The 2018 Midterms: What’s at Stake
We’re now less than 3 weeks away until Election Day!
In addition to the coverage on statewide elections here in Massachusetts, there’s a lot more happening across the country: the race for control of Congress and Governor’s mansions.
It has been nearly two years since President Donald Trump was elected to the White House. Since becoming President, Trump has withdrawn the U.S. from the Paris Agreement and the United Nations Human Rights Council; there have been multiple attempts to end (entirely or provisions of) the Affordable Care Act; a passage of a major tax law; and two appointments of Justices to the Supreme Court.
While the past two years have seen victories for both Democrats and Republicans, the 2018 midterm races will certainly be a referendum on the President’s first two years in office.
So, What’s Exactly Going On?
Well to start, control of the House and the Senate is up for grabs (more on that in a little bit). Additionally, there are 36 governors races across the country: from Maine to Florida, New York to California, and all in between. This also means that there are thousands of state legislature seats up for grabs, as well.
The Senate: Who’s Favored to Win?
Currently, the Republicans hold a very slim 51-49 majority in the Senate. Independents Bernie Sanders and Angus King, of Vermont and Maine respectively, caucus with the Democrats, thus boosting their caucus membership from 47 to 49. The Senate became an even tighter body when Sen. Doug Jones was elected in the special election in Alabama last year.
This year, there are 35 Senate seats up for re-election. There are only 3 members not running for re-election: Jeff Flake, Orrin Hatch, and Bob Corker, all Republicans, from Arizona, Utah, and Tennessee, respectively. Flake and Corker’s seats are hotly contested and may be possible pick-ups for the Democrats.
Out of the 35 seats, Democrats and Independents have a combined 24 seats up, leaving just 9 seats up for Republicans. This means Democrats have a lot more territory to defend. Yet, they are playing the offense, too. Given the national political environment, which pundits argue favor the Democrats more, there is more opportunity. But, Democrats have seen their chances of winning the Senate decrease since the appointment of Justice Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.
To make it easier for you, here’s what would have to happen for Democrats to gain control of the Senate:
Scenario 1: Democrats have no net loss of seats, and pick up 2 from Republicans
Scenario 2: Democrats have a net loss of 1 seat, and pick up 3 from Republicans
Scenario 3: Democrats have a net loss of 2 seats, and pick up 4 from Republicans
Scenario 1 is the best shot Democrats have at taking the Senate, which has been under Republican control since the 2014 midterms. But remember, they would need to defend all of their 24 seats in order for that to happen. Scenario 2 is plausible, but beyond that, it becomes unrealistic.
For a better perspective, let’s take a look at the most contentious races that will decide which party controls the Senate:
Races to Watch (In Insignificant Order):
- Missouri: The Cook Political Report, a nonpartisan online political analyzer, currently puts Democrat Claire McCaskill’s seat in the “Toss-Up” column. McCaskill is a two-term member, first elected in 2006 and re-elected in 2012. Each time she has won, the margin of victory has been small. Missouri voted for Trump over Clinton by more than 500,000 votes. However, many statewide races in Missouri have historically been close, including 2016’s race between incumbent Republican Roy Blunt and Democrat Jason Kander. FiveThirtyEight, a division of ABC News, also places Missouri as a toss-up, but gives McCaskill a 5 in 9 chance over her challenger Josh Hawley (as of October 10).
- Florida: Perhaps the most evenly divided political state in the nation, Florida always sees its fair share of contested races each year. Former astronaut and incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson, who was elected in 2000, is running for a fourth term. His opponent, current Republican Governor Rick Scott, is a formidable challenge to Nelson in a state President Trump carried by over 100,000 votes. FiveThirtyEight currently gives Nelson a 3 in 5 chance over Scott (as of October 10). The Cook Political Report also places Florida in the “Toss-Up” column.
