For the first time in my eight years of picking election results, I am going to formally publish my projections for the nation’s gubernatorial races and for the control of the state legislatures.
As I have examined all the information over the last few weeks from various sources, including polls, media reports and historical trends, it has become clear that this will likely be a fairly typical sixth-year midterm election. Although the presidency of the United States is a federal office, the condition of the president’s political standing tends to carry over up and down the ballot, impacting races at the state and local levels as well.
Typically, in the sixth year of a two-term presidency, the president’s party suffers at the polls. Couple this historical fact with the fact that Democratic constituencies see huge drop-offs in turnout during non-presidential elections, and it becomes clear that the Republicans are going to do well this year, even though they are not especially popular.
Ironically, I do expect the Democrats to make a net pickup of governorships this year, in part because of extremely unpopular Republican incumbents. Polling data show fairly clearly that Democrat Tom Wolf will easily defeat Republican Gov. Tom Corbett in Pennsylvania.
In three other states, it is less clear-cut, but I do expect former Republican governor and current Democratic candidate Charlie Crist to narrowly edge Republican Gov. Rick Scott in Florida. This will be an extremely close race, but Crist does appear to have a very slight polling edge, and reports indicate that early voting is slightly better in Florida for Democrats than it was in 2010, when Scott won by about 1 percent against a candidate without Crist’s strengths (or, for that matter, his weaknesses).
I also am convinced, from the polling numbers, that Democrat Paul Davis will oust Republican Gov. Sam Brownback in Kansas, and that Democrat Mike Michaud will narrowly unseat Republican Gov. Paul LePage in Maine. The latter race, in which LePage is extremely unpopular, is much closer than it should be due to the presence of a strong third-party candidate, Eliot Cutler, who appears to be taking a lot of votes away from Michaud. However, Cutler seems to be fading a bit at the end and has acknowledged as much, telling supporters that if they don’t think he can win, to vote for someone else. That “someone else” appears much likelier to be Michaud than the unpopular LePage.
On the flip side, it is clear that the Democrats are going to lose some governorships they currently hold. In Arkansas, where incumbent Gov. Mike Beebe (D) is term-limited, Republican Asa Hutchinson has a clear polling lead over Democrat Mike Ross. And most disappointing of all for Democrats, it is now clear that Republican Charlie Baker is favored to defeat Democrat Martha Coakley in Massachusetts. (This will be Coakley’s second epic fail in the Bay State, where she lost a special Senate election to Republican Scott Brown when her polling numbers collapsed in the final two weeks. The Coakley Fade is once again in full force, and she even released an internal poll last week showing her behind.)
There are a number of other close races as well, but right now, I expect Democratic incumbents Dan Malloy in Connecticut and Pat Quinn in Illinois to hold on narrowly. I am more confident in Quinn than I am in Malloy; Quinn was thought to be politically dead four years ago, in a much worse environment for Democrats, but he won by such huge margins in Chicago and Cook County (where about 40 percent of the state’s votes are cast) that he squeaked by. I expect the same this time. It looks tougher for Malloy, but he does have a narrow lead, so he’s my pick.
In Colorado, incumbent Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper trails Republican Bob Beauprez by less than a point. Due to the difficulties pollsters have had in getting Colorado right over the last few cycles, I presume that Hickenlooper will win by 2-3 points.
Conversely, I expect Republican incumbents Rick Snyder and Scott Walker to hold on narrowly in Michigan and Wisconsin, respectively. Both governors have been very controversial and have trailed in various polls throughout the fall, but they both seem to be consolidating their support right now and eking out narrow leads.
Finally, I now expect Republican Gov. Sean Parnell to hang on narrowly in Alaska. Parnell appeared to be in serious jeopardy after the Democratic candidate dropped out to become the lieutenant governor candidate with independent Bill Walker. The independent/Democratic coalition has held polling leads over Parnell for most of the fall, but it has narrowed considerably. In recent elections, Republicans have significantly outperformed their polling numbers in Alaska, so I am now switching this race from “Leans Independent” to “Leans Republican.”
If everything goes as I expect, the Democrats will make a net gain of two governorships, reducing the Republican lead to 27-23.
While the Democrats may well have good news on the gubernatorial front Tuesday night, their position in the states is actually likely to emerge from this election in less favorable condition than it is today. At the moment, Republicans control the governorship and both legislative chambers in 25 states. Democrats have full control in only 12 states, and there is mixed control in the remaining 13 states.
Given the effects of the sixth-year midterm and Democratic underperformance in non-presidential years generally, I expect the Republicans to flip a number of Democratic-controlled legislative chambers, such that when the smoke clears, the Democrats will have full control of only nine states. I also expect full Republican control to be reduced slightly, to 24 states, with 17 states having mixed control.
Here is a rundown of where you can expect changes in the legislatures.
Democrats control Assembly, 55-25
Democrats control Senate, 25-12 (3 vacancies)
While Democrats are certain to maintain their majorities in both the Assembly and Senate, it seems all but certain that Republicans will gain enough seats to deprive the Democrats of a 2/3 supermajority in at least one, if not both, chambers. The absence of a compelling governor’s race, in which Democratic incumbent Jerry Brown is poised to win big, has created a lack of interest, and turnout is expected to be low, thereby hurting Democrats in close districts.
