Since it’s now clear that Democrats may not only fail to take control of the U.S. Senate, they actually could lose seats, all eyes are focused on the battle for the House of Representatives.
The political fortunes for congressional Republican candidates are the reverse of those with which their Senate counterparts are blessed. In the Senate, Democrats are defending nearly two-dozen incumbent senators, many in states that Donald Trump won in 2016; if Republicans run the table, the GOP could get very close to a filibuster-proof Senate.
Conversely, 37 Republican congressmen are retiring this year, including Speaker of the House Paul Ryan. Two popular Republican lawmakers face federal indictments, and another is under an ethics investigation. For Democrats, the court-ordered redistricting of Pennsylvania’s congressional map was manna from heaven, gifting them with at least five favorable new districts. Some pundits just one year ago were predicting the Democrats could pick off 50 seats from reeling Republicans.
But as polls trickle in just days before next week’s election, there’s no indication Democrats will come close to winning those 50 seats, let alone is there any certainty they will flip the 23 seats needed to reclaim the speaker’s gavel in January.
At this point—if a “blue wave” was indeed in the offing for November 6—at least a few polls in key swing districts would show big advantages for the Democrats; that’s not the case. The RealClearPolitics average of polls tracking the generic congressional vote gives Democrats a 7.5 point edge, but many of those polls are more than a week old. A recent YouGov/Economist poll shows just a five-point preference for Democrats, and the latest Rasmussen poll has Democrats ahead only three points, a statistical tie. This must be causing some unease among party leaders and candidates.
So let’s look at the breakdown of the seats in play, and what the recent polls suggest might happen next week.
The top sites that analyze each congressional contest list between 14 and 20 Republican-held seats as “likely” or “lean” Democratic, while only a few Democrat districts could flip to the GOP. A handful of those seats—such as Illinois’ 6th Congressional District and Iowa’s 1st Congressional District—are tied; very few candidates in the “lean Democratic” category have double-digit leads.
The focus on Election Night primarily will center on the more than two dozen Republican toss-ups; if Democrats pick up a net 15 seats from their top “likely/lean” prospects, they only need to win eight toss-up districts. In a legitimate wave election, combined with the historical trend of the minority party gaining at least 20 seats during a midterm election, this would appear to be an easy task.
Yet the available polling (and, admittedly, it is thin) doesn’t show a big surge of support for Democratic challengers in these districts. Here are a few to consider:
Kansas 2: This district in eastern Kansas voted for Trump by 16 points. Democrat Paul Davis and Republican Steve Watkins are vying to replace the retiring incumbent. An Emerson College poll released this week shows Watkins with a seven-point lead, but a new New York Times/Siena College poll has Davis with a slight lead and 15 percent of voters undecided. A Change Research poll calls the race a dead heat. Pollster Nate Silver ranked this race as “lean D” and gives Davis a 2-1 chance of winning.
New Jersey 3: This is a so-called “pivot” district that twice voted for Barack Obama but voted for Trump in 2016. Rep. Tom MacArthur is challenged by Andrew Kim, a former national security advisor. A New York Times survey taken last week only gives MacArthur a one-point lead, but the same poll last month had Kim ahead by 10 points. A Monmouth poll conducted this month has Kim up by two points. Trump’s approval rating in the district is evenly split at 49/49.
New Mexico 2: Another open seat in a district Trump won by 10 points. Two female candidates—Republican Yvette Harrell and Democrat Xochitl Torres Small—are tied. An Emerson College poll this week shows each with 47 percent of the vote, and the New York Times poll gives the Republican a one-point lead.
Florida 26: Debbie Mucarsel-Powell is running against Republican incumbent Carlos Curbelo in a predominantly Hispanic district south of Miami that Hillary Clinton won by 16 points. The New York Times poll gives the Democrat challenger a one-point lead, and another poll earlier this month with a +4 Democrat sample gives Curbelo a slight lead. The immigration issue should factor heavily in this race.
Five of the toss-up seats are in California: 10, 25, 39, 45 and 48. In each race, the Republican incumbent is in a statistical tie with the Democratic challenger. (There’s an open seat in the 39th District, which voted for Clinton by nine points.) Voter turnout will play a major factor in a state where Democrats expect to win the governor’s race and reelect incumbent Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein. But white, older, Republicans lead early voting in the Golden State and if more young people don’t vote, one pollster told a San Francisco television station this week, “Democrats won’t be able to flip these congressional seats.”
There are other factors swinging in favor of Republicans. The president’s approval ratings are near an all-time high for him, although he’s still under water with even higher disapproval ratings. Republican outrage about the attempted political assassination of Brett Kavanaugh doesn’t appear to have receded; 92 percent of Republicans plan to vote in this election, compared to 87 percent of Democrats, according to the most updated polling data. And independents favor Republicans in the generic congressional ballot by four points.
Anecdotally, the Left seems extremely nervous about what’s going to happen next week. Democratic politicians, the media, and NeverTrumpers are unhinged at a level not seen since the weeks following the 2016 election. The grotesque attempts to blame Trump for the horrific murder of 11 Jews in a synagogue last week expose a level of desperation by the gang to throw anything they can at the president as they watch their hopes of a massive Democratic takeover of Washington possibly slip away.
Of course, anything can happen on November 6. But if Republicans gain seats in the Senate and only lose control of the House by a few seats, that can hardly be viewed as a decisive victory for Trump foes. And regardless of the outcome next week, one thing is for certain that will continue to drive his enemies mad: Trump will still be in the Oval Office until January 2021.
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