- Nevada: A state that has demographically shifted towards Democrats since 2004 is currently in play, and has become a reasonable pickup opportunity for Democrats. Just two years ago, Democrats were able to hold on to retiring Democrat (and Minority Leader) Harry Reid’s seat, as it was won by Democrat Catherine Cortez-Masto. Incumbent Republican Dean Heller is running for re-election, having served since 2012. His challenger is Democratic Congresswoman Jacky Rosen, representing the state’s 3rd District. FiveThirtyEight gives both Heller and Rosen a 1 in 2 chance of winning (as of October 10) and Cook Political has it in the “Toss-Up” category.
- North Dakota: Incumbent Democratic Senator Heidi Heitkamp, who recently voted against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, but voted for Justice Neil Gorsuch, is in deep trouble. Recent polls have consistently shown her challenger, the at-large Representative for North Dakota, Republican Kevin Cramer, ahead. Additionally, it doesn’t help Heitkamp that the President won her state by over double-digits in 2016. But Heitkamp has proven herself to be a moderate on a variety of issues, which could be beneficial to her as she tries to sway enough voters to her campaign. FiveThirtyEight currently gives Cramer a 2 in 3 chance of winning to Heitkamp’s 1 in 3 (as of October 10). Cook Political puts North Dakota in the “Toss-Up” column.
- Arizona: Like Nevada, Arizona has also seen demographic changes in recent years, which might begin to help Democrats. It’s worth noting that Arizona only voted for the President by 5 percentage points in 2016; a smaller margin compared Mitt Romney’s and John McCain’s. The current Senator, Jeff Flake (R), is retiring, creating a problem for the GOP and an opportunity for the Democrats. Democratic Congresswoman Kyrsten Sinema is challenging Republican Congresswoman Martha McSally in the race. Recent polls have shown Sinema with a lead, but this is still an important race to watch for both parties: if Democrats win it, they could be one step closer to a Senate majority; if Republicans hold it, they could be one step closer to keeping the majority they currently have. FiveThirtyEight gives Sinema a 5 in 8 chance of winning (as of October 10), and Cook Political rates it is a “Toss-Up.”
- Texas: Incumbent Republican Ted Cruz is running against El Paso Democratic Congressman Beto O’Rourke. Similarly to Nevada and Arizona, Texas has also seen changing demographics. Many consider O’Rourke’s campaign a longshot, but nonetheless, Cruz only has a 3 in 4 chance of winning (as of October 10)–lower than it was at the beginning of the campaign season. Cook Political has Texas in the “Toss-Up” category as well.
- Tennessee: Last, but certainly not least. Bob Corker is the retiring Republican, whose retirement announcement immediately created a longshot (but possible opportunity) for Democrats. Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn (R) is running against former Governor Phil Bredesen (D). Bredesen has campaigned on being a very moderate politician–distancing himself from Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and other national Democrats–in an effort to appeal to more voters. Tennessee voted solidly for the President in 2016. FiveThirtyEight gives Blackburn a 4 in 5 chance to Bredesen’s 1 in 5 (as of October 10). Cook Political also has Tennessee in the “Toss-Up” column.
You can view FiveThirtyEight’s Senate map here.
You can also view Senate ratings by the Cook Political Report here.
The House: Are the Democrats Going to Win?
In 2016, Nancy Pelosi claimed that Democrats would sweep the House. They only gained a few seats, really. But 2018, in many ways, is much different from 2016. This year, the battle for control of the House–under GOP leadership since 2010–will take place in America’s suburbs, many of which are currently held by Republicans. Since the 2017 Women’s March, the number of women running for House, Senate, and Governors races has increased. Many live in or near suburbs where control of the House will be decided.
Interestingly enough, for the first time ever, the majority of lawmakers in the House Democratic caucus will likely be women. Overall, the general composition of men to women in Congress is 4 to 1. But in many of the tight House races across the country, the election of women candidates could change that statistic.
FiveThirtyEight has a constantly changing House map that you can view here. By clicking on any race, you can see each candidate’s chances of winning, the forecasted vote share, a forecast on how many eligible voters will vote in that district, and more.
