Election 2012 Predictions: Congress

In six years of electoral prognostications, I’ve done pretty well when it comes to calling the final tally in Congress. Over three election cycles, I have called the final composition of the U.S. House of Representatives within 5.3 seats, and the U.S. Senate within 1.7 seats.

I didn’t do as well as I’d have liked last time out. While I correctly foresaw the Republican wave of 2010, I still undercalled the 63-seat GOP pickup by 10 seats, as compared to my average of a 3-seat miss in 2006 and 2008. And I failed to foresee that what the Tea Party did for the GOP in the House would not carry over to the Senate; I overcalled the 6-seat GOP pickup by three seats, compared to my 1-seat misses in 2006 and 2008. It isn’t quite as hard for a radical/fringe candidate to get elected to the House as it is for the same type of candidate to get elected to the Senate, and that is as true for Democrats as it is for Republicans, who left three Senate seats on the table in 2010.

This year, most pundits thought the Republicans would likely capture the Senate, considering they needed only four seats, and the Democrats were defending 23 seats compared to only 10 for the GOP. But again, the Republicans have quite possibly punted away one or two seats by nominating candidates in Indiana (Richard Mourdock) and Missouri (Todd Akin) who have seriously harmed their own chances by espousing unpopular views on abortion in the context of rape-induced pregnancies. At this point, it looks like both are likely to lose, although they are fortunate to be in the states where they are. Both races will probably be close, but the advantage is with the Democrats.

It also turns out that Democrats have nominated a strong crop of Senate candidates, creating competitive races in three states the Republicans were thought certain to win: Arizona, Nebraska and North Dakota. Republicans may still win any or all of those three seats, but they all look to be heading down to the wire.

Finally, expected strong challenges to Democratic Senators in Ohio and Florida have not materialized; Ohio’s Sherrod Brown and Florida’s Bill Nelson, judging by polling trends, should both win reelection comfortably. Two other seats Republicans hoped to take, Virginia and Montana, both look like dogfights. Former Gov. Tim Kaine (D) appears to have a slight lead over former governor and Senator George Allen (R) in Virginia, although weather and electrical conditions could affect early voting, if not election day voting, and potentially alter the result there. In Montana, Sen. Jon Tester (D) is fighting Republican headwinds in his state and will struggle mightily to hold his seat against Congressman Denny Rehberg (R).

To predict the Senate, let’s take a look at the lay of the land. Taking into account the 33 seats that are up for election this year, the Republicans start with a 37-30 edge among the remaining 67 Senators who are not on the ballot until 2014 or 2016.

Among the 33 seats that are on the ballot next week, 13 are considered safe for the Democrats (including the Vermont seat held by independent Bernie Sanders, a self-proclaimed “democratic socialist” who caucuses with the Democrats). Six are considered safe for the Republicans, and in Maine, former Gov. Angus King, an independent, holds a strong lead over his Democratic and GOP challengers. That puts the spread at 43 Democrats, 42 Republicans and 1 independent, with 14 seats up for grabs.

Based on polling trends, it is clear that Democrats have opened clear leads in four of those 13 seats: Florida and Ohio and, belatedly, Massachusetts and Connecticut. Even though those last two are competitive, they seem to be headed into the Democratic column.

While Indiana and Missouri are close, they also appear to be tipping Democratic at this point, which leaves us at 49-43-1 for the Democrats, with seven true toss-ups: Virginia, Wisconsin, North Dakota, Nebraska, Montana, Arizona and Nevada.

Ultimately, it’s guesswork on these seven seats, but now that Wisconsin appears to be tipping back to Barack Obama, I’m going to figure on Wisconsin’s Senate seat going to Democrat Tammy Baldwin. I’m also going to give a slight edge to Kaine in Virginia, and a narrow edge to Rehberg in Montana, though those are both tough calls. In the end, I figure on the Democrats and GOP each taking one of those last two seats.

Democrat Heidi Heitkamp has run a great race in North Dakota, but in the end, I expect she comes up a bit short against Republican Rick Berg, so now I’m at 51-45-1.

