We’re now 5 days away from the midterms, and the battle for Congress is in full swing. It’s become evident that Democrats are staring down the barrel of a very good year. How good? Well, the House is likely to change hands, as are plenty of governorships and state legislative seats.
The Senate, however, is another story. Democrats are defending 26 out of 35 seats up for election, including 10 seats in states that Donald Trump won in 2016. Not since the ratification of the 17th Amendment, which mandated the popular election of Senators, has the luck of the draw produced such a lopsided Senate map for any party.
There are many different factors that go into if a Senate race is won or lost. Personal “brands” of incumbents, the strength of challengers, and the national climate can all influence outcomes of key races. While the ad hoc minutiae of state-by-state issues can change rapidly, national trends are much more accessible to quantify.
Back about a year ago, vulnerable Republican Senator Dean Heller of Nevada predicted that Republicans could nail down their Senate majority if Associate Justice of the Supreme Court Anthony Kennedy were to retire before the midterms. Regardless of whether or not Heller keeps his seat, he may well have been right. The Kavanaugh nominations have fired up conservatives nationwide. The Republican base is rallying around their newly-minted Supreme Court Justice, despite credible allegations of sexual misconduct made against him. While Democrats have rallied around accuser Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, progressives have been fired up to the max to vote in the midterms since November 9, 2016. Conservatives, it seems, have made strides to catch up in terms of voter enthusiasm.
The Kavanaugh affair has likely doomed Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), who voted against the nominee despite Trump winning her state by double digits. She’s polled poorly against her challenger, Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-ND) throughout the election cycle, and her numbers have only gotten worse in light of her vote. On the flip side, though, Joe Manchin (D-WV) may have cemented his re-election by voting in favor of Kavanaugh, given that Trump won his state by 42 points in 2016 and remains popular there.
Heller’s prediction seems to have been correct, and as luck would have it, he’s beginning to gain back lost ground in the polls against Rep. Jacky Rosen (D-NV), his Democratic challenger. That race is considered to be a toss-up.
This isn’t to say that Democratic enthusiasm isn’t robust throughout the country; to the contrary, the fabled “enthusiasm gap” appears to favor Democrats, even after Republicans surged post-Kavanaugh. This is likely to make the most difference in House and gubernatorial races, though, where pickup opportunities are plentiful in states that aren’t as red as, say, Missouri or Indiana.
Key forecasting sites, including FiveThirtyEight and RealClearPolitics, have posited that Republicans are very likely to keep the Senate. After all, despite Beto’s Kennedy-esque appeal, Texas remains a red state, and therefore Cruz is favored to win. Tennessee seems to be slipping out of reach as well, despite Democrats landing their dream candidate in former Governor Phil Bredesen.
Overall, if the election were held today, Democrats would almost certainly take back the House. That will give much-needed oversight and investigative power to the Democrats, and take it away from those who have been pass-blocking the alleged misdeeds of the President and his consiglieres. We’ll also win back governorships and state houses, allowing us to stop Republican gerrymandering in its tracks in advance of the 2020 census. But even still, the rising tide of the blue wave will likely fall short of flipping the Senate.