Saturday, October 13, 2018

What Impact, If Any, Will the Kavanaugh Vote Have on the Midterms?

It's been one week since Brett Kavanaugh was sworn in as an associate justice of the Supreme Court and it's clear that Republicans did get a bump in the polls. The enthusiasm gap between both parties has narrowed considerably; In July, the gap was 10 points, now it's down to 2 points.

So what does this mean for the midterms? Well, that depends on which house of Congress you're looking at. While the RCP generic ballot lead for Democrats has gone from 9.5 points on September 4th to 6.9 points as of October 10th, according to Politico, Dems are now favored in 209 of the 218 seats needed to win the majority. It's hard imagining even the party of FDR screwing up that kind of advantage, though I still wouldn't put it past them.

Over in the Senate, however, what was shaping up as a fairly decent path to a 51-seat majority only a month ago, has now turned into mission improbable. That's because Tennessee, which looked like a pickup for Dems, will now likely remain in the red column, along with Texas, which, contrary to what many on the Left were saying, was always a long shot; while Arizona and Nevada are no better than tossups. If the polling out of North Dakota is accurate, Dems will be lucky to only be tied 50 - 50 in 2019, which means Mitch McConnell will have an additional two years to ram through a lot more of Trump's judges.

How much of this is due to the Kavanaugh effect and how much of it is due to the worst Senate map in over a century we may never fully know. What we do know is that Republican enthusiasm went up as it looked like his confirmation was in jeopardy. With Trump doing what he does best - grievance politics - Republicans rallied to Kavanaugh's defense. However, now that he is on the bench, it remains to be seen how many of those "aggrieved" voters actually show up to vote next month.

It could be that getting Kavanaugh confirmed won't be the silver bullet Republicans were looking for to save their hides this November. As Nate Silver pointed out, whichever side lost this battle "will have more reason to feel aggrieved — and perhaps more motivation to turn out to vote." If that's the case, the Blue wave that pundits are predicting could still develop into a tsunami.

But what impresses me the most are the gubernatorial races. With all the attention being focused on Congress, Democrats could conceivably pick up as many as 10 state houses, including Wisconsin, Ohio and Michigan. If that happens, they would wind up with their first majority in eight years. It cannot be overstated enough that Democrats didn't just take a beating at the federal level in the midterms of 2010 and 2014; at the state level they were decimated. According to Larry Sabato, Dems "lost 11 governorships, 913 state legislative seats and 30 state legislative chambers." That's one helluva ass whoopin'. If they somehow manage to win back the ground they lost during the Obama years, they will be well positioned in 2020 to retake the White House and become the political force they once were.

In the end, I think the Kavanaugh confirmation battle will end up helping Democrats in the House, especially in suburban districts that went for Hillary Clinton in 2016. In the Senate, however, it'll likely be what bookies call a push. It'll help Republicans in red states, while bolstering Democrats in blue ones. The fact that Democrats are likely to keep all but one or two of their seats is nothing short of astonishing. At the state level, where real America resides, the impact will be negligible.

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