In Arizona, Democrat Richard Carmona has consistently held a slight lead over Republican Jeff Flake, and in neighboring Nevada, Democrat Shelley Berkley has consistently trailed GOP Senator Dean Heller by a small margin. I figure on the Republicans and Democrats splitting those two seats as well, though the script could flip. A strong showing by Obama in Nevada could lift Berkley, and negative advertising against Carmona might ultimately sink him. And in Nebraska, former Democratic Senator Bob Kerrey, who was thought to have no chance just a few weeks ago, has been rapidly closing in on Republican Deb Fischer. Kerrey clearly has the momentum and I’m going to call for him to pull out the upset, for a final prediction of: 53 Democrats, 46 Republicans, 1 Independent.

In the House, I have carefully examined the map, and I’ve come to the conclusion there are really only about two dozen seats that are seriously in play. I won’t get into the rundown here, as this post is already long enough, but my call here is a small pickup for Democrats, but not nearly enough to reclaim the Speaker’s gavel. The race starts with a 242-193 advantage for the GOP. I’ve been going back and forth between a final figure of 236-199 and 235-200, but there are a couple unexpected Republican seats that seem like they might go. I’m going to split the difference and call it at 235 Republicans, 200 Democrats.

And that means at least two more years of divided government for whomever is president in 2013. Speaking of which, I’ll have a detailed prediction on the presidential race on Monday.

Two Weeks Out: Six States

With two weeks to go, it looks like the presidential race is effectively down to six states. While we will continue to hear about Florida, North Carolina and Nevada, my analysis is that President Barack Obama would need everything to go perfectly to win Florida or North Carolina, and Mitt Romney would need everything to go perfectly to win Nevada. Of the three, the state that is in the most doubt is Florida, but make no mistake, Florida will be a heavy lift for the president, and I expect he will only win it if there is a decisive break in his direction between now and November 6th.

If we look at the states that are clearly decided, it is almost an absolute certainty that Obama comes away with at least 200 electoral votes, and that Romney wins at least 180. Barring a decisive turn in Romney’s direction, there is almost no plausible scenario under which Romney wins Pennsylvania, Michigan, Nevada, or Maine’s 2nd Congressional District, which puts the president at 243. Barring an absolute collapse by Romney, it is extremely unlikely he wins fewer than 235 electoral votes.

So let’s look at what’s left, in order of likeliest wins for Obama to likeliest wins for Romney:

Ohio (18 electoral votes)
Wisconsin (10)
New Hampshire (4)
Iowa (6)
Colorado (9)
Virginia (13)

For President Obama, two states stand out in importance over all others: Ohio and Wisconsin. By all accounts, he continues to maintain small leads in both states. If he wins both of these states, and holds what he is expected to hold, he will take at least 271 electoral votes and win reelection.

It also appears clear that Ohio and Wisconsin are the two likeliest states of these six to stick with the president. In short, if Romney wins either Ohio or Wisconsin, he is likely taking Virginia, Colorado, Iowa and New Hampshire as well. Iowa and New Hampshire are probably complete toss-ups at this point, with the trends indicating Colorado and Virginia may be headed toward Romney.

The bottom line: if Romney wins either Ohio or Wisconsin, he will be the next president of the United States. Conversely, if Obama hangs on to either Virginia or Colorado, he will win reelection. Iowa and New Hampshire, right in the middle, will probably end up with the winner, but neither state is likely to be decisive.

The Second Debate: What It Means

The key question from the second presidential debate is not whether President Obama won. He clearly did, by every measurement. The question is whether it will matter to the trajectory of the race the way the first one did. History indicates that it probably will not; in past elections, far more people have watched the first debate, and had their opinions shaped by it, than any subsequent debates.

Although the president did extremely well last night, probably the best his supporters can hope for is that it freezes the race and stops his precipitous polling slide of the last two weeks. If he accomplished that much, then he is still close enough that he can possibly squeak it out at the end with a really strong closing sprint.

