Tuesday, May 8, 2018

BTRTN Senate 2018 Election Snapshot: Complete State-by-State Midterm Round-Up As Primary Season Kicks Off in Earnest Today

Tom takes an in-depth look at all 35 Senate races.

We are on the cusp of the primary season to determine Senate combatants in November, so it seems like a good time to take our second look at the Senate, the first since last October.  At that time, this was our opening paragraph:

Image result for senate 2018 elections“Our first hard look at the 2018 Senate mid-term elections yields but one inescapable conclusion:  it will be extremely difficult for the Democrats to retake the Senate.  The odds are overwhelmingly in favor of the GOP maintaining control.”

My how things have changed!  The path to the Democrats taking control of the Senate has opened up, and the odds of a Dem takeover have increased from less than 5% to something more likely in the 30% range.  This more sanguine Dem outlook has been driven by specific changes that we anticipated last fall.  At the time, we cited four factors that offered the Democrats a “glimmer of hope” – and, as it turns out, each of the four has broken favorably for the Democrats:

·        We noted the slender possibility that the Alabama special election would be won by Democratic candidate Doug Jones, noting that “far right wing bomb thrower” Roy Moore was a far less electable candidate than the man he defeated in the GOP primary, the more moderate Luther Strange.  This was before Moore’s alleged deviant history of dating and assaulting teenage women (some of the minors) came to light.  And amid a swirling national controversy about those charges, Jones did in fact win that Election, which alone mightily changed the calculus of Senate control come November. 

·        The second factor was Tennessee.  GOP incumbent Bob Corker had already announced his retirement, and a hard right winger, Representative Marsha Blackburn was waiting in the wings to try to fill his slot.  But since then the Dems have found an ideal candidate, the popular former Governor Phil Bredesen, who is, in fact, leading Blackburn in early head-to-head polling. 

·        The third factor was Donald Trump’s unpopularity and the glaring gap in the generic ballot.  Since then, Trump has remained broadly unpopular (though his approval rating has improved slightly since the fall with the GOP tax cut and Korea progress helping him), and the Dem lead in the generic ballot is still +5 points.  This toxic GOP environment has put a traditionally safe seat like Texas in play, and also made it far easier for the Dems to defend those 10 Senate seats they hold in states where Trump won in 2016.  These adverse GOP numbers has been translated into the huge Democratic “ground game” -- one that has already driven Democratic outperformance in the 2017 and 2018 special elections.  Trump antipathy, fueled by Charlottesville, Parkland and the #MeToo movement, has created a mammoth, highly motivated Democratic get-out-the-vote machine. 

·        And finally, we spoke of the “Bannon Factor,” which referred to the then ascendant Steve Bannon’s desire to run hard right Trump-esque candidates (even against GOP incumbents) that are inherently more controversial and less likely to win (see: Roy Moore!).  Sure enough, other Moore-like figures (notably Sheriff Joe Arpaio in Arizona and businessman Don Blankenship in West Virginia) have emerged who could head GOP tickets and lessen the chances for GOP victories, and other primaries feature only hard right options.

In addition to these factors, there is one more new piece of news, the resignation of Thad Cochran of Mississippi, which opens the door to a Dem challenge in a state that, while red, is not as deeply red as you might think.

Last fall, our point-in-time reading was that the GOP would continue to control the Senate by the same 52/48 margin that it held at that time.  But with the Jones win in December, that margin has already narrowed to 51/49.  The Dems now only need to net +2 seats to take over the Senate, and there are multiple reasonable paths to do so.  Not easy, but within reason.  Basically, the Democrats have to:

·        Successfully defend all of their seats and flip any two of the current GOP seats in Arizona, Mississippi, Nevada, Tennessee and Texas, all of which are now “in play”, or… 

·        Lose some of their incumbent seats but offset that by flipping more of those five “in play” GOP states

First, let’s review the basic math.  As stated, the GOP holds a slim lead in the current Senate, 51-49.  But the map wildly favors the GOP – there are 35 races this November, with only 9 GOP seats up for election, while the Dems have to defend a whopping 26.  And out of those 26, ten are in states won by Trump in 2016, putting pressure on the Dems’ ability to hold those states.  Even with the Alabama flip already in the books, it remains a terrible map for the Dems, especially in a midterm year, since Democratic turnout rises in Presidential election years and falls in midterm years.


It is still way too early to “predict” the outcome of the 35 races on Election Day, but we can take an updated reading of the races and see where we are.  Keep in mind the tickets have not even been established – there is only one certain match-up, in Texas, which held its primary in March.  We are just at the start of the primary season with three primaries today, in the crucial states of Ohio, Indiana and West Virginia.  The Democrats are the incumbents in each state, but with a tenuous hold on each.  The primary season runs through to September 12, when Rhode Island will complete the final field.

