The 2018 midterm elections will take place on Tuesday, November 6, 2018. However, many states have had early voting for weeks. Typically, the party that is out-of-power performs better in midterm elections. However, since the Kavanaugh testimony, Republican enthusiasm has been unusually high. Given the competitiveness of the polls, many elections will be determined by voter turnout.
A recent NBC poll found that 68% of Republican voters are enthusiastic about the midterm elections, compared to 72% of Democrat voters. In the same poll, President Trump’s approval rating reached an all-time high of 47%, which is critical in determining how the in-control party will perform in the midterm elections.
A recent ABC News poll found that Democrats have an eight-point advantage on the generic Congressional ballot, with 52% supporting Democrats and 44% supporting Republicans. However, since Democrats tend to live in compact, urban districts, the U.S. House of Representatives is a toss-up. However, Republicans will almost certainly lose seats. Polling suggests that Republicans will likely lose between 30 and 40 seats.
There are currently 235 Republicans and 193 Democrats serving in the U.S. House; seven seats are currently vacant. Given the consistency of the polls, it is likely that Democrats will have a slight majority in the House of Representatives. However, U.S. Senate races are more competitive.
Currently, there are 51 Republican U.S. Senators and 49 Democrat U.S. Senators (including two independent Senators who caucus with Democrats). Based on polling and recent trends, I believe Republicans will hold a minimum of 50 U.S. Senate seats and Democrats will maintain a minimum of 44 seats.
Despite these predictions, I acknowledge that a surge in either Republican or Democrat turnout could pave the way for a few surprises.
1. North Dakota:
Incumbent Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D) is being challenged by Republican candidate Kevin Cramer. Prior to the Kavanaugh hearing, North Dakota was thought to be a toss-up state, especially given Heitkamp’s incumbent advantage and the lack of Republican enthusiasm. However, since Heitkamp’s ‘no’ vote on Kavanaugh, Cramer has taken a solid lead in the polls, with an RCP average of 11.4%. A recent Fox News poll has Cramer up by 9%.
Given his feud with President Trump, Senator Bob Corker (R) has chosen not to run for re-election. Marsha Blackburn, the Republican Senate candidate, is running against Democrat Phil Bredesen. Although Tennessee is a solidly red state, the Senate race remains somewhat competitive as Bredesen is a former governor of the state. Nonetheless, RCP average has Blackburn up by 5.2%, which is skewed down by an outlier poll that suggests a tied race.
Despite being a solidly red state, Senator Ted Cruz has endured a relatively competitive race for the U.S. Senate. His challenger, Beto O’Rourke, an Irish-American who goes by a Hispanic nickname, has strategically marketed his campaign as a grassroots movement, targeting moderate voters. Since Senator Cruz is the incumbent, last-minute voters will likely favor him over O’Rourke. RCP average gives Cruz a 6.5% lead in the Lone Star State.
Although Michigan was long considered a Democrat stronghold for this race, John James, the Republican Senate candidate, has gained traction against incumbent Democrat Senator Debbie Stabenow, with a Mitchell Research poll suggesting James is within 6% of Stabenow. However, RCP average has Stabenow up by 10.5%.
2. New Jersey:
New Jersey has long been a Democrat stronghold. However, given that incumbent Democrat Senator Bob Menendez was indicted on corruption charges, the race is unusually competitive., with some polls suggesting that Bob Hugin, the Republican challenger, is within 5 points. However, RCP average has Menendez up by 9.2%.
3. West Virginia:
Although West Virginia has been trending red over the past couple of decades, incumbent Democrat Senator Joe Manchin, who is also a former governor of the state, is still viewed quite favorably in West Virginia. Despite Manchin initially being considered a vulnerable Democrat, his ‘yes’ vote on Kavanaugh appears to have solidified his lead, with RCP average giving him a 5.0% lead over Republican challenger Patrick Morrisey.
Due to his criticisms of the president, Senator Jeff Flake (R) has decided not to run for re-election. Martha McSally won a competitive Republican primary in the state and is facing Democrat Kyrsten Sinema, who has been campaigning as a moderate. Although Arizona is typically a red state, the race remains in a dead heat as President Trump’s approval rating hovers near 50% according to a Fox News poll. Since the Kavanaugh testimony, McSally was considered a favorite in the race. However, Sinema has been experiencing a last-minute surge, with RCP average now giving Sinema a slight lead of 0.1%.
Given Trump’s approval rating, I predict that McSally will narrowly win the state.
Current Florida Governor Rick Scott (R) is challenging incumbent Democrat Senator Bill Nelson for the U.S. Senate. The race is in a statistical tie, with RCP average favoring Senator Nelson by 3.2%. However, a last-minute poll conducted by St. Pete Polls gives Scott the edge by 1%. Typically, last-minute voters favor the incumbent, which is Senator Nelson in this case. However, given that Rick Scott is the current governor of the state and has become more popular since Hurricane Maria last fall, this race may be an anomaly in that respect.
However, sticking to historical trends, I predict Nelson will maintain his Senate seat.
Senator Joe Donnelly is an incumbent Democrat Senator representing a red state. He is being challenged by Republican candidate Mike Braun and Libertarian candidate Lucy Brenton. Despite voting ‘no’ on Kavanaugh and the GOP tax bill, he is campaigning as a moderate. Although Braun was up in the polls immediately following the Kavanaugh hearing, Donnelly has experienced a last-minute surge, up 3% in an NBC/Marist poll and 7% in a Fox News poll. However, RCP average has Donnelly up by just 0.7%.
Although there are few polls for this race, I predict Donnelly will keep his seat in the Senate.
Incumbent Senator Claire McCaskill is running an uphill battle to keep her seat in the Senate. She is one of many Democrat Senators who are up for re-election in a red state. McCaskill is being challenged by Republican Josh Hawley. Although McCaskill has gained ground in recent polls, RCP average has Hawley up by 0.5%.
Given President Trump’s popularity in the state and McCaskill’s ‘no’ vote on Kavanaugh, I believe Josh Hawley will defeat Claire McCaskill.
Although Montana is generally considered to be a red state, incumbent Democrat Senator Jon Tester has a lead over his Republican challenger, Matt Rosendale. Very few polls have been conducted in the state, but RCP average has Tester up by 4.5%. Recently, Libertarian candidate Rick Breckenridge dropped out of the race and endorsed Rosendale, which could possibly influence last-minute voters.
Given that Rosendale does not lead in any of the public polls, I predict Tester will keep his seat in the Senate.
Although Hillary Clinton won Nevada in 2016, incumbent Republican Senator Dean Heller has ran a competitive race against Democrat challenger Jacky Rosen. Heller is considered to be the most vulnerable incumbent Senate Republican. Recent polls have been mixed, with some giving Heller the edge and others showing Rosen in the lead. RCP average has Rosen up by 1.0%.
Although this race will likely be close, I believe incumbent advantage will bring Heller over the edge.
After categorizing each toss-up state as either Republican or Democrat, I predict the Republican Senate majority will increase from 51 seats to 53 seats. However, the outcome of the midterms will largely be influenced by voter turnout. If Republican turnout exceeds expectations, Senate Republicans may increase their majority from 51 seats to 56 seats. However, Republicans risk losing the Senate if their turnout is lower than expected.
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