The Morning Jolt


The Big Election Day Preview

(Carlos Barria/Reuters)

Yesterday we looked at the battle for control of the U.S. House of Representatives, district by district. Today, we’ll look at the big Senate and gubernatorial races, starting in the Northeast, and work our way down . . .

New Jersey Senate: No, Bob Hugin’s not going to win. He might make it a little closer than usual, but New Jersey voters do not punish Democrats for corruption. The Garden State endorses and encourages it.

Pennsylvania Senate: Looking back, how did Republicans not give a real challenge to charisma-free Bob Casey in a state Trump won, that Pat Toomey won last year, and in a state where they had, until redistricting, a 13-5 advantage in the state’s congressional delegation? On paper, Lou Barletta looked like a good candidate, former mayor of Hazelton in the northeast corner of the state, classic blue-collar working-class Pennsylvania territory, maybe one of the most naturally “Trumpy” members of the House GOP . . . and yet he never really made Casey sweat. Barely running any television advertising in the Philadelphia market probably didn’t help.

Maryland Governor: Larry Hogan wins, but maybe not quite by the eye-popping landslide numbers in recent polls.

Virginia Senate: Can we permanently retire the idea that Virginia Republicans need to get “Trumpier” to win in this state?  Corey Stewart’s campaign is going to be a farshtunken disaster area, and he’s up against Tim Kaine. Tim Kaine! Virginia’s incumbent senator is human oatmeal. You probably already forgot that he was Hillary’s running mate. And Corey Stewart is at 33 percent in the RealClearPolitics average. Stewart will be lucky if he cracks a million votes. By contrast, that allegedly awful establishment squish Ed Gillespie lost by an awful margin last year . . . but he won 1,175,731 votes, the most votes for any Republican candidate ever. It wasn’t that Gillespie was too squishy, it was that the state’s Democrats were too numerous and too motivated by the first year of the Trump era.

Why can’t Virginia Republicans find somebody like Larry Hogan? I’d rather have a moderate Republican blocking bad Democratic ideas and disappointing me every now and then than watch table-pounding gadflies lose 2-to-1 statewide and hurt candidates down-ticket.

Florida Governor: Similarly, it’s fair to ask if Ron DeSantis was a good fit for Florida — yes, a Republican-leaning state, but a diverse and thriving one. A lot of these races might be seen as Trumpist policies and style against the Democratic agenda, without Hillary Clinton. More registered Democrats voted early than registered Republicans. DeSantis went after Andrew Gillum hard on his ethics and his record as mayor, but so far there are only limited signs that it worked. It will be close, but I think Democrats win here . . .

Florida Senate: . . . and pulse-less Bill Nelson somehow beats Rick Scott in the Sunshine State’s Senate race, which should count as one of the biggest disappointments for the GOP this cycle. It will be fascinating to see if Scott’s all-business, even-tempered, I’m-all-about-creating-jobs-and-focusing-on-efficiency style runs well ahead of DeSantis’s attacking style.

Georgia Governor: I’m being told by Republicans that Brian Kemp is going to hold on, and that Stacey Abrams is the second-most overhyped candidate of the cycle. We’ll see. I’m picking Kemp, but if Abrams wins, it means a lot of Georgia Republicans were whistling past the graveyard for the last few months.

Ohio Governor: I think the whole upper Midwest is just going to be ugly for the GOP, and one of their best gubernatorial hopes in this region, Mike DeWine, will fall short against Richard Cordray. Like in Pennsylvania, this is another race where the GOP first thought they might have a chance in the Senate race and just never made it competitive.

Illinois Governor: The worst (or at the very least most disappointing) Republican governor in the country is sent packing after one term. Bruce Rauner tried fighting the Democratic establishment in Springfield, then he tried negotiating with it, and then he tried making ever-more concessions. Nothing worked; nothing will work until Illinois voters stop accepting the same old favor-trading and backroom deals of a long-entrenched power structure.

Michigan Senate: John James might be the GOP’s best surprise candidate this cycle. Incumbent Democrat Debbie Stabenow might win, but the state’s other Democratic senator, Gary Peters, is running for reelection in 2020, and if James keeps it close tonight, you’ll hear a lot of people urging him to run again in what will hopefully be a better election cycle.

Indiana Senate: I’m going out on a slightly shaky limb here and picking Mike Braun. If Braun doesn’t knock off Joe Donnelly with all of the structural advantages in this race — it’s a red state, Donnelly barely won in a presidential turnout year, Donnelly voted against Brett Kavanaugh after voting for Neil Gorsuch — then Braun will probably be remembered as the most disappointing GOP Senate candidate of this cycle. Braun outspent his two rivals, congressmen Todd Rokita and Luke Messer, in a nasty primary, and if the millionaire businessman falls short, Indiana Republicans may wonder if it was wise to nominate the least well-known and least experienced candidate with the deepest pockets.

