The Morning Jolt


The Race for Control of the House Narrows . . . Narrowly

A joint session of Congress meets to count the Electoral College vote from the 2008 presidential election, won by Barack Obama, in the House Chamber of the U.S. Capitol, January 8, 2009. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
A Politico report finds good and bad news about the GOP's chances in the midterms, Hillary's best play in 2020, and Mueller report's smoke and mirrors.

Making the click-through worthwhile: The range of outcomes for the 2018 House elections starts to get a little narrower; the one way Hillary Clinton could return to the political stage and not be completely irrelevant; expectations for Robert Mueller’s final report are quietly being lowered; and some NR housekeeping.

The Outlook for the House GOP Is Not So Good . . . But It’s Not So Terrible, Either

Politico offers a good roundup that has bad news and good news for Republican hopes of keeping control of the U.S. House of Representatives.

First, the bad news:

Republicans admit that Democrats have already closed out about 15 races, well over halfway to the 23 seats they need to win the majority. Democrats are competing in more than 75 districts currently represented by Republicans, giving them ample room to secure the final dozen seats needed to take the majority.

Then the good news:

Democrats have retreated from an open seat in Minnesota where Democratic Rep. Rick Nolan is retiring and GOP recruit Pete Stauber is ahead in internal GOP polling.

Democrats are also taking money from the race to unseat GOP Rep. Don Bacon of Nebraska, who, Republicans say, has a healthy lead. That came just days after Democrats pulled out of Hispanic-populated districts represented by Rep. David Valadao in central California and Rep. Will Hurd along the Texas border. And they’ve withdrawn $800,000 in planned ads from Rep. Vern Buchanan’s Florida district, where the Democratic challenger, David Shapiro, trails the incumbent.

That’s one GOP pickup and four incumbents that are looking safer. The unnamed Republican sources say their internal polls show leads for Representatives Andy Barr of Kentucky, Steve Chabot of Ohio, Mike Bost and Rodney Davis of Illinois, John Katko of New York, and Brian Mast of Florida.

I have one quibble with the Politico gang’s analysis, which comes in their morning newsletter, and declares, “there are 41 GOP retirements. Seventeen Democrats retired in 2010, when Republicans won 63 seats.”

Yes, there are a lot of GOP retirements this cycle, but as I laid out yesterday afternoon, only about ten of the Republican retirements are in purple or swing-y districts, and I suspect those make up about half of the “those seats are already lost for the GOP” pile. A couple of those open seats look a little worse than expected — Arizona’s second district, Kansas’ second district, and New Jersey’s eleventh.

A whole bunch of seats have absolutely no public polls, and I suspect that’s because they’re just not that competitive. In New Jersey’s second district, which covers the southern part of the state, Frank LoBiondo was hanging on a nominally Republican district. This year, Democrat Jeff Van Drew is running against a gadfly candidate who called diversity “un-American.” Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley-based sixth district hasn’t voted for a Democrat since Lyndon Johnson; Republican Ben Cline is expected to win handily.

In places like Arizona’s eighth and Ohio’s twelfth district, Debbie Lesko and Troy Balderson won special elections earlier this year and are now running with the (modest) advantage of short-term incumbency.

And a handful look better than expected. California’s 39th district was one that looked like a goner, but State Assemblywoman Young Kim is probably as good a candidate as Republicans can hope for in that district. Florida’s 27th district was another one where Hillary Clinton had won by a large margin in 2016, but Democrats nominated Donna Shalala, who was Bill Clinton’s Secretary of Health and Human Services back in the Mesozoic Era the 1990s, and again, Maria Salazar is about as good a candidate as Republicans could get. You may remember the name Dino Rossi from some heartbreakingly close races in the state of Washington; he’s now giving the GOP a really good shot in Washington’s eighth district, one of the few “dead even” districts in the Cook Partisan Voting Index. A ten-point lead in early October is a really good sign.

Mind you, this doesn’t mean that Republicans keep the House. But remember that if the Democrats pick up 20 seats — usually a good year! — there’s a small GOP majority. If Democrats pick up 30 seats, again a good year by most criteria, they have to govern with a margin of just 7 seats. The next Speaker of the House is going to have a lot of headaches over the next two years.

Yes, We’re All Sick of Hillary Clinton. But . . .