So, while early, the races are starting to take shape.  We know the contours of some races, and there has been some helpful early polling to give us some state-by-state direction. 

The headline is, amazingly, at this point in time – that is, if we had an election today – the Democrats would take control of the Senate by a 51/49 margin. 

Democrats should not get too excited by this snapshot rack-up.  Six of the 34 races are truly dead heats, and a number of others are very close.  (When you read the summaries of them below, you will get a better flavor of this.)  The eventual outcome could, of course, still result in GOP maintaining control of the Senate and even a net loss for the Dems.  But the main takeaway is that the notion of a Dem takeover is no longer a pipe dream.  

Some might believe that if the Dems take the House, which appears quite likely (as of now) the Trump agenda will be stopped.  But that is only true if one does not care about judicial appointments, including to the Supreme Court, which now only require a majority to pass.  Trump has been reshaping the judiciary at all levels, and the tentacles of this legacy will stretch for decades.

Back to the rack-up…using the chart below, you can see how the Dems are faring at this point in time (and compared to last October).  To get to 51, they start with 23 Senators not up for reelection, to which they add 15 “Solid D” races (such as Kirsten Gillebrand in New York and Ben Cardin in Maryland) to make 38.  Then they appear to be “leaning” ahead in eight more races – up to 46.  And they are just a hair’s breadth ahead in five of the six toss-up races, which gets them to 51.  

Said more succinctly, and specifically, at this point we see Dems with the edge in defending all of their current seats and also with a somewhat better than 50/50 chance of Arizona and Tennessee (but not Nevada):  49 plus 2 equals 51.

There are fully 16 races “in play” at this time, either leaning or toss-ups for either party.  And several of the “solids” could tighten enough to become contested.  But for now, 16 is plenty to keep an eye on.  (Note that Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Angus King of Maine are Independents but caucus with the Dems, so we include them in all Dem totals). 


10/15/17
5/7/18
DEM TOTAL
48
51
Dem Holdover
23
23
Dem Solid
11
15
Dem Lean
10
8
Dem Toss-up
4
5
GOP Toss-up
2
1
GOP Lean
2
2
GOP Solid
5
4
GOP Holdover
43
42
GOP TOTAL
52
49

Let’s break down the 35 races in chart form and then talk about the 16 in play in turn.  The chart below ranks the races from the most solid for the Dems on down to the most solid for the GOP, using a combination of the data in the columns: the victory margin the last time the seat was up for election in 2012; the margin of the presidential election in 2016; the PVI Index, put out by the Cook Report, which measures the propensity of a state to be blue or red; and polling information (only in the contested states, those between the two solid black lines).  The last column displays how BTRTN sees each race right now. 

Note that six of these races are “toss-ups,” meaning with the best known information they are considered dead-heats.  We put our thumb one way or the other for completeness, based on polling where available, but tempered by our judgment, based on every relevant historical or contemporaneous factoid. 

SENATE SNAPSHOT
State
Inc. Party
Incumbent
2012 Margin
2016  Pres Margin
PVI (Cook)
Primary Date
2018 Polls
BTRTN
Vermont
I
Sanders
D + 46
D + 26
D + 15
8/14

D Solid
New York
D
Gillebrand
D + 45
D + 23
D + 12
6/26

D Solid
Hawaii
D
Hirono
D + 26
D + 32
D + 18
8/11

D Solid
California
D
Feinstein
D + 24
D + 30
D + 12
6/5

D Solid
Maryland
D
Cardin
D + 28
D + 26
D + 12
6/26

D Solid
Rhode Island
D
Whitehouse
D + 30
D + 16
D + 10
9/12

D Solid
Delaware
D
Carper
D + 37
D + 11
D + 6
9/6

D Solid
Massachusetts
D
Warren
D + 8
D + 27
D + 12
9/4

D Solid
Washington
D
Cantwell
D + 20
D + 16
D + 7
8/7

D Solid
New Jersey
D
Menendez
D + 18
D + 14
D + 7
6/5

D Solid
Minnesota
D
Klobuchar
D + 34
D + 2
D + 1
8/14

D Solid
Connecticut
D
Murphy
D + 12
D + 14
D + 6
8/14

D Solid
Michigan
D
Stabenow
D + 21
R + 0.2
D + 1
8/7

D Solid
New Mexico
D
Heinrich
D + 6
D + 8
D + 3
6/5

D Solid
Virginia
D
Kaine
D + 6
D + 5
D + 1
6/12

D Solid









Maine
I
King
D + 22
D + 3
D + 3
6/12

D Lean
Minnesota (sp.)
D
T. Smith
D + 10*
D + 2
D + 1
8/14

D Lean
Pennsylvania
D
Casey
D + 9
R + 1
Even
5/15
D+17
D Lean
Florida
D
Nelson
D + 13
R + 1
R + 2
8/28
D + 4
D Lean
Wisconsin
D
Baldwin
D + 5
R + 1
Even
8/14

