Tuesday, October 16, 2018

BTRTN Latest Midterms Snapshot: Freight Trains Running in Different Directions

Tom with BTRTN’s latest on the race for control of Congress.

There are three weeks until the midterms, 21 days until the nation’s fate for the next two years will be determined.   It is an odd election year, in so many ways.  At this juncture, the House is looming as a potential Blue Wave, whereas a Senate takeover is looking increasingly daunting for the Dems.

Why would this be?  The House is a national game, with every seat on the ballot, and the national mood is ugly and, on balance, anti-Trump.  Suburban women across the country are fed up, energized, and out for blood, and woe to the GOP incumbents in their paths – that is, those that chose to stay and fight.  (So many others ran for the hills and retired from their contested seats rather than face the music.)  The generic ballot lead for the Democrats is now at a whopping +9, a chasm of a gap, and that lead has held (even increased) in the face of the “Kavanaugh Factor” that supposedly has energized the GOP base.  It surely has, but it also galvanized the long-energized, better organized and better funded Dems.

The Senate, on the other hand, is a local fight, largely being fought on Democratic terrain.  And the Democrats will win most of these elections, since 26 of the 35 races feature Democratic incumbents.  But in order to win the Senate, they have to pull off the near impossible, coming away with 28 wins – holding all of their own seats and flipping two GOP seats (or some other combination that results in a gain of +2 seats), to get from their current 49/51 minority to a 51/49 majority. 

One must remember that, if not for Doug Jones’ shocking win in Alabama, the Dems would have had no chance at all.  But the Jones win opened a pathway – hold every seat and pick off Arizona and Nevada, the only two GOP seats that, at the outset, were seen as flippable.

The Democrats, however, came up with superb candidates in Tennessee (widely respected former Governor Phil Bredesen), Texas (the RFK-clone and fundraising savant Beto O’Rourke), and even in the special election in Mississippi, former Department of Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy.  Thus the pathway to victory now had multiple routes.

But Tennessee, Texas and Mississippi remain daunting, and, furthermore, holding every Democratic incumbent seat is proving to be brutally hard.  Fully ten of the Democratic incumbent seats are held in states that went for Trump in 2016.  Several are, to some extent, ”accidental” seats that were won in 2012 when the GOP fielded terrible candidates in states they should have won (notably Missouri and Indiana). 

And at this point, the tide is subtly turning to the GOP in several of those states.  And with those shifts, the odds of a Democratic Senate miracle are fading.

Remember, this is a “snapshot,” not a prediction.  Much can, and will happen in the last three weeks.  These percentages can change.  But as of now, if the election were held today, the Dems face the anomalous situation of having a superb chance of taking over the House, but very small odds of doing the same in the Senate.  Here are those odds as of now, using our BTRTN proprietary models:

House
Senate
93%
12%

Let’s take a deeper dive into the Senate.   We’ll be back with a House update later in the week.

THE SENATE

We have changed four race ratings in the last month based on recent polling.  Three have gone in the GOP’s direction, and two of them mark a change from a Democratic lead to a Republican one.   While Dem incumbent Bill Nelson of Florida now has a narrow lead over Republican Rick Scott (the current Governor), two flippable states, Nevada and Tennessee have turned red, and North Dakota seems almost out of reach for incumbent Heidi Heitkamp in the wake of her courageous but perhaps politically suicidal anti-Kavanaugh vote in that deep red state. 

BTRTN RATING CHANGES

9/19/18
10/17/18
Florida
R Toss Up
D Toss Up
N. Dakota
R Toss Up
R Lean
Nevada
D Toss Up
R Toss Up
Tennessee
D Toss Up
R Lean

At this juncture – this snapshot – the Dems are holding serve, maintaining their 49 seats. We have them flipping Arizona (barely) but losing North Dakota, with the status quo prevailing in the 34 other races.

BTRTN SENATE RACK-UP

9/20/18
10/17/18
DEM TOTAL
50
49
Dem Holdover
23
23
Dem Solid
20
21
Dem Lean
1
0
Dem Toss-up
6
5
GOP Toss-up
2
1
GOP Lean
2
4
GOP Solid
4
4
GOP Holdover
42
42
GOP TOTAL
50
51

The Dems could still emerge with control of the Senate, but it would indeed require pulling an inside straight (which, in poker, is about a 1 in 12 chance, almost identical to our BTRTN odds).  Nevada remains very close, and the Dems would have to pick up that one, as well as one of the other four races still in play with a GOP incumbent:  Texas, Tennessee, North Dakota or the special election in Mississippi.