Ordinarily, the most lame and unrealistic topic imaginable for a political columnist is some variation of “Hillary Clinton should run for president again in 2020.” But Matthew Walther offers an argument that is so different from usual, it almost ends up being compelling.

Hillary Clinton had plenty of flaws, but high among them was her clumsy inauthenticity. Her 2016 campaign in particular embraced that constant implausible effort to make her seem not all that ambitious, not all that vindictive, touting all of those allegedly humanizing details that painted her as your “abuelita” with “hot sauce in her purse.” The contrived repackaging of her insulted the intelligence of voters who had been watching her for a quarter century.

Walther says she should say, forget all of that, and let out her inner rhymes-with-witch: “the woman who ran a vicious race-baiting primary campaign against Barack Obama, the unwavering supporter of the Iraq war, the architect of our ill-fated Libyan excursion, the Osama-hunter, the would-be Assad-destroyer, the welfare queen shamer, the tough-on-crime denouncer of ‘superpredators.’” Walther imagines Clinton ripping the #MeToo sexual predators, bashing Barack Obama for leaving the country defenseless against Russia’s election shenanigans, and doubling down on her “deplorable” comments by painting Trump’s base voters as whiners and irresponsible blame-shifters.

In other words, she could let out her inner Trump.

This would be more interesting and more authentic than the latest effort to reinvent a well-established career to appeal to the sensibilities of a woke progressive Brooklyn hipster. She would have to denounce Bill to use the #MeToo rallying cry, instead of insisting that Bill Clinton wasn’t abusing his power during his affair with Monica Lewinsky because the White House intern was an adult. Hillary Clinton would have to call for longtime supporter Harvey Weinstein to face the guillotine or something and call out a “long-festering moral decay” in the ranks of powerful Democratic men who claimed to be feminists — Anthony Weiner, Eliot Spitzer, John Conyers, Al Franken, Eric Schneiderman, Keith Ellison. She would make a lot of enemies, but she also might win some long-lost respect for finally not taking the route most expedient to her political ambitions.

Hillary probably won’t run, and precisely for this reason. Some Democrats wanted her to run against Bush in 2004, but she wisely calculated the odds were better when no incumbent president were running. She could have challenged Obama in 2012 but made the same calculation. She only knows how to run with all the advantages as a frontrunner . . . and yet that’s never worked out for her.

Don’t ‘Expect a Comprehensive and Presidency-Wrecking Account’ from Mueller

You notice that ever since the Brett Kavanaugh fight, we’ve heard a lot less than usual about special counsel Robert Mueller’s report?

We’re starting to hear the hints that we shouldn’t expect any bombshells.

That’s the word POLITICO got from defense lawyers working on the Russia probe and more than 15 former government officials with investigation experience spanning Watergate to the 2016 election case. The public, they say, shouldn’t expect a comprehensive and presidency-wrecking account of Kremlin meddling and alleged obstruction of justice by Trump — not to mention an explanation of the myriad subplots that have bedeviled lawmakers, journalists and amateur Mueller sleuths.

Could you imagine a Mueller report concluding “no collusion” after midterms that disappoint Democrats? They’ll be beyond apoplectic . . .

ADDENDA: A little housekeeping here and there: First, thanks to everyone who came to the Leadership Institute’s Conservative Podcasting School. I had a lot of fun, and everyone seemed to find it really interesting. The two nights covered a lot of topics, from the technical side to marketing to booking guests to finding donors and patrons, and I understand that they may do more of these sorts of events, so stay tuned. I saw some old friends of NR and some longtime readers who really lifted my spirits. So thanks, everyone.

Speaking of podcasting, can you believe Greg Corombus and I have been recording the Three Martini Lunch podcast for almost eight years now? I went through the many generous comments on our iTunes page and found everyone seems to love the fact that we’re . . . well, short. Thirteen minutes to half an hour, usually around 15 to 20 minutes. Your time is valuable, and we try not to waste it.

You’ve thought about joining NRPlus, right? If not, you’re missing out on the members-only Facebook page featuring debates and discussion about whether Trump is getting better at the job of being president; the forgotten sides of Hollywood, Communism, and McCarthyism; when the immoral ought to become illegal and when it shouldn’t; and all of the classic works of literature that high school English class ruined for us.

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