Update: Big news: Beto! has landed the endorsement of Beyonce, who, for reasons known only to her, waited until about three hours before the polls closed on Election Day to make her preference known. Maybe she’s endorsing verrrry early in the 2020 Democratic presidential primaries?
Update: Early exit polls are scarcely better than tea leaves, but if you care, here’s a noteworthy result:
Presumably economy and immigration voters are leaning GOP, health-care voters are leaning Democratic.
Before we get to it, let me blow your mind with a data point from Politico: “Early voters in three states — Texas, Nevada and Arizona — have already surpassed total turnout in the last midterm election … and more states will blow past their normal non-presidential turnout with just a handful more votes on Election Day.” You read that right. Three battlegrounds (one of which is, uh, Texas, and all of which are held by, uh, Republicans) had already topped their total 2014 turnout before polls opened this morning.
Gonna be a live one tonight.
We’ll have four threads this evening, each one devoted to three different Senate battlegrounds. Let’s look at the big picture first, though: What do Democrats need to do to wrest the Senate majority from Republicans? Because the majority is what it’s all about, as we were recently reminded. There’s no way Joe Manchin crosses the aisle to vote for Brett Kavanaugh if his party has a fragile 51/49 advantage. In fact, there’s no way Joe Manchin would have had a chance to vote on Kavanaugh if his party held the majority; Schumer would inevitably have “paid back” the GOP for Merrick Garland by refusing to hold a floor vote to begin with. That’s what’s at stake. And don’t forget, if the rumors of heavy cabinet turnover after the election are true, McConnell will need at least 50 just to staff the executive branch with people whom Trump likes. Never mind SCOTUS vacancies: Imagine POTUS trying to get a new Attorney General confirmed and having to make Chuck Schumer happy somehow to do it.
So here’s how to think about it. There are three “tiers” of races and Democrats need to clean up in all three to pull it off. It’s barely doable. But if there’s a blue wave tonight? It’s doable.
1. The “holds.” These are the battlegrounds where Democratic incumbents are fighting to retain their seats. And fortunately for the GOP, this is where most of the action is. New Jersey, West Virginia, Indiana, Michigan, Missouri, North Dakota, Montana, and Florida — if Democrats go eight for eight in these elections, a clean sweep, then they’ll have a real chance at a majority. But there’s a problem for them. To all appearances, North Dakota has already slipped away. Kevin Cramer leads incumbent Heidi Heitkamp by upwards of 10 points in the polling. If Cramer holds on there then suddenly an already difficult map becomes nearly impossible for Democrats. But let’s say they win every race in this category except North Dakota. Then it’s on to tier two.
2. The pick-ups. These are the battlegrounds where Republican incumbents are fighting to retain their seats. Luckily, there are only two of them, Nevada and Arizona. Unluckily, Democrats have a real chance (and are even marginally favored) to win both thanks to Jacky Rosen and Kyrsten Sinema. If the Dems go seven for eight in tier one, losing only North Dakota, and then pick up Arizona and Nevada, suddenly we’re looking at a 50/50 Senate. Which brings us, very suspensefully, to tier three.
3. The longshots. These are the states that aren’t supposed to be battlegrounds but where the polling gives Democrats a not insignificant chance of a momentous upset. There are two: Texas, where Ted Cruz is trying to beat back Betomania!, and Tennessee, where Marsha Blackburn is holding off popular former governor Phil Bredesen. If Democrats get through tiers one or two having lost only North Dakota, i.e. going nine out of 10 in mostly tight races, winning either Texas or Tennessee would hand them a majority. The good news is that that’s extremely difficult; in fact, with even a single mild GOP upset in tier one, like Josh Hawley knocking off Claire McCaskill, Democrats’ chances at 51 seats will effectively be up in smoke before they even reach tier two. The bad news is that if there’s a blue wave the fate of the next Supreme Court nominee may come down to … Ted Cruz’s personal likability. GULP.
