Democrats should go into Election Day with low expectations. It’s the only way they’ll be able to get through what is increasingly looking like it will be an atrocious night - and it will allow them to feel relief if they beat the odds and hold the GOP down at a level that 12 months ago no Democrat would have settled for.
There are some good signs for the party, however, none more important than the big improvement in their Senate situation. At the start of October, California and West Virginia looked very endangered. Barbara Boxer was stuck in the mid-40s and Democrats had by all accounts falling into a state of panic about Joe Manchin. But it would now be a clear upset for either Carly Fiorina or John Raese to win - an important development since they can’t capture a Senate majority without picking-up either of these seats. (That said, a GOP upset in West Virginia still looks plausible.)
At the gubernatorial level, Jerry Brown has maintained his lead in California’s crucial contest and Democrats have pulled themselves back in contention in places (like Oregon and Ohio) that had come to look difficult for them over the summer. They’ve also have remained highly competitive in a number of House districts many thought would be the first to fall, places like PA-7, PA-11, VA-5 and (I’d say most interestingly) NH-2.
Also, early voting patterns suggests the turnout gap will not be uniformly awful for Democrats. In Nevada, for instance, a strong close by Democrats ensured that Republicans failed to close their 5% registration deficit; Democrats have an advantage in terms of raw votes cast, which keeps hope alive for Harry Reid. Similarly, what looked like a huge GOP edge in North Carolina in the first days of early voting narrowed this week, with Democrats casting 46% of ballots to Republicans’ 36%. (That’s a far smaller gap than in 2008, but it’s a net improvement from where we were last week.)
Finally, at a macro-level, SUSA’s recent attempts to include cell phone respondents for the first time yielded far more favorable results for Democrats in both Oregon and California - a result that, when coupled with Pew’s finding of a significant Republican bias in landline-only polls, gives Democrats hope there still is a factor that could help them pull off a surprise. However, we hear this concern every two years - and in no recent cycles have polls ended up looking skewed because of this.
That’s what I can muster insofar as good Democratic news. It’s no coincidence the rest of the column is longer.
Even this short list should be qualified since Joe Manchin and John Kitzhaber could still lose in West Virginia and Oregon, no one would be surprised if the GOP swept PA-7, PA-11, VA-5 and NH-2, and incumbents like Ted Strickland still head into Election Night as slight underdogs. In other words: Most of the races that have trended Democratic have been newsworthy because of the sole fact of still being competitive, not because the Democratic candidates have pulled ahead.
Meanwhile, the list of contests that have trended Republican is longer than I can list. Let’s go through each level - and give my final ratings in the process.
At the Senate level, the GOP has put all but one of its own seat out of play. Who would have thought just a year ago that heading into Election Day OH, MO, KY, FL and NH would not just be in the GOP’s column - they’d all be rated “likely Republican”? The one GOP-held seat that’s worth watching tomorrow night is a big one, however: All three candidates could win Alaska’s Senate race. Polls have been all over the place, and none can account for the possibility that a substantial number of Murkowski write-ins could end up being thrown out for one reason or another.
How many Democratic Senate seats will the GOP pick-up comes down to 4 states: Illinois, Colorado, Nevada and Washington.
Washington makes a last-minute entry in the toss-up column. While I would still be as surprised if Dino Rossi pulled it off, the fact that McClatchy, SUSA, Rasmussen and PPP are all in agreement to find the race a dead heat (with PPP going as far as to show Dino Rossi leading by 2% in its final poll, the roughest poll the firm released this week-end) suggests my month-long confidence might have been misplaced.
Nevada, Illinois and Colorado, meanwhile, have been the cycle’s most obvious battlegrounds since the spring. But in the final week the GOP has taken a narrow but consistent lead in public polling in each of them - none more so than in Illinois.
Yet, there are reasons to think Democrats have strong shots to win each race: Michael Bennet’s late surge, Nevada’s early voting numbers, the plausibility that the remaining Illinois undecided lean Democratic, and polling showing Bennet and Reid with a lead among those who’ve already voted. While it’s far easier to imagine the GOP sweeping all three than Democrats doing so, each stays in the toss-up column.
