The Morning Jolt


What to Expect in the Midterm Elections for the GOP

The White House (Wikimedia Commons )

Making the click-through worthwhile: four key takeaways about the state of the GOP as early voting begins in the midterm elections; Hillary Clinton holds civility hostage; the world’s  thuggish regimes start getting cocky; and where you can vote early.

The Big Midterm Election Preview, 27 Days Out

What follows are some cautious assessments about the 2018 midterms, gleaned from looking at recent polling. (Insert all appropriate caveats: Yes, the polls are sometimes wrong; yes, Trump’s victory in 2016 surprised a lot of people even if the final-popular vote split was in line with the polling average; yes, polling response rates are low; yes, everyone should work like they’re ten points down even if they’re ten points up.)

One: Democrats are going to pick up some governorships that slipped away from them for the past few cycles. In Illinois, Democrat J. B. Pritzker is comfortably ahead of incumbent Republican Bruce Rauner. (Some National Review readers may not consider that a significant loss.)

In Michigan, incumbent Republican Rick Snyder is term-limited, and Democrat Gretchen Whitmer is consistently leading Republican Bill Schuette. While many Wisconsin Democrats have counted out Scott Walker before and found themselves eating crow on Election Day, Democrat Tony Evers is consistently enjoying a small lead in autumn polling. In Ohio, Mike DeWine is close to Democrat Richard Cordray, but that one’s a coin toss. When the dust settles after Election Day 2018, one of the biggest topics of discussion might be a state-level collapse of the GOP in these Great Lakes states.

In Nevada, three polls in September showed Democrat Steve Sisolak enjoying a lead over Republican state attorney general Adam Laxalt — many conservatives would be deeply disappointed by a Laxalt loss.

And then there are the governor races featuring a tight race and a stark choice between a conservative Republican and a liberal Democrat. All of the polling in Georgia points to a nail-biter between Republican Brian Kemp and Democrat Stacey Abrams, and in Florida, Democrat Andrew Gillum has consistently enjoyed a small lead in eight polls taken in September.

Two: The blue wave is skipping some states and races. You can probably put Maryland’s governor’s race to bed; On Tuesday morning, the Washington Post poll put incumbent Republican Larry Hogan ahead of Democrat Ben Jealous by 20 points. Democrats have high hopes for the Tennessee Senate race*, but their candidate for governor, Karl Dean, has failed to make the race competitive against Bill Lee. Up in Alaska, there’s a three-way race, and Republican Mike Dunleavy is likely to win handily against incumbent independent Bill Walker and Democrat Mark Begich. Few people think of New Hampshire or Vermont as Republican strongholds, but incumbent GOP governors Chris Sununu in New Hampshire and Phil Scott in Vermont appear to be comfortably cruising to reelection.

Three: Control of the House is probably tighter than the “blue wave” talk suggests. Races for the House of Representatives are toughest to survey, because the House district lines don’t always align with area codes and pollsters have to be more careful to ensure the households that they’re calling are in the right district.

The New York Times/Siena College watch-it-as-it-happens surveys are fascinating, but I’m not sure I buy the idea that showing the results as they happen is influencing the results; this would mean the registered voters that Siena is calling have already checked the Times web page and are altering their choice based upon those results.

If the Siena College polling is correct, a slew of moderately endangered House Republicans can breathe a little easier. Mike Kelly in Pennsylvania, Ted Budd in North Carolina, John Carter in Texas, Lee Zeldin in New York, and Steve Chabot in Ohio all enjoyed leads of six to 16 percentage points. All the standard points about the House remain in effect — the president’s party traditionally does badly in midterm elections, the GOP has to defend a lot of open seats, and Trump isn’t popular in the suburban districts that make up the main battlegrounds. But a prominent House Republican told me last week that he thought that his party’s chances of keeping the majority in the House are 50-50. Even if he’s being overly optimistic, a four-in-ten chance of keeping GOP control is considerably better than just a few weeks ago. For what it’s worth, Nate Silver’s thinks there’s just a 22 percent chance the GOP keeps control.

Keep in mind, right now the House has 235 Republicans, 193 Democrats, and seven vacancies, and Republicans found it challenging to keep their caucus united. A smaller majority for either party would make passing legislation even tougher, and leave any faction much more empowered.