But liberals should not be deluded that last night’s strong performance by the president will undo the horrendous damage he suffered in the first debate. At this point, it is clear that it will be a dogfight for him to win this thing. What, if any, effect his performance last night will have in the polling will probably be clear in a week’s time.

Why I Voted For President Obama

Last week, I cast my absentee ballot for President Barack Obama.

I have Republican friends, and I have Democratic friends. I have friends who don’t like either party, and I have friends who think politics is a waste of time. I’m sure I have some friends who are still conflicted about their choice in this year’s election.

I know some of my friends disagree with my politics, and they will disagree with what I have to say here. But I hope those of you who know me believe that I am a thoughtful person, and that I don’t make important choices without giving them a lot of consideration. And I hope that I can convince you to join me in voting to give Barack Obama a second term as our president.

I am going to take a few minutes here to tell you some of the most important reasons why I believe President Obama has earned a second term.

1) We are better off than we were four years ago. In the year before President Obama took office, 5 million U.S. workers lost their jobs, and in just the last month of the Bush administration, 839,000 Americans became unemployed. After President Obama and the Democratic Congress took over in January 2009 and implemented their stimulus program, the job losses began to dramatically reverse, and by April 2010, the economy began adding jobs, as it has done every month for the last two-and-a-half years. Since that time, the economy has added about 5 million jobs. Don’t take my word for it; if you want to see the statistics for yourself, go to the nonpartisan Bureau of Labor Statistics report at www.bls.gov/web/empsit/ceshighlights.pdf. When President Obama ran for office in 2008, he promised he would take action to get Americans working again. President Obama is fulfilling that promise.

2) We are safer today than we were four years ago. President Obama saw that the large, costly invasions of other countries that took place before he came into office were not working. He shifted to a policy of targeted, special-forces strikes that ultimately culminated in the killing of dozens of leading Al Qaeda operatives, including Osama bin Laden. (Again, do not take my word for it; a fuller accounting can be found at http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/politics/2011/09/the-terrorist-notches-on-obamas-belt/). When President Obama first ran in 2008, he promised that if he had reliable intelligence that bin Laden was hiding in Pakistan, he would send in a strike force to take him out. President Obama fulfilled that promise. 

3) More Americans now have access to health insurance than at any time in our history. Although polling clearly demonstrated that the health care bill now known as Obamacare would cost the president and his party politically, they pushed it through. Two key benefits: nobody can be denied health care coverage anymore due to preexisting conditions, and the adult children of policyholders can stay on those policies until they are 26. (Want more information? Go to http://visual.ly/two-years-under-obamacare-look-whats-changed.) When he ran in 2008, President Obama promised to provide more access to health care coverage. President Obama has fulfilled that promise.

4) President Obama and the Democrats in Congress saved the U.S. auto industry (and 1.5 million jobs). According to the a Center for Automotive Research report quoted in the New York Times (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/26/opinion/sunday/a-million-jobs.html), the bailout—half of which General Motors and Chrysler have already repaid to taxpayers, according to politifact.com—directly contributed to the employment of a million-and-a-half Americans. President Obama promised not to let this industry die. President Obama has fulfilled that promise.

5) President Obama and the Democrats in Congress cut taxes for the middle class. We hear over and over again how the president and the Democrats have raised taxes. It just isn’t true. President Obama and the Democrats cut taxes for working Americans. (See the rundown at http://www.republicansforobama.org/firstterm.) The president and Congressional Democrats do propose to raise taxes on individuals who make more than $250,000 in order to help balance the budget and bring down the deficit. That’s a fact. But anybody who tells you the Democrats have raised taxes under President Obama is lying to you.

Is everything perfect or back to normal? No it isn’t. But it took eight years of extremely unwise economic and foreign policies to get us into the mess that President Obama inherited. How can we possibly expect him to fully repair eight years of damage in only four years?

The president has made a good start. We need to give him time to finish the job. That’s why I have already cast my vote for President Obama, and I ask you to join me in doing the same.