Election Analysis

President Obama Should Nominate Elizabeth Warren

We know, of course, that the Republican majority in the United States Senate is not going to approve any candidate President Obama nominates to the Supreme Court. With the death of Antonin Scalia, the conservatives have lost their 5-4 majority on the court and whoever is chosen to replace him will tip the balance. The Republicans would far rather take their chances on the coming election and wait it out in the hopes that they’ll be able to appoint another conservative in January 2017.

Of course, Twitter is abuzz today with all of the potential “blue state” Republicans and halfway reasonable GOP Senators who might be persuaded to join Democrats in approving a nominee, but this is a fantasy. These theories all leave out the facts that there will never be enough aisle-crossers to break a filibuster (which would require any nominee to get 14 Republican votes, not four), or that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) does not even have to call a vote.

So clearly this isn’t going to happen. The next president and the next Senate will select Scalia’s replacement, period.

With this understanding, President Obama and the Democrats should be thinking about how to gain the maximum political benefit from Republican intransigence. And the way to do that is to nominate Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) to fill the vacancy.

There is no question of Warren’s qualifications. The former Harvard Law professor has impeccable credentials, so Republicans could not claim she is unqualified. It would therefore become clear, if it wasn’t already, that they were blocking her for strictly political reasons, and this would diminish their standing with the few true swing voters.

But there are greater political benefits to be had. First, a Warren nomination would provide a jolt of energy to progressives who adore her, which could be crucial in terms of base turnout in the upcoming election. Secondly, nominating a fourth woman to the court would reiterate that Democrats are the party of equality.

Both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders could take this ball and run with it, hammering the Republicans for blocking an eminently qualified (progressive, female) nominee. Meanwhile, the president can also exploit this situation to hammer the Republicans every day.

There is no need to worry about who would replace Warren in the Senate because, as noted above, there is no chance in hell the Republicans will approve her (or anybody) between now and the next presidential inauguration. So if the Republicans want to play hardball, the Democrats have a great way to win the war by losing the battle.

Supreme Court Becomes Top Issue In Election

The death of Justice Antonin Scalia has added a major new dimension to the 2016 elections, as what was previously theoretical is now an undisputed fact: the next president of the United States, and the Senate sworn in the first week of January 2017, will determine whether the Supreme Court will have a liberal or conservative majority. Scalia’s death leaves the court with four liberals and four conservatives, so the next justice will become the swing vote.

Of course, it must be immediately understood that the current Republican-controlled Senate will not approve any appointee that President Barack Obama nominates. With Republicans holding a 54-46 majority, the president would have to get four Republican Senators to support his nominee, with Vice President Joe Biden breaking the tie. While there may be a slight possibility of getting four Republicans, there is no chance whatsoever that the president would get the 14 Republican Senators he would need to break a filibuster. It probably won’t even come to that. It is doubtful that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) would even allow a nomination to come to the floor.

It is not difficult to predict how this issue will play out over the course of the election. Senators Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Marco Rubio (R-Florida) will angle for votes by promising to filibuster any candidate the president nominates for the remainder of his term. They will also use this opening to undermine Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump by telling conservatives that they can’t trust Trump to appoint a “true conservative” to fill Scalia’s vacated seat. All the other Republican candidates will also promise to appoint a “strict, constitutional conservative,” but Cruz and Rubio, the only Senators in the field, will have the advantage here, and they’ll milk it for all it’s worth.

The Democratic presidential contenders will both stress to their bases the opportunity inherent in this situation to change the composition of the court away from its longtime conservative majority. Hillary Clinton will hammer home to the Democratic base the idea that she is more electable than Bernie Sanders and that it is crucial to nominate the candidate with the best chance to win the election, in order to ensure a liberal majority on the court. Sanders will cast this as an opportunity to bring about revolutionary change and may well float the idea of appointing Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) to the court.

President Obama will likely hammer the Republican Senate at every opportunity between now and the election for refusing to act on his nominee or nominees and leaving a Supreme Court seat vacant for a year or more for political reasons. All candidates of both parties will stress the need for their party to control the Senate in 2017. With Senate control up for grabs this year, this will be a key point of emphasis.

This election just got ratcheted up to Defcon 1.

Winners and Losers (New Hampshire Primary Edition)

WINNERS
Let’s start with the obvious. Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders are the big winners tonight. They both won by crushing margins.

