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.
The overall picture is this: A Republican Senate gain of four-to-eight seats, with a GOP Senate pickup of six-to-seven seats the likeliest outcome; a GOP gain of somewhere around a half-dozen seats in the House; and little net party change in the gubernatorial lineup even as a few incumbents lose. So what could shift these projections in a significant way, beyond candidate implosions that move individual races on and off the board?
Royal Blue Hawaii and Ruby Red Kansas are two of the most predictable states in presidential and Senate elections. Yet both states have incumbent governors from the dominant parties who are fighting for their political lives. What gives?
Analysts always strain to generalize about elections. We want to “model” them, find the common elements, and project them as early as possible based on the commonalities. That’s a legitimate approach, but we need always remember that every election is different. Every single one.
If Republicans are to win the Senate, they probably are going to have to do something they haven’t done since 1980: beat more than two Democratic Senate incumbents in November.
Establishment Republicans across the country are saying “Thank God for Mississippi,” but not in the derisive way that political scientist V.O. Key describes it above. The state’s Republican voters, and probably quite a few Democrats, allowed the GOP establishment to fend off a Tea Party challenge to a sitting senator. In the process, they kept Democrats from potentially expanding the Senate’s general election playing field in November and from giving anti-establishment forces in the Republican Senate caucus another ally.
Mississippi, a state often ignored by the national political world, managed to do something rarely seen in politics: Produce two upsets in the same race in a three-week span. And it bucked a trend of generally pathetic turnout in primaries nationwide to produce the second and then first-largest primary turnouts in the history of Mississippi Republican politics.
Mississippi, a trailblazing leader in voter participation? It has been a very odd primary season indeed.