Race Is On! USA Midterm Election Review

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Let’s take a look at the key Senate races. I break down each race and predict a winner, and I’ll tell you the best and worst case scenarios for Republicans, Democrats, and Libertarians.

 

Solid Democrat:

Pennsylvania is the first in many states only on this list because Trump won it in 2016. Trump won the state by only 44,292 votes or 0.72% of votes cast. The election won’t be as close this year, as the Democrat incumbent Bob Casey Jr. has not trailed in the polls as he seeks his third term. Republican Lou Barletta has raised $6.8 million, which is no small sum, but pennies compared to Casey’s $21 million plus. Polls close at 8 PM EST, and I expect the race to be called no more than 30 minutes later.

Ohio is a state where Republicans have done well statewide, election Governor Kasich twice and Donald Trump won the state by nearly 450,000 votes. It also has one Republican Senator, Rob Portman, and he won his reelection in a landslide in 2016, gathering 58% of the vote to his opponent’s 37% (two independent candidates and one Green each got about 1.5%), so it’s no wonder this seat was picked early to be competitive. It is not. The Republican, Jim Renacci, has raised nearly $8 million, compared to the Democrat incumbent, Sherrod Brown, who has raised $28 million. Brown leads by 13.5 points on average in recent polling but was up only 6 points in a poll this last week. Still, expect him to win by at least 8. The polls for that race close at 7:30 PM.

Almost Certainly Democrat:

Michigan went to Trump by less than 11,000 votes in 2016, and the President is trying to repeat those results for underdog John James, a black Republican veteran running against long-term incumbent Debbie Stabenow. Stabenow has been a Senator since her first election in 2000 and was considered to be fairly safe in pursuit of her fourth term early on. Trump and his allies have attempted to rally for James, but he most recently polled down 13 points. He has been outraised $17.5 million to $10 million. The polls close at 8 PM EST in Michigan.

Wisconsin is the last state to be on this list solely because Trump won it, and they also have a Republican governor in Scott Walker, but anyone predicting an upset here is blind. Trump won the state by 23,000 votes, and Walker has had to survive a recall election in his tenure (though he has also been reelected). Republican Leah Vukmir has raised only $5 million, compared to incumbent Tammy Baldwin’s $30 million. Vukmir has also never polled closer than 2 points, and though the state was notoriously bad at polling in 2016 (Trump was down between 5-8 points in the state before winning it by a point), it would take a miracle for Vukmir to overcome the last poll, which had her down 11 points. Polls will close at 8 PM CST.

Minnesota is one of two states to have two Senate elections this year, because of the resignation of Al Franken. He was replaced by Tina Smith, the Lieutenant Governor at the time of her appointment. Despite having previously won statewide office, her name ID was relatively low, and this gave hope to some Republicans in the state. She is opposed by Republican Karen Housley, who has raised $4 million in her effort. Smith, however, has raised more than $8 million and leads polls by an average of 9.5 points. Republicans still did poorly in the DFL-dominated North Star state, and that should be reflected on election day. Polls will close at 8 PM CST.

Pretty likely Democrat:

West Virginia is an interesting state, electing Donald Trump by over 42 points, but also electing a “Democrat” for governor. Jim Justice ran as a Democrat, but was a registered Republican before 2015, and switched parties at a rally with Donald Trump in 2017. The other Senator from West Virginia is also a Republican, Shelley Capito, and she won her election by 27 points in 2014. Despite all of this, they elected Joe Manchin in a special election in 2010 and again in 2012, and they will elect him to his second full term this Tuesday. The last two polls showed Manchin up 5 points over Republican challenger Patrick Morrisey, and the relatively low cost of this race (less than $15 million raised total) has pretty much secured it for the moderate incumbent. Even the president has stayed mostly out of the race, despite West Virginia being one of his strongest states. Polls will close at 7:30 EST.

New Jersey wouldn’t be on this list if it weren’t for the many ethical concerns about Democrat Senator Bob Menendez. While Menendez hasn’t been convicted of anything, there have been a few investigations relating to insider politics. Despite this, he was endorsed by NJ.com and will be reelected by the people of New Jersey this Tuesday. His opponent, moderate Republican Bob Hugin, has outraised Menendez $30 million to $11 million, but still trails by 5 points in the polls, and by 12 points in one Friday. I wouldn’t be too surprised by an upset, but I’m still predicting Menendez to win this by about 7 points.

Montana’s Jon Tester has been a target for Republicans since the start of this election season, but he has been resilient until the last few weeks. He leads by a little more than 4 points on average in the polls but was up only 3 points in a Tuesday poll from Gravis. His challenger, Matthew Rosendale, has raised only $5 million to Tester’s $19 million, but the President has gone after Tester recently, boosting Rosendale’s profile. If Rosendale wins this, the President should actually get credit (as opposed to the following races, where he will take credit for no reason). Still, Tester should survive, though it will be too close for his comfort. In another year, he’s gone.

Toss-up Race:

Indiana’s Joe Donnelly was another that seemed relatively safe until a late Republican push (around the time of the Kavanaugh hearings) put the seat in jeopardy. Obviously, Indiana is a very red state, producing Vice President Mike Pence and electing Donald Trump by nearly 20 points. Donnelly has managed to stay out of the spotlight, though, and his bipartisanship has kept him off of the Republican hit lists that targeted McCaskill, Heitkamp, and Tester. However, Republican Mike Braun, a businessman who won a 3-way primary, has self-funded his campaign enough to keep it competitive in case of an October surprise, which he got. The total fundraising is dead-even between the two, and the polls are narrowing, with a poll from Wednesday showing Donnelly up only 3 points. This race is one where the Libertarian will play a huge role, though, as Lucy Brenton is polling as high as seven points thanks to her strong debate performances. The Indiana Democratic Party recognizes this and is sending multiple mailing to Republicans boasting Brenton as the true fiscal conservative over Braun. Expect this race to be decided by less than four points, and expect Brenton to cover the gap. Still, I project this seat to stay blue. Polls will close at 6 PM CST.