Trump is a really YUUUUUUGE winner tonight, because the upcoming primary calendar puts him in a very strong position. I have to think he’s going to do very well in South Carolina and the South in general, and that’s where the bulk of the contests between now and March 1st are going to be. By three weeks from now, he could have a substantial lead on the Republican side.

Sanders does not appear to be set up nearly as well as Trump in the coming weeks, but the magnitude of his victory and his strong victory speech tonight are bound to get him a look from some people who hadn’t considered him before. I’ll be very interested in seeing how he does in Nevada on Feb. 20. But he has got a big job ahead of him to cut into his deficits with nonwhite voters, and if he can’t do that, he won’t be the nominee. Sanders is on the clock. He’s got a couple weeks to change that dynamic.

John Kasich won by placing second tonight, but he doesn’t have the personality, the charisma or the money to take charge of the GOP’s “establishment lane”. I doubt he’ll win very many more contests. Kasich placing second was the absolute worst thing that could have happened to the GOP establishment (for reasons to be explained below). His rambling, touchy-feely speech tonight demonstrates that he is out of touch with the mad-as-hell GOP base. He’d better enjoy tonight, because there won’t be many more celebrations.

Ted Cruz, who’s in a dogfight for third place with Jeb Bush, did just well enough not to be hurt, and he benefits by the fact that the “establishment lane” no longer has a frontrunner.

MEH
Bush passed Marco Rubio tonight, which he’ll call a victory, but he’s still going nowhere. Then again, with Rubio in free fall (at least for now) and Christie done for (see below), he might still have a chance at coalescing the establishment lane. But he’s got a lot to overcome.

LOSERS
Everybody else, but in particular Rubio and the Republican establishment, who tie for biggest loser of the night. Rubio, riding a wave of momentum after a strong finish in Iowa, was poised to take over the “establishment lane” in the GOP contest. There was a feeling that the establishment wing of the party was likely to pull the plug on Kasich, Bush and Christie and coalesce behind Rubio.

Then the debate last Saturday happened, and Rubio absolutely embarrassed himself. It looks like he may finish fifth in New Hampshire. Suddenly, the establishment lane is wide open again, which helps Trump and maybe Cruz. The longer there is no united front behind one candidate on the establishment side, the more victories Trump and Cruz will win. The utter failure of Rubio in last weekend’s debate creates an establishment vacuum that Kasich is not big enough to fill.

The next biggest loser is Chris Christie. He took down Rubio but didn’t help himself. He’s headed for sixth place in a state that really should have been exactly the kind of place he should have won. He managed to place in the bottom half of the field, with less than 10 percent of the vote, even after being endorsed by the most powerful conservative newspaper in New England. Even if he stays in the race, he’s dead.

Carly Fiorina, Ben Carson and Jim Gilmore aren’t even relevant enough to be among the biggest losers. What they’re hanging around for is beyond me.

And Hillary Clinton is in the loser category as well. By getting blown out tonight, she guarantees herself at least a week and a half of bad headlines and endless questions about “What’s Wrong With Hillary’s Campaign?” But of all tonight’s losers, she’s the one in the best position. She still has a friendly calendar and a massive superdelegate lead, and she is still the frontrunner, despite all the prophecies of doom we are going to hear over the next couple of weeks.

Democrats Unlikely To Recapture Senate in 2016

Mr. Kyle Kondik at the University of Virginia Center for Politics put out a great preview today of the 2016 U.S. Senate picture. His conclusions are almost identical to the conclusions at which I have arrived in recent weeks, and because he beat me to the punch on publishing it, I am afraid that my own analysis is going to look quite unoriginal. I highly recommend Kondik’s analysis, which is first-rate.

As to my own analysis, I am generally in agreement with Mr. Kondik. Despite the fact that Republicans are defending 24 Senate seats in 2016, compared to only 10 for the Democrats, very few of those seats actually appear as if they are likely to be competitive at this point. In fact, at this moment, I only see eight of those 34 races as likely to be competitive, with six of those eight seats currently held by Republicans, and two by Democrats.

