Congressional Race Ratings (Aug. 31, 2016)

Tonight, I am publishing my initial forecast in what I consider to be the competitive U.S. House of Representatives and Senate races for 2016. Starting September 11, I will publish updated ratings every Sunday between now and the election.

There are few real surprises. At this time, I am forecasting a net Democratic gain of five seats in the Senate, which would flip the chamber to Democratic control, 51-49. I also forecast a Democratic gain of 13 seats in the House, which would recover the ground the party lost in 2014 and narrow the Republican advantage to 234-201.

Two ratings that stand out include the Senate race in Nevada and a House race in the 49th District of California. At this point in time, I am rating Catherine Cortez-Masto a slight favorite to hold outgoing Democratic leader Harry Reid‘s Senate seat in Nevada. Republican Joe Heck appears to have a slight polling lead, on average, but I continue to expect we will see high Latino turnout, and that the vaunted Reid political machine will pull out a close victory for the longtime Senator’s preferred successor.

I also am rating Democrat Douglas Applegate as a slight favorite to upset Congressman Darrell Issa in what has long been a Republican district in Southern California, centered in south Orange County, the epicenter of GOP politics in the state. Applegate has been polling very well in this race against the controversial Issa, and also performed well in the open primary pitting all candidates against each other in June. With higher turnout to be expected in November, the signs at this time point to an upset. Stay tuned.

For the full chart of competitive races and their ratings, click here.

Bernie Comes Through

I have been very critical of Bernie Sanders throughout this election season, but I’ll give it to him. He did everything I could have hoped for tonight. His full-throated endorsement of Hillary Clinton and his point-by-point recitation of how she will come through on issues dear to progressives were pitch perfect. Anybody on Team Sanders who doesn’t come around after this speech is simply unreachable.

Sanders was smart to acknowledge briefly his differences with Clinton; his supporters wouldn’t have bought it if he didn’t, and clearly, some didn’t buy it anyway, judging by some of the reactions from his supporters. But he spent far more time detailing the similarities. He did a very good job tonight. Now it will be up to him to follow through and keep making the case to the supporters he did so much to alienate from the party in the first place.

Fundamentals Still Favor Clinton, But Sanders Needs To Do His Part

After decades as a both a participant in, and observer of, the political process, I understand all too well the propensity of perpetually nervous Democrats to panic at every turn. Because I recognize this unfortunate tendency, I am going to try to offer a level-headed analysis.


Despite the recent flood of polling showing Donald Trump moving slightly ahead of Hillary Clinton (after a Republican convention that most of the smart-money people in the Beltway and its outer boroughs deemed a disaster), I still think the fundamentals of this election favor Clinton. Conventions tend to move polling numbers, and we should not put too much weight on what happened in the top of the inning without seeing what happens in the bottom of the inning.


I will note, however, that in my tweets following Trump’s speech I said he had nailed it and that he perfectly channeled, in his remarks, the audience he wanted to get: blue-collar whites. What we have seen in the polling numbers since Thursday demonstrates that my analysis was correct.


In reporting its latest polling numbers showing Trump ahead by 3% in a two-way matchup and 5% when including the Libertarian and Green candidates, CNN noted that Trump had lost ground with college-educated whites, but had boosted his margin among whites without degrees from 20% to 39%. The CNN poll gave him a 62%-23% edge among this demographic.


It is important to note that Mitt Romney received 62% of the white, blue-collar vote in 2012 but still lost the election, and this despite handily winning the votes of college-educated whites by a significant margin as well.


In short, at this point, Trump is winning the voters one would expect him to win. The key question is whether he has hit his ceiling. If he has, then he still doesn’t have the support he needs to win, and with his numbers among non-white voters likely to be abysmal, where he stands right now is not enough to get him over the top in November.


On the flip side, Clinton still has to close the sale with the voters who she has a realistic chance to persuade. She will have an opportunity to start making progress in that direction this week.


Tonight, Bernie Sanders will address the nation, and the onus will be on him to get his more level-headed supporters fully on board, while perhaps converting some of the die-hards. Among the holdouts still unreconciled to Clinton, Sanders needs to press the case that yes, he has certain disagreements with Clinton, but he and his supporters will get much more of what they want from her than from Trump.


For Sanders to paper over the differences or give a full-throated endorsement will not fly with these supporters, who would see such a speech as dishonest or a “sellout.” He needs to acknowledge the differences briefly, then focus like a laser beam on the similarities, and also on the victories that he and his supporters have won in the party platform. This will give his supporters a reason to feel that they made a difference and that it wasn’t all in vain.


