A Guide To The 2018 Midterm Elections – Part Two

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Image source: The Wall Street Journal

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 will expand on the Senate, examining five close races in the upcoming election.

While the House is a crucial arm of the legislature, the Senate is far more important to control in today’s political landscape.  With the rules changing to allow for a simple majority of 50 to confirm SCOTUS nominees, a majority in this arm of the legislature is pivotal to either advance or obstruct President Trump’s agenda.

However, the Republicans are all but certain to retain control of the Senate in the November elections, as we previously explained in part one:

…the 2018 election heavily favors Republicans in that arm of the legislature – 42 Senate Republicans are not running for re-election, compared to just 23 Democrats…

We have modified the default Senate map at 270 To Win to reflect races that can truly go either way…

…but we will begin with the two races we believe are the most certain of the bunch – West Virginia and Tennessee.

West Virginia – Joe Manchin (Incumbent) vs. Patrick Morrisey (WV Attorney General)

In a deep-red state like West Virginia, which Trump won over Hillary Clinton by a whopping 42 points, Manchin’s Senate career should be all but finished.  Not only did he vote against Trump on all of the Obamacare votes and on tax cuts, he co-sponsored the failed “Manchin-Toomey” compromise with Pennsylvania Republican Pat Toomey, which aimed to impose “Universal Background Checks” on all firearm purchases – a move against gun owners that undoubtedly not be forgotten by the state’s pro-gun movement.

However, Manchin votes in line with Trump’s position 61% of the time according to FiveThirtyEight, and appears to have been blessed by an opponent, state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, who has been unable to galvanize support:

In an interview here after touring a local mining equipment company, Morrisey, who has been elected statewide twice, didn’t dispute that he’s behind, but chalked it up to being less well-known than Manchin, who was West Virginia governor before being elected to the Senate in 2010. Morrisey dismissed as “irrelevant” polls showing him trailing by high single digits or low double digits.

For his part, Morrisey is contributing an extremely pro-Trump agenda, and believes he can ride his successful defense of former President Obama’s order to curb emissions from coal plants to victory.  And yet, we see Democratic incumbency and funding as a likely insurmountable obstacle, and we expect Manchin to be re-elected to West Virginia’s Senate seat.  

Tennessee – Marsha Blackburn (TN-07 Congress Rep.) vs. Phil Bredesen (Former Tennessee Governor)

On paper, Republicans should be easily able to replace outgoing Senator Bob Corker – Trump won Tennessee by 26 points in 2016, with all but three counties in the state voting his way.  Furthermore, Marsha Blackburn is the very popular Representative of the Tennessee’s 7th District, which she has held since 2003, and has received heavy endorsement in the race from President Trump.

Perhaps the only reason this race is even close to competitive is Blackburn’s opponent, former Governor Phil Bredesen.  Corker himself gave a tacit endorsement of Bredesen, stating that he had “crossover appeal” to voters from all political backgrounds.  Known for slashing the budget of the state’s “TennCare” healthcare system, Bredesen was a two-term Democrat governor in a deep Red state, and is an ideal candidate to oppose any Republican in the senate.

Blackburn and Bredesen are both strong candidates, and polling data has been mixed as a result.  As per Real Clear Politics, liberal outlets are giving the edge to Bredesen, while conservative/neutral ones are giving the edge to Blackburn:

As we see liberal outlets appearing to oversample Democrats in a deep Red state, it seems very unlikely that Corker’s seat is flipped, and we expect Blackburn to be elected to Tennessee’s Senate seat.  

Note: To a lesser degree than the Senate seats mentioned in part one of this guide, a loss in either of these two races by our expected winner will be nothing short of a serious upset, and will likely be an indicator on which way other close races may fall.  

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

A moderate Republican in an extremely mixed state, Dean Heller is not the most likable Republican Senator on the national stage.  Winning the seat in 2012 by only 1.2 points (just 11,576 votes), Heller won every county except for Las Vegas’s Clark, whose Democratic tilt has grown to dominate the state’s politics.

