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Nov 03 2014

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Predictions: 2014 Midterm Elections

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Change is in the Air....

Change is in the Air….

The biggest puzzle in the lead up to this year’s midterms has been the apparent disconnect between convincing – and overwhelming – sour national metrics regarding the public’s mood, and the dynamics of individual races which, in both Senate and gubernatorial contests, have gone down to the wire.

Nationally, President Obama’s approval rating is at 40 percent. By a margin of 66-27 percent, Americans believe that the country is on the wrong track. On the “Generic Ballot question” – which party should control Congress – Republicans have an advantage of between three and eight points over the Democrats. This understates  the GOP advantage, as the Generic Ballot question historically has skewed toward Democrats.  On individual policy issues, voters trust Republicans more than Democrats to manage pressing national concerns such as ISIS, immigration, foreign affairs and the economy (All polling taken from here).

In the environment, the GOP should be running roughshod over the Democrats around the country – pocketing red states, and challenging Democrats in battlegrounds, and in their own blue back yard.

But that hasn’t panned out.

Of the 21 Democratic Senate seats up for a vote this year, the GOP has devoted serious resources to only 10.  In this last weekend before the vote, national Republicans are not contesting a single blue state. Indeed, in the battleground and red state races that the GOP is contesting, control of the Senate appears to rest on turnout, with some races remaining within the margin of error, despite a national mood which should be a built-in GOP advantage.

The same premise holds true for an unusually high number of governorships, with a twist. Each Party is unexpectedly competitive in the others’ core territory. Blue state governor’s chairs are in jeopardy in CT, MA, MD and IL, while Republican Sam Brownback is fighting for his political life in crimson KS.

In the House, GOP control is not at risk, but given redistricting, the number of competitive seats is only a fraction of the 435 seats that are up.  A truly fed up electorate would seemingly put more seats in play, even in blue districts.

Only a post-November 4th analysis of the vote can reconcile the national mood with such close races and seemingly limited opportunities and running room for the GOP.

Predictions:

Senate: Republicans will win control of the Senate November 4th. The only open question is the margin of victory.

The GOP will hold its three, competitive seats in KY, KS and GA. Mitch McConnell will be the new Majority Leader. In KS, Pat Roberts will ultimately hold on. In GA, if Dave Perdue does not get the 50 percent plus one needed for outright victory, he will win the runoff against Michelle Nunn on January 6th, when only the top two vote-getters compete. No other GOP seats are in jeopardy.

At this point, the Republicans need +6 to gain control of the Senate.

The GOP is certain to take four Democratic Senate seats in MT, SD WV and AR.

The first three have been all but ceded by Democrats since the beginning of the cycle, with a brief, but temporary scare in SD.   To his credit as a politician, Democratic Senator Mark Pryor has made a race of it in AR that was always going to be an uphill climb for him. But in the most recent polling his opponent, Republican Tom Cotton, appears to have finally broken away with significant leads outside the margin of error. Cotton and the GOP will win.

The GOP will add three more seats to its majority by (in one case, eventual) wins in CO, IA and LA.

Cory Gardner and Joni Ernst have been model candidates for the GOP this cycle, and will put battleground states CO and IA away for the GOP. In LA, Mary Landrieu may buck up the spirits of shell-shocked Democrats with a win in a four-way field on November 4th. But Landrieu will not come close to the 50 percent threshold to avoid a runoff. In a one-on-one contest between Landrieu and Bill Cassidy on December 6th, Cassidy will win convincingly, putting another seat in the GOP column.

That takes the GOP to +7; one more than necessary to take control of the Senate.

But there is a troika of Senate races remaining – AK, NC and NH.

Polling is unreliable in AK, and Democratic Senator Mark Begich has done yeoman’s work scrambling to make himself appear independent, despite voting with President Obama 97 percent of the time. It is a battle between Obama’s deep unpopularity in AK and the Democrats’ turn out machine, which Begich had tended to and expanded while in office. Dan Sullivan, the GOP nominee, has acquitted himself well. That, and the national mood – with AK’s predisposition toward Republicans to begin with – should be enough for Sullivan to prevail, adding another seat to the new GOP majority.

