Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Midterm Stretch Drive

So it's been just over a week since the last special election before the November midterms and it's time to assess where we are and where we could end up.

First, my take on the Ohio 12th. It looks like Republican Troy Balderson is going to prevail over Democrat Danny O'Connor. The race was listed as too close to call, but even with provisional ballots counted, O'Connor still trails by about 1500 votes. Still, given the makeup of the district, the fact that a Democrat came within one point of winning is significant. How significant? Consider that the district was +14 Republican lean going into the election and the final margin was +1. That's a 13 point swing.

In fact, if you look at the ten special elections that have taken place in which the Republican was the incumbent - including the Alabama Senate race that Doug Jones won - the average was a plus 23 for the GOP, with the Democrat outperforming the Republican by an average of 15 points. The result was a lot of close shaves that should've been blowouts. If you want to know why pundits are predicting a blue wave this November, here's why.

According to the Cook Political Report, there are now a total of 87 Republican seats that are either lean or tossup compared with just 14 Democratic seats that are lean or tossup. Lean seats are typically those where the lead is between 4 and 10 points, while tossups are usually 3 points or less. Assuming Dems win 70 percent of those Republican seats and lose, say, 50 percent of theirs, that would mean a net gain of 54 seats. That's 31 more than the 23 they need to take control of the House. Even if they only win 50 percent of the GOP seats and lose an equal percentage of theirs, we're talking a net gain of 36 seats, 13 more than they need to win the majority.

Want a more conservative estimate? Fine. Say Dems win only 40 percent of the 87 seats and still lose 50 percent of theirs. That still gives them a net gain of 27 seats, four more than they need to win the majority. Now you know why Republicans are shitting their pants. Even conservative estimates have them losing the House this November.

Now before you go planning a ticker tape parade down Broadway, it's important to note a couple of possible hiccups. One, not all of the elections in this year's midterms are going to result in the Democrat outperforming the Republican by 15 points. In fact, there were three races where the margin was under 10, including the Georgia 6th, in which the Republican was only a plus 9. Many thought that race was winnable, yet the Democrat only outperformed by 6 points. If that happens enough times this November, Republicans will hold onto their majority, if only by the hair of their chinny chin chins. In baseball, like politics, it doesn't matter whether you win by one run or a dozen. The only thing that counts is the final score. Despite all the hoopla about Democrats having the wind at their backs, the fact is they're two for ten this season. Not very encouraging.

The other possible hiccup has to do with the generic ballot, which was tightening until a couple of recent polls by CNN and Quinnipiac were released. As of this writing, the RCP average is 5.7 points in favor of Democrats. That is not nearly high enough to flip the House. The conventional wisdom is that the average needs to be somewhere around 7 points or higher in order for them to regain the majority. In 2006, for instance, the final RCP average was 7.9 and Democrats netted 31 seats in the House and 5 in the Senate, enough to take both chambers.

Look, I'm not saying Democrats won't win the House. After all, Trump continues to poll around 43 percent, and according to Gallup, presidents who poll under 50 percent see their party lose an average of 36 House seats in their first midterm. Even Eisenhower, with a 61 percent approval rating, lost 18 seats. All I'm saying is that with under three months to go, it's hardly a slam dunk. Anything can happen.

I guess I'm just cautiously optimistic, with the emphasis on cautious.

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