2018 Midterms, Part II: Senate Sanguinity

OK, I’m an optimist by nature, but I’m not crazy. I know the odds are higher that the GOP gains two Senate seats than the Democrats gain the net +2 they need to retake the Senate.

The polls and the smartest poll analyzers saw a trend over the past week: a small but decisive shift back to the Democrats. And it’s not too hard to understand why: the MAGA pipebomber and the Pittsburgh and Louisville shootings were scary as all get-out (Get Out!) and Trump doubled down on the caravan insanity. The question is whether MAGA turnout also would get pumped up by Trump’s “fascistic” fear-mongering (conservative NY Times columnist Bret Stephens used the F-word, and he’s dead right).

The point is that the polling over the past few days and last night gave me a bit more hope for Clare McCaskill in Missouri and Phil Bredesen in Tennessee.

So here’s the path:

Hold five of six contested Democratic seats (mostly in very red states), in order of likelihood: Nelson (FL), Manchin (WV), Donnelly (IN), Tester (MT), McCaskill (MO). I’m not counting on Heitkamp. But the other five have better than 50% chances on FiveThirtyEight, some a lot better, and I like the recent polling trends in favor of Dems.

Flip three of four vulnerable GOP seats: Sinema over Martha McSally in Arizona, Jacky Rosen over Dean Heller in Nevada, Phil Bredesen over Marsha Blackburn in Tennessee. I love Beto O’Rourke and loathe Ted Cruz, and I’d seriously give my left __ for this race (seriously, let me know if I can still do that before the polls close). But until that procedure is available with a side of vasectomy, I’m not betting on it.  FiveThirtyEight has both Sinema and Rosen at just over 50% chance of winning, but Bredesen and O’Rourke are at about a 20% chance. But NBC and Harris had a poll out last night showing Bredesen up 3 and tied, respetively, and I have more trust in those polls than in the recent polls by Republican firms or GOP-leaning polls. (FiveThirtyEight stopped plugging in such late polls, but I take them into account). Meanwhile, Beto’s polling has him close but not close enough. If I had to bet on one upset, I’d pick Bredesen, even though FiveThirtyEight gives him just a bit lower of a chance than Beto has.

Sorry, I’m not counting on Espy in Mississippi, either.

The analysis this week has been a little oversimplified, but I get it: O’Rourke is legitimately a Texas homegrown politician, but his national celebrity and “Hollywood/Manhattan” fundraising became a double-edged sword and an easy if insultingly stupid target by someone with well-honed nasty skills like Ted Cruz. Meanwhile, Bredesen had been a popular Tennessee governor, a state-wide name with a folksy touch. I’d give the edge to Bredesen in this dynamic.

McCaskill closed badly with fearful caravan demagoguery, but I think the Greitens/Republican scandals this year in Missouri are a lot to overcome for Hawley.

And here’s how to watch it happen, in order of polls closing and FiveThirtyEight chances of a Dem win in fractional terms, and my predictions (and I’m bolding my big pivotal upset pick, Tennessee):

6 pm closing: Indiana: Donnelly over Braun. (538’s Odds 5 out of 7) (That’d be 1 of 5 D holds)

7:30 pm closing: West Virginia: Manchin over Morrissey. (Odds 7 out of 8) (That’d be 2 of 5 holds)

8 pm closing: Florida: Nelson over Scott (7 out of 10) (3d of 5 holds)

Tennesee: Bredesen over Blackburn (1 in 5 chance). (Big upset, 1st of 3 flips)

Missouri: McCaskill over Hawley (4 out of 7) ( 4th of 5 holds)

Texas: Cruz over O’Rourke (2 out of 9) (no flip)

Mississippi: Hyde Smith over Espy (sorry)

9 pm: North Dakota: Cramer over Heitkamp (1 in 4 chance, the inverse of Montana) (no hold)

10 pm: Montana: Tester over Rosendale (3 in 4, the inverse of North Dakota) (5th of 5 needed holds)

Arizona: Sinema over McSally (5/8) (2d of 3 flips)

Nevada: Rosen over Heller (4/7) (listen to Nevada expert Jon Ralston on this race. He called it for Rosen) (3d of 3 needed flips).

And if all of that happens, or if we are pleasantly stunned by Heitkamp, Beto, or Espy to offset another loss, then that’s how the Democrats would win the Senate.

Author: Jed Shugerman

Legal historian at Fordham Law School, teaching Torts, Administrative Law, and Constitutional History. JD/PhD in History, Yale. Red Sox and Celtics fan, youth soccer coach. Author of "The People's Courts: Pursuing Judicial Independence in America" (2012) on the rise of judicial elections in America. I filed an amicus brief in the Emoluments litigation against Trump along with a great team of historians. I'm working on "The Rise of the Prosecutor Politicians," a history of prosecutors and American politics, and another project on the origins of independent agencies in America.

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