Based upon the congressional districts FiveThirtyEight gives a higher chance of switching from Republican to Democrat, the path to a Democratic majority lies within these states: California & Pennsylvania. These two states could give Democrats 8 to 9 seats combined towards a possible majority. Remember, Democrats need 23 seats for a majority in the House.
For more information, let’s dive deeper into some of the most notable House races this year:
Iowa, 1st District: Rep. Rod Blum is seeking re-election for a third term to the U.S. House. His challenger, Abby Finkenauer is a Democratic state representative. The district isn’t solidly Democratic or Republican. Each of the two times it has voted for Blum, the margin was under 10%. When someone thinks of Iowa, they probably think of corn and large rural stretches. While that may be true, the 1st District has an urban and rural composition. Cedar Rapids is the largest city here and has various surrounding suburbs–areas which could vote for Finkenauer, given the political environment. FiveThirtyEight gives Finkenauer a 39 in 40 chance of unseating incumbent Rod Blum (as of October 10). The Cook Political Report has the race in the “Lean Democratic” column.
Florida, 27th District: Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a long-serving Republican member, decided last year to retire. Running to replace her is Democrat Donna Shalala and Republican Maria Salazar. Hillary Clinton won here by 20% in 2016. The District includes Miami Beach, southern parts of Miami and Kendall. Given that the District is almost completely urban, it makes sense that it’s trending more towards the Democratic candidate in this political environment. Therefore, FiveThirtyEight gives Shalala a 5 in 6 chance of beating Salazar (as of October 10). Cook Political rates this race as “Republican Toss-Up.”
Virginia, 10th District: Virginia is trending more Democratic, thanks in part to development in D.C. suburbs and its few urban cities. Additionally, Democrats diminished the Republican majority in the state legislature to just 1 in 2017. That same year, the Democratic candidate for governor, Ralph Northam won by a comfortable margin, as did the candidate for Lieutenant Governor. Barbara Comstock, the incumbent GOP Congresswoman, is facing a challenge from Democrat Jennifer Wexton, a lawyer and state representative. FiveThirtyEight gives Wexton a 5 in 6 chance of unseating Comstock (as of October 10), and Cook Political puts it in the “Lean Democratic” column.
California, 45th District: In a state where Democrats could pick up 4-5 seats, the 45th District may be in their column on Election Day. Incumbent Republican Rep. Mimi Walters is facing a challenge from Democrat Katie Porter. The District is just South of Los Angeles and includes parts of Santa Ana, Irvine, and Laguna Hills. FiveThirtyEight gives Porter a 7 in 10 chance of unseating Comstock. The race is rated as “Republican Toss-Up” by Cook Political.
Pennsylvania, 1st District: Lastly, to Pennsylvania we go. Recently, Pennsylvania’s congressional districts were redrawn. The New York Times writes, “At stake was the fate of a Republican gerrymander that intended to cement a 13-5 Republican advantage in an evenly divided state. Now the Republicans will have little to no advantage at all.” Due to the new congressional districts, Democrats will likely increase the number of seats they represent from Pennsylvania–inching them closer to a House majority. The 1st District is different, however. The incumbent Republican Brian Fitzpatrick is being challenged by Democrat Scott Wallace in the newly redrawn district. Fitzpatrick’s margin may be smaller than before, but FiveThirtyEight still gives him a 4 in 5 chance (as of October 10), and Cook Political rates it as “Republican Toss-Up.”
And Lastly, A Very Brief Overview of Governors Races:
Republicans currently control 33 Governorships across the country, to Democrat’s 16. Independents control 1 Governorship. This year, there are 36 seats up for grabs.
The Cook Political Report rates the following seats as pickups for Democrats: Illinois, Michigan, and New Mexico. However, there are a number seats each party could win. Republicans have increased competition in Connecticut and Rhode Island, as well as Alaska. Democrats still have viable shots in Wisconsin, Florida, Maine, Nevada, Ohio, and Iowa. Many of the Republican governors are term-limited, after being swept into power during the 2010 Tea Party wave.
To view all of the governor’s ratings, click here.