On the Republican side, seats that appear they could be competitive at this moment are as follows, in order from most to least competitive:

Wisconsin—Sen. Ron Johnson
Illinois—Sen. Mark Kirk
Pennsylvania—Sen. Pat Toomey
Florida—Sen. Marco Rubio
New Hampshire—Sen. Kelly Ayotte
North Carolina—Sen. Richard Burr

With the exception of Illinois, which is safely Democratic in presidential politics, the remaining five states on the aforementioned list are likely to be closely contested in the 2016 presidential race, which should also give a boost to the competitiveness of Senate races in those states. That said, only about half of those races are pure toss-ups, as Mr. Kondik noted in his article this morning: Wisconsin, Illinois and Pennsylvania.

Once again in concert with Kondik, I consider Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin the most vulnerable Republican Senator seeking reelection in 2016. Unlike Kirk in Illinois and Toomey in Pennsylvania, Johnson has done very little to appease the moderate center. Kirk is an old-school Illinois moderate, which is the only kind of Republican who can win in that state, and he hails from the “collar counties,” the ring of heavily populated suburban counties around Chicago that can still go Republican if the GOP nominates a moderate. Kirk consistently won a Democratic-leaning U.S. House district along the North Shore for years, so he knows how to do this and will be difficult to beat, even in a presidential year. Toomey helped himself considerably with moderates when he teamed up with Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) on the gun issue following one of the recent massacres; his approval ratings in Pennsylvania shot up.

Additionally, Florida could turn into a tossup if Rubio foregoes another Senate run in order to run for president, but as my guess is that Jeb Bush will seek the GOP presidential nomination, I doubt Rubio will run against his fellow Floridian. Former Republican Gov. Charlie Crist, now a Democrat, could make this an interesting race if he decides to run.

Ayotte is personally very popular in New Hampshire, but could face a tough race if equally popular Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan decides to challenge her. And Burr, while certainly the favorite right now in North Carolina, could possibly get a good race from outgoing Sen. Kay Hagan, who narrowly lost her seat this fall against a disastrous backdrop for Democrats. Hagan, by all accounts, ran a great campaign but just couldn’t overcome the midterm environment. Longtime Democratic Attorney General Roy Cooper is also a contender.

So any or all of those six races could be ripe, but Democrats would need to win at least five of them to retake the Senate by the barest majority, and that, at this time, seems unlikely.

Complicating matters is the fact that two Democratic Senate seats could be vulnerable in 2016. Sen. Michael Bennet faces reelection in Colorado, and while he should be buoyed by presidential-year turnout—unlike his Democratic colleague, Sen. Mark Udall, who lost this year—if the GOP gets a good candidate, this seat is far from safe.

Also potentially in danger in 2016 is Democratic Leader Harry Reid in Nevada. Although he won in a terrible environment for Democrats in 2010, he was also facing an extremely weak Republican opponent, Sharron Angle. If current Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval decides to take a swing at Reid in 2016, this seat becomes a tossup at best for Democrats. Nonetheless, presidential year turnout could still save Reid, even if the highly popular Sandoval jumps in.

There are also some potential wild cards. A report today in the Daily Kos indicates that former Democratic governor Ted Strickland may be considering a run against Republican Sen. Rob Portman in 2016. Strickland, a popular governor who barely lost in the 2010 tidal wave, could turn this into a tossup. But if Strickland does not run, it is hard to see anybody else from Ohio’s gruel-thin Democratic bench giving Portman any heartburn. Also, Gov. Jay Nixon (D) could give Sen. Roy Blunt (R) a challenge in Missouri if he decides to run, but Nixon’s handling of the Ferguson mess might cost him crucial African-American support, without which he absolutely cannot win.

One final wild card comes from a very unexpected place: California. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D) appears to be headed for retirement, with a war chest of only about $200,000 right now.

While on first glance it appears that California would be a safe hold for the Democrats, the state’s “top-two” system advances the top two candidates from the primary, regardless of party. Because the state has a spectacularly deep Democratic bench, it is not entirely unimaginable that half a dozen or more Democrats may run, especially considering how rarely a Senate seat comes open in California. A lot of top-notch Democrats have been waiting a long time for this chance, so there could easily be a plethora of Democrats against only two or three Republicans in the “jungle primary.” In such a scenario, six or seven Democrats could so divide the Democratic vote that two Republicans could finish in the top two, even if they only combine for about 40 percent of the total vote, which would give the GOP the unlikeliest of pickups. Such an eventuality would be a catastrophe for the Democrats and would all but foreclose the possibility of retaking the Senate in 2016. See an excellent recent post by Jeff Singer in the Daily Kos for further details on this potential development and the dozen or so potential Democratic candidates who may consider a run.

