by Rod D. Martin
August 9, 2018
So who’s going to win the House in November? And for that matter, who’s going to win the Senate?
The Wall Street Journal makes a good case for a big Republican defeat this morning in “The Red Wave Illusion”. They have history on their side: the party in the White House almost always loses in the mid-terms — 2002 being the only exception in memory — and certainly the OH-12 race was a lot closer than it should have been, at least superficially. Moreover, I have been sounding the alarm about an enthusiasm gap — Democrats more fired up to actually turn out and vote than Republicans — since late last year. Mid-terms are low-turnout elections, so if one side is more excited than the other, it tends to win. Plus, Democrats remain ahead on the generic Congressional ballot, which certainly isn’t a good thing.
Still, I have my doubts. Rather strong ones, actually, just as I did at this time two years ago. And guess who got it right in 2016. It wasn’t the Wall Street Journal.
Let’s start with that Ohio-12 race. Yes, it’s absolutely true that Republicans have only lost that district one time since 1938 (specifically, 1980); it’s also true that Trump carried the district by 11. Superficially, it should not have been close.
Superficially. But that’s not the whole story, nor is the whole story being reported by a leftwing media that’s abandoned journalism for “all advocacy all the time”. So we have to consider the missing pieces, as we did in 2016.
First, the Republican candidate was significantly worse at being a candidate than was his Democrat opponent. A “generic Republican” wasn’t on the ballot: Troy Balderson and Danny O’Connor were, with all their personal gifts, deficits and quirks. If they’d been running for class president, it would have been O’Connor (the Democrat) by a mile. This point can’t be ignored.
Second, if midterms are low turnout, special elections are 1,000% worse. So the parties’ campaigning and GOTV (Get Out The Vote) efforts matter far, far more. In OH-12, as the other high-profile special elections over the past year, the Democrats threw everything at it plus the kitchen sink. Everything the DNC had, plus the DCCC, plus not just the Ohio party but SIX state Democrat parties threw their field staff, cash, everything at winning in Ohio.
The Republicans did too, no doubt, but that’s not the point: the electorate on Tuesday was not vaguely similar to the electorate this November, or to the one in November 2016. It was heavily distorted in both directions by party intensity and voter apathy that won’t be repeated.
And even more to the point: in November, with 435 House races, more than 60 of which will be competitive, neither side will be able to focus that kind of fire anywhere. Hence, there will be a reversion to the mean, in several respects.
Why have the Democrats focused such fire on one-off special elections like OH-12? To build a “win psychology”: to convince their own people and everyone else that there really will be a “Blue Wave”, by winning races that don’t really show that but which might become a self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s good strategy and it might well work: it’s certainly what I’d do. But that doesn’t mean we should ignore what’s really going on. And what’s going on includes a uniform media narrative that paints every move as “proving” the “Blue Wave” theory, and ignores every move that contradicts it, just as in 2016.
In any case, Donald Trump is not wrong when he points out that despite all of this, Republicans are winning nearly all of these races, including OH-12. Democrats respond that “we didn’t have to win”. Really?
Third — and I think this is perhaps the most significant point, and certainly the most under-reported — the Democrat/Enemedia Complex are not the only people out to get Donald Trump. Ohio Governor John Kasich, who hates Trump so much he even refused to attend a Republican National Convention his own state hosted, did everything in his power to undermine Troy Balderson, hoping to push O’Connor over the top and cost Republicans the House. You know, “for the good of the country” and all that. It’s hard to understand why Kasich remains popular in Ohio, but he does, and his use of the tremendous power of his office against his own party’s nominee was a lot to overcome. It’s redundant to call Kasich a narcissistic RINO traitor. But Kasich is a narcissistic RINO traitor. And he pushed on the scales here, hard.
But enough of Ohio. The rest is simpler. That enthusiasm gap? Gone since June. By most measures, Republicans realize what’s at stake and are more excited about November than the Nutroots. That could change — and the Democrats’ purpose in OH-12 was to demoralize us and thus change it — but it remains true. And given 2016, I wouldn’t bet heavily that Republican voters will become less likely to vote over time; rather, they’re far more likely to intensify after Labor Day and continue into November. They know the deluge follows if they don’t.
Moreover, the generic ballot may look bad for Republicans, but all is not quite as it seems. While it’s true the Democrats are leading — and have been, consistently, for over a year — what is also true is that in modern times, the Republicans have won without fail whenever the Democrats have led by 5 points or less. Remember how the pollsters oversampled Democrats in 2016, producing grossly off-base results? Well, it wasn’t the first time that had happened, nor has it stopped.
So if D+5 equals a GOP win, where are we right now?
Rasmussen — widely considered the most pro-Republican poll, but also the most accurate poll in 2016 (other than Robert Cahaly‘s Trafalgar Group) — has the race D+5: on the edge, but still good.
But two other polls are out this week, since Rasmussen, neither of which has ever been accused of leaning Republican. The Economist/YouGov poll has the race just D+3. And Reuters/Ipsos has it a mere D+2.
That’s down from D+18 in January.
If those numbers hold, expect the Rs not only to hold their majority but possibly to pick up a few seats. It might not be a “Red Wave”, but it would certainly be the Democrats crashing on the rocks.
Finally, as I’ve been telling you all year, Republicans stand to pick up several U.S. Senate seats, most definitely including Florida (Rick Scott vs. the awful Bill Nelson). Ted Cruz has a real race in Texas, but not a real threat (the Texas Lyceum poll last week oversampled Ds by 50% and still showed Cruz leading; Quinnipiac wasn’t much better). Josh Hawley has a strong shot at unseating Claire McCaskill in Missouri just as Mike Braun looks good to unseat Joe Donnelly in Indiana. Kevin Cramer has a real shot at Heidi Heitkamp in North Dakota, and likely a much better one should Heitkamp vote against Brett Kavanaugh. Likewise, Montana is more competitive than advertised, though West Virginia is likely less, but both would shift decidedly toward the R column if the incumbent joined his own party against confirmation. Heller’s closing the gap in Nevada and Blackburn is still quite competitive in Tennessee.
So assuming Arizona goes well, all things considered, I would reasonably expect to see an expanded GOP Senate majority of 54 seats (compared to current 51), with a decent chance of as many as 57 (which would be a post-Great Depression record for the GOP).
They say rightly that a week is an eternity in politics: all of this is subject to all manner of changes over the next three months. But as things stand, I think the CW (conventional wisdom) is about as wrong as it was two years ago.
But just as was the case two years ago, it’s going to take all of us, doing everything we can do, to make that a reality. So saddle up, boys and girls. It’s time to ride.