Arizona is the Democrat’s best chance at picking up a seat, though I don’t see it going their way. The retirement of Jeff Flake made this an open seat, and moderate Democrat Kyrsten Simena slid through her primary to take an early lead as Republicans battled through an ugly three-way primary. Eventually, fellow House member Martha McSally defeated pardoned border Sheriff Joe Arpaio and Tea Party/liberty Republican Dr. Kelli Ward. Simena’s lead has shrunk since September, and she is now polling only 0.7 points ahead of McSally on average. The three most recent polls have seen McSally up 7, Simena up 4, and a tie. This will be the closest Senate race of the year, but I am predicting McSally to win a close one. Polls will close at 7 PM MST.

Florida was a hot race from the start, as term-limited Governor Rick Scott threw his hat into the ring early to face incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson. The race is the second most expensive in the country, with Scott’s nearly $69 million second only to Beto O’Rourke in Texas, and Nelson’s $28 million coming in eighth place nationwide. Florida has been a political hotbed for the last two years, with the Parkland school shooting sparking a nationwide discussion on gun control, and the recent mail bombing attempts coming from a Florida resident. Still, the race seems to be mostly focused on the national issues of healthcare and immigration. Because both have served so long in statewide office, the race is very focused on the records of both, rather than one-sided attacks. Governor Scott had a lead for a while, but that has flipped to Senator Nelson in the last two weeks, and he will take a polling lead into election day. I still expect Scott to win, but this one could go either way. Florida polls close at 7 PM EST.

Missouri’s Claire McCaskill has been the biggest target for Senate Republicans since her fluke reelection in 2012 (which came after a series of gaffes from her Republican opponent Todd Akin, who infamously said a woman could not get pregnant in cases of “legitimate rape”). Her opponent this year, Republican Josh Hawley, is much more polished. He got the favor of his party before his primary was even over (where he beat Austin Petersen and others by a good amount). However, he hasn’t raised much money, getting outraised $10 million to $35 million. Still, Hawley has enjoyed a lead in the polls since mid-August, and the last two polls came in +4 and tie. This one will be close, but I have ladder boy pulling it out. Polls will close at 7 PM CST.

Likely To Go Republican:

Nevada is the only state with a Republican up for reelection where Hillary Clinton won in 2016. Dean Heller was an early target for Democrats, but somehow he maintained his principles and took any wind out of Democratic challengers. He leads Jacky Rosen by two points on average, despite being outraised by $7 million and voting for Kavanaugh, Gorsuch, and an Obamacare repeal. I have Heller holding on. Polls will close at 7 PM PST.

Tennessee was another early target for Democrats, as they sunk a lot of money into the race after the announced retirement of longtime Republican Senator Bob Corker. Celebrities, including Taylor Swift, have come in to rally support for Democrat Phil Bredesen, and he’s raised over $4 million more than Republican Marsha Blackburn, but polls show the seat staying red, with Blackburn maintaining a 6.8 point lead on average. Polls close at 8 PM EST/7 PM CST, and I’m calling this one Blackburn by at least 5.

North Dakota is the surest pickup for Republicans, with incumbent Heidi Heitkamp trailing by 9 points on average. She outraised her challenger Kevin Cramer $29 million to $5 million, but was still sitting on $11 million at the end of the September reporting period, and has given much of that to the state party. North Dakota Democrats tried the same trick as the Indiana Democrats, allegedly sending a mailing in support of the Libertarian candidate (the mailing was officially unmarked and illegal), but that backfired when the Libertarian dropped out and endorsed Cramer in protest. Expect Cramer to roll in this one, and Republicans to extend their lead in the Senate. Polls vary, but the earliest will close at 7 PM CST and we won’t have to wait until the latest closes at 9 PM CST to hear who won this one.

Texas was a very hyped race, thanks to the presence of young progressive Beto O’Rourke. However, no matter how much media hype there was, this race was never close. O’Rourke’s best poll was still Cruz +1 in August, and Cruz’s lead is currently +6. This is by far the most expensive race in the country, as O’Rourke has raised a historic $70 million and Cruz has raised the third most nationwide at $40 million. I can’t tell you anything new about this race but expect Cruz to win by as much as 10 points. Polls will close at 7 PM CST.

Safe Republican:

Mississippi is the other state to have two Senate races, thanks to the retirement of Thad Cochran. Cindy Hyde-Smith was nominated by the Governor, and she should win this seat safely. She faces Democrat Mike Espy and liberty Republican Chris McDaniel. McDaniel’s presence may be enough to force a run-off, but there Hyde-Smith will surely handle Espy. Hyde-Smith led the only poll in the race 38 to Espy’s 29 to McDaniel’s 15. The three of them have raised less than $6 million combined. Regardless of the result this Tuesday, the seat is safely Hyde-Smith’s, but for the sake of a prediction, I’ll say it does go to a run-off. Polls will close at 7 PM CST.

For Democrats, the only way to win the Senate is to win the seats I gave them (giving them 46), win all of Florida, Missouri, and Arizona; and win two of Nevada, Tennessee, North Dakota, and Texas. For Republicans, I already have them winning 54 seats and retaining control, but to get 60 seats, they’ll need to steal Indiana, West Virginia, Montana, Michigan, New Jersey, and Wisconsin. For Libertarians, the best possible result is Lucy Brenton covering the difference in Indiana, and Gary Johnson beating the Republican in New Mexico (which is not on this list, because it is not competitive).

You can read more from Ian Scar on Think Liberty here.

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