Final Results: Election 2014 Predictions

With the results in Louisiana’s three Congressional runoffs going as expected today, the Republicans will have a 54-46 majority in the U.S. Senate in January, and a 247-188 majority in the U.S. House. As expected, Rep. Bill Cassidy (R) easily ousted Sen. Mary Landrieu (D), ending her 18-year tenure in the Senate, and Republicans also handily won runoffs in the heavily Republican 5th and 6th Congressional districts, with Garrett Graves (R) thwarting a comeback bid in the latter race by former governor—and ex-convict—Edwin Edwards (D).

My final predictions prior to the November elections had Republicans taking control of the Senate 53-47 and expanding their majority in the House to 245-190. I missed the final party composition by one seat in the Senate and two in the House, only slightly off of my 2012 performance, when I missed by one seat in each chamber. I was closer in my call on the House results—predicting a GOP pickup of 11 seats—than several leading professional prognosticators, who ranged between +6 and +9 for the GOP in their predictions.

With these results, my averages after five elections are as follows:

Average error in U.S. House predictions: 3.8 seats
Average error in U.S. Senate predictions: 1.4 seats

In the coming days, I will be issuing my first overview of the upcoming 2016 election. Stay tuned.

The Nadir of the Democratic Party

I will have many more observations in the coming days, but if you want a telling indication of how low the fortunes of the Democratic Party have sunk after tonight’s elections, consider this: when all the results are in, the Democrats may have full control (governor, state House and state Senate) in as few as five states: California, Delaware, Hawaii, Rhode Island and Vermont.

Conversely, Republicans will have full control of at least 26 states and perhaps as many as 29.

That’s all I’ve got. I’m going to bed.

Final 2014 Projections: Republicans To Control House, Senate

For the final Race Ratings chart, click here.

It is now beyond any reasonable doubt that the Republican Party will win control of the United States Senate for the next two years. They will do so by taking seven Democratic-held seats outright in Tuesday’s elections, and by winning two runoffs in Louisiana and Georgia in December and January, respectively.

I have now decided to change my representation of the race in Colorado to “Leans Republican” because I expect current U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner (R) to narrowly defeat incumbent Democratic Sen. Mark Udall. While Democrats have outperformed their polling in Colorado over the last two cycles by 3.9% in each case, Gardner’s average polling lead is now at 3.8%, which means he is very close to having a clear lead. There are a couple other factors, possibly related, that lead me to believe the polling will prove accurate, at least as to the result if not the margin:

1) Republicans have submitted significantly more early ballots in Colorado than Democrats have, and while polling shows that those voters who are yet to vote favor Udall, it is also true that a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. Not everybody who tells a pollster that s/he plans to vote actually does so.

2) There have been numerous reports that many Hispanic voters, dismayed by President Obama’s continued record level of deportations, and furious with his recent postponement of an executive order addressing the immigration issue until after the elections, feel betrayed by the Democrats and may not vote at all this year. Colorado is one of the states where Hispanic turnout is key to Democratic support. The significant Republican edge in early voting in both Colorado and nearby Nevada seems to indicate that there may well be Hispanic erosion this year, and if that is true, the usual discrepancies in Colorado between polling and the actual results are less likely to occur. It is generally conceded that the polling failures in Colorado over the last two cycles resulted from an undercounting of Hispanic voters.

With these two considerations taken into account, I can no longer stick with Udall to win and I am changing that projection.

It is also clear that Republican Tom Cotton will decisively defeat Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor in Arkansas, and yesterday’s highly respected Iowa Poll by Selzer and Co. gave a 7-point lead to Republican Joni Ernst in her open-seat race against Democrat Bruce Braley. It is beyond any reasonable doubt in my mind that these two seats will also flip to the Republicans.

It has been clear for months that Republicans Steve Daines and Shelley Moore Capito will win open Democratic seats in Montana and West Virginia, respectively. And after a brief scare, Republican Mike Rounds has once again pulled out to a double-digit lead to take the open Democratic seat in South Dakota.

These aforementioned five seats appear all but certain to flip to the Republicans on Tuesday night. Gardner’s anticipated victory in Colorado should move that number to six.

