- - Thursday, October 25, 2018

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Elections rarely live up to the hype. Reporters and pundits in hot pursuit of clickbait had barely begun recovering from the 2016 election before they began confidently predicting a comeuppance for Donald Trump in the midterm congressional elections. For months — indeed, more than a year — there’s been talk of a “blue wave” that will inevitably inundate Republicans.

They’re still predicting it, but with confidence diminishing by the day. Now just 10 days before voters finally go the polls, the picture is rather murky.

The expert consensus is that Democrats will likely win a number of governorships, ousting incumbent Republicans in Illinois, for example. They also have a chance of winning open, Republican held seats in Florida and Georgia. And even Republican rock star Scott Walker of Wisconsin is in a tough race for re-election. But Republican governors remain stubbornly popular in deep-blue Democratic states, such as Maryland, Massachusetts and Vermont. Indeed, two of the most popular governors in the country are Maryland’s Larry Hogan and Massachusetts’ Charlie Baker.

Republicans cling to a 51 to 49 advantage in the Senate. Yet for all the hype about the Democratic good fortunes — President Trump’s approval rating is under water — the GOP may even manage to pad its majority.

Part of this is the calendar and simple geography. The Democrats have to defend 10 of their seats in a state that Donald Trump carried in 2016. (The map will be similarly unfavorable to Republicans in 2020.) That’s why Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota looks like she’s on the way out. In 2012, the Democratic senator for North Dakota won by the barest of margins, about 3,000 votes. Donald Trump, meanwhile, carried North Dakota by 20 points four years later. Mrs. Heitkamp is now down to her Republican challenger, Kevin Cramer, by about 16 points. She seems reconciled to a nice retirement on the prairie.

While embroiled in more competitive races than Heidi Heitkamp, senators from other red states are running into similar headwinds. Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Rick Scott of Florida, and Jon Tester of Montana are in tough races in states that the president won, some quite easily. All these Republican opponents make a virtue of their close attachment to the president. Mr. Trump has returned the favor by campaigning for them. It’s not hard to see the Republicans picking up at least one or two of those seats, maybe more.

Democrats, for their part, had high hopes of taking four seats held by Republicans. Those hopes are fading fast as Jacky Rosen of Nevada, Beto O’Rourke of Texas, Phil Bredesen of Tennessee, and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona fall in the polls. Part of this is a result of a natural “coming home” of Republicans—Tennessee is a deep red state, and as much as Tennesseans may like Phil Bredesen, the moderate former governor, they’re aware that a vote for him is a vote to return Chuck Schumer as the majority leader again. So, too, for Texas. Mr. O’Rourke is charismatic and handsome, but he’s very liberal in a state that definitely is not.

Other wounds to the party’s prospects were self-inflicted. The Democrats badly mishandled the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation hearing, disgracing themselves and the country. Not only did they not manage to block Judge Kavanaugh’s ascension to the Supreme Court, but they also stoked Republican enthusiasm in the process. Mrs. Sinema in Arizona, meanwhile, long thought to be a virtual shoe-in, has stumbled after remarks she made in the past surfaced. In one, she slandered her home state as the “meth lab of democracy.” In another, she evinced no anger toward Americans who join the Taliban. That was a fastball down the middle for her impressive opponent, Martha McSally, a retired Air Force colonel.

Democrats are nearly certain to pick up seats in the House of Representatives, though it’s not clear that Nancy Pelosi will be returning to the speakership as leader of a majority party. Statistics guru Nate Silver of the FiveThirtyEight website gives the Democrats a more than 80 percent chance of retaking the chamber. Democrats do look on course to flip a number of suburban seats — many of which are being vacated by popular retiring Republicans. This is the same Nate Silver who was so confident of a Hillary Clinton victory, a reminder that voters always have the capacity to surprise, and are often ready to spring a good one.

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