18 Days Until The Midterm Elections, And A GOP Senate Majority Seems All But Inevitable

Chris Wilson CEO, WPA Opinion Research
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Marathoners say the hardest part is miles 15-20…

Eighteen short (or if you’re working for a campaign, very long) days until the election. Many things are coming into focus, but there’s still a lot to be decided (and a lot that can change).

The major trends this week are good for Republicans. But gaffe season is also upon us in full force with #fangate down in Florida (click here if you don’t know what I’m talking about).

The good news is that whatever happened last night is unlikely to build into a national narrative about Republicans in the way that a Todd Akin or a Mark Foley did. The bad news is that it shows how easy it is for one event to potentialy cost Republicans a race.

Notes on Turnout
To lead this weeks update, some information about turnout: At WPA we track the rates at which various groups screen in or out of our studies by saying they’re either likely or unlikely to vote. By comparing those to past rates, we learn something about the likely composition of the electorate and how it is shifting closer to the election.

In general this year data look a lot like a typical mid-term. We’re not seeing a surge in working-age male turnout that might presage another 2010, but we’re also not seeing surges from African Americans or younger women that might suggest the Democrats are managing to motivate some of the Obama coalition to turnout.

In this analysis, the only group that seems to intend to turnout below historic trends is Hispanics. Hispanics are declaring themselves unlikely to vote at slightly higher than normal rates. This isn’t enough to change any races wholesale, but it might suggest Hispanics might be a slightly smaller than expected part of the electorate.

The Issues
Did you hear about Ebola?

Another week and the news is wall-to-wall Ebola. With a second new case in Dallas who apparently flew a commercial airliner while symptomatic, this will be the lead story for the foreseeable future.

Americans are worried about a wider epidemic, and that will probably rise. Earlier this week, ABC News/Washington Post found that 65 percent of Americans are concerned that there will be a wider epidemic.

The political implications of all of this are still uncertain, with 41 percent approving of Obama’s handling of the situation and 43 percent disapproving.

But that was data from before the story of the sick nurse boarding a plane broke, so it’s reasonable to expect that confidence in the CDC and the federal response overall will drop in the next round of polling.

Senate Races
Here’s a summary of where the predictive models say things are. They almost all got better for Republicans over the last week.

And bless those folks at the Washington Post (first time I’ve ever written that), 94 percent probability of a Senate takeover is pretty awesome.

Probability of
Republican Control
Change from
Last Week
New York Times 73% +8%
538.com 60% +1%
Huffington Post 62% +4%
PredictWise 70% +3%
Washington Post 94% +16%
Daily Kos 66% unchanged

While Daily Kos seems to have a variable built into their model called “denial” everything else improved for the GOP. In fact, a few seats have come completely off the board for Democrats.

Alison Lundergan Grimes, a candidate we never really saw as a big threat to win in Kentucky, seems to have been fully cut off by national Dems in the wake of her own gaffe over whether she voted for Obama.

Republican Cory Gardner seems to have extended a sustainable lead in Colorado’s Mark Udall’s single-issue focus on “war on women” stuff has earned him the derisive nickname “Mark Uterus” in the local political press and seems to have failed to motivate the female vote it was aimed at.

Iowa remains more competitive, but the public polling continues to show GOP nominee Joni Ernst holding a small lead over Democrat Bruce Braley. Braley is now attacking Ernst on the farm bill and ethanol, trying to undo some of the self-inflicted wounds he suffered with rural voters by attacking Chuck Grassley in a private (but, of course, recorded) fundraising speech and falsely claiming to be a farmer in another candid moment earlier in the campaign.

In the world of expanding the map, North Carolina seems to finally be getting more competitive. We noted in our first two updates that incumbent Democrat Kay Hagan’s inability to break 50 percent was problematic for her. The latest survey in the state shows GOPer Thom Tillis with a one point lead. It’s a single survey, but at least shows a move from the consistent pattern of small Hagan leads earlier in the campaign.

Kansas remains much as it was last week with it looking increasingly as though Greg Orman’s attempt to run as “anyone but Roberts” seems to be falling flat as Roberts and allied groups have marshaled a campaign to define Orman as a liberal in Independent clothing.

Louisiana continues to look like Democrat Landrieu will “win” on primary day due to another Republican taking votes form Cassidy but then lose in the run-off. Unless something changes to cause Democrats to believe they should make a push for November, we expect most of the action in this race will happen in the December head to head.

Two new races to watch, one for each party, seem to have popped up.

The constant stream of hits on outsourcing and some self-inflicted wounds from an old deposition, have given Democrat Michelle Nunn a narrow opening in her race against Republican David Perdue in Georgia. The latest two polls show a tie and a small Nunn lead.

On the opposite side, recent polling shows New Hampshire either a very narrow lead for Incumbent Dem Shaheen or a narrow Republican Scott Brown lead. This race didn’t get a lot of attention early, but with other races seemingly less competitive, it is becoming an emerging battleground.

Our best guess right now: The 51 seat majority seems all but inevitable with recent movements. More than that seems quite possible if Perdue can bounce back in Georgia and/or Brown can sustain a small lead in New Hampshire.

Governors Races
What a difference a week makes. Things looked really good for Republicans last week, but two recent shifts have made things more complicated. In the polling,Wisconsin seems to have tightened with the last two polls showing the race tied or with a very small lead for Democrat Mary Burke.

And, of course, fangate last night is likely to hurt Florida Republican Gov. Rick Scott’s already challenging re-election effort.

House Races
The race for the House is increasingly complicated on a race-by-race basis but nothing has really changed in the big picture.

Republicans had one of their better chances for a pick-up become more complicated as sexual harassment claims against Carl DeMaio (CA-52) hit the press late last week. We haven’t seen any polling in the race since then, and DeMaio had a lead earlier in the month, but these types of claims have to be at least somewhat damaging, especially in an area still recovering from the scandal surrounding former San Diego Mayor Bob Filner.

On the other hand Republicans seem to be increasingly on offense in other parts of the country while the Democrats are pulling out of “pick-up” races and increasingly focusing on their incumbents.

Trading off one high-probability pick-up for a few new opportunities isn’t great, but the general trend still suggests that Republicans will pick up a single-digit number of seats.

As always, thanks to Bryon Allen for his help on this weekly update.