In Alaska, recent polling has shown incumbent Democratic Sen. Mark Begich recovering somewhat against Republican challenger Dan Sullivan, but recent polling in Alaska has severely underestimated the ultimate Republican performance. I expect Sullivan to unseat Begich, which now puts Republican net gains at seven seats, enough to win clear control of the chamber on Election Night.

The one potential trouble spot for Republicans is in Kansas, where incumbent Sen. Pat Roberts looks like he may well lose to independent challenger Greg Orman in a very close one. However, if the Republicans do, in fact, achieve a clear majority in the Senate, Orman can be expected to caucus with the Republicans. I am picking Orman to win, but I do not anticipate it will change the number of seats controlled by the GOP in 2015.

In Louisiana, Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu will not achieve the 50 percent she needs to avoid a December runoff, where all polling indicates she is going to be a clear underdog against her Republican challenger, Bill Cassidy. And in Georgia, despite a game effort, Democrat Michelle Nunn will not reach the needed 50 percent to avoid a January runoff against Republican David Perdue in a race for this open Republican seat. Perdue starts a runoff race as the favorite.

There now seems to be little hope that Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes will defeat unpopular incumbent Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell in Kentucky, thereby setting McConnell up as the next majority leader in the Senate.

There are two other close Senate races in which Democrats are endangered, but in which I expect them to prevail narrowly. Sen. Kay Hagan looks positioned to barely hold on against Republican challenger Thom Tillis in North Carolina, and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen is likely to win a close one against her Republican challenger, former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown, in New Hampshire.

BOTTOM LINE: U.S. SENATE
I project the final result will be a Republican majority of 52 seats in the Senate, compared to 46 Democrats (including independent Bernie Sanders) and 2 independents. As I said before, I expect Orman, if he wins in Kansas, to caucus with the majority party. Also keep an eye on independent Sen. Angus King of Maine, who currently caucuses with the majority Democrats, but may find it more advantageous to organize with the Republicans once they have taken control of the chamber.

In the U.S. House of Representatives, I now expect a number of late-breaking races to flip to the Republicans, and I am moving six races from “Leans Democratic” to “Leans Republican.” They include the following:

Arizona 2nd District
Due to what may be a dropoff in Hispanic voting, especially in the west, I now venture an educated guess that Republican Martha McSally, who lost narrowly to Democrat Ron Barber in 2012, will upend the incumbent here.

California 26th District
Democratic Rep. Julia Brownley has been in danger for some time, and in a district that is 43 percent Hispanic, if the Latino vote truly does not materialize, she is in trouble. I am now picking Republican challenger Jeff Gorell to win this seat.

California 52nd District
It looked like incumbent Democratic Rep. Scott Peters might just hang on here, but the polling still favors Republican challenger Carl DeMaio, who is now my pick to win this seat.

Illinois 10th District
I have gone back and forth on this one, but what I have seen in polling, and the history of the district, now causes me to reverse course and pick former Republican Rep. Bob Dold to unseat current Democratic Rep. Brad Schneider. This will be one of the closest races anywhere.

Iowa 1st District
Early voting has not given the Democrats the edge they need to win in Iowa, and this looks like the most vulnerable Democratic seat. Current Rep. Bruce Braley has run an abysmal race for the U.S. Senate, and his numbers look like they may be enough of a drag to defeat his anointed successor, Pat Murphy. I am now picking Republican Rod Blum to win this seat.

Nevada 4th District
I think this is going to be very close, and that’s something Democrats had not counted on. Incumbent Rep. Steven Horsford was on nobody’s radar until about two weeks ago. But nowhere in the country have the early voting numbers been more catastrophic for Democrats than in Nevada, and I am going to take a calculated gamble and pick Republican challenger Cresent Hardy to upset the incumbent.

BOTTOM LINE: U.S. HOUSE
With these ratings changes, I now expect Republicans to make a net gain of 11 seats in the House, even though I expect them to lose a couple of their own seats (an open seat in Arkansas 2, and Rep. Lee Terry’s seat in Nebraska 2). This would give the GOP a 245-190 majority, up from their current 234-201 advantage, and this would mark the largest Republican majority in the U.S. House since 1948.

Final 2014 Projections: Governors and Legislatures

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.

CALIFORNIA
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.

COLORADO
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.

FLORIDA
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.

ILLINOIS
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.

IOWA
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.

KENTUCKY
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.

MAINE
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.

