Last week, I asked if the GOP will get a needed bump out of Kavanaugh and answered that it appeared they would, at least in the contest for control of the U.S. Senate. I also declared that President Trump and the Republican Party are losing the Midwest because that’s the one Trump-friendly region of the country that moves away from the president when things get polarized over workers’ vs. corporate interests. Overall, however, the increased polarization resulting from Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court has greatly benefitted the Republicans’ bid to keep Mitch McConnell in his position as Senate Majority Leader. The Supreme Court also lent a hand last week by doing nothing about the mass disenfranchisement of Native Americans under North Dakota’s new election law that prevents anyone who has a P.O. Box rather than a residential street address from voting, possibly (and dishonorably) crippling Sen. Heidi Heitkamp’s chances of winning reelection.
A consistent theme in my analysis of the Kavanaugh issue was that it would have a divergent effect, making Democratic control of the House more likely while making a takeover of the Senate harder than ever. Nate Silver openly cops to the fact that he was initially dubious of this prediction:
At first, I was a little skeptical of the narrative that Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation process could send the House and Senate moving in opposite directions. Usually in politics, a rising tide lifts all boats — so whichever party benefited from the Supreme Court nominee’s confirmation would expect to see its fortunes improve in both its best states and districts and its worst ones.
But a House-Senate split is exactly what we’re seeing in the FiveThirtyEight forecast. Democratic prospects in the Senate are increasingly dire, having fallen to about 1 in 5. Indeed, it’s been hard to find any good news for Democrats in Senate polling lately. In the House, by contrast, their opportunity is holding up relatively well. In fact, Democrats’ chance of taking the House has ticked back upward to about 4 in 5, having improved slightly from around 3 in 4 immediately after Kavanaugh was confirmed. And while district-by-district House polling has been all over the place lately, Democrats’ position has improved slightly on the generic congressional ballot.
I’m not obsessive about clicking on the latest polls, but I do check in at least once a day, and the results for the Democrats lately are probably worse than Silver suggests. Today, a highly rated Emerson College poll has Nevada Senator Dean Heller, who is widely considered the most vulnerable Republican incumbent, leading Democratic challenger Jacky Rosen by seven points. Beto O’Rourke is trailing Ted Cruz by nine points. An Ipsos poll over the weekend had Senator Bill Nelson losing to Florida Governor Rick Scott by two, and one of theirs from last week had Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill trailing by one and West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin’s once substantial lead reduced down to a single point. The Siena College/New York Times polls have been bearish on Democratic candidates in both the Senate and House, and they’re showing the Senate races in Tennessee and Texas slipping away. There was even a poll over the weekend that had Minnesota Senator Tina Smith’s lead at a mere three points.
If these polls are accurate and they hold up, the Democrats are going to lose seats in the Senate and possibly get washed out. Silver says his numbers show a converse effect in the House races and I don’t doubt that. But I’m seeing a lot of Republican strength lately in areas where I thought the Democrats had at least pulled even if not ahead.
Some examples include Virginia’s 2nd District, New Jersey’s 3rd District, Minnesota’s 8th District, New York’s 1st District, Florida’s 27th District, Washington’s 8th District, and Pennsylvania’s 1st and 16th Districts. Some previously encouraging polling out of Illinois looks newly discouraging, too.
What I am definitely not seeing is strong movement in the Democrats’ position in this post-Kavanaugh environment. I can find you some examples of where I think the controversy has helped the Democrats, but the overall picture is bleak. It doesn’t look like a wave that is cresting but more like one that is petering out.
It could be that previous polling was always too optimistic and that things would inevitably get closer as the election approached and the Republicans’ traditional advantage with likely midterm voters took effect. It could also be that things are actually just as bad as they ever have been for the GOP but that the likely voter models used by many polling outfits are too reliant on voter behavior from previous cycles. They may be discounting too many Democratic voters’ likelihood of showing up.
That seems like grasping at straws to me, though, and I’m here to raise the alarm. With only a few weeks left before Election Day, the Democrats are not where they hoped to be.