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One Month To Go

[ Posted Monday, October 8th, 2018 – 17:05 PDT ]

Four weeks from tomorrow, America will vote in the 2018 midterm congressional elections. We're officially in the homestretch now, in other words. And even with all the recent political events, things stand pretty much how they have all year -- Democrats are still favored to take control of the House of Representatives, but Republicans are still favored to retain control of the Senate. The political pundits right now are focusing too tightly on possible effects of the Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court fight, but the bigger picture hasn't really shifted all that much.

Democrats are still confident (perhaps too confident) that a big blue wave is a-comin', which will wash dozens of Republicans right out of Congress. Republicans are confident (definitely too confident) that "the polls were wrong once, so that means they'll always be wrong," and that their own base has now woken up and will match Democrats' enthusiasm at the polls due to successfully seating another conservative on the Supreme Court.

Personally, I'm not ready to buy into either argument quite yet, for the simple fact that we've still got four whole weeks to go. And, in the age of Trump, four weeks is an absolute eternity. Anything could happen, and if the past is any prologue, it probably will. I'm reserving overall judgment until we're a lot closer to Election Day, myself.

However, there are some trends worth examining now, whether they turn out to be significant or not. Republicans rejoiced over a single poll released last week which showed that their base voters' enthusiasm for voting may have finally risen to match that of the Democratic voters. This is just one poll, however, so they may be making too much stew from one oyster (as it were). However, the news for them on this front has been so consistently dismal all year that it's understandable why they would leap to draw happier conclusions from a single data point.

What I wonder, though, is whether this enthusiasm will last or not. While Republicans in general have always paid a lot more attention to Supreme Court nominations, in this particular case they won -- their guy is now seated on the court, so Republican voters are celebrating. Democrats, on the other hand, are angry. And anger is a much bigger motivator in midterm elections in general. How many Republican voters, four weeks from now, will be determined to cast their ballot solely on the fact that Senate Democrats fought hard against Kavanaugh? It remains to be seen, but my guess at this point is "fewer than they are now expecting."

Democratic voters, on the other hand, have been angry about Donald Trump for almost two years now. This anger has not abated one whit. The Kavanaugh nomination battle did nothing more than further stoke this anger. Especially among the demographic groups which could be the key to the 2018 election -- college-educated women, suburban women, and women in general. Watching Trump and his fellow Republicans trash Dr. Christine Blasey Ford certainly isn't going to motivate these voters any less, obviously.

This is the main reason why Democrats still look very good in the battleground House races. There are a whole lot of suburban districts now represented by a Republican which are in danger of flipping. That was true before the Kavanaugh hearings, and it is even more true now. The Washington Post just posted a new poll covering the 69 closest House districts, and Democrats still show a definite advantage across the board. They've got to flip fewer than 25 seats out of this total, and the prospects for doing so still look pretty good. Also, something the national political media isn't paying much attention to may also be true -- in the states where Republicans have gerrymandered districts to favor their candidates, they drew the lines assuming that suburban women would always be in their corner. But they didn't just draw House districts with this assumption, they also drew all the state legislative districts with the same assumption. So if Democrats do well in these districts and take back control of the House, they may also make big inroads into taking back control of a lot of statehouses as well. I have yet to see a solid analysis of this, so I have no hard data to base this on, I should mention. But my gut feeling is that if a big blue wave develops in the House races, Democrats could also pick up a whole lot of down-ticket state-level seats as well.

