A Guide To The 2018 Midterm Elections – Final Update

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In parts one, two, and three of this series, we discussed our expectations for the 2018 midterm elections, predicting that Republicans will maintain a narrow majority in the House, holding 53 or 54 Senate seats.  Since this guide’s completion almost six weeks prior to the election, the race has developed fairly significantly in the wake of Judge Kavanaugh‘s confirmation to the Supreme Court.  As such, we will be adding a final update, making one major change to our predictions.

Just after part three of this guide was posted, FMShooter concluded that Judge Kavanaugh’s testimony and subsequent confirmation had cornered vulnerable Senate Democrats in many of the close races we covered.  While we expected this outcome, and for the result to help push some Republicans to victory in tight races, the effect was more profound than we expected in some places, and less profound than we expected in others.

President Trump has more than done his fair share, attending non-stop rallies in many battleground states to prop up both House and Senate members.  And, in one case, it has caused us to change our pick.  We will update our 2018 midterm election guide by covering several previously discussed close Senate races, and have updated the default Senate map at 270 To Win to reflect which races we will discuss…

…beginning with the one race we believe the Kavanaugh confirmation changed the most:

Nevada – Dean Heller (Incumbent) vs. Jacky Rosen (NV-03 Congress Rep.)

Previously, FMShooter predicted that Jacky Rosen would win this race, noting the following:

Both Heller and Rosen are flawed candidates, and this race will ultimately be lost more than it is won.  

The Kavanaugh hearings gave Heller the opening he needed in this race, and to his credit, he picked up the ball and ran with it.  Jacky Rosen, on the other hand, has appeared meek in comparison, appealing more to the DNC’s national platform than a state-wide one that would capture independents:

Meanwhile, Heller sounded smooth, polished, and perhaps more importantly, unified behind President Trump’s agenda when they campaigned together in Elko, Nevada:

The polling numbers state-wide have reflected Heller’s advance, and early voting totals indicate the same:

While we initially predicted Heller would lose this race more than Rosen would win it, he has managed to get voters to forget about his likability and voting record.  We expect this race to be incredibly close – as Twitter user Au Ng‘s data indicates, this race is a true toss-up.  While we fully acknowledge our pro-Trump bias has caused us to favor Heller, with Trump’s support, Heller has changed the tilt in this race, and as such, we are changing our prediction, and we now expect Heller to be re-elected to Nevada’s Senate seat.  

Indiana – Joe Donnelly (Incumbent) vs. Mike Braun (Former Indiana State Representative)

Florida – Bill Nelson (Incumbent) vs. Rick Scott (Florida Governor)

Arizona – Martha McSally (AZ-2 Congress Rep.) vs. Kyrsten Sinema (AZ-9 Congress Rep.)

The above three races have turned out to be a touch closer than we expected.  In Indiana, Braun’s status as a political unknown on the national stage has both worked for and against him.  Polls show him either tied or slightly behind Donnelly, in spite of President Trump’s campaigning, Donnelly’s “No” vote on Kavanaugh, and Donnelly’s overall unpopularity as a Democrat in a red state:

Donnelly’s edge comes in large part from greater party loyalty and higher interest in the election among Democrats.  Fully 88 percent of Democrats back him vs. 80 percent of Republicans for Braun.  In addition, nearly 1 in 10 Republicans go for Donnelly.

“Republican voters who flirt with Libertarian candidates tend to come home to the Republican candidate in the last few days,” says Shaw.

He adds, “Donnelly being under 50 percent bodes well for the less well-known challenger.”

In Florida, polls also show Nelson in a close race with Scott, but the early voting likely gives the edge to the GOP:

It is difficult to compare this election to 2016 or even 2014, as the state has a Senatorial and Gubernatorial election, with no Presidential election.  A lot can happen between now and election day, and even though the GOP appears to be ahead, the race is still polling extremely tight, even though early voting totals are favorable to the GOP.

In Arizona, Sinema was ahead of McSally, but fell behind after her far-left background from her past was exposed:

Meanwhile, McSally’s background as an Air Force Academy graduate and A-10 pilot in Afghanistan is virtually unassailable.  Combined with the Kavanaugh vote and a rally with President Trump, McSally appeared to be running away with the race.  However, Sinema has closed ground, with polls flip-flopping between a McSally and Sinema lead.

While we still expect the Republican candidate to win all of these races, given the tightness of notoriously inaccurate polls and early votes, we would not be surprised if the DNC pulls out the win in one of these contests.  If we are wrong in more than one of these races, it would be an indicator of more GOP defeat on a national scale.  

