triggered by his taking Cass Gilbert-era furniture to his home and using a state car for personal business (and allegedly submitting receipts for fuel reimbursement when the car was returned with an empty tank.) And get this: he wrote a book years ago about the history of political corruption in the state! 
    • Trial at the Robert C. Byrd U.S. courthouse scheduled for the fall, the same courthouse where coal executive Don Blankenship was convicted for mine safety violations; yes, the same Don Blankenship seeking to skirt the sore loser law for a spot on the ballot this November in the Joe Manchin Senate race.
  • A second justice quit on the eve of impeachment proceedings in the House Judiciary Committee. He pled guilty to a federal indictment for evading taxes and personal use of a state car. The three unindicted justices remaining are women.
  • So, the state senate convenes for an impeachment trial next month. And Congressman Evan Jenkins, (who ran for the court in 2000 and lost to the justice who most recently resigned …and ran for Joe Manchin’s Senate seat this year but lost in the GOP primary) is seen as likely to get a gubernatorial appointment to one of the two vacancies before subsequently seeking election outright.

Not enough drama? President Trump will hold a rally in the state capital Tuesday.

And why does it all matter beyond the Mountain State? Because if there IS a Supreme Court in West Virginia they could play a major role in deciding whether defeated GOP US Senate Nominee (and former prisoner) coal mogul Don Blankenship gets on the ballot as a third-party candidate, helping the Democrats and hurting the Republicans chances to win West Virginia’s Senate seat and control of the U.S. Senate.

Reflections on Yesterday’s Voting

To Hawthorn Friends & Family –

          To all the commentary flooding the airways and web this morning (and even the few newspapers that still exist), let me add but three points:

          First, despite self-claims of providing the margin, it is NOT clear President Trump’s endorsement made a/the critical difference in the special Ohio congressional election (a very narrow GOP win, likely to hold, in a district historically overwhelmingly Republican) or in the Kansas gubernatorial primary (where Trump’s candidate is ahead by 191 votes out of 311,000 cast and could still lose). In fact, there is good question whether President Trump created the “drag” that made the Ohio district competitive at all.

          President Trump certainly did not have the impact he had earlier in South Carolina’s congressional and gubernatorial primaries. Indeed, it looked more like his lack of impact in Alabama’s special U.S. Senate election and run-off last year.

          Second, while much happened yesterday encouraging to Democrats, they, in fact, LOST the Ohio congressional (assuming recounts don’t reverse the current outcome), the kind of district they must win in order to take back control of the House.

          Yes, Democrats were badly out-spent. Yes, it’s a heavily Republican district. Yes, they ran a VERY close race, with superb early organization. But, ultimately, Democrats lost. As Churchill said after the “miracle of Dunkirk,” “We must be very careful not to assign to this deliverance the attributes of a victory.” (The NYTIMES, for instance, called it “a Democratic Triumph.”)

          Most striking to me was the repeat of what we’ve been increasingly seeing: deep, deep divides between rural and urban counties, with the Democrat getting 65% of the vote in Franklin County (Columbus) and losing every one of the other six counties.

Third, the biggest news yesterday was labor’s overwhelming reversal of right-to-work legislation in Missouri, with labor winning better than two-to-one, 67.5% to 32.5% in a state only 8% union membership. Labor carried 100 of Missouri’s 115 counties, in a state where Hillary Clinton carried only three counties.

          It was a brilliantly run, well-financed labor campaign . . . and it just MAY show signs of voters’ returning to vote their perceived economic self-interest, not just their ideological outrage.


          One additional observation: Impeachment charges were filed yesterday against the four remaining West Virginia Supreme Court justices (the fifth has already resigned). This adds yet another element of chaos to whether formerly imprisoned coal executive Don Blankenship can, having lost in the GOP primary, now get on the ballot as an “sore loser” third party candidate (prohibited by West Virginia state law) in the U.S. Senate race where his presence would help divide the vote against Democrat Joe Manchin.

Perspective on Senate Wild Card Races

The Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin observes Democratic prospects for taking the Senate brightening, but it is still early in the game.  The Democrats are playing defense this cycle with so many more of their incumbents on the ballot and Trump won ten of those states.  As Hawthorn Group’s John Ashford observed recently in a speech to a California audience, Florida, North Dakota and Nevada are particular wild cards. 

National Journal Political Briefing Takeaways

Some great take-aways from National Journal’s political briefing today by the Charlie Cook team:


  • Wave election?  Dems are a motivated base but suburban toss-up seats are key battleground.
  • Turnout Trends from 9 special elections this year suggest polarized electorate with Dem edge on the “enthusiasm quotient.”
  • Driving issues:  low jobless rate and tax cut (through latter petering out) work to GOP advantage but health care cost anxiety weighing heavily on voter minds.
  • Dem dampers:  improving economy, GOP redistricting advantage in state legislatures and Dems playing defense in Senate contests.
  • GOP gap:  trade!  Chinese retaliation especially in farm belt, ripple in Rustbelt.


  • Watch Florida and Illinois competitive governors races this year with 2020 redistricting at stake
  • Looks like Longhorn State longing for flipping Ted Cruz seat a “long shot”

Lasting impression?  Separation of families at the border:  2/3 disapproval, strong with moderates and women in swing districts.  Is executive order too little too late?  Can Trump and GOP recover from this by November?