D Lean
Ohio
D
Brown
D + 5
R + 8
R + 3
5/8

D Lean
Arizona
R
Flake (ret.)
R + 4
R + 4
R + 5
8/28
D + 6
D Lean
Montana
D
Tester
D + 4
R + 20
R + 11
6/5

D Lean
Tennessee
R
Corker (ret.)
R + 35
R + 26
R + 14
8/2
D + 3
D Toss Up
Missouri
D
McCaskill
D + 16
R + 19
R + 9
8/7
D + 2
D Toss Up
Indiana
D
Donnelley
D + 6
R + 19
R + 9
5/8

D Toss Up
West Virginia
D
Manchin
D + 25
R + 42
R + 19
5/8

D Toss Up
North Dakota
D
Heitkamp
D + 1
R + 36
R + 17
6/12
D + 3
D Toss Up
Nevada
R
Heller
R + 1
D + 2
D + 1
6/12
R + 1
R Toss Up
Texas
R
Cruz
R + 17
R + 9
R + 8
3/6
R + 3
R Lean
Mississippi(sp.)
R
Hyde-Smith
R + 22 **
R + 18
R + 9
none
R + 8
R Lean









Mississippi
R
Wicker
R + 17
R + 18
R + 9
6/5

R Solid
Nebraska
R
Fischer
R + 16
R + 25
R + 14
5/15

R Solid
Utah
R
Hatch (ret.)
R + 35
R + 18
R + 20
6/26

R Solid
Wyoming
R
Barrasso
R + 54
R + 46
R + 25
8/21

R Solid
* Smith replaced Franken, who won re-election in 2014 by +10 points and resigned in 2018
** Hyde-Smith replaced Cochran, who won re-election in 2014 by +22 points and resigned in 2018


GOP Incumbent Seats In Play (5)

There are now five GOP seats that have the potential to be “flippable,” three more than we thought last fall. 

·        Nevada:  GOP incumbent Dean Heller may have a net approval rating of -3, but that is an improvement from last year, when he voted against one of the “repeal and replace” bills.  And further good news:  his main GOP challenger in the June 12 primary, Danny Tarkanian (son of the legendary UNLV basketball coach), dropped out of the race.  But while he is now the likely nominee, Heller won only by a point in 2012, Hillary Clinton took Nevada by +2 in 2016, and the Dems smell blood here.  Representative Jacky Rosen will likely be his Democratic challenger, and the only poll shows Heller up +1 on Rosen.  For that reason, we have this one as Toss-up R, and if Heller wins, it will be one of the most amazing political Lazarus acts ever. 

·         Arizona:  The GOP may only have 9 seats to defend in 2018, but four of them will not feature incumbents.  Trump nemesis Jeff Flake is retiring in Arizona, and the Dems definitely have their sights set on flipping this one as well.  The field will be set at the August 28 primary.  On the GOP side, Sheriff Joe is actually faring poorly thus far, trailing both former State Senator Kelli Ward and Representative Martha McSally in polling.  The likely Dem nominee is Representative Kyrsten Sinema, who leads all three GOP contenders in the polls by +6 (McSally), +10 (Ward) and a whopping +26 (Arpaio).  Based on that, we have this one right now as a Lean D FLIP. 

·         Tennessee: Another Trump nemesis, Bob Corker, decided to retire and this provides the Dems with an unlikely opening in a state that Corker won by +35 in 2012 and Trump took by +26 in 2016.  The Dems have managed the most favorable match-up imaginable, as mentioned, with popular former Democratic Governor Phil Bredesen likely taking on Representative Marsha Blackburn, a die-hard hard-right conservative.  Tennessee may no longer be the same moderate state that elected the Gores, but the only poll between Bredesen and Blackburn has the Democrat up +3; based on that we have it as a Toss Up D FLIP. 