Four: Maybe it’s a temporary Kavanaugh effect, but the GOP has the opportunity for a really good year in the Senate. After trailing for a long while, Marsha Blackburn is surging ahead of Phil Breseden* in Tennessee. After trailing for what felt like forever, incumbent Dean Heller is now ahead by 2 percent in the latest poll in Nevada. (As Liam Donovan keeps pointing out, Heller was a strong enough campaigner to win by about 11,000 votes while Obama was winning the state by about 68,000 votes in 2012, but for some reason the political media keeps describing Heller as the most vulnerable Senate incumbent in this cycle.)

GOP wins in Tennessee and Nevada would take away two of the Democrats’ best opportunities to pick up a seat. Republicans still have some reason to worry about Arizona where Kristen Sinema has a small but consistent lead over Martha McSally, although a new poll out this morning puts McSally up by six.

And no, Beto O’Rourke does not look like he’s going to win in Texas, which will raise tough questions about whether the $23 million donated to O’Rourke’s campaign could have been better spent elsewhere.

You can write off Heidi Heitkamp’s chances in North Dakota now.

Missouri looks really, really close, as does Florida. Polling in Indiana has been sparse, but Mike Braun has a gift-wrapped issue because of incumbent Democrat Joe Donnelly’s vote against Kavanaugh. (Failing to knock off Donnelly would rank as one of the biggest missed opportunities for the GOP in the cycle.) Democrats had felt confident about Jon Tester in Montana, but now his race against Matt Rosendale is getting tighter, too. In West Virginia, Joe Manchin probably made himself electorally bulletproof with his vote for Kavanaugh.

The Republicans’ best realistic expectation is that they keep seats in Texas, Nevada, Tennessee, and Arizona, and then knock off Democratic incumbents in North Dakota, Missouri, Indiana, Florida, and Montana. That five-seat pickup would give them a comfortable 56-44 majority in the Senate. More likely, they’ll win some of those pickup opportunities and fall short in a few.

*As noted on yesterday’s Three Martini Lunch podcast, in light of a certain pop star’s recent endorsement in the Tennessee Senate race, Marsha Blackburn may have been trailing, but she figured out how to shake it off. Yes, there’s some bad blood in this race, but Tennessee voters are figuring out that Bredesen was trouble when he walked in, and they’re likely to tell the former governor that they are never ever getting back together. Blackburn is not out of the woods, but the end game is near. And where Democrats thought they had a Senate pickup on election night, they’ll end up with a . . . blank space.

‘Win Back the House and/or the Senate, That’s When Civility Can Start Again.’

Hillary Clinton:

You cannot be civil with a political party that wants to destroy what you stand for, what you care about. That’s why I believe if we are fortunate enough to win back the House and/or the Senate, that’s when civility can start again.

In other words, civility is a luxury that can only be afforded when Hillary Clinton’s preferred party controls Congress; when the Republicans control Congress, there is no need for civility. Heads she wins, tails Republicans lose.

It’s also absolutely fascinating that Clinton defines the GOP as “a political party that wants to destroy what you stand for, what you care about.” Fairly or not, this is how a lot of Republicans feel about the Democratic party.

If you care about the Second Amendment right to own a firearm, the unborn, a secure border, the enforcement of immigration laws by ICE, limiting citizenship to those who go through the proper legal steps to earn it, and keeping a fair level of what you earn, once you’ve paid your federal taxes, state taxes, local taxes, sales taxes, car taxes, and property taxes — Democrats want to “destroy” all of that. Democrats want to impede, if not destroy, school choice, vouchers, charter schools. They want to bring earmarks — member-chosen spending priorities — back into the budgeting process.

Meanwhile, on the World Stage . . .

The Turkish government claims the Saudis killed Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist who had applied for permanent residency in the United States. The Chinese just detained the head of Interpol. A Bulgarian investigative journalist was just raped and murdered.

It looks like some of the world’s more thuggish regimes feel free to act with impunity. Might be time for our law-and-order, takes-no-grief-from-anybody, never-backs-down, no-time-for-diplomatic-niceties president to get a little more vocal.

ADDENDUM: Early voting has begun in Arizona, California, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, Ohio, South Dakota, Vermont, and Wyoming (or parts of them, check your local elections boards). Whether or not you think early voting is a good idea for our country, if you’ve got the option, why not go for it? Avoid the lines on Election Day and you’re set in case your car breaks down or something else goes wrong on that first Tuesday in November.

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