When you look at the issues motivating voters, Democrats also have a clear advantage, because the biggest issue in the 2018 campaign (even though it's been flying under the national media's radar, for the most part) is healthcare. Voters still remember Republicans trying to repeal Obamacare and essentially replace it with nothing. The issue of protecting people with pre-existing conditions is huge, and Democratic candidates have been heavily advertising on the issue. For the first time since Obamacare passed, it is now Republicans who are playing defense on healthcare. They are being forced to explain their votes to take away protections for pre-existing conditions, and they still have no real answer for what they would have done (or would do in the future) to prevent insurance companies from refusing to insure such people if Obamacare goes away. The anger this fight in Congress provoked last year simply has not gone away. When it is people's own healthcare (or members of their own family's healthcare), voters tend to remember which party has consistently been on their side and which party wants to go back to the way things were before. This, as I mentioned, has given Democrats a big edge in plenty of races across the country, even if the talking heads on television haven't quite noticed yet.

However, there is another issue which Republicans are making a comeback on which Democrats should be paying closer attention to. Donald Trump's trade policies (tariffs and more tariffs) have hit farmers in the Midwest hard. He's even taken to using taxpayer money in an effort to bail out these farmers, but his bailouts are not nearly widespread enough to alleviate all the pain the farmers have been feeling. This has driven enthusiasm for Trump down across the Midwest. But this narrative may have dramatically shifted with Trump's announcement on a new trade deal with Canada and Mexico. Now, the new "U.S.M.C.A." is really nothing more than warmed-over NAFTA with a few items from the T.P.P. thrown in, but Trump refuses to admit this and has rebranded it as a wildly successful brand-new agreement. The farmers are watching all of this very closely.

Because Trump has a victory on trade to tout, it may very well bring a lot of his base back into the fold for the midterms. The new U.S.M.C.A. didn't do a whole lot for all farmers, but Trump did slightly open up the Canadian dairy market for American dairy farmers. The effects of this are psychological and go beyond just dairy farmers, though, because farmers who raise soybeans or pork (the ones hit hardest by the trade war with China) have had one bad harvest season, but they can now retain hope that Trump will ultimately be successful in his trade talks with China -- in time for next year's harvest. Trump's trade deal kind of got lost in the uproar over Kavanaugh, but that's only on the national news level. Go out to the farmlands and you'll see that it's a very big news subject there, because so many people's livelihoods depend on the outcome of the trade wars. So U.S.M.C.A may not help soybean farmers directly, but it does give them hope that things will work out for them in the end. This might just repair a lot of the damage Trump has done for his own brand in the rural states and districts, in other words.

While overall the House races still look pretty good for Democrats, the Senate may have slipped out of reach. For the past month or so, Democrats have become increasingly hopeful that they actually had a decent shot to take control of the Senate, but this may have been nothing short of false hope. The 2018 Senate map has always been terrible for Democrats, seeing as how they have very few pickup opportunities and are defending a huge number of seats in red states that Trump won. The playing field was always heavily tilted against them, in other words.

This is where the Kavanaugh fight may have indeed worked in the Republicans' favor. Unlike in the House, each and every senator got a vote on Kavanaugh, whether they are on the Judiciary Committee or not. In certain states, these votes may have guaranteed that Republicans will oust incumbent Democrats. North Dakota, in particular, may now have slipped away (although West Virginia may now be safe for Democrats, after Joe Manchin voted for Kavanaugh's confirmation). Missouri and Indiana may also now be at risk for Democrats.

Democratic efforts at flipping states may fall short as well, although this was true even before the Kavanaugh hearings. Democrats had hopes of flipping Senate seats in Tennessee and Texas, but these were always both longshots. Beto O'Rourke has achieved rockstar status among national Democrats, but the safe money is that he'll fall short in the end -- once again crushing Democrats' perennial dream of turning Texas blue. Phil Bredesen may get a boost from Taylor Swift's endorsement, but even this might not prove to be enough for him to win Tennessee's open Senate seat. Of course, upsets could still happen -- Democrats are still feeling pretty good about their chances in both Nevada and Arizona, but for them to actually win control of the Senate they'd have to absolutely run the table -- which is looking less and less likely, at this point.