·         Texas:  Texas demographics are changing, relentlessly, from red to blue.  Trump won here by +9 in 2016, but Texas was one of only five states where he did worse than Romney in 2012, who won it by +16.  Ted Cruz took it by +17 in 2012, but he is clearly in for a battle this year, given those demographics, the unpopularity of Trump, and the strength of the Democratic nominee, Representative Beto O’Rourke.  O’Rourke, who won the nomination in the March primary, has proven himself to be a stalwart fundraiser – he has outraised Cruz, $9 million to $8 million so far – and he has a bit of RFK in him, right on down to the swooping, unruly swatch of hair crossing his forehead.  The only poll to date has Cruz up by only +3, a result that must have made Cruz’s blood run cold.  Based on that poll, we have this one as Lean R. 

·         Mississippi Special Election:  GOP Senator Thad Cochran stepped down last month for health reasons, and was replaced by Cindy Hyde-Smith, who was the state Commissioner of Agriculture and Commerce.  This year, on election day in November, Hyde-Smith and many others, from any party, will all appear, without party designation, on a so-called “jungle ballot.”  If no one gets 50% of the vote, the top two vote-getters will participate in a special election on November 27 – quite possibly with control of the Senate hanging in the balance.  So far, two Republicans (including Hyde-Smith) and three Democrats (including former Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy) have formally declared their intention to run.  Hyde-Smith is outpolling Espy by +8 points in two recent polls, so we have this one as Lean R. (Keep in mind that Republican Senator Roger Wicker is also up for re-election this November in what we see as a “Solid R” seat.)


Democratic Incumbent Seats in Play (11)

Before thinking about “offense” and trying to flip GOP seats, the Dems have a challenging task defending their own seats, with 11 of them in play.

·         Maine:  This race is close to “solid” for the Dems with popular Independent Angus King up for reelection (King caucuses  with the Democrats).  But Trump lost Maine by only -3 points, whereas Obama won by +15 in 2012.  King won by +22 in a three-way race in 2012, and this one may become “Solid D” once we see polling after the June 12 primary.  For now we keep it at Lean D. 

·         Minnesota (special election):  Al Franken resigned in January, 2018 in the wake of various sexual harassment charges (including one memorably captured on film).   Lt. Governor Tina Smith was named to replace him until the special election, which will be held on election day this year in November.  Primaries for each party will be held in August.  Smith will run in the primary, and will face opposition within her party, and GOP state senator Karin Housley has announced her intention to run in the GOP primary.  At this point, absent any polling, given Franken’s +10 win in 2014 and Hillary Clinton’s narrow +2 win here in 2016, we have the November Senate special election as a Lean D.  (Keep in mind that Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar is also up for re-election this November in what we see as a “Solid D” seat.) 

·         Pennsylvania.  Second-term Democrat Bob Casey won Pennsylvania by +9 in 2012, has a +16 and +19 lead over the two potential GOP opponents in early polling, and he sports a +10 net approval rating.  This race, too, could move to “Solid D” status when we see polling after the May 15 primary.  We have this one at a Lean D. 

·         Florida.  Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson is facing a stiff challenge from Governor Rick Scott in a battle of titans in the quintessential swing state.  Nelson won by +13 in 2012 but it won’t be so easy with Scott, who has a 55% approval rating to Nelson’s 47%.  Nevertheless, in this toxic GOP climate, Nelson has consistently polled ahead of Scott, albeit by narrow margins, on average by +4 (though the last poll was in February).  For now we have this at Lean D. 

·         Wisconsin.  First-termer Tammy Baldwin – who is on some of the long lists of presidential hopefuls for 2020 – won by +5 in 2012, but Wisconsin has become a borderline state, memorably going for Trump by +1 in 2016.  The primary is not until August and there are four GOP contenders, with the frontrunner probably state senator Leah Vukmir, and no polling to date.  Baldwin has a -2 net approval.  For now this is a Lean D, but it could get closer. 

·         Ohio.  Sherrod Brown is the long-time Democratic incumbent, and like Baldwin, he won by +5 points in 2012 and is also in the whisper phase of a potential 2020 presidential run.  Brown has a net +16 approval rating, but Ohio is not the straight-down-the-middle purple state it used to be.  Trump won by +8 in 2016 the Cook PVI, a measure of partisan direction, is R+3.  The primary is today, when Representative Jim Renacci will face off against businessman Mike Gibbons.  This was supposed to be a three-way battle with the more moderate State Treasurer Josh Mandel, the favored candidate of Governor John Kasich, in the mix (and favored), but Mandel dropped out.  (Hillbilly Elegy author J.D. Vance also considered a run, but never entered.)  So a conservative will oppose Brown, and Trump has endorsed Renacci.  There is no head-to-head polling as yet between Brown and either contender.  Given Brown’s approval rating and incumbency, we have this as a Lean D. 

