OPINION: Right Back Where We Started From — Senate And House Diverge In Midterm Elections

Keith Naughton | Public Affairs Consultant

The 2018 elections have been one big circle.

Make no mistake; it’s been expensive, full of drama, threats and hysteria on the way. But the results are on course to be just what we should have expected all along.

Since 1946, the president’s party has lost an average of 23 House seats in the first mid-term. Wen you take out the elections in the wake of the 9/11 attacks and the Cuban Missile Crisis, two extraordinary events, the average rises to a 28-seat loss. So, an average result would mean Democrats would take control of the House by a small margin — just what most analysts now predict.

The Senate side is a little more complicated. The average first mid-term loss for the president’s party is just one seat, which would leave Republicans in control. But Democrats are defending 27 seats (including the two independents who caucus with them) a historic high. Neither party has ever gained seats when defending more than 20 seats.

The last comparable election in 1970 featured the Democrats defending 25 seats. Despite holding the White House, Republicans still gained two seats. All things considered, going into 2018, the most reasonable expectation would have been for the GOP to eke out a small gain. Again, just what is now expected.

What will the final results be? Predicting exact results, even with just two weeks to go, is still a tough challenge. For the House, there is much more uncertainty than in the Senate.

To get a firm handle on any race requires multiple polls by different polling organizations, but few House races are frequently or expansively polled. Predictions are based on district history, turnout models, fundraising and the limited available polling; in other words, mostly indirect evidence.

The RealClearPolitics scoreboard has the Democrats leading the GOP 205–200 with 30 tossup seats. The Cook Political Report has a tighter 208–206 Democratic lead with 21 tossups.

The 538 website is more gloomy toward Republicans with a 228–198 Democrat lead and 19 tossups. The site does predict all seats, estimating a 40-seat loss, which would translate to a 235–200 Democratic advantage. Importantly, a lot of seats are very close; 538 has 47 seats in the toss-up or “lean” category. A wobble in turnout could allow Republicans to hold on to a slight majority or it could result in a rout.

The status of the Senate is more clear; there is a lot more polling (i.e. direct evidence). It is increasingly likely that the GOP will keep control and potentially even pick up one-to-two seats.

Republicans have two factors going for them that are counteracting the general difficult the president’s party has. First, they have math on their side — only defending eight seats. Second, the GOP hasn’t fielded any dud candidates.

Republicans have made a habit the past 10 years of throwing away winnable Senate seats by nominating awful candidates (see: Roy Moore, Sharon Angle, Todd Akin, Christine O’Donnell).

The Democrats’ (narrow) path forward has been to win both Arizona and Nevada while defending every seat. They had some longshot hopes in Texas and Tennessee. That optimistic map is falling apart. The longshots have turned into no-shots.

In Texas, Beto O’Rourke — possibly the most overhyped politician in America — has never led Ted Cruz and is now consistently outside the margin of error. Former Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen had held a polling advantage for much of the year — until the GOP settled its primary. Since then, Congresswoman Blackburn has taken the lead outside the margin of error (only one poll put Bredesen ahead and by only one point).

The killer race for Democrats is South Dakota, where GOP Congressman Cramer has bolted to a 16-point lead over incumbent Senator Heitkamp. With a win in South Dakota, Republicans can afford to lose Arizona and Nevada — two states where the GOP candidates have edged into small leads.

Republicans have targeted five states with Democratic incumbents: Florida, Indiana, Missouri, Montana and West Virginia.

Missouri has been a coin-flip for months. GOP Governor Scott had a lead over Senator Nelson through most of the summer, but recent public polling has put him behind (although an internal Scott poll has him 5-points ahead).

Indiana and Montana look similar with Indiana Democratic Sen. Donnelly holding a within-the-margin-of-error lead over Congressman Braun (although a recent poll has Braun ahead) — same for Democratic Senator Tester over GOP State Auditor Rosendale.

West Virginia is clearly out of reach.

The best guess today would be: GOP wins in South Dakota and Arizona; the Democratic Party wins in West Virginia, Montana and Indiana; Florida, Missouri and Nevada remain coin flips.

According to the Democrats, two of the three toss-ups leave Republicans with a one-seat gain.

As with the House, small moves in turnout could make a big difference. But in the Senate, a strong surge by Democrats looks to only give them a net of one seat. Not enough for majority control. A Republican surge could give the GOP up to a 5-seat gain — but that is the most optimistic scenario.

In the end, it looks like history will simply repeat itself: about a historically average 25–30 seat gain by the Democrats and a 1970-repeating small gain by Republicans in the Senate. No “wave” either way but an entertaining ride nonetheless.

Keith Naughton is a political consultant.


The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.

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