Wisconsin Senate: After Trump’s win, Scott Walker’s repeated victories, and Ron Johnson’s surprise comeback in 2016, Republicans started asking whether it was safe to classify Wisconsin as a red state. No, not really.

Wisconsin Governor: Losing Scott Walker will hurt and make little sense when the state’s unemployment is so low. But when the Democratic base is so fired up in a state like Wisconsin, it’s hard for Walker to hang on one more time.

Missouri Senate: Man, Claire McCaskill has the luck of the devil. First, way back in 2002, she ran for reelection for state auditor against a Republican who had served nine months in prison after convictions for felony fraud, and the state GOP disowned the nominee. Then she eked out a victory with less than 50 percent of the vote in the Democratic-wave year of 2006. Then Missouri Republicans were dumb enough to nominate Todd Akin against her in 2012. Then earlier this year, Missouri’s Republican governor Eric Greitens resigned in a horrific scandal, depressing and angering the state GOP. I’m picking Josh Hawley to win, but this is the sort of race where McCaskill’s numbers ought to look like Heidi Heitkamp’s. Speaking of which . . .

North Dakota Senate: Kevin Cramer wins, and let’s face it, this race has been over for a month. Heitkamp and North Dakota Democrats managed to lose all dignity and self-respect in the last few weeks, publishing the names of sexual-assault victims without their permission and offering a false claim that voting can lead to losing out-of-state hunting licenses.

Tennessee Senate: Marsha Blackburn wins; sorry, Taylor. This is one of a few states with a competitive Senate race but a gubernatorial race where the GOP should win in a landslide — Texas and Arizona also fit this description. If voters aren’t in a mood to split their tickets, you may see a really good night for the GOP in the Senate.

Montana Senate: It will be close, but incumbent Democrat Jon Tester will win. Another deeply frustrating missed opportunity.

South Dakota Governor: I know there’s been some buzz about a Democratic upset here, but I think former congresswoman Kristi Noem becomes the first woman governor of South Dakota . . .  and she gets completely ignored by the talk of the “Year of the Woman” post-election analysis.

Texas Senate: Yup, if by some amazing turn of events Beto O’Rourke pulls this off, I’ll have a lot of egg on my face — but not as much as Texas Republicans, who have been absolutely confident that they will get out the vote. The Beto O’Rourke for Senate campaign ends tonight, the Beto O’Rourke for President campaign unofficially begins tomorrow — and Democrats could do a lot worse than Lone Star Vanilla Obama.

Nevada Senate: The early vote numbers don’t look too good for Dean Heller, according to Jon Ralston’s back-of-the-envelope math. If you’re looking for hope, remember Heller won reelection in 2012 by roughly 1 percentage point while Barack Obama was winning the state by 7 points. I think Jacky Rosen wins narrowly.

Arizona Senate: I keep getting told not to put too much stock into the early voting numbers, but . . . almost 1.6 million Arizonans have voted already, and that’s more than the total vote in 2014! When early voting ended, 656,822 registered Republicans had voted, and 538,174 registered Democrats had voted. That’s 118,648 more registered Republicans voting early than registered Democrats! Insert all appropriate caveats that people don’t have to vote for the party they’re registered in, and Kyrsten Sinema could well be winning among the nearly 380,000 independent or non-affiliated voters, but . . . that would seem to be a nice early advantage for Martha McSally, no?

The great Henry Olsen, who predicts a Sinema win, observed that this is about three percentage points closer for the Democrats than in the last cycle. But last cycle, Arizona Republicans won the governor’s race by about twelve points, the secretary of state’s race by about 15 points, and the state attorney general’s race by five points.

If McSally wins by a more comfortable margin than the polls indicate, please remember that I was paying attention to the partisan split in the registration of early voters, and this was an early sign that the Arizona GOP’s get-out-the-vote-team had eaten their Wheaties. If Sinema wins, forget I said any of this.

This adds up to Republicans gaining two seats, and enjoying a 53-47 majority starting next year. The GOP keeps Texas, Arizona, and Tennessee; the Democrats keep New Jersey, Wisconsin, Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Montana. The GOP flips North Dakota, Missouri, and Indiana; Democrats flip Nevada.The governor’s races are a mess for Republicans, but we expected that.

ADDENDUM: NBC News correspondent Shomari Stone with an astute observation: “Some people complain about Election Day lines. But they have no problem waiting in line for Black Friday shopping, movie premieres, concerts, Jordans and new iPhones.”

Of course, maybe that reflects that Black Friday shopping, movie premieres, concerts, Jordans, and new iPhones are satisfying, whereas voting gets you a sticker and a sense that your vote is a drop in the ocean.

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