I’m covering Indiana and the two longshots, Texas and Tennessee, in this thread. The reason I’m up first tonight is because most of Indiana’s polls close early, at 6 p.m. ET. (A few parts of the state vote until 7 p.m.) The race between centrist Democrat Joe Donnelly and Mike Braun is too close to be called anytime soon but we may have a verdict within a few hours, giving us our first look at how likely the blue-wave scenario is. If Braun knocks off Donnelly the Democrats’ dream of a majority will be over before it’s begun. And he has a solid chance to do it, too. The recent polling via RCP:
That +7 number number for Donnelly (from a Fox News poll, of all things) sticks out like a sore thumb, with the Republican Braun notching an implausible 38 percent of the vote in a red state just a week or so before Election Day. I think it’s a coin-flip race per the other data. If Braun wins the “coin toss” then Republicans will hang onto their Senate majority, with the suspense tonight purely a matter of how big their margin will be.
The late polling in Tennessee, meanwhile, is … not a coin flip:
Those aren’t the sorts of gaudy Republican margins we’re used to seeing in Tennessee but a win is a win and Blackburn’s on track. GOP analysts have been chattering in the last few weeks that Bredesen is still in this, though, and given his name recognition in the state and his canny positioning as a quasi-independent (he said he would have voted for Kavanaugh) he’s not to be underestimated. But the numbers here are reassuring: Blackburn is either near or at 50 percent in most polls while Bredesen can’t seem to get out of the mid-40s. See why this one is in the longshot category?
Now, Texas. I’m going to use FiveThirtyEight’s poll table for this one instead of RCP’s since it includes more surveys. Deep breath:
In all the many (many) polls of Texas taken this year, Cruz has trailed in exactly one, and that was two months ago. As you can see, he’s also either right at or above 50 percent in most surveys, pointing to a win. But the fact is that this race has tightened somewhat in the last week, with two different polls showing his lead at less than four points and one hair-raising survey from Change Research (a Democratic firm) showing the race even at 49. Cruz is a 78.8 percent favorite to win per FiveThirtyEight, for good reason: He’s a conservative running in a conservative state; he’s a cautious, calculating politician who doesn’t make sloppy mistakes; and he has the economic winds at his back. But Betomania! really is a thing among liberals, with O’Rourke having received and spent oceans of money to turn out Democrats. I refer you again to the factoid from Politico posted at the top of this thread. Enthusiasm to vote in Texas is such that early voting has already exceeded total voting in 2014. The left will be out in force for their guy tonight. It’s probably not enough for him in a state like Texas. Probably. But let’s hope we don’t have to find out with the Senate majority on the line.
In case Cruz holds on, though, the media is already pre-spinning the outcome for its new favorite politician:
— Reuters Top News (@Reuters) November 6, 2018
Polls close in Tennessee and Texas at 8 p.m. ET so this thread will be preoccupied with the Indiana race at the start. But not just that race; all four of us will be commenting on House and gubernatorial races as well. If you need a cheat sheet for House elections, I highly recommend this one from Dave Wasserman and Cook Political Report to give you a quick sense as returns come in from battleground districts of who’s “supposed” to be winning.
Bottom line: if every Lean/Likely/Solid race breaks as expected, Rs would need to win 23 of 30 @CookPolitical Toss Ups (77%) to keep their House majority.
Not impossible, but very difficult. pic.twitter.com/evxFYMqJfH
— Dave Wasserman (@Redistrict) November 6, 2018
Lotttttttta Republican-held districts are in play, very few Democratic-held ones are. (But you already read this post so you’re well aware of that.) In fact, the very first race of the night that’ll be worth paying attention to is Kentucky’s Sixth District, where Republican Andy Barr is trying to hold off Democrat Amy McGrath in a solidly red district. That’s a pure toss-up and we’ll likely have results early, since Kentucky’s polls close at 6 p.m. ET. If McGrath knocks off Barr the “blue wave” chatter will begin immediately, particularly if she wins comfortably. If Barr holds on, liberal anxiety on social media will be zesty. I’ll be following returns and analysis from FiveThirtyEight, The Upshot, and Decision Desk HQ and all the maddening bilious chatter of social media that I’m capable of digesting before I start to vomit blood. Updates will be added at the top of the thread, and there will be many. Good luck — we’re all counting on you.