Pennsylvania and West Virginia are no longer in the toss-up column, as of today. The former returns to “lean Republican,” the latter to “lean Democratic.” That is not to say Raese might not capture West Virginia or Sestak defend Pennsylvania. In fact, both races are still very much in play and are must-watch races tomorrow night. It would only take a small polling bias for surprises to occur. It’s easy to find Sestak a path to victory if Democratic turnout is higher than pollsters are projecting, and it’s easy to conceive of West Virginians deciding they can vote against Manchin since they’ll keep him in the Governor’s Mansion anyway.
But for Sestak or Raese to prevail would mean one of the parties has clearly exceeded expectations. Raese has been dogged by questions about his connections to Florida while Manchin woke up in time to realize he actually had a race on his hand. And Sestak’s surge receded in the very same polls that had given Democrats hope: After showing Sestak ahead by 1% and 3%, PPP and Morning Call found Toomey up 5% and 4% in their final polls.
It’s not out of the question California and Wisconsin could reserve surprises, but for Boxer to fall or Feingold to survive would mean everyone has missed something massive.
And then there is Alaska, which could go for any candidate. Both Murkowski and McAdams have been too busy portraying themselves as the main alternative to Joe Miller for us to take anything that is being said about the race at face-value.
Bottom-line: The range of plausible outcomes is +4 GOP to +10 GOP. The likeliest outcomes: +6 GOP to +8 GOP.
|Safe GOP||Likely GOP||Lean GOP||Toss-up||Lean Dem||Likely Dem||Safe Dem|
Just four days after updating my House ratings in 29 districts, most of which to the GOP’s favor, I still have 11 modifications to include - and but they all favor Republicans. While House Democrats could still hold down their losses to a manageable level, the prospect of an unthinkably gigantic Republican wave is a distinct possibility that has clearly left the party in utter terror.
92 Democratic-held House seats are rated no better than “lean Democratic” - and 66 are rated no better than “toss-ups.” While Democrats are sure to save many districts among that latter group, they are just as certain to lose a number of seemingly safe incumbents. Hard to see what could console Democrats on Wednesday morning if people like Barney Frank, Raul Grivalja, Chellie Pingree or David Cicilline are on the list of Tuesday’s casualties.
Among the worst news for Democrats in the final days are places like NV-3, NM-1, RI-1 and ME-1.
NV-3 looked to be the type of hotly contested district that would stay a pure toss-up until the last minute; that the GOP now has a clear enough advantage that I am moving the seat to the “lean Republican” column speaks to how much Democratic fortunes have deteriorated. Meanwhile, few states have turned so quickly against Democrats as New Mexico, with early voting patterns painting a very worrisome picture for Democrats. Combined with two polls showing Barrera surging in NM-1, that suggests Rep. Heinrich has joined the list of highly endangered incumbents after a year of looking likely to hold on.
As for Maine, it looks like a clear candidate to play the role of New Hampshire circa 2006 - a state in which the wave took such a huge proportion as to spare few incumbents of the losing party. Reps. Michaud and Pingree were on no one’s list in September but both could very well fall on Tuesday, with Pingree looking like she is more at risk despite occupying a district that gave Obama 61% of the vote.
And other places in the Northeast has turned worrisome for Democrats: Tom Foley’s recovery in Connecticut’s gubernatorial race (see below) could help Republicans pull off upsets in CT-4 or CT-5, while Rhode Island Mayor David Cicilline no longer looks like a sure victor in open RI-1 - far from it. With polls showing his double-digit lead has collapsed into the margin of error, he is left to hope that the district’s fundamentals (Gore, Kerry and Obama all got more than 60% of the vote here) is too much for John Loughlin to overcome.
Also worrying Democrats in these final hours are places like MN-8, GA-2, NC-7 and KY-6. At the least news like the improvement in North Carolina’s early voting patterns gives the state’s incumbents some breathing room.