Overall, in just about any midterm election, the voters' attitudes about the big-picture issues (such as their views of the president, the government in general, or the economy) are pretty baked into the cake with only a month to go. Even dramatic events may not change voters' overall perception much at all, with so little time before Election Day. This phenomenon is well documented, and is not unique to this particular year, I should point out.

Of course, it is October, so we could have some October surprises on the immediate horizon. The effects of these are impossible to predict -- hence the name (if they were predictable, they wouldn't be surprises, in other words). But because this is only a midterm, any such surprises may have limited effect (even if they are locally dramatic in nature). Scandals involving individual House, Senate, or even gubernatorial candidates may in fact tip certain races, but they also probably won't have any sort of national effect. So even if certain races have bombshells later this month, it likely won't affect the overall outcome nationwide.

My final thought on the state of the midterm races has no real data to back it up -- it is nothing short of sheer speculation on my part. In any election where the polls and/or the pundits are predicting a blowout for one side or the other, this can actually work against the chances of it materializing. This is due to complacency. If your party is heavily predicted to win, what it means for individual voters is a sense of: "It's already a done deal, therefore my vote isn't really necessary." Such complacency can lead to shocking upsets, at times. But now all the horserace-watchers are going with the storyline that Republican voters have become just as enthused as Democratic voters, with one month to go. This could have a counterintuitive effect, because it could in fact provide even more motivation for Democratic voters to get to the polls. When the race is predicted to be close, it can drive up turnout. So stories about Republicans catching up in enthusiasm might just, in the end, drive a record turnout among Democrats. Again, this is nothing short of speculation, and we won't know until the votes are counted, but fears of the blue wave not materializing may prove to be one of the biggest reasons it actually does. We'll have to wait and see, though, in four weeks' time.

-- Chris Weigant

 

Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant

 

10 Comments on “One Month To Go”

  1. [1] 
    James T Canuck wrote:

    C. W... one other consideration has to be a last minute 'trumped-up' happening. Trump definitely has the form for creative political distraction. He has many arrows in his quiver to ping at his base...this weekend he said he has no intention of firing Rosenstein...ok. Sure thing. Iran is mugging around for a slap...ok. Sure thing. China might needs a quick-dry slap soonish… ok. Sure thing. N Korea needs a hug...etc.

    I wouldn't count Trump out in the month remaining...
    Dems should drop the Mr. K fiasco, concentrate on healthcare, push congressional oversight and make women, and their role in the politics of today, run as a theme throughout it all.

    LL&P

  2. [2] 
    Don Harris wrote:

    "....four weeks is an eternity. Anything can happen,"

    "I have yet to see a solid analysis on this, so I have no hard data to base this on, I should mention. But my gut feeling is..."

    So CW says anything could happen in four weeks. And he is speculating with no hard data on a gut feeling.

    Many here keep telling me that I have to provide data and/or demonstrate support for One Demand to be worthy of mention or discussion.

    It appears that those making such a claim are wrong as demonstrated in the above article.

    And as I have provided information and indicators that One Demand can work and that it aboot something citizens are interested in there actually is some information to base the discussion on which is more than none, the established standard.

  3. [3] 
    Don Harris wrote:

    CW-
    I like surprises.
    (hint, hint, wink, wink, nod, nod)

  4. [4] 
    Don Harris wrote:

    And thanks for putting in the part aboot going on your gut feeling. I'm sure you put that in just for me based on the comments on FTP. :D

  5. [5] 
    Balthasar wrote:

    Very good analysis, CW, exceptional - and I'm saying that after reading several pieces in mainstream media on the same topic.

    What you've captured particularly is the fluidity of the situation. If a month can be a lifetime in normal politics, it could be several lifetimes measured in Trump-time. We're in an environment when events of a single week can cause (and already have caused) neck-snapping reversals of fortune for the two sides, often several in a row.

    I'm with you. This is not the time for Democrats to assume anything, least of all that they can suddenly best the Republicans at a game that they've been winning for the better part of a decade. It's time to buckle down and assume the worst possible outcome, and then try to ameliorate it.