MINNESOTA
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.

NEVADA
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.

NEW HAMPSHIRE
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.

NEW MEXICO
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.

NEW YORK
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.

OREGON
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.

WASHINGTON
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

Final Midterm Projections Coming Nov. 2

The final Wide World of Politics midterm election projections for the U.S. House, U.S. Senate and governors’ races, as well as an overview of the state legislative races, will be published at 3 p.m. Eastern Standard Time/Noon Pacific Time on Sunday, November 2, 2014.

I had promised initially to publish my final projections today, but some of these races are so close that I want to review all of this weekend’s final polls before making calls on them. Of special interest, as has been the case for weeks, are the final numbers in the U.S. Senate races in Colorado and Iowa, which I expect will determine control of the Senate.

I feel more unsure about these elections than any of the other three election cycles I have picked since 2006. Republican gains are inevitable, but how many? The last time we had an election in which Republican gains obviously were going to occur, I underestimated their gains in the House by a considerable number (10), but overestimated their gains in the Senate by a considerable number as well (3). It was my worst cycle to date. I am taking as much care as I can to avoid being off by those numbers this time.

Please come back tomorrow to see my final projections.

Election Projections: October 25, 2014

For my latest ratings chart, click here.

U.S Senate
Republicans +6, Independents +1
GOP 51, Democrats 47, Independents 2

While I have no ratings changes this week, an explanation is in order in two races in which my current ratings run contrary to the public polling averages.

In Colorado, I continue to stick with Democratic incumbent Mark Udall, despite the fact that Republican challenger Cory Gardner has led every public poll since Oct. 1st. However, this is a close call and I am monitoring this race every day.

At the moment, Real Clear Politics indicates that Gardner’s average polling lead is 3.8%. This is a crucial number. In at least the last two election cycles, the final RCP average has shown Democrats in key statewide races—Sen. Michael Bennet in 2010, and President Barack Obama in 2012—outperforming those final averages by exactly 3.9% each. Additionally, recent reports indicate Colorado’s turnout might be unusually high for a midterm, and the state recently went to a system by which all voters may choose to vote by mail, which might aid turnout. Polling models tend to dismiss “unlikely voters,” but the ability to vote by mail has the potential to change the equation for individuals who are more willing to fill out a ballot at home rather than trekking to the polls. If so, we won’t learn that until Election Day; at least some of the polls won’t pick it up, and that could affect the averages. But the bottom line is that higher turnout almost always benefits Democrats, whose voters tend to be less reliable, so if high turnout does materialize in Colorado, it is almost certainly going to be to Udall’s benefit.

My final call in this race next week will come down to whether Gardner’s average polling lead is at least four points. If Gardner is leading by four points or more on Nov. 1st, I will change the rating. Otherwise, I am going to rely on past experience and stick with Udall.

In Georgia, I continue to rate the Senate race as “Leans Republican” despite the fact that Democrat Michelle Nunn has surged into a small lead over Republican David Perdue. Because of Georgia’s peculiar runoff rule—initially instituted by conservative segregationists decades ago to help prevent liberals or political outsiders from winning elections—a candidate must secure at least 50 percent of the votes on Election Day, or the top two vote-getters advance to a January runoff. At this point, I still do not see Nunn getting to that magic number of 50 percent, and even if she places first on Election Day, the dynamics of a runoff—with much lower turnout to be expected, and the fact that cash-rich conservative groups will spend the ensuing two months blasting her repeatedly over the airwaves—lead me to believe that she ultimately will not win the seat. Nunn’s hopes of winning this seat probably rest on her getting to 50 percent by Nov. 4th.

U.S. House of Representatives
Republicans +5
GOP 239, Democrats 196

Today, I am changing the rating in Minnesota’s 8th District from “Leans Democratic” to “Leans Republican.” A recent SurveyUSA poll, released Oct. 16, shows Republican challenger Stewart Mills with an eight-point lead over incumbent Democrat Rick Nolan. Word has been filtering out from Washington, D.C., for months about Nolan’s weak fundraising performance, and this is by no means a safe Democratic district in which a Democratic incumbent can simply coast. My best guess at this point, based on the available data and anecdotal information, is that Mills ousts Nolan on Nov. 4th.

