Well, that didn’t last long! By that, we mean our pre-Christmas ordering of the GOP presidential field. We shouldn’t be surprised. Politics never takes a long holiday break anymore.
First prize for early maneuvering goes to Jeb Bush. His unexpected, all-but-in announcement on Dec. 16 stunned his competitors and the political community. Bush didn’t just accelerate the entire process, including forthcoming announcements by rivals, but he also gained a leg up in conventional wisdom’s positioning.
Thank goodness the midterm election is fully behind us so we can focus your attention on the White House sweepstakes of 2016. Oh, we can hear a few spoilsports among you moaning and whining: “Give us a break! Couldn’t you at least wait until after the holidays?” No, we couldn’t. Super-early analysis of future elections is what separates the possessed professionals in our business from the sane amateurs.
It might not have been 1994 or 2010, but 2014 was a wave all its own: A late-breaking surge that lifted Republicans to some surprisingly strong performances across the country.
Notably, though, the argument for this election being a “wave” has more to do with the House and gubernatorial races, as opposed to the main event, the Republican Senate takeover.
The GOP is likely to bump up its House majority to its highest total since the one it held after the 1928 election, netting at least a dozen additional House seats.
As is our longstanding tradition, we at the Crystal Ball attempt to call every election for House, Senate, governor, and in presidential years, the Electoral College. After studying these campaigns for months or years, we believe we owe you our best judgment about the outcomes. While we’re proud of our overall record over the years, we always miss a few calls, sometimes more than a few. Toss-ups are vexing, and the massive amounts of intelligence from polls, analysts, campaign managers, and party officials can be exceptionally contradictory. Not many of our sources have ever attempted to mislead us; they sincerely believe this candidate or that one will win — and smart people on the other side of the aisle are equally convinced their nominees will triumph.
The day after any election (or runoff or recount), when the actual winners are known, it all seems so obvious in retrospect. But of course it isn’t, pre-election. We apologize in advance — and we’ll do it again post-election — for all the races we will inevitably miscall. Our goal is perfection, and we’ll achieve it on the proverbial twelfth of never.
While many races remain close, it’s just getting harder and harder to envision a plausible path for the Democrats to retain control of the Senate. Ultimately, with just a few days to go before the election, the safe bet would be on Republicans eventually taking control of the upper chamber.
We say eventually because there’s a decent chance we won’t know who wins the Senate on Election Night. Louisiana is guaranteed to go to a runoff, and Georgia seems likelier than not to do the same. The Georgia runoff would be Jan. 6, 2015, three days after the 114th Congress is scheduled to open. Vote-counting in some states, like Alaska, will take days, and other races are close enough to trigger a recount.
As we approach the home stretch, 2014 has turned into a tale of two elections. On the one hand, this is a classic sixth-year itch election where the incumbent president’s party is going to suffer losses in both houses of Congress. We’re just arguing about exactly how many. Overall, it is indisputable that Republicans will have more critical victories to celebrate than Democrats when all the ballots are counted, and they have a strong and increasing chance to control the next Senate.
Governors frequently report on the state of their states, but what’s the state of the governors? To judge by many of the ongoing gubernatorial campaigns, it’s not great. Out of 36 contests, one governor (Neil Abercrombie, Democrat of Hawaii) has already lost his primary, another is headed for almost-certain defeat next month (Tom Corbett, Republican of Pennsylvania), and 10 others are in toss-up or close “lean” races.
The race for the Senate is perceptively moving in the Republicans’ direction, but not so dramatically that we’re ready to call the race definitively for them.
While we’ve long said the 2014 map and midterm dynamics make a GOP takeover of the Senate a probable outcome, there are just too many close races left and more than a month to go, when big gaffes, unexpected legal actions, and national events can potentially flip a Senate seat or two.
For several months, we’ve held steady on our range of expected gains for Republicans in the Senate: a net of four to eight seats. With Labor Day in the rearview mirror and with less than 55 days to go until the midterms, we’re giving Republicans a slight bump: Our new range is a Republican net of five to eight Senate seats.
This means that the best-case scenario we can now envision for Democrats is a 50-50 tie in the Senate, with Vice President Joe Biden’s tiebreaking vote narrowly keeping Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) as majority leader.
It’s lonely at the top of the Republican field — like, “top of Mt. Everest” lonely.
In our latest shuffle of the 2016 Crystal Ball presidential outlook, we’ve decided that the Republican first tier is…empty. Our Republican friends might object, but deep down, we think they would be hard-pressed to argue for any single name to head this long list: There’s simply no one in the field who is clearly more likely to get the nomination than a half-dozen or more others.