One key thing to keep in mind going forward is that Clinton cannot win this election by simply making it about Trump’s many deficiencies. The people who support him do so even though many of them find him obnoxious and unpresidential. She is going to have to find a way to boost her own electability. Her biggest problem right now is that, as CNN’s article noted today, more than two-thirds of those surveyed find her dishonest and untrustworthy. To close the deal and nail down an election that the demographic fundamentals suggest she should win, she’s going to have to change that narrative.


It’s actually a very unfair narrative, and one that has taken root over a quarter century of bad blood between her and the nation’s political media. The long, bitter primary campaign, in which Sanders and his surrogates irresponsibly and divisively stoked intense anger on the far left against Clinton (and the Democratic Party in general), exacerbated that problem and made this election much more difficult than it needed to be. Sanders needs to start making up for that tonight, and he has an opportunity to do so. Let’s see what he does with it.

Twittered Out

It would be no exaggeration to say that I owe my position as a columnist with the New York Observer to Twitter. I happened to get into a Tweet-out with an Observer columnist about a year ago, and the editor noticed, took a look at my blog, and offered me the opportunity to write for him—an offer it took me roughly four-tenths of a second to accept.

By that time, I had been an avid Tweeter for some time and was beginning to grow a small following of people who liked my political analysis. I had a strict policy: nothing but political analysis. I soon found other serious political analysts liking and re-Tweeting my tweets, not to mention hundreds of regular Joes and Josephines with an interest in the topic.

Somewhere along the way, I went from learning how to master the medium to being mastered by it. I’m not sure exactly when that happened, but I soon found myself typing anything that I thought was going to get eyeballs, the more outrageous the better. And it worked. I kept getting new followers. It was still a modest following, but one that went up by about 30% in a year’s time.

It became addictive. It was like a sugar rush to throw out the snappy comeback and to get the cascade of likes and retweets. It meant I was finally being noticed; that I had something to say that people wanted to read. It was a giant ego boost to have all these people cheering me on whenever I landed a punch.

I found that I, introvert of introverts, had all kinds of new friends I’d never met. And suddenly, I was sucked in. I found myself compulsively checking my phone to see the latest Tweets. It began to be where I got most of my news and, increasingly, a disturbingly large share of my social interactions—a substitute for the real social interactions I increasingly failed to seek out in a new city.

Somewhere along the line, the line got crossed. It became personal. And I found myself getting into increasingly nasty arguments with trolls. Or was I the troll? I guess that would depend on one’s point of view, wouldn’t it?

The more invested I got in it, the less fun it became and the more it seemed like an unhealthy escape from real life. I began to treat occurrences on Twitter as if they really mattered to me personally. I actually stressed over whether somebody I’d never met, and never would meet, managed to get the better of me in an argument. I guess you could say the people on Twitter did matter and they do matter, because the people I interact with are indeed real people with real lives, but it’s dangerous to forget that you’ve got to live your life where you are. You can’t live it in the Twitterverse, even if it seems like a more interesting world than the one you actually inhabit physically. I began to forget that. Hell, I forgot it entirely.

So here’s the dilemma. How do I pull myself back from this overindulgence in Twitter without cutting off the opportunity to interact, to influence, and most importantly, to market myself as a political analyst and columnist with valuable things to say? How do I keep attracting an audience without overdoing the personal touch?

I guess that’s the trick, isn’t it? Maybe one day I’ll discover the answer.

Don’t Take Ryan’s Pledge At Face Value

Much has been made of House Speaker Paul Ryan’s pledge that he will not accept the Republican presidential nomination if an open convention chooses him this July. We are expected to believe that this mere statement has definitively settled the issue and that there are no circumstances under which the Wisconsin Republican will be the party’s nominee.

Hogwash. Ryan’s statement settled nothing. In fact, his recent behavior — making a highly publicized speech and cutting a web video in which he went out of his way to be statesmanlike — indicates the opposite. These moves give every appearance of Ryan making himself available as an alternative. Even his protestations of disinterest are part of the silly dance expected of candidates.

History shows us that declarative statements are not binding. In 1944, President Franklin D. Roosevelt released an open letter in which he said that if he were a delegate to that year’s Democratic convention, he would vote to renominate his vice president, the ultra-liberal Henry Wallace. Meanwhile, behind the scenes, Roosevelt was actively working with Wallace’s detractors to ensure the nod would go to Senator Harry Truman, who succeeded Roosevelt as president when FDR died months later.