Democrats control House, 37-28
Democrats control Senate, 18-17
Early voting in Colorado has favored Republicans by significant margins, so it appears clear that Republicans will net at least the one seat they need to take over the Senate. The House may go as well; Republicans need to net at least five seats.
Republicans control House, 75-45
Republicans control Senate, 26-14
The only question here is whether Republicans will attain 2/3 supermajorities in each chamber, which will be crucial if Democrat Charlie Crist wins the governorship. The GOP needs five House seats and one Senate seat to attain supermajorities, and reports from Florida indicate that they are going to be right in the ballpark. I am going to venture an educated guess that they do achieve supermajorities in both chambers, as it is entirely plausible that voters in key districts may split their tickets to check a potential Democratic governor that neither party completely trusts.
Democrats control House, 71-47
Democrats control Senate, 40-19
Expect Republicans to pick off enough seats in at least the House to deprive the Democrats of their 60 percent supermajority in that chamber. This will be crucial to the Republicans if their gubernatorial candidate, Bruce Rauner, manages to oust incumbent Democrat Pat Quinn. If Quinn hangs on, then the Democratic-controlled legislature will not have to worry about bickering with a Republican governor and can go back to its usual business of bickering with a Democratic governor.
Republicans control House, 53-47
Democrats control Senate, 26-24
The early voting numbers in Iowa look unusually poor for Democrats, so my bet is that Republicans are going to take control of the Senate this year, thereby gaining full political control of the state.
Democrats control House, 54-46
Republicans control Senate, 23-14-1
While Democratic Senate candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes is not going to beat incumbent Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell, she may perform well enough to help save the state House of Representatives for the Democrats. Regardless of what happens in the House, Kentucky currently has a Democratic governor who is not up for election this year, so political control of the state will remain mixed.
Democrats control House, 89-58-4
Democrats control Senate, 19-15-1
While Maine has been known to swing wildly—Republicans controlled both legislative chambers two years ago, and Democrats controlled both two years before that—the educated guess here is that the unpopularity of Republican Gov. Paul LePage prevents the GOP from getting majorities in the legislature.
Democrats control House, 73-61
Democrats control Senate, 39-28
Minnesota swings more wildly than almost any other state, so Republican gains can be expected, and big gains should not be a surprise. A six-seat gain would give them control of the Senate, and a seven-seat gain would flip the House. Democrats made big gains in 2012 to retake both chambers after Republicans made big gains in 2010 to take control. The popularity of Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton and Sen. Al Franken should blunt the expected Republican gains, but I am going to bet that they pick off at least one chamber of the legislature.
Democrats control Assembly, 27-15
Democrats control Senate, 11-10
Democrats are scrambling after the conclusion of early voting has proven to be an absolute catastrophe for them. Republicans won early voting everywhere, even in solidly Democratic Clark County, where the majority of the state’s residents live. It is beyond any doubt that the Republicans will take the Senate. The Assembly, where Republicans need to net seven seats, is a much harder lift, but between the Democrats’ early voting fail, and the popularity of GOP Gov. Brian Sandoval, who is cruising to reelection, I am going to roll the dice (appropriately enough) and wager that the Republicans take full control of the state.
Democrats control House, 218-179 (3 vacancies)
Republicans control Senate, 13-11
New Hampshire is another state that swings wildly from election to election, and I think it is highly probably that the Republicans reclaim the House and retain the Senate. Only the anticipated reelection of Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan will keep them from full control of the state.
Democrats control House, 37-33
Democrats control Senate, 25-17
Judging by the early voting failures for Democrats in Nevada and Colorado, and the ongoing rumors of Hispanic discontent with the Democrats over immigration issues (deportations and the president’s postponement of an expected executive order on the issue), it is looking like Hispanics may be sitting out the midterms in larger numbers than usual. If this is true, it is very possible that Republicans may take the New Mexico House, where they need to net three seats for control.
Democrats control Assembly, 99-40-1 (10 vacancies)
Coalition of Republicans and independent Democrats controls Senate, 34-27 (2 vacancies)
It boggles the mind that a state as Democratic as New York continues to have one chamber of its legislature controlled by the GOP, although Republican control after 2012 was only possible due to the defection of the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC), which contains four moderate Democrats, as well as Brooklyn Democrat Simcha Felder. Had all the Democrats stayed in the fold, the Democrats would have had control of the chamber, 33-30. This year, the IDC has promised to caucus with the Democrats in the next session, which would give them a bare 32-31 majority if they were to lose no seats. In a sixth-year midterm, that seems unlikely, and the bet here is that Republicans retain control of the Senate, but don’t ask me how; the Democrats should have a healthy edge here.
Democrats control House, 34-26
Democrats control Senate, 16-14
Given the dynamics of this election, I expect the GOP to pick up at least one Senate seat, giving them at least a tie, and also to make gains in the House.
Democrats control House, 55-43
Coalition of Republicans and renegade Democrats controls Senate, 26-23
Two Democrats bolted their ranks after the last election and entered into a coalition with the Republicans to give them control of the chamber, 25-24. That majority increased to 26-23 after Republicans won a special election. It is hard to see the Democrats making gains this year, so I expect the current situation will carry over into 2015.
Click here for a chart representing my expectations of state-by-state party control in 2015-16