Ages ago my sainted mother taught me to never draw to an inside straight. Since the odds of success in a game of five card draw poker are 8.5% (4/47), I've long used that as the dividing line beyond which I dare not hope. Based on that criteria, the Senate is secure, and there is a very real chance that the Republicans can hold the House.
The Senate is easy: Democrats are defending 26 of the 35 seats up for election; 10 incumbent Democrats are in states carried by Trump in 2016; Trump is campaigning non-stop in places where he is popular. (This is the polar opposite of President Obama who did nothing to build his party or gain favor with Congressional Democrats.) The strong likelihood is that Republicans will increase their 51-49 lead by two or three seats. Beyond being able to approve federal judges, the majority will provide a bulwark against any silliness coming from a potential Democratic House. And, it will set up a 2020 election where Republicans must defend 22 largely-safe seats to 12 for the Democrats, making a Republican senate likely through at least 2022.
The discussion is about the House where the Democrats need to gain 23 seats to take control. While there may be last-minute disruptions - pipe bombs; Honduran caravans; stock market volatility - there are a few key items driving momentum away from the purported "blue wave":
- Democrats had a strong run-up to the election season, with some 40 Republican members retiring, success in recruiting good candidates, and record-setting fundraising with the majority of small donor contributions coming through Act Blue, a web site designed to facilitate giving to competitive campaigns outside of the donor's district. Hundreds of millions have come into the field on both sides in the past month, ensuring that every voter will know that every candidate is a scoundrel.
- The Kavanaugh hearings on September 26, are generally regarded as a turning point, with their presumption of guilt with no corroboration, abuse of the nominee's character, and Democratic-encouraged mob action in the Senate chamber and at the Supreme Court;
- Both parties have predictable agendas: Nancy Pelosi with expanded health care, legal status for Dreamers, infrastructure spending, and gun control; Republicans with more tax cuts and support for the Trump agenda. Those liberal Democrats who cannot be muzzled promise open borders, investigations, and impeachment. Nobody promises fiscal integrity.
- The president's popularity is on the rise - to 44% in the latest Gallup polling, about equal to Barack Obama and Bill Clinton at this point in their presidencies, and above Ronald Reagan. Pessimists should note that Obama's Democrats lost 63 House seats in the 2010 election.
- Much as the media would like attention directed elsewhere, the economy is booming with clear credit belonging to deregulation and tax cuts. Tariffs get the most discussion, but there are a thousand small victories - like this week's successful confrontation with the International Postal Union which sanctions concessionary "developing country" rates for shipment of small packages from China.
Data can be overwhelming - particularly polling which is of varying accuracy and is useless in the aggregate where huge Democratic majorities in coastal Democratic enclaves distort the political reality. A better source of insight is the digested district-by-district predictions of "experts". The following are offered in approximate descending order of objectivity.
- Based on the polls which they view as credible, Real Clear Politics has 205 seats "likely or lean" Democratic, 199 "likely or lean" Republican, and 31 "tossups". Of the tossups, 29 are currently Republican. Essentially, Republicans have to take 19 of these 31 seats to get to 218.
- The Cook Political Report has 192 Solid, Likely, or Lean Democrat, 194 Solid, Likely, or Lean Republican, and 49 "Tossup or Worse". They project a majority of the leaners and tossups as going Democratic, with an overall result that they project the Democrats gaining 25 to 35 seats (with 23 needed.) That is down about 10 from the "most likely" scenario of two weeks ago.
- The University of Virginia's Sabado's Chrystal Ball has 213 Safe, Likely, or Lean Democrat, 201 Safe, Likely, or Lean Republican and 21 Tossups with many paths for the Democrats to get the five needed.
- Rasmussen Reports' polling indicates that American "likely voters" expect by a 56 to 37 percent majority that the Democrats will win the House, and that on a generic ballot 47% prefer a Democratic House to 44% who prefer Republican control. Both are national numbers, and do not reflect the 30 or so districts which will determine he outcome.
- Nate Silver, whose Democratic- leaning 538 web site gained prominence for correctly predicting the first Obama election but has been mediocre since, has 215 Democrats, 199 Republicans, and 21 tossups with an 84% chance of getting the three extra seats that they need.
Some personal leavening can be added. For example, these national experts predict that the Democrats will gain three to five of their target seats in California where Republicans face a wipe out on state-wide races. Nevertheless,the Public Policy Institute of California, the premier California pollster, gives Republicans a 49 to 44 percent lead in 11 competitive districts, including those which the experts call toss-up or leans Democratic. Trump doesn't campaign out west, but last week he did order the Department of the Interior to adopt policies which would reallocate water from fish to farmers who make up the backbone of Republican strength in the Central Valley. As the Democratic path to 218 narrows nationally, a Califrornia surprise is likely.
My mother wouldn't object to me calling a Republican threading of the needle. .
This week's bonus video is an update on the anonymous $1.6 billion lottery winner in South Carolina. Since there is a cluster of RightinSanFrancisco.com readers in South Carolina, I would like to announce that we can keep any contribution to RISF quiet, and apply it to a lifetime subscription.
bill bowen - 10/26/18