Iowa and Kansas and Pennsylvania, Oh My — Split Midterm Decision Likely I Spy

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, there is still almost a week to go, and 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 card 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.

Meanwhile, in the House

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.

Few observers expected the Republican-friendly confines of Utah’s 4th (Mia Love), Florida’s 15th (Dennis A. Ross, open), California’s 10th (Jeff Denham) or New Mexico’s 2nd (Steve Pearce, open) to be competitive this late in the cycle. But polls show they are, and veteran handicappers see all of those districts as in play now.

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.

This column appeared initially in Roll Call on November 1, 2018.

Two Elections: Democrats’ Chance of Taking the Senate Fading, House Likely to Flip

The Democrats’ chances of netting at least two Senate seats always seemed like a long shot. But a month ago, the stars looked to be aligning for them. Today, those stars tell a different story.

With the Republican challenger, Rep. Kevin Cramer, opening up a clear lead over Democratic incumbent Heidi Heitkamp, the North Dakota Senate race looks all but over now, according to multiple insiders. That means Democrats will need to swipe at least three GOP seats to take back the Senate — an outcome that currently appears somewhere between unlikely and impossible.

Democratic prospects have also faded over the past couple of weeks in two important states, Tennessee and Arizona. And in Nevada, a state that went for Hillary Clinton two years ago, Republican incumbent Dean Heller is running even or slightly ahead of Democratic Rep. Jacky Rosen. In Texas, where Democratic enthusiasm for Rep. Beto O’Rourke’s Senate bid is off the charts, GOP incumbent Ted Cruz continues to hold a clear and consistent advantage, with no sign that Lone Star state voters are going to fire him.

To make matters worse for Democrats, Republicans continue to threaten their incumbents in Senate races in Missouri, Indiana, Florida and Montana. (Four other states that Donald Trump carried in 2016 — Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — are not competitive.)

The Democratic scenario for capturing the Senate always depended on swiping at least two — and probably three — Republican seats. That is now not happening.

It’s possible that events over the next few weeks will change that arithmetic, but for now, net gains for Senate Republicans seem more likely than Democratic ones.

This year’s Senate results are crucial, in part, because they will help determine the parties’ Senate prospects for the 2020 election. A GOP gain of two or three Senate seats this cycle will make it very difficult for Democrats to win the Senate in 2020, when two vulnerable Democratic Senate seats are up — Alabama and New Hampshire — along with four vulnerable GOP seats — Colorado, Iowa, Maine and North Carolina.

While the Senate outlook is increasingly bright for Republicans, the House looks almost guaranteed to flip to the Democrats next month. Republican strategists I talked with recently privately predicted Democratic House gains ranging from 25 to 50 seats.

The GOP’s problem in the House is the same as the Democrats’ problem in the Senate — the map.

Republicans sitting in upscale suburban districts — incumbents such as Virginia’s Barbara Comstock, California’s Mimi Walters and Colorado’s Mike Coffman — are counting down their final days in office, and “tribalism” is even endangering popular Republican incumbents in Democratic districts, like California’s David Valadao.

While some GOP strategists say they see suburban men who have been on the sidelines returning to the Republican column, others say there has been only a slight bump for the party in recent weeks.

One Republican observer said he thought as many as 20 or 21 of the 25 Clinton-supporting GOP districts could well flip, producing a large Democratic House wave.

Another Republican who believes the landscape is improving for his party agrees that the House will flip because there are simply too many strong, well-funded Democratic challengers in upscale districts.

For months, it has looked as if Democrats would capture the House and Republicans would retain the Senate. That remains the likely outcomes because there are essentially two different elections going on — one, in the Senate, in mostly pro-Trump, conservative, rural states; and one, in the House, in upscale, diverse, suburban congressional districts.

One of those groups of voters is electing the Senate, while the other group is electing the House. Given the deep division in the country and the very different outlooks of pro-Trump and anti-Trump voters, that should not come as a shock to anyone.

Both parties will try to improve their prospects in the final few weeks of the campaign. With Democratic voters and particularly better educated women engaged and energetic, it is up to GOP strategists to make sure their voters turn out.

This article appeared initially in Roll Call on October 12, 2018.