St. Louis Oracle

St. Louis-based political forecasting plus commentary on politics and events from a grassroots veteran with a mature, progressive anti-establishment perspective.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

2014 midterm predictions: national

With no U.S. Senate or any competitive U.S. House races on the Missouri ballot, the state is effectively sitting out this national midterm election.

U.S. Senate

In the U.S. Senate, Democrats (plus two Independents who caucus with them) currently control 55 of the 100 seats, and Vice-President Joe Biden's tie-breaking vote means Democrats have a 6-seat cushion in order to keep control of the upper chamber. But the seats that are up this year are those that were swept into Democrat hands in 2008, the anti-Bush Democratic wave accompanying President Obama’s first election. Seven of those seats are in states carried by Mitt Romney last election, and several more Democrat seats in “purple” states are also in serious play. Only three Republican seats are seriously contested.

According to Roll Call Politics (click SENATE'), two of the Democrat seats opened by retirements, West Virginia and Montana, are already deemed “Safe Republican.” Twelve additional Democrat-held seats and just three Republican-held seats are reasonably competitive (i.e., rated between “Toss-Up” and “Favored,” but not “Safe”). Four of the Democrat-held seats (the open seat in Michigan and incumbents in Minnesota, Oregon and Virginia) are in the least competitive category, “Democrat Favored,” but the other eight (in additional to the two already regarded as lost) are in greater jeopardy. The open seat in South Dakota is “Republican Favored” (i.e., as likely a Republican win as the aforesaid four “Democrat Favored” seats are for Democrats). Sen. Mark Pryor's seat in Arkansas “Leans Republican,” while the seats of Democrat incumbents in Alaska, Colorado and Louisiana “Tilt Republican.” That's a total of seven Democrat-held senate seats in which Republicans are favored to some degree. In addition, Sen. Kay Hagan's North Carolina seat and the open seat in Iowa are listed as “Toss Ups,” while Sen. Jean Shaheen's shrinking lead in New Hampshire is rated merely as “Tilts Democrat.”

The three vulnerable Republican seats could partially offset those potential losses, but prospects there aren't as good. Democrats aren't actually favored in any of them. Their best chances, according to Roll Call, are Kansas (where Democrat hopes hang on a left-leaning Independent) and the open seat in Georgia, which are both rated as “Toss Up.” Mitch McConnell's vulnerable Kentucky seat “Leans Republican.”

Largely confirming Roll Call's projections is Nate Silver's incredibly accurate 538 model (click "ELECTIONS"). Silver is more encouraging for Democrats in the four “Democrat Favored” seats, to which he assigns double-digit Democrat leads and 96-99% probability of winning. Silver currently gives Democrats an 83% chance of holding New Hampshire and a 68% chance in North Carolina, but eight Democrat-held seats (including Iowa, a Roll Call “Toss Up”) and two of the three competitive Republican seats (including Georgia, a Roll Call “Toss Up”) are all assigned a 65% or better chance of a Republican win. The Independent in Kansas is the Democrats' best hope of a takeback, but that's assigned a more modest 51% percent chance of success. Silver will modify these figures several more times before the election as new data are received.

The Oracle sees the Republican trend accelerating. When most folks go to bed on election night, the GOP will have held Kentucky and Kansas, taken the Democrat open seats in Montana, West Virginia, South Dakota and Iowa, and unseated Democrat senators in Arkansas, Colorado, North Carolina and New Hampshire. Many of the surviving Democrat senators will have won in closer elections than expected. No candidate will have won the majority vote necessary in Louisiana and Georgia. The following morning the seat in late reporting Alaska will also have fallen to Republicans, giving them 53 seats, pending the two runoffs. A win in the December Louisiana runoff will give them 54 seats when the new Congress convenes, and a win the Georgia runoff on January 6 will make the final count 55, a 10-seat pickup.

U.S. House of Representatives

The House will be a slightly different story. Republicans already won most of the districts they could possibly win when they picked up 63 seats in the 2010 wave, and new district lines locked most of them in. That success left House Republicans susceptible to the same numbers game that haunts Senate Democrats this year. Immediately after last year's government shutdown, Democrats seemed poised to retake the House. But those hopes were cut short when the botched Obamacare rollout shifted voters' attention to GOP-friendly issues, where it has remained ever since. While both parties will take seats from the other, Republicans will add to their majority.

The changes start with four congressmen (three Democrats and one Republican) who won fluke elections in 2012 and decided to bail out on their parties and retire a winner. According to Roll Call (click "HOUSE"), the three Democrat seats (NC-7, UT-4 and lately even NY-21) aren't even listed among competitive districts because they are “Safe,” although the Democrat is closing the gap in the Utah district. CA-31, where Obama got 57% last election, “leans Democratic.” The seats of three incumbents, one Republican and two Democrats, “tilt” to the other party. Beyond those seats, Roll Call currently labels 11 districts (9 Democrat and 2 Republican) as “Toss Ups” and eight other districts (four in each party) merely “tilting” in the current party's direction.

One example of how badly things are going this year for House Democrats is NY-11, the only Republican-held district in New York City, but which Obama won in 2012. Incumbent Rep. Michael Grimm (R) is under indictment, and video shows him threatening to throw an inquiring reporter off a balcony. This all happened after the filing deadline prevented Republicans from fielding a different candidate. Grimm was written off as dead meat. Today his district “tilts Republican!”

Another example: IL-12, the district containing East St. Louis and other heavily Democratic St. Louis suburbs, plus Cairo, IL, and lots of formerly Democratic rural turf in between, represented by Rep. Bill Enyart (D), now “tilts Republican” towards state rep. “Screamin'” Mike Bost. Some Democrats may even be secretly clearing Enyart out of the way for state rep Jerry Costello, Jr., namesake son of Enyart's predecessor, in more Democrat-friendly 2016. That kind of political intrigue happens all the time in Illinois.

While unpopularity of the Republican House will temper the party's gains, I see them winning 13 new seats and losing three, for a net GOP pickup of 10.


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