Montana – Jon Tester (Incumbent) vs. Matt Rosendale (MT State Auditor)

Montana was the one race we did not predict in either direction, due to our self-professed ignorance on the state’s politics.  We had hoped to get more clarification on the direction of this race in the past month, but if anything, the exact opposite has happened.  We noted the below on Tester in the final part of our midterm election guide:

Tester falls significantly more in line with the Democratic party, with a “Trump score” of 37.7%, according to FiveThirtyEight, and voted not only against Obamacare and tax reform, but against Judge Gorsuch’s confirmation.

A vote against Kavanaugh’s confirmation was never going to affect Tester as much other vulnerable Senate Democrats.  Montana is a very Libertarian state, which RCP notes is “one of the Mountain West states without a right-to-work law”.  Furthermore, an increasing number of liberals from high-tax states have moved and/or retired to Montana’s gorgeous skies, allowing for candidates like Tester to be competitive, in spite of his political history working against him in a very pro-Trump state:

Like the aforementioned candidates, President Trump held a rally in Montana to support Rosendale…

…but Rosendale did not sound nearly as polished as the other candidates.  Failing to level pointed criticism on Tester’s big-money out-of-state funding and many of his other missteps as a Senator, he instead sounded far more like a Trump lackey.  Yet, in a development akin to Gary Johnson dropping support of his own campaign to stump for Hillary against Trump, Libertarian candidate Rick Breckenridge has dropped support of his own campaign, throwing his support behind Rosendale, following an anonymous campaign mailer supporting Breckenridge, and Breckenridge pushing back to combat “dark money” in the state’s politics:

This demonstrates not just the fact that Tester is viewed as a globalist by the Libertarians of the state, it is indicative of just how close the race is.  In 2006, Tester won by 3,562 votes, with Libertarian Stan Jones receiving 10,377 votes.  In 2012, Tester won by 18,072 votes, with Libertarian Dan Cox receiving 31,892 votes.  The race could come down to just how many Libertarian voters abandon the party to support Rosendale.  

We had hoped to make a prediction on this race, but quite frankly, we have no idea who will win, given the above developments.  This race is close enough and Montana’s population is small enough that almost anything could swing the contest.  We do expect either Tester or Rosendale to win an extremely close contest, perhaps close enough to force a recount akin to Al Franken‘s 2008 or George Bush’s 2000 wins.  

With all of this factored into our previous analysis, below is an updated map of where we believe the Senate will stand after the 2018 elections:

We have raised our fair over/under for the Senate to 54 from 53.5, reflecting our change of opinion in Nevada.  Our map and predictions imply Republicans with 55 GOP seats – however, with a 54 over/under, we have given ourselves cushion to be wrong on one of these predictions, or two plus a Montana win.  The GOP could wind up with any seat total between 53-55 and be within expectations, with 56 seats indicating a Montana win and strong performance in all other battleground states.

As we previously noted, any “R” seat total under 53 would be a major defeat for Republicans, indicating loss(es) in Florida, Indiana, Arizona, or other states.  But, any seat total over 56 would be an even more major disaster for Democrats, indicating not just a “red” Montana, but losses in either West Virginia and/or New Jersey – or even worse, a loss in Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, and/or Pennsylvania.  

Some analysts believe West Virginia and New Jersey are currently “in-play”, but we do not see a GOP win in either.  As we previously noted, Manchin is the exact sort of candidate Democrats need to run to win in Trump states, and his numbers indicate that.  Likewise, other analysts believe Tennessee and Texas are currently “in-play”, but we do not see a GOP loss in either.  In Tennessee, Blackburn has solidified her lead over Bredesen following the Kavanaugh confirmation and Bredesen’s statements on the vote.

In New Jersey, Bob Menendez has been hit hard with an advertising blitz by GOP challenger Bob Hugin, targeting Menendez’s corruption and alleged sex with underage prostitutes.  However, New Jersey is not only loaded to the brim with anti-Trump voters, the state is notorious for allegations of voter fraud.  In a state where corruption allowed Menendez (and Corzine) to fleece voters for decades, and which still chose not to primary Menendez out, we find it hard to believe Hugin can really win, even though he has been successful at getting the DNC to divert funds to defend Menendez’s seat.

And despite the national attention being delivered in the Texas race, we find it laughable that people actually believe Beto O’Rourke has a chance.  Though there is an exorbitant amount of money being spent on the race, and an increasing number of out-of-state liberals have moved to Texas, the fact of the matter is that Texas is still a very red state.  Even though Beto has been successful at forcing the GOP to spend money on the race, Cruz is extremely popular in Texas, and we find it difficult to believe Beto has a chance to do anything but position himself to run for President in 2020.

In conclusion, no candidate can win unless the voters show up on election day, and that includes our readers.  No matter which state you’re voting in, your candidate needs you to show up to the ballot box.  A Red Wave isn’t possible without red voters, even if we do not believe a Red Wave will change politics as much as some people expect.