But they would have to also hold on to five races that we consider “toss ups” with the Democrats very narrowly ahead:  Arizona, Florida, Indiana, Missouri and Montana.  The Dems lead in these five, but all within the margin of error.

Because of the six “toss-ups” and four other races at least nominally in play, the Democrats could end up with anywhere from 44 to 54 seats.  The more likely range is 47 to 51, and the mode outcome is 48 or 49.  As close as that sounds, getting to 51 remains highly unlikely, barring major changes in the landscape in these last three weeks – which is entirely possible. “October surprises” are more or less routine these days.  Even November ones. 

We have eliminated the detail of the race-by-race chart to focus only on those ten races still “in play”, the ten that we consider to be truly competitive.  Of course, these designations could change in the coming weeks and more (or fewer) races might be deemed “competitive” as we approach Election Day.

SENATE SNAPSHOT
State
Inc. Party
Incumbent
Democrat
GOP
2016  Pres Margin
Recent Polls Avg
BTRTN Rating
Dem Seats not up for reelection in 2018 (23)
Solid D (21): CA, CT, DE, HA, MA, MD, ME, MI, MN, MN(sp), NJ, NM, NY, OH, PA, RI, VA, VT, WA, WV, WI








MONT
D
Tester
Tester
Rosendale
R + 20
D + 3
D TU
ARIZ
R
Flake (ret.)
Sinema
McSally
R + 4
D + 1
D TU
IND
D
Donnelley
Donnelley
Braun
R + 19
D + 1
D TU
MO
D
McCaskill
McCaskill
Hawley
R + 19
D + 1
D TU
FLA
D
Nelson
Nelson
Scott
R + 1
D + 1
D TU
NEV
R
Heller
Rosen
Heller
D + 2
R + 1
R TU
MS (SP)
R
Hyde-Smith
Espy
Hyde-Smith
R + 18
R + 2
R Lean
TENN
R
Corker (ret.)
Bredesen
Blackburn
R + 26
R + 4
R Lean
TEXAS
R
Cruz
O'Rourke
Cruz
R + 9
R + 5
R Lean
NDAK
D
Heitkamp
Heitkamp
Cramer
R + 36
R + 10
R Lean








Solid GOP (4):  MISS, NE, UT, WY
GOP seats not up for reelection in 2018:  (42)

The Democrats have to win 7 of these 10 races, plain and simple, to win the Senate.  The races are all so close that some last minute game-changer could push all the races in one direction or another.  But as of now, the GOP board looks formidable.

THE HOUSE

As said, we’ll be back in a day or two with an update on the House, and we will also examine the 36 gubernatorial races soon.

For those of you in angst about the diminishing Senate prospects, please take comfort not only in the strength of the Dems’ position in the House (93% odds of a takeover) but also what that would mean for the Trump presidency.   Three things come to mind:

1.     An end to any Trump legislation.  Just to get any GOP initiative to the floor of the House would be an adventure with Nancy Pelosi (or a successor speaker, unlikely as that sounds) as Speaker.

2.     The beginning of many investigations of the Trump administration.   There is an astonishingly long laundry list of investigations that various Democrat-led House Committees could undertake with full subpoena power.  The GOP put together a spreadsheet that identified over 100 potential investigations.  One thing you can be sure of:   Donald Trump’s taxes will finally emerge.  Apart from what the myriad investigations might uncover, the onslaught of investigations could paralyze the understaffed Trump White House.

3.     Impeachment.  I suspect impeachment proceedings would await the cover of the final report of Robert Mueller, but you never know.  There is also the possibility that the House Judiciary Committee will open an investigation into Brett Kavanaugh that could lead to impeachment proceedings.  The Dems will tread carefully in both areas, for fear of overreach and backlash heading into 2020. 


4 comments:

  1. "One thing you can be sure of: Donald Trump’s taxes will finally emerge." I don't know how you can be so sure of that. There are always legal arguments that it isn't required and you can be sure that Trump will take those to the Supreme Court, if necessary. And what can we "be sure of" with that Court now?

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  2. Why are you including Mississippi in this? That "R+2" number is in a 3 way race with two Republicans. Espy is polling around 25% which won't come close to winning in the runoff.

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    Replies
    1. Barry, the last polling we've seen on this race was from August, and in head to head polling Espy was beating both Hyde-Smith (+3) and McDaniel (+18). In three-way polling he was even with Hyde-Smith and both were ahead of McDaniel. This suggests Espy could make the run-off and be competitive in it. Prior polling has not been quite so kind, but the main point it, we know little about this race. The rating services are all over the place. Espy's odds of pulling this out are probably about 1 in 3, but I dont think we can call it a Solid R at this point.

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