Stuart Rothenberg: Lots of wild cards, but split mid-term decision likely
Predictions? Not from me. But I do have expectations as Election Day approaches, and I am happy to share them.
I expect Republicans to hold on to their Senate majority, quite possibly even adding a seat or two.
In the House, I’d be surprised if Democrats don’t win control Tuesday. I still expect Democratic gains in the chamber to be in the 30- to 40-seat range, though larger gains are possible.
Has there been movement over the past couple of months? Sure, there was a little movement one way, followed by a little movement the other way. But at the end of the day, there wasn’t much net movement from early September to late October.
Of course, recent events could have an impact on late deciders. If voters have had enough chaos and disruption for a while and are looking for at least a brief pause, they could turn to the Democrats in the final days of the election cycle. And Republican enthusiasm could wane at the margins as memories of Brett M. Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court hearings fade and President Donald Trump overplays the immigration card.
Don’t dismiss those possibilities out of hand. The map continues to be the main reason why the Democrats aren’t likely to flip the Senate. It’s the worst map for one party I have ever seen.
If Hillary Clinton had been elected two years ago, Republicans would have been poised to hold both Nevada and Arizona, and Democrats would be preparing to lose at least six seats — North Dakota, West Virginia, Missouri, Indiana, Florida and Montana — and as many as a dozen (New Jersey, Minnesota, Ohio, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan).
In other words, while Trump has been an asset for Republican nominees in some states, he has been a liability elsewhere — just like in the House. But unlike the House, where swing congressional districts will determine the chamber’s control, the fate of Senate control rests with very Republican/pro-Trump states.
North Dakota seems like a certain Republican pickup as conservative rural voters stick with their party.
Missouri and Indiana are the Democrats’ next biggest headaches. Even splitting those two races would be a plus for them.
Handicappers generally see Arizona, Nevada and Florida as Toss-ups, though I wouldn’t be surprised if Democrats sweep all three. In fact, I am expecting it.
Democrats also have an edge in West Virginia and Montana, though both states offer a challenging electoral landscape for them. Republicans certainly believe those races are still in play, and Democrats aren’t close to believing that those contests are already in the bag.
Tennessee and Texas both look more competitive than they usually are, but I don’t know a single dispassionate analyst or handicapper who thinks Democrats will win either race. A win by Phil Bredesen or Beto O’Rourke would be a significant upset.
Another wild care is New Jersey, where Democrat Robert Menendez is facing a tougher race than expected from Republican Bob Hugin. The contest looks close, but I still find it difficult to believe Menendez will lose during a midterm election about Trump.
Over in the House, Democrats continue to perform well in competitive and even GOP-leaning districts.
If public polls are correct, Democrats could win two of four districts in Kansas and two additional seats in Iowa, giving them three of the Hawkeye State’s four districts.
Just as a reminder, Trump carried Iowa by 10 points and Kansas by 20 points.
Pennsylvania looks like a bloodbath for the GOP, with eye-popping Democratic gains almost certain, and California and New Jersey look equally challenging for Republicans.
Democrats have been able to widen the playing field, forcing the national GOP to play defense in districts where they never expected to devote resources.
That development increases the chances of a late-breaking larger wave. The danger for Republicans is that election waves build right up to Election Day because more casual voters — that is, those who vote only occasionally and more on mood and personality than ideology — make up their minds and opt for “change.”
That tends to produce larger losses for the president’s party on election night, including a true long-shot race or two.
I am not expecting an electoral tsunami close to the magnitude of the elections of 1994 and 2010. But Democratic House gains of at least 30-40 seats surely would constitute an electoral wave and a clear message of dissatisfaction with the president and his party.
I’ll be watching for surprises on election night. I am expecting we’ll have some. Trump continues to disrupt our politics, so the only real surprise on Tuesday would be if we have no surprises.