·         Montana:  Second-termer Montana Democrat John Tester also won a close race in 2012, by +4, and four years later Trump won here by +20.  But Tester is very popular – as of April he had a 56% approval rating and a +23 net.  But…but…that was before Tester led the charge against Dr. Randy Jackson, the disgraced Trump physician who was the president’s initial nominee to replace David Shulkin in Veteran Affairs.  Now that Jackson has been forced to withdraw, Trump is personally going after Tester. There is a four-way GOP primary on June 5 to determine Tester’s opponent, and no polling thus far.  For now, given Tester’s popularity, we call this a Toss Up D. 

·         Missouri.  This was one of the seats the GOP threw away in 2012, when vulnerable Democratic incumbent Claire McCaskill confounded the odds in 2012 by keeping her seat by +16 points, aided greatly by her inept opponent, Todd “Intentional Rape” Akin.  The GOP scene has not gotten much better, as Governor Eric Greitens was indicted by a grand jury in conjunction with a very messy affair, in which he apparently threatened his paramour with blackmail (that is, he would release a compromising photograph of her if she spilled the beans on the affair).  This is casting a cloud over anyone associated with Greitens, including the front runner for the nomination, who happens to be Greitens’ Attorney General, Joe Hawley.  The only poll out there has the relatively unpopular McCaskill (-5 net approval rating) up by +2 over Hawley.  Because of this poll and the long shadow of the Greitens affair, we have this a Toss Up D. 

·         Indiana:  This was another seat the GOP threw away in 2012, when Democrat Joe Donnelly was lucky to oppose Tea Party crazy Richard Mourdock, who had defeated six-term moderate GOP Senator Richard Lugar in the GOP primary.  Mourdock proceeded to mimic Todd Akin by saying that “…when life begins in that horrible situation of rape…that is something God intended to happen.”  Donnelly beat him by +6.  Trump won the state by +16 in 2016.  The GOP primary is today, May 8, and the three leading candidates have been ripping each other to shreds, much to the chagrin of the GOP regulars.  Each is attempting to outdo the others in demonstrating fealty to Trump.  For his part, Donnelly has only a 42% approval rating.  For now, due to the GOP bloodletting, we call this one a Toss Up D. 

·         West Virginia:  Incumbent Joe Manchin is a classic “Blue Dog,” as right as they come within the party.  However, he has been a reliable Dem vote on health care and many other issues.  He won by +25 in 2012 in a deep red state that Trump took by +42 in 2016 (Hillary Clinton was a particularly evil villain in coal-driven West Virginia).  He currently holds a -1 net approval rating.    The primary to determine his opponent is also today, and it is a wild one. State Attorney General Patrick Morrissey, Representative Evan Jenkins and businessman Don Blankenship are the three leading contenders in a six-person field to oppose Manchin.   Blankenship is getting most of the headlines, though he trails the other two in polling.  Blankenship served a year in jail for his role as CEO of Massey Energy in the worst mining disaster in decades, and on top of that has borrowed heavily from the Trump playbook of MAGA and insults, constantly calling attention to the Chinese heritage of Mitch McConnell’s wife, Treasury Secretary Elaine Chao.  Trump has weighed in against Blankenship, who appears nevertheless to be surging as the primary nears.  Suffice to say, a Blankenship win would likely strengthen Manchin’s hand.  For now, though, we call it a Toss Up D. 

·         North Dakota.  First-term Democrat Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota won a nail-biter in this deep red state in 2012, by +1.  Trump won the state by +36 in 2016.  Needless to say, this will be a difficult one for Heitkamp to hold.  Heitkamp does have +8 net approval, though, and a February poll had her leading Representative Kevin Cramer, the leading GOP contender, by +3.  Based on those data points, we have this as a Toss Up D.

Please note one final time:  that is NOT a prediction, rather just a point-in-time assessment.  We have six months to go.



2 comments:

  1. Hope it holds up��. Pretty optimistic��

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  2. We have seen a lot of changes that reverse any benefits going to people who don't have any kind of power; the far-right, or conservative group does not seem to include anyone who could be deported, cut-off from basic food, clothes, and shelter, and even breathable air. With accountability is being driven to zero, it's obvious that the game is "power at all costs." If this is so, and it appears quite convincingly that it is so, the writing is on the wall. Only if each responsible person within this country can find a revolution within themselves similar to the original American revolution that produced our Declaration of Independence and Constitution will there be a possibility of a lasting solution for ourselves and for the rest of the world.

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