‘Tis the day before the most expensive (and, possibly, most bitter) mid-term election in American history. To borrow a phrase, in 36 hours “our long national nightmare” will be over (actually an even longer nightmare – the campaigns for 2020 – has already started).
We owe you our “best guess” on potential outcomes. In the past I have often been wrong . . . but in grand consultant tradition, always been certain. This year – see disclaimers below – I am less certain than ever.
That said, the most useful and, clearly, the most certain thing we can provide you today is linked here, produced by and shared with the kind permission of our esteemed colleague Rhodes Cook, publisher of “The Rhodes Cook Letter”. It is a list of the states in order of poll closing times with some key statistics on the ’16 Presidential vote and the Senate and Governor candidates running this year. This will do you more good tomorrow night than anything else we can say or share.
How Things Look This Election Eve —
U.S. Senate – We continue to believe the GOP has at least an 80% chance of holding control of the Senate. There are just too many endangered Democrats running in too many states, 10 in states President Trump carried by an average of 16.2 points (from 0.2 points in Michigan, to 36 points in North Dakota and 42 points in West Virginia).
Although late polling seems to show some momentum for McCaskill inMissouri, Donnelly in Indiana, and Nelson in Florida, the harsh reality is that to take control of the Senate, the Democrats have to PICK UP TWO GOP SEATS (best hopes Nevada and Arizona, both within the margin of error of polls; lesser hopes in Tennessee and Mississippi) AND HOLD ALL THEIR CURRENT SEATS (including very tough races in Montana, North Dakota, Missouri, Indiana, West Virginia, New Jersey, and Florida . . . a number of which were on President Trump’s whirlwind tour of 11 rallies in recent days).
U.S. House – We continue to believe the Democrats have a 70% chance of gaining control of the U.S. House. They need a net gain of 23 seats. It does not appear the “blue wave” will crest at the once-forecast 35 or 40 seats, but they should pick up 25-30.
Big states that will decide the House outcome: Pennsylvania and California. Of Minnesota’s eight districts, five are targeted by one or the other parties. Virginia could flip a number of districts. And even Kansas could flip two (perhaps requiring a re-write of What’s The Matter With Kansas?)
Earliest races to watch outcomes: If, as former Congressman Tom Davis noted, the GOP’s Barbara Comstock WINS re-election in Virginia’s 10th District there is no “blue wave” for Democrats . . . and if the GOP’s David Brat LOSES re-election in Virginia’s 7th District (which the GOP has held since 1968), there could be a very real “blue wave.”
The generic ballot favors Democrats by (Real Clear Politics average) almost eight points . . . and Democrats need an 8+ point advantage to win control of a Gerrymandered House. The most noticeable element in generic ballot polls we’ve seen recently are the enormous gender gap (men marginally want a Republican congress, women overwhelmingly a Democrat) and the even more enormous education gap (college educated favor Democrats, non-college educated favor Republicans). In this year of record numbers of women Senate, House, gubernatorial and legislatives candidates, this gender gap may decide the election.
This year could set a record for INDICTED House members being re-elected, with two members, Duncan Hunter (CA-50) and Chris Collins (NY-27) under active indictment – Hunter on 60 felony charges and Collins on 11 felony charges – and awaiting trial . . . but with both leading in their respective polls.
Governors – We continue to believe the Democrats have a 90% chance of picking up four to six Governor offices and as many as 450+ state legislative seats (having lost more than 950 in the Obama years). Democrat pick-ups look VERY LIKELY in Illinois and New Mexico, INCREASINLGY LIKELY in Michigan, Kansas, Florida and Nevada . . . and POSSIBLE in Iowa, Wisconsin, Ohio, Maine and, maybe even Georgia (which, with a third candidate drawing four percent in the polls, may well go to a December 4th run-off).
Democrats WILL hold the Governor’s office in California and New York . . . and SHOULD hold on to the Governor’s office in Colorado, Oregon (a closer race than it should have ever been)and Connecticut (where the Democrat incumbent is the most unpopular Governor in America, making holding it a challenge but against a weak GOP candidate) . . . while New Hampshire GOP Governor Sununu was expected to win re-election handily in race that has closed very late. Two Republican governors in normally VERY Democrat states – Massachusetts and Maryland — are expected to win re-election easily.