Bottom-line: The likeliest outcome is for Republicans to win a majority with many seats to spare, as my expectation is that a clear majority of the toss-up races and a number of “lean Democratic” races will be won by the GOP. I’ve never described myself as someone who makes predictions, so I am not planning on issuing a more precise projection.
Yes, a stronger than anticipated wave could produce unthinkable gains nearing the 80-seat mark. And yes, a shift of just a couple of percentage points towards Democrats could be enough for them to hold down their losses and even hold the chamber.
That’s not avoiding the question; it’s simply recognizing the big range of plausible outcomes given the atypically huge number of seats that could go either way, the dearth of polling in dozens of districts and the level of uncertainty about turnout patterns.
That gets us to the following breakdown:
I have changed the ratings in 11 districts:
- CT-5, lean Democratic to toss-up
- GA-2, lean Democratic to toss-up
- KY-6, lean Democratic to toss-up
- ME-1, likely Democratic to lean Democratic
- MI-3, safe Republican to likely Republican
- NC-7, lean Democratic to toss-up
- NM-1, lean Democratic to toss-up
- NV-3, toss-up to lean GOP
- OH-6, lean Democratic to toss-up
- TX-23, likely Democratic to toss-up
- VA-11, lean Democratic to toss-up
Democrats only had a few races they thought they’d be able to point to on November 3rd to suggest they were not wiped out - and the Connecticut Governor race was one of them. That has now been put in question: After leading substantially throughout the campaign, Dan Malloy appears to have suffered a late collapse (perhaps due to a late wave of negative advertisement by Republican Tom Foley); Foley had not led in any poll since April, but he suddenly took a narrow lead in Quinnipiac, PPP and Rasmussen’s final polls over the past 48 hours.
With that, Connecticut moves from lean Democratic to the toss-up column, a late development that sums up Democrats’ state-level despair. 11 Democratic-held Governorships now lean towards Republican, including two that I have just moved there from the list of toss-ups: Maine and Illinois.
In Maine, conservative Republican Paul LePage has become the favorite thanks to a split in the left-leaning vote; independent Eliot Cutler now looks like the main obstacle to LePage’s election. In Illinois, a wave of early October polls suggested Pat Quinn had a comeback in him; but his dismal approval rating always made it hard to see how he could prevail - and the final polls have him trailing by enough that it would be a surprise for Bill Brady to lose. That said, both races are must-watch contests tomorrow night.
While I am leaving Ohio in the toss-up column I still have difficulty imagining Governor Ted Strickland overperforming enough to win re-election; but Democrats have put a lot in this race, Strickland is said to have a strong ground game and both Quinnipiac and PPP showed him closing the gap to just 1%. In fact, Democratic chances are stronger in Florida, which remains tomorrow night’s big gubernatorial question. Polls are split here. While Alex Sink is narrowly ahead in most of the final polls, Republicans are confident due to strong early voting patterns.
Democrats have to be nervous about their situation in Colorado, New Hampshire, Hawaii, Minnesota and Massachusetts going into Election Day: While they are favored to win each state, surprises cannot be ruled out if the GOP wave is as big as many Republicans have come to hope.
Finally, I am moving ratings to a less competitive category in five states: New York enters the safe Democratic column (from likely Democratic) while Tennessee enters the safe Republican column (from likely Republican). New Mexico, Texas and Wisconsin all go from lean Republican to likely Republican: Democrats once had high hopes for all three, but it would be a big upset in each if Democrats pulled off victories.
(A note: I am putting Rhode Island in the chart’s “lean Democratic” column though the race currently favors independent Lincoln Chaffee over both the Democratic and Republican nominees; I did so because it would have gotten too complicated to include another dimension and because Chaffee has in some ways campaigned as a more liberal candidate than Democrat Frank Caprio.)
That brings us to the following breakdown:
|Safe GOP||Likely GOP||Lean GOP||Toss-up||Lean Dem||Likely Dem||Safe Dem|
RI (leans I)*
To come tomorrow: an Election Night cheat sheet and, well, Election Night!