On Tuesday, November 6, we will be voting in the 2018 mid-term elections. Nationwide, 33 of the 100 Senate seats, all 435 of the House of Representatives seats, 36 of the 50 governorships and hundreds of assorted local offices will be contested. The importance of these local “grass roots” elections, for state legislatures, judgeships, mayor, and the like, should not be discounted.
Historically, the party that is out of power has almost always gained seats in these off-year elections, sometimes substantially so. This trend should augur well for the Dems. Indeed, for much of this year the general expectation was that the Dems would register substantial gains. But, lately the projected “blue wave” appears to have been reduced to a trickle.
Why? There are many theories. In my opinion, the major reasons are the healthy economy, record low unemployment, particularly among women, African Americans, Hispanics, and teens, the reduced tension on the Korean Peninsula, and the decimation of ISIS. Presently, most people are feeling very good about their situation. That said, it is important to consider that local issues play a larger role in these elections due to the absence of a presidential race. The late Speaker of the House, Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neil, was fond of saying, “all politics is local.” A bit hyperbolic, perhaps, but there is a large element of truth there.
As I write this, most of the latest polls predict that the Dems will, at a minimum, gain the 23 seats they need to retake the House, thanks primarily to increased support in suburban and exurban areas such as Orange County, CA northern NJ, and Southeastern PA around the Dem strongholds of LA, NY and Philadelphia, respectively. Conversely, those same polls predict the GOP will retain, or perhaps, expand its control of the Senate.
The latest Real Clear Politics poll highlighted a disturbing trend – the increased polarization of the electorate. For instance, the Dems are favored by non-whites, 66% to 26%, voters under the age of 40, 58%-37%, and white college educated women, 62%-36%. The GOP has a similar edge with white men and non-college educated women. In addition, there is a significant geographic divide – the Dems being favored on the coasts and the GOP in the middle. It all nets out to a divided country, roughly 50-50. Not good.
Moreover, the poll disclosed that some 70 House seats are still competitive, an unusually high number this close to election day, although it predicted the Dems will pick up at least the 23 seats it needs to retake control. In the Senate the GOP benefits from the luck of the draw. Of the 33 Senate seats that are up for re-election, 23 are held by Dems and only eight by the GOP, with two independent. So, the Dems have more seats to defend. Most of the “toss-ups ” are Dem-held seats. Some of these are in “red” states that President Trump carried handily in 2016. Furthermore, the president’s approval ratings have been on the rise, and he is actively campaigning in key states. Most polls show his approval to be in the mid-40s; Rasmussen has it at 51%, which may be an outlier, but you get the point.
The latest poll by Real Clear politics predicts the GOP will end up with 50 Senate seats, the Dems with 44 and 6 races are presently too close to call. Those six “toss-up” races hold the key, and I will discuss them, along with one key “flip” race, below.
Incidentally, these polls would be good news for those who like to see “checks and balances,” but bad news for those who actually want Congress to accomplish anything meaningful in the next two years. Can you spell “gridlock?” Keep in mind, however, that in politics four days can be an eternity. Furthermore, in mid-terms low turnout is always an issue and hard to predict. This renders polls somewhat suspect.
Back to the seven pivotal Senate contests.
1. Nevada – Dem Congresswoman Jacky Rosen is challenging GOP incumbent Dean Heller. The latest Real Clear poll shows Heller leading by two percentage points, well within the margin for error and too close to call.
2. Arizona – This is an open seat. Dem Congresswoman Kyrsten Sinema is leading GOP congresswoman Martha McSally by less than one percentage point. Again, too close to call.
3. North Dakota – According to Real Clear, incumbent Dem Heidi Heitkamp is trailing GOP challenger Kevin Cramer by 11 points. ND is a deep red state that Trump carried handily in 2016. This seat is likely to be “flipped.”
4. Missouri – According to Real Clear incumbent Dem Claire McCaskill is trailing GOP challenger Josh Hawley by two points. Hawley is a strong supporter of the President, who has been actively campaigning on his behalf. McCaskill has been trying to fend Hawley off by moving to the center and distancing herself from Dem leaders, such as Nancy Pelosi and Elizabeth Warren, who are unpopular in the state, but the momentum is against her, and I predict she will lose.
5. Florida – Tallahassee Mayor, Bill Nelson, is running against former GOP governor Rick Scott. RC’s latest poll has Nelson up by 2%, but this is really a toss-up. Florida is a very diverse state, politically, and one of the most difficult to predict.
6. Montana – Dem incumbent Jon Tester is defending against GOP Matt Rosendale. Tester is up 4%, but Montana is a deep red state, so the seat may “flip.”
7. Indiana – Dem incumbent Joe Donnelly is defending against GOP businessman Mike Braun. RC has it as a toss-up, but, again, President Trump has been actively campaigning in the state, so there is a good chance the seat will “flip.”
If you are interested in politics you will enjoy election night. It could be a late one. There are many close races, and much is at stake. Will the GOP maintain control of Congress, or will the Dems wrest control of one or both of the legislatures? What will the turn-out be? Will a Dem emerge as a frontrunner for the presidential nomination in 2020? What will happen in the next four days to affect the results? Sometimes, there is an event outside anyone’s control. For instance, I believe Super Storm Sandy had a major impact on the 2012 presidential election.
One thing to keep in mind: the “experts” on tv can and do provide educated guesses, and most of them are very articulate and convincing. But, I say, no one really “knows” what will happen in this election.
This is a very critical and unpredictable election. DON’T FORGET TO VOTE.