    Democrats that live in states where early voting has already begun should have already voted, or be planning to in the next few days. They should then spend the next month getting every other democrat that they know to get to a voting booth. They should be offering to drive their friends to and from the polls. They should know every name on their local ballot by heart, so that they can counter the perennial argument of less informed voters that they don't know enough to reach a decision.

    We should, in other words, put at least as much effort into this election as the white supremacists already have. Because, believe me, they know who they're voting for, and have all of their friends lined up to do the same.

  6. [6] 
    Kick wrote:

    Trump's tariffs have already cost Ford $1B; now it's planning layoffs

    Ironically, Ford may have to cut production of some models, potentially reducing U.S. jobs, as a result of China's tit-for-tat tariffs.

    by Paul A. Eisenstein / Oct.08.2018 / 12:47 PM ?CDT

    Ford has already warned that President Donald Trump's auto tariffs have impacted the company to the tune of $1 billion, and the president’s trade policies threaten to play havoc with Ford’s ongoing reorganization, Shanks told NBC News.

    Trump and Ford have been squaring off since well before the 2016 election, when then-presidential candidate originally threatened to impose hefty tariffs on vehicles Ford intended to start importing from a factory in Mexico. The carmaker eventually scrubbed that plan, but rather than return production to the U.S. it decided to move it to China.

    https://www.nbcnews.com/business/autos/trump-s-tariffs-have-already-cost-ford-1b-now-it-n917756

  7. [7] 
    John M wrote:

    Please don't forget about everybody who are now in the path of what looks like to be a major Hurricane Michael here in Northwest Florida, and South Georgia.

    I myself here in Tallahassee Florida am in the direct path and may lose touch for a while. I plan to hunker down in a good sturdy brick house and make final preparations today. Good luck to everyone!

  8. [8] 
    LeaningBlue wrote:

    I plan to hunker down in a good sturdy brick house and make final preparations today. Good luck to everyone!

    Good luck to you! I hope you have a near miss; I just did.
    I was having lunch with a guy, and we decided to gamble on the check, playing Kavenaugh Over-Under. The rules are simple. One party (him) picks a number of minutes before MSNBC mentions Kav's name. The other (me) bets that it will be more or less time before they do. The clock starts when his phone connects to the live feed on Tune-In. Commercials stop the clock.

    He picked 2min 30 sec. I took the under. When it connected, there was somebody from NHC talking about the hurricane, and my heart sank. I was starting to try to remember which credit card had some available credit for me to pay, and then it happened. With 40 seconds to go, the hurricane was forgotten, and the reporting turned to the open DC Circuit seat to replace 39,38,37 ... Kavenaugh! Bingo.

    Good ol' MSNBC. I knew they weren't going to let this go. But it's dangerous right now, what with the hurricane. So if you play yourself, and with Haley resigning, I wouldn't be as foolish as I was. Only dumb luck bailed me out. Don't take the under for anything less than about four minutes.

  9. [9] 
    James T Canuck wrote:

    John M stay safe, I have family in that neck of the woods, they decided against a valiant confrontation with Michael, and headed inland to their cabin.

    Something different.

    https://www.macleans.ca/opinion/as-canada-makes-marijuana-legal-america-looks-to-prohibition-era-tactics/

    I'm not sure if the US can absorb legalized pot on the federal level but, by 2020 it should be front and center. It solves some problems; decriminalization will free up some jail space, and save money from the courts to the housing and feeding of 'dime-baggers', medicinal research can take leaps and bounds without restrictions and throw the added jobs and taxation into the mix...it's a winner.

    LL&P

  10. [10] 
    ListenWhenYouHear wrote:

    John M,

    Stay safe! Our prayers and thoughts will be with you. I know you’ve probably been through countless storms in the past, but just never forget that your property and items can be replaced; you and your loved ones cannot!

    -Russ

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