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Calling the US Midterms – a week early: GOP to gain two in Senate, House almost a tie but...

Tom Winnifrith
Monday 29 October 2018

I accept that calling the US Mid-terms a week early is a tad dangerous. There are a number of wild cards which could upset my calculations but having called the Trump win in 2016, here are my predictions…

First the wild cards. There could be a black swan event which nobody sees. But there are two matters playing on my mind. The first is the volatile stockmarket. Given the exposure so many ordinary Americans have to the market this matters. A thousand points off a falling Dow between now and November 6 would gift a few house seats to the Democrats, were the Dow to rally the swing goes the other way because as things stand there are 31 House races which just look almost impossible to call and where the margin of victory will be tight.

The second wild card is the “caravan” of refugees heading towards the Mexico/US border. The faster it travels, the closer it gets makes a difference. The caravan is good news for the GOP as  Donald Trump will talk tough, it is bad news for the Dems who will not.  And that Dem weakness will not play well with anyone bar rich liberals who will vote Democrat anyway. Poorer Hispanics will see the newer arrivals as offering more competition for the jobs they have and pressure on their wages.  The Hispanic vote is slowly shifting to the GOP.

So those are the wild cards. Let’s start with the Senate which is currently 51 GOP, 49 Democrat. Early Dem hopes of their posterboy O’Rourke upsetting Lyin’ Ted Cruz in Texas or of picking up the Tennessee seat look to be fading fast. Remember only a third of Senate seats are up for re-election with most of those up Democrat and thus, as things stand the GOP looks set to be able to count on having 50 seats after November 6 with the Dems on 44. There are now only six seats “in play”.  Right now I would say the Dems will hold Montana with a popular incumbent but the GOP will hold Nevada and take both Indiana and Missouri.

The unknowns are Arizona where the incumbent Republican, the ghastly Jeff Flake (by name and by nature), is standing down and Florida where the most recent poll gives some comfort to the Dems as they seek to hold the seat. Given the dreadful track record of Arizona Republican Senators of heading to Washington and then voting with the Dems far too often, I am not sure I really care about that race but it and Florida look too close to call. My gut instinct is that the GOP might just pick up one of the two but I shall be cautious and I would also not bet the ranch on Indiana.  Thus my overall Senate call is 2 net gains for the GOP and so a 53-47 split. But it could just be 54 - 46.

The good news for Trump is that he will be losing a couple of Country Club Republicans and gaining loyalists so the new Senate should be much more supportive than the old one even with just two, or possibly three, gains.

The House is different – all 435 seats are up and most look to be pretty clear cut races. Right now we can probably call 205 for the Dems and 200 for the GOP (although that GOP number has hardened a bit in recent days).  That leaves 30 in play of which 28 are currently held by the GOP so either side could reach that magic 218 mark. Clearly the Dems are set to make gains the question is how many.

Again I caveat at this point by saying that there will be a few surprises on the night with seats everyone was calling as safe or leaning strongly to one party or another going the other way. But the focus is on those thirty.  All these contests are local ones. Incumbency should help unless the Congressman has been a total rotter or particularly useless but the swamp is not called the swamp for nothing as we shall see in upstate NY shortly.

My attention is drawn to two races in New York, the 22nd and the 19th where the woman who broke my heart 32 years ago, the wonderful Abbe Aronson is organising a rock the vote effort and slogging her guts out for the Dems.  In the 19th the incumbent Republican John Faso won by 8 percentage points last time. Trump won the district by 6.8% but four years earlier, Obama won by a similar margin. I sense that demographics (more rich liberals from the City moving upstate) do not favour Faso. The only poll this month had Faso ahead by 1 but last month the only poll had his opponent, Delgado, ahead by 3. A month before the only other poll taken in this race saw Faso 5 points ahead.  But these polls are tiny in size and have a margin of error of almost 5 points which tells you that you really can’t read that much into them.

I wonder if there is going to be a shy Republican factor in the polls just as there was a shy Trumpster factor in 2016, something I identified here.  For two years folks like Abbe and the entire liberal media have insisted that anyone supporting the party of Trump is supporting a sexist, racist, homophobic beast and thus by implication is not a terribly nice person themselves. Given that, are some GOP supporters afraid to fess up to a pollster their exact intentions saving that for when they get to pull the lever in the polling booth?  I sense there may be a tiny “shy GOP” factor at play in the mid terms.

The NY 22 is an area Romney won by a whisker in 2012 but Trump won by a landslide 15 points in 2016 yet the incumbent Republican congresswoman Claudia Tenney trailed by 1 point in the only poll this month and by 2 points in the only other poll of this campaign back in August.  The Democrat is a moderate – heck he’s even admired by the National Rifle Association – and Tenney is abrasive and a diehard Trump supporter.  Polls show Trump is still popular in the district so how long are is coat-tails? Will he get “his people” not natural GOP folks out to vote for Tenney. All is uncertain. Being an incumbent is not always a good thing, if you are as unpleasant as Ms Tenney appears to be.

There is Texas 7 – Clinton won that district by a whisker but the incumbent is a Republican and the only two polls show him with a small lead. But they are again small and his lead was easily smaller than the margin of error. How on earth do you call that race and so many others like that?

There is no doubt that the Kavanaugh affair, the abrasive language of Trump but also of leading Dem swamp dwellers like Nancy Pelosi have engaged and enthused the core supports of both parties in the run up to the mid terms. Differential turnout and how much cash is chucked at the campaigns in the last week will matter.  

House races are far more local than we in Britain realise. Take Florida 27, another of those toss-ups. It was Republican for years as a pioneering Cuban American scored a huge personal vote. But she stood down and with Clinton having won the district by 20 points it looked like a Dem no brainer. Then came the own goal. In the Dem primary they selected a 77 year old swamp queen, Donna Shalala who has spent a lifetime working in Clinton related organisations. The GOP selected a fiery telegenic and youthful Cuban American Maria Salazar. The two polls this month both have a margin of error of c5 points and one has the GOP 2 points ahead and the other the Dems 7 points ahead. You would probably still chalk that up as a Dem gain among the crucial thirty but the momentum is with Salazar. You would not bet the ranch against her as she is truly impressive while old mother Shalala stands for everything folks hate about those who live inside the Beltway.

So how will the House go? Even a few months ago the Dems and the liberal media were talking about a “blue wave”. That is not going to happen. The Dems will make gains and might just sneak past the 218 mark. But not by much and if they do so there will be enough moderate Dems (folks who on another day might just be moderate Republicans like the chap in NY22) to stop the House declaring all out war on Trump and ensuring legislative gridlock.

Pushed for a prediction: GOP 218 Dems 217. But I could well be wrong by half a dozen seats either way. And then there are events dear boy.

And if it is 218 to 217 for the Dems and NY19 has, thanks to Abbe, gone Dem and been the crucial contest, this time it will n ot break my heart and I shall take some joy in her efforts being rewarded. 

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About Tom Winnifrith
Tom Winnifrith is the editor of When he is not harvesting olives in Greece, he is (planning to) raise goats in Wales.
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