THE big question/confusion is Alaska. The incumbent Independent Governor has – very late – “withdrawn” from the race after his 75-year-old Lieutenant Governor resigned after “inappropriate” comments in what Reuters described as a “murky scandal” . . . however, the Governor’s name remains on the ballot (withdrawal came too late for removal), so post-withdrawal two-candidate polls are, in our view, worthless. Nevertheless, they show a slight lead for the Democrat, former Anchorage Mayor and U.S. Senator Mark Begich.
Ballot Issues – There are reportedly 155 issues on the November 6 ballot . . . including among 11 in California major gas tax and water bond issues . . . among six in Nevada, electricity retail choice and renewables (on their way to being a $100 million fight) . . . an equally expensively fought renewables fight (among five ballot issues) in Arizona . . . a surprisingly high-spending campaign on voter restoration for felons in Florida (among nine issues) . . . marijuana legalization in four states – including three competing questions on it in Missouri (where a gas tax and minimum wage are also on the ballot and labor eager to repeat their August victory over right-to-work) – along with Michigan, North Dakota, and Utah . . . minimum wage also on the ballot in Arkansas . . . and Medicaid expansion on the ballot in Idaho, Montana, Nebraska, and Utah.
The Predictor’s Dilemma: Turnout looks big, but for/against whom — ??
Across the country, we’re hearing lots of reports of highest-ever interest, record-setting early voting (starting as long ago as September 21 in Minnesota . . . before the Kavanaugh vote, the caravan heading north in Mexico, the pipe bombings, the Pittsburgh synagogue tragedy, the deployment of U.S. troops to the Mexican border for the first time since we went chasing Pancho Villa in 1916 . . . but I digress about early voting) and clear intention to vote. But whom does what may be historically high (at least since 1994) mid-year turnout favor?
Anecdotally, a lot of the early voters appear older and white, which usually advantages the GOP. But 25% of the early voters in Texas have never voted in a primary, suggesting they are truly first-time voters and, arguably Democrats. Women are, clearly, more engaged this year and on the generic congressional ballot heavily favor Democrats, less so those without a college education. There has also been a massive effort to register minorities and turn out millennials. President Trump has focused media and political chatter – as only he can – on races where turning out his supporters is crucial . . . but might he turn out more of his adversaries than his supporters . . or have as little effect as he had on the Alabama special senate election and run-off last year?
We really won’t know any of that until well after the polls close, the exit polls (being done by two competing organizations this year, for the first time in memory) reported, the votes counted, and the analysis done.
The possible swings in WHO turns out and in what NUMBERS make this election even harder to predict than normal. And a lot of races are within the “margin of error” on polling: Senate in Montana, Missouri, Indiana, Florida, Nevada, Arizona . . . and Governor in Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Nevada, among others.
The Biggest Potential Upsets?
Still bearing the scars of mis-calling 2016, we would be foolish not to recognize the absolute possibilities of upsets, even big upsets. We’re not predicting ANY of these – indeed, we would put a 10% or less chance on any one of them – but if any happen they will dominate the morning-after news and talk about this election for months/years to come (o.k., until overtaken in a few days with media consumed with 2020).
- Republican Ted Cruz loses in Texas, which seems unlikely despite Beto O’Rourke’s exciting campaign, but one which failed to give Republicans, among whom Cruz has dangerously low support, reason to cross over to vote Democrat.
- Democrat Robert Menendez loses in New Jersey, where polls show him recovering . . . proving that even when the citizens of the Garden State know that, without question, their U.S. Senator is a crook, they’re willing to re-elect him.
- The Blue Wave unexpectedly dies out, leaving the Republicans in control of the House and President Trump triumphant in the White House.
- The Blue Wave becomes an unexpected tsunami and sweeps the Democrats into control of the Senate.
We’ll be back in touch on Wednesday, trying to explain what happened.