Politicians lie about their intentions all the time, so why should we automatically believe Ryan?

Oh, but we are told that this pledge is so ironclad that if he broke it, he’d be finished in politics.

Nonsense. There are all kinds of ways to wiggle out of a pledge. Imagine we’re going on the third or fourth ballot at a chaotic GOP convention, and Ryan says this:

“As I have repeatedly said, I did not want the nomination. But many leaders in our party who I respect greatly have told me that I am the only person who can unite our party and lead us to victory in the fall. I cannot in good conscience refuse this call, and so it is with great personal reluctance that I have decided to accept my party’s nomination for president of the United States.”

There. It almost sounds noble, doesn’t it?

Never take any politician at face value if he or she disclaims any interest whatsoever in being president. If the nomination is gift-wrapped and handed to Ryan on a platter, he’ll take it, just the same way he took the speakership he said he had absolutely no interest whatsoever in taking. Don’t be naive. Ryan’s past pledge meant nothing, so why is this one guaranteed to be for real?

Cleaning Up Other People’s Messes

I live in an apartment complex in a town of about 75,000 people, right across the street from San Francisco Bay. It’s a nice place to live, and the scenery is astonishingly beautiful.

We have two shared laundry units in the complex, and this morning, when I went down to move some laundry from the washers to the dryers, I saw that somebody had left a mess of powdered laundry detergent all over the floor.

My initial reaction was to get upset with whoever had been so irresponsible as to leave such a mess for someone else to clean up. Aren’t we all taught, at some point in our lives, that if you make a mess, you should clean it up yourself?

Then I turned my thoughts to more practical considerations. It was only 9:30, and the complex office doesn’t open until 11, so it wasn’t going to get cleaned up anytime soon. And sometimes, when I am moving the laundry from the washers to the dryers, I inadvertently drop an occasional item on the floor. I realized that the only way this situation was going to get any better, for me or for anyone using the laundry room for the next couple hours, was if I went back to my apartment, grabbed a broom and dustpan, and cleaned the mess up myself.

Was it fair, or right, that I had to clean up somebody else’s mess so that I wouldn’t have to deal with it? No. It wasn’t fair, and it wasn’t right. But I realized I could either complain about somebody else shirking his or her responsibility, and still have the powder all over the floor, or I could clean it up myself. Those were the only options.

And then I thought about this situation as a metaphor for community and country, and I thought about all the homeless people I see on the streets of San Francisco five days a week when I commute to and from the city. No doubt many of these people are just unlucky, and no doubt many of them have issues they can’t cope with. And certainly, there must be some among them who are just too lazy to take care of themselves. No doubt, there are those among them who were shipped here from Nevada, where state budget decisions have led to a phenomenon called “Greyhound Therapy.” No, this doesn’t mean giving the mentally ill kindly service animals for their benefit. It refers to putting mental patients on a bus and shipping them off to San Francisco, where some might find help, but others inevitably end up on the streets. In the latter two cases, we have examples of people refusing to clean up their own messes.

And many of us see these people and see “lazy, irresponsible drunks/drug addicts,” and gripe about how they need to take responsibility for themselves. Maybe there are some who could or should. But in the meantime, while we complain, they continue to be in the streets, and this is bad for everybody—both for them and for the rest of us. While we bitch and moan about the “takers,” we also abdicate responsibility for our communities.

It doesn’t have to be that way. We can make a better society, if we are willing to get past what’s “fair” or “right” and just see a problem and take steps to solve it.

And it doesn’t have to be partisan either. The state of Utah, dominated by the Republican Party for generations, has all but ended chronic homelessness by essentially giving housing to the chronically homeless, no questions asked. By so doing, the state has saved itself many of the myriad costs associated with homelessness.

Sometimes, the only way to improve your own life, your relationships, your community, your society, your country, is to recognize that being part of a community—part of being alive and connected to other human beings—means that sometimes you’re going to have to clean up other people’s messes. To do otherwise is to cut off your nose to spite your face.

So let’s all pick up that broom and get to work.

Embarrassing GOP Debate Shames America

Tonight’s Republican debate was an embarrassing spectacle. It made me embarrassed, ashamed and humiliated for my country. I think it shames America before the world that so many Americans can support people who behave so childishly. Anyone who could vote for a candidate who engages in schoolyard taunts on a presidential debate stage — and here I’m talking specifically about Donald Trump and secondarily Marco Rubio — has no respect for the presidency or America’s image before the world community. If you can watch Trump allude to the size of his penis tonight and think he should be our nation’s face to the world, I really don’t even know what to say to that.