I am also making a rating change in Arkansas’ 2nd District, where it now appears that Democrat Pat Hays has the lead over Republican French Hill in an open-seat race.  Hays has gone from losing 44%-43% to Hill in a Hendrix College poll released July 31st to leading in a poll by the same pollster, 46%-42%, on Oct. 20th. This is the most Democratic district in Arkansas, and the frantic efforts to boost Democratic turnout on behalf of endangered Sen. Mark Pryor may end up benefiting Hays more than they benefit Pryor.

As these two ratings changes cancel each other out, I am making no change this week in my projection of a modest, five-seat gain for Republicans, but again, I caution that this is almost certainly a floor and not a ceiling for the GOP.

Additionally, I am moving the race in Nevada’s 4th District from “Likely Democratic” to “Leans Democratic” and placing it on the Watch List. I learned yesterday, in a Twitter exchange with Nevada political journalist Jon Ralston (www.ralstonreports.com) that early Republican voting in Nevada is so strong, GOP challenger Cresent Hardy may have the potential to upset incumbent Democratic Rep. Steven Horsford. I am also reading from numerous sources that outside Republican groups are flooding money into this district, hoping to push Hardy over the top. I have read enough of Mr. Ralston’s work in recent years to know that he has his finger on the pulse of Nevada politics and is, in fact, one of the best state-level political analysts in America, so I trust his assessment. I am going to keep a close watch on this race over the next week to see if a further change in its rating is in order.

Additionally, I am placing two races back on my list due to dramatic closes in recent polling, and adding another not previously listed.

In Arkansas’ 4th District, a Hendrix College poll released Oct. 21 showed Republican Bruce Westerman leading former FEMA director James Lee Witt, a Democrat, 44%-42%. This reflects a dramatic narrowing from a previous poll on July 31st showing Westerman ahead 48%-34%. The only other poll I can find for this district was a Wes Anderson poll on Aug. 21, showing Westerman ahead 47%-29%, but with a large number of undecideds (24%) and Westerman still under 50%. While Westerman is clearly still ahead, there has been enough of a narrowing in two polls by the same pollster that I can no longer consider it “Safe Republican,” and I am going to re-list this one as “Leans Republican.” It may well be that the ongoing efforts to boost Democratic turnout for Sen. Mark Pryor are helping Witt also.

In California’s 21st District, Democratic challenger Amanda Renteria has made a major turnaround in a little over a month. A SurveyUSA poll released Oct. 21 showed her trailing incumbent Republican David Valadao 47%-42%, as compared to a survey released Sept. 9 by the same pollster with Valadao ahead 56%-37%. I think it is clear that Valadao remains ahead, but I am putting this race back on my list as “Likely Republican.”

A surprisingly close race has developed in Massachusetts’ 9th District, in which two Emerson College polls in the last few weeks have produced differing results. The first, released Oct. 8th, showed Republican challenger John Chapman with a surprising 45%-40% lead over incumbent Democrat William Keating. The most recent survey, released Oct. 20th, showed Keating back in front, but only by three points, 47%-44%. I am adding this race to the list as “Leans Democratic” and placing it on the Watch List.

Finally, there are two southern California races I am watching very closely, and while I am not changing their ratings this week (both currently rated “Leans Democratic”), I am going to do a final, in-depth analysis on them over the coming week. CA-26, based mostly in Ventura County, features a tight race between incumbent Democrat Julia Brownley and Republican challenger Jeff Gorell, currently a state legislator. CA-52, based in the San Diego area, also has a tight race between incumbent Democrat Scott Peters and Republican challenger Carl DeMaio, most recently a San Diego city councilman. In both cases, the Republicans have made a point of demonstrating that they are social moderates, and both districts are close to an even GOP/Democratic split. Along with AZ-2 and IL-10, these are among the races in which I am having the biggest struggles with making a call. If Republican performance nationally is better than expected, these four will be among the first currently “Leans Democratic” seats to flip to the GOP.

Governors
Democrats +2, Independents +1
Republicans 26, Democrats 23, Independents 1

I am making one rating change this week. In Massachusetts, it is now clear that Democrat Martha Coakley, who infamously faded at the end of a special election for the U.S. Senate and lost to Republican Scott Brown, is in the process of another late collapse. Republican Charlie Baker has led in four of the last six polls and is now clearly ahead. Coakley may yet win, if Massachusetts’ Democrats turn out and save her in this heavily Democratic state, but at this point, it does not look promising.