A Guide To The 2018 Midterm Elections – Part Three

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In part one of this series, we discussed expectations for the House of Representatives, predicting that Republicans will lose a few seats but maintain a narrow majority in the House.  In part two, we examined five close Senate races, and in part three, we will conclude with four more close Senate races with Democratic incumbents, as well as sharing our final predictions on the upcoming election.  

When we concluded part two of this guide, we did so with the following disclaimer:

In conclusion, the upcoming vote (or non-vote) on Judge Kavanaugh will heavily impact all close races, in what we consider to be a lose-lose proposition for the Democratic party.  Unless they are somehow able to delay the vote until after the election, there is no good outcome of a Kavanaugh vote for any Democrat in a close race.

To that end, we will conclude our 2018 midterm election guide with four Democratic incumbents in close races that will be heavily impacted by a Kavanaugh SCOTUS confirmation vote (or lack thereof).  We have updated the default Senate map at 270 To Win to reflect our opinions on races already discussed…

…and to indicate the four races we will discuss in this segment of our guide, beginning with the sitting Senator we believe to be the most at-risk of the bunch:

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

Bill Nelson has won three elections against three weak opponents – in 2000, he won the seat against Bill McCollum, who could not even win his primary when he ran for the other Florida Senate seat in 2004.  He faced extremely unpopular Katherine Harris in 2006 – decried for her role in giving Florida to former President Bush in 2000, Nelson won the state by over 22 points, giving most of his campaign funds back to the DNC to spend on other races.  And in 2012, on the back of former President Obama, he won the state by 13 points, defeating Connie Mack IV, the son of the retiring Senator Nelson originally replaced.

However, Nelson is undoubtedly facing his toughest Senate election to date, facing off against popular (and polarizing) Florida Governor Rick Scott.  Scott has experience winning close elections, winning both of his Gubernatorial campaigns by less than 65,000 votes.  With a nearly singular focus on jobs and improving the state’s economy, Scott led into his campaign with his successful handling of preparations for Hurricane Irma, and is not only heavily endorsed by President Trump, he has allegedly known him for “decades’.

Nelson, meanwhile, is regarded as “low profile”, but consistently votes the party line when it matters the most.  He’s made a hard left turn on gun control, siding with the Parkland “survivors” and calling for an assault weapons ban – sure to get out the NRA’s vote against him in the “gunshine” state.  And regarding the Kavanaugh hearing, he has taken major heat from Scott for “ducking” a meeting with the nominee.

Scott has taken heat from Florida’s liberal media for a red algae bloom increase on the state’s southwest coast…

…but this appears to be fake news – red tides have been documented along Florida’s gulf coast for centuries:

…red tides were documented in the southern Gulf of Mexico as far back as the 1700s and along Florida’s Gulf coast in the 1840s. Fish kills near Tampa Bay were even mentioned in the records of Spanish explorers.

While Nelson is dragging his feet on meeting Kavanaugh, we ultimately expect him to make a spectacle out of voting against him, having previously voted against Gorsuch’s confirmation.  Meanwhile, Scott’s brand of politics seems more suited for the national stage than the governor’s mansion, and he has quickly embraced the role, attacking Nelson’s weak record judiciously.

This will be a close race, but ultimately, not only has Nelson made a hard left turn recently that will make it more difficult to attract independents, he has no experience winning against a strong candidate, and we expect Scott to be elected to Florida’s Senate seat.  

North Dakota – Heidi Heitkamp (Incumbent) vs. Kevin Cramer (ND Congress Rep.)

Replacing longtime “blue dog” Democrat Kent Conrad in 2012, Heidi Heitkamp won her election by just under 3,000 votes, similar to Conrad’s first win in 1986.  However, while Conrad cruised to re-election by at least 16 points in all of his campaigns, Heitkamp will all but certainly not win by a margin that large.

Heitkamp has embraced Conrad’s role as a conservative in some places, but rejected it in others.  She maintains an “A” rating from the NRA, is strongly in favor of the Keystone XL pipeline, and backed a bill that removed many Dodd-Frank regulations.  On the other side, she voted against repealing Obamacare with Democrats on all three occasions, against tax reform, and even opted to implement the “Buffett Rule” which would increase taxes on capital gains.