Last year, NC was seen as one of the easier races for the Republicans, but Kay Hagan has put up and terrific fight, maintaining a consistent lead, albeit reducing weekly, in almost every poll, down to the wire. Polling shows Hagan with 46-47 percent of the vote – roughly seven to eight points higher than President Obama’s rating in the state.  With over 10 percent of NC voters still undecided, that 47 percent is a ceiling, not a floor. Republican Thom Tillis will win this race, though given the presence of a 3rd party Libertarian candidate on the ballot, this will be close and not obvious in early returns.

Finally NH.  Even in a bad year for Democrats, Jeanne Shaheen was seen as a safe bet for re-election.  Former MA Senator Scott Brown scrambled all those assumptions by jumping into the race, and Shaheen’s once formidable lead evaporated, making the race competitive. Still Shaheen has consistently led in polling, despite isolated surveys which have had Brown tied or in the lead within the margin of error. Unlike NC, there are very few undecideds in NH. And in the last several election cycles, NH tends to be the “Lucy and the Football” to the GOP’s Charlie Brown (no pun intended). Each time the GOP is certain that this election will be different, NH voters disappoint. Shaheen will win.

That puts the GOP at +9 in the next Senate, 54-46.

If a GOP wave were to turn into a tidal wave, other seats, currently not on anyone’s list of competitive races, would come into play.  Democratic incumbents in VA, MN, NM and IL have all be polling under 50 percent and in some polls, with single digit leads.  Virginia is the most likely to tumble in this scenario, but as of this writing, it does not appear likely.

House of Representatives: the Republicans will keep control of the House. RCP rates 26 House races as toss ups, with another 18 that lean one way or the other. The middle ground estimate was that the GOP would pick up between 5-10 seats this cycle. Given the increasingly friendly political environment, my prediction is that the GOP will gain a net 19 seats to a total of 252; the largest majority the Republicans have had in 86 years.

When We Will Know: 

Given the geographic make-up of this year’s competitive elections, we will know very early how well the GOP will do.

Polls will close at 7pm Eastern in GA, KY, NH, VA and FL. The margin of victory for McConnell in KY, and the spread between Perdue and Nunn in GA will be early indications of a GOP wave, or a harbinger of more modest expectations. If Scott Brown is leading in NH it will be a good night. In VA, if Ed Gillespie, the GOP challenger to Mark Warner, makes it a close race or even leads, that is an indication that a great night could be in store for the GOP. In FL, we will learn whom voters believe is the lesser of two evils between Republican Rick Scott and Democrat Charlie Crist. An unexpectedly big night for either candidate would be an indication of a budding national trend.

Polls will close at 7:30pm Eastern in NC and WV.  WV is not in doubt. Expect NC to take time as the results come in.

Polls will close at 8pm Eastern in KS, CT, MD, MA, IL. Here we will see if Pat Roberts hangs on. More than likely, GOP voters will punish Governor Sam Brownback, electing a Democrat, and reluctantly choose Roberts over Independent candidate Greg Orman. But the 8pm hour is significant for governors races. CT, MD, MA and IL are very blue states that have become competitive.  GOP wins in these races will be another sign of a national trend.

Polls will close at 8:30pm Eastern in AR.  Look for Tom Cotton to step out smartly early on.

Polls will close at 9pm Eastern in CO, SD, LA and WI. SD is a given for the GOP. If Cassidy somehow manages to score above 50 percent, it will be a very big night for the GOP. More likely, Landrieu will be leading, but the race goes to a runoff. In CO, it will be Cory Gardner’s superior campaign against Mark Udall’s “vaunted” ground game.  Same holds true in the governor’s race in CO. In WI, we will get the first look at whether Scott Walker has been able to hang on against ferocious attacks by Democrats and union backed interest groups. Recent polling has been breaking for Walker as eye-popping  revelations about his opponent, Mary Burke, have leaked out.

Polls will close at 10pm Eastern in IA and MT. MT is a given for the GOP. IA has been hotly contested, but should ultimately flip to Joni Ernst and the GOP.

Polls will close at 12:00am Eastern in AK. Given the counting logistics, voters will not know before the early morning of November 5th who won the Senate race.

Based on poll closing times, the possibility of two run-offs and the predictions above, voters will not know for certain about control of the Senate until after the IA race has been called, after 10pm Eastern. If NH, NC or VA deviate significantly from pre-election polling, a GOP majority could be declared earlier, even with runoffs in GA and LA.

Remember that every vote counts. This is where the political class is finally at the mercy of ordinary people. Do not pass up an opportunity to have your voice heard.

Get out and vote.

 

 

 

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