The Republicans we spoke to in Nevada describe the statewide opinion of Heller as “indifferent” to “unlikable”, noting that he voted against Obamacare repeal on two of the three possible votes.  However, the same sources also state that the Democratic campaign against him has solely consisted of negative ads, with little positive to say about his opponent.

His opponent Jacky Rosen currently represents Nevada’s 3rd Congressional district, which includes the southern part of the heavily Democratic Clark county.  A computer programmer with no political experience prior to winning the seat in 2016, she also won the seat by just 1.2 points.  It is worth questioning whether or not Trump’s presence on the ballot helped contribute to Rosen’s narrow margin of victory.

Both Heller and Rosen are flawed candidates, and this race will ultimately be lost more than it is won.  However, given Heller’s low overall likability, combined with a voting record that may keep Republican voters home, we think he loses this one by a slightly wider margin than his original victory, and we expect Rosen to be elected to Nevada’s Senate seat.  

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

Arizona’s Senate race became far more interesting when establishment neocon, avid never-Trumper, and appropriately named Jeff Flake decided to retire instead of seeking a re-election campaign he likely would have lost.  Replacing him in the race is former A-10 pilot Martha McSally, who represents Arizona’s 2nd Congressional district.

McSally won her election by just 167 votes in 2014, but cruised to re-election in 2016 by 14 points.  Her opponent, Kyrsten Sinema, won Arizona’s 9th Congressional district in 2012, and has held the seat with ease ever since.  Both candidates are considered “bipartisan“, which is essential to victory in a mixed state like Arizona.

Polling data on Real Clear Politics has been mixed as a result:

While some polls are calling Sinema the leader, and others are saying it is a dead heat, Arizona has voted Republican for what seems like ages – Trump won the state by 3.5 points on election night, and Flake, John McCain and Jon Kyl have occupied the state’s Senate seats for decades.  Even with a strong candidate like Sinema, we believe the state’s political tilt will be too much to overcome against another strong candidate, and we expect McSally to be elected to Arizona’s Senate seat.  

Missouri – Claire McCaskill (Incumbent) vs. Josh Hawley (MO Attorney General)

Claire McCaskill won her first election in 2006 by 3 points, buoyed by major negative sentiment against former President Bush, and has struggled to gain popularity ever since.  FMShooter has covered McCaskill’s tenure as Missouri’s Senator extensively in the past, noting her only tangible accomplishments in her first term to be support of Obama (and Obamacare), as well as billing taxpayers for usage of her own private plane.

She likely would have been defeated in 2012 – however, she supported Republican Todd Akin in violation of campaign finance laws, because she considered him to be the softer opponent.  She was right, and Akin gave the race (and his career) away as a result of his comments on “legitimate rape”, and no one seemed to care that McCaskill blatantly violated the law to secure her re-election.

Her opponent, Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley, is supported by heavily by Trump, who won the state by over 18 points, carrying all but four counties.  We honestly don’t know much about Hawley, but we don’t think we even really need to, given what Real Clear Politics has stated about the race’s tight polling:

The undecided voters are likely Trump supporters, but it is hard to say which way they’ll go in this volatile election.

McCaskill has been exposed trading on inside information, funneling $40 million to her husband’s businesses (using Obama stimulus funds), and basing her existence on the DNC’s heavily anti-Trump platform.  She has already pledged to vote against the nomination of Judge Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court – a major issue for the state’s plethora of “undecided” Trump voters.

The GOP could likely run anyone even remotely competent and win this seat.  Barring some Akin-esque gaffe, we expect Hawley to be elected to Missouri’s Senate seat.  

With these predictions in place, below is an updated map of where the Senate will stand:

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.


In part three of this series, we will explore the remaining four Senate races, and give our final prediction on what we believe will be the composition of both the House and Senate – ideally factoring in current events and developments.