Her opponent Kevin Cramer finally won North Dakota’s sole House seat in 2012, after losing in 1996, 1998, and 2010 (lost in the primary).  With a “Trump score” of 98.8% according to FiveThirtyEight, he is about as supportive of the President as you can get.  Which is extremely important, when the 2012 Senate results are compared to the 2016 Presidential election in the state:

Heitkamp was carried to victory by her strength in the eastern part of the state… and this is precisely where Trump and Pence have been campaigning with Cramer.  With Heitkamp’s voting record now working against her, we don’t see how she can win, and we expect Cramer to be elected to North Dakota’s Senate seat.  

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

Joe Donnelly was able to flip one of Indiana’s Senate seats in 2012 when Senator Richard Lugar lost his primary to Richard Mourdock, who subsequently committed a blunder similar to Todd Akin’s when he stated that pregnancy from rape is “something that God intended”.  Still, Donnelly won by only six points, demonstrating his weakness as a candidate.

He will face Mike Braun, an Indiana State Representative who snuck through the primary as his Congressional opponents Messer and Rokita attacked each other with abandon.  Braun is somewhat of an unknown, but won his state seat in 2014 on a pro-business platform, and has also been heavily endorsed by President Trump, who has campaigned with him in Indiana:

Like his fellow red state incumbents, Donnelly also has his voting record working against him, going with the Democrats on Obamacare repeal and tax cuts.  He is strong on the second amendment, but the NRA has endorsed Braun over him, as he’s shown signs he might turn on gun owners following the Parkland shooting.

While we are not totally confident in our assessment, we believe Pence’s home state as well as the awkward position of a Kavanaugh vote will be too much for Donnelly to overcome, and we expect Braun to be elected to Indiana’s Senate seat.  

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

We are concluding with the race we have the least confidence in calling, largely due to the mixed makeup of Montana’s elected representatives.  The state has swung further right in recent years, but Democrats have controlled the Governorship since 2004, and Tester won his own election in 2006 by only 3,500 votes, though he won his subsequent re-election by four points.

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.  Though he received an A- rating from the NRA in 2012, the organization has come out against him, labeling him as supporting “the gun control agenda of Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer”, which could be fatal in a very pro-gun state.

Like Mike Braun, Tester’s opponent Matt Rosendale is largely an unknown, but Trump (and Trump Jr.) have campaigned heavily for him as well.  But unlike Indiana, the political composition is far more mixed, and Trump’s popularity and endorsements cannot be sure to overcome a Senator who voted against Gorsuch’s confirmation, and is expected to do the same for Kavanaugh.

We don’t feel confident calling this race either way, unlike the others, due to our ignorance on the state’s politics.  Forced to decide, we’d say Rosendale manages to squeak out a tough win, but we are no more than 51% sure of that assessment.

With our final predictions in place, below is an updated map of where we believe the Senate will stand after the 2018 elections:

We think a fair over/under for the Senate is 53.5, and we fully acknowledge that our pro-Trump bias has led us to favor the over.  Republicans could easily lose one of Florida, Indiana, Arizona, or the other aforementioned states, lose two of those and win Montana or Nevada, or any number of other combinations that result in 53 or 54 Republican seats, which we consider a “push” for both parties.

Departing “blue dog” Senate Democrats going “red”, combined with a house we expect to narrowly stay in Republican control, will ultimately result in less political change than expected from either side.

However, any “R” seat total under 53 would be a major defeat for Republicans, indicating loss(es) in Florida, Indiana, Arizona, or others.  But, any seat total over 55 would be an even more major disaster for Democrats, indicating not just a “red” Montana, but a Democrat loss in Nevada, West Virginia, or one of the presumably “safe” rust belt statesSenate Democrats would be left fearful for their own 2020 re-election, even though the map heavily favors them in that cycle.

In conclusion, we see buying Democrat House seats of “217 or fewer” at 30% (or better) and selling “85+” House seat turnover at 65% (or better) as great House wagers on Predictit.  In the Senate, we think a bit more “stabbing” is necessary, but placing some sum of money across 53, 54, and 55 GOP Senate seats at sub 10% each (or 25% total) is a great risk/reward opportunity.

While we aren’t thrilled with Predictit’s “rake” on winnings, we are at least prepared to put our money where our mouth is, unlike so many political pundits in today’s era.