I don’t agree with Ted Cruz on anything and would hope he never becomes president. But he generally behaved like an adult tonight, for which I will give him grudging credit. It is sad that merely not acting like a child deserves special mention.

Regarding John Kasich, I don’t agree with him on very much either, but he’s the only candidate on that stage who wouldn’t cause me to seriously consider emigrating if he became president. He at least behaved with the dignity and respect I would consider minimal requirements to lead a nation.

As to who won and who lost, hell, who can say? I joked on Twitter tonight that nothing could sway Trump’s followers and that if he walked over and set Kasich on fire, they’d cheer. I might have been half-joking on that one. Nothing has hurt him so far. Tonight was certainly his lowest, worst and most disgusting performance, but I’m not convinced it’ll cost him any support.

Cruz didn’t do anything to hurt himself and probably remains the leading challenger to Trump.

I thought Kasich was the most presidential and he handled himself well, but he’s so far behind, I don’t know how much good it will do him. I expect he probably will at least win Ohio in 12 days, which might keep him alive, and right now, that’s the name of the game.

Rubio diminishes himself every day, and tonight was no exception. I don’t think he helped himself at all, and I expect he’ll continue to swoon. I doubt he takes Florida in 12 days.

I’m not sure there were any winners tonight, but I can say without any doubt whatsoever that America lost.

The Democrats’ Diversity Divide Is Saving Clinton, Sinking Sanders

If anything became crystal clear tonight, it’s the stark diversity divide between Bernie Sanders‘ supporters and Hillary Clinton‘s supporters. Her big wins in the South tonight demonstrated that her shellacking of Sanders among black voters in South Carolina on Saturday was no fluke.

The one constant throughout the Democratic primaries and caucuses so far has been that the fewer black voters a state or portion of a state has, the more Clinton struggles. She barely won Iowa, got clobbered in New Hampshire, and got clobbered tonight in MinnesotaColoradoOklahoma and Vermont, but absolutely destroyed Sanders in TexasGeorgiaVirginiaAlabamaSouth CarolinaTennessee and Arkansas. And while Massachusetts is pretty white, it’s more diverse than Iowa or New Hampshire; the small percentage of Massachusetts voters who are black very well could have been the difference for her in that state tonight. Clinton won the cities; Sanders won the lily-white rural areas.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Any candidate who cannot win a significant number of votes in diverse communities cannot win the Democratic nomination. There is no way to put together a coalition in the Democratic Party that doesn’t include voters of color. If Sanders can’t start making serious inroads into communities of color very soon, he has no chance of reversing his fortunes.

Super Tuesday: No Changes In Either Race; GOP Establishment Takes It On The Chin

The Republican establishment took it on the chin once again tonight, as the big winners were Donald Trump and Ted CruzMarco Rubio finally got his first victory in Minnesota, but he desperately needed a win in Virginia and couldn’t get it. John Kasich might eke out a win in Vermont (still not called as of 11:25 Eastern), but with only 16 delegates, it won’t count for much.
Trump remains in very solid shape to win the GOP nomination, and Cruz has reestablished himself as Trump’s chief competition. Rubio comes out of tonight looking weaker than ever. Both Rubio and Kasich will come out of Super Tuesday with, at most, one win apiece. That’s enough to keep them alive for their own home state primaries in Florida and Ohio, respectively, two weeks from tonight, but they’re going to have to start winning in some other places to be viable contenders.
One potential YUUUUGE weakness for Trump that emerged tonight: look at his numbers in Minnesota, where he is running a distant third. He also lost Iowa. The results thus far during the primary season indicate that Trump is not particularly strong in the Midwest. This might not cost him the nomination, but it certainly could lose him the general election in November; of all the nation’s different regions, the Midwest is the “swing” region that determines elections.
But that’s down the road. Right now, there’s no reason at all to think that Trump is not still the favorite on the Republican side.
On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton did herself a huge favor by winning Massachusetts. If Bernie Sanders had won Massachusetts, he would have gotten out of tonight winning all five of his target states and fighting Clinton to a near draw in the number of states won. Even considering the fact that she’ll come out of tonight with a huge delegate lead (by virtue of her crushing victories in the South), if Sanders had won five of 11 states, it would have been a big hit to Clinton in terms of perception. Winning a key state right in Sanders’s backyard was a big win for Clinton.
In short, nothing changed tonight. Trump and Clinton are still well ahead in their respective races, and there is going to have to be a major change in the trajectory of either race to change that fact.