The PPFA Midterm Preview-and-Prediction-palooza, Part I: The Senate

We made it. Tomorrow — tomorrow — is the 2018 midterm election.

This website’s faithful readers know that I’ve periodically written about the 2018 Senate elections throughout the year. In all that time — from January 15 through last week — I’ve consistently reminded you that this year’s combination of Senate elections gives the Democratic Party almost no shot to win the chamber. Remember, even though they only trail 51-49 in the current Senate, they’re defending 26 of tomorrow’s 35 Senate elections. That means they need to win 28 of those 35 races to gain the majority, so the Republicans only need to win 8 to keep it. Even worse, of the nine most competitive states, of which they need to win seven, eight were won by Donald Trump two years. It’s bad, and it’s why I called the Senate for the GOP all year.

But now we get to the Final Prediction. The final week before an election can frequently be the most volatile. Perhaps something in the last week changed my mind? The best way to reveal my Final Senate Prediction is by previewing what you can expect tomorrow night, hour by hour.

The guiding question: Can the Democrats get to 28 before the Republicans get to 7?

(All poll closing times listed as Eastern Standard Time)

7:00 PM—Senate polls close in 3 states: Indiana, Vermont, and Virginia

Calls: Vermont (Bernie Sanders, an Independent who caucuses with the Democrats) and Virginia (former VP nominee Tim Kaine) will quickly be called for the Democrats. Democrats 2, Republicans 0

Close one: Indiana will take a while. I’ll hold off on a call there. 1 nail-biter

7:30 PM—Senate polls close in 2 states: Ohio and West Virginia.

Calls: It might take a bit, but Ohio will be called for the Democrats’ Sherrod Brown.

Close one: West Virginia will take even longer but eventually tip toward incumbent Democrat Joe Manchin. Tally: Democrats 4, Republicans 0, 1 nail-biter

8:00 PM—Senate polls close in 13 states: Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Mississippi special, Missouri, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Tennessee.

Calls: Democrats comfortably win seven of these eleven: CT, DE, ME (Maine’s Angus King, like Sanders, is an Independent caucusing with the Democrats), MD, MA, PA, and RI. Republicans counter with both Mississippis.

Close ones: Florida, Missouri, and Tennessee. We’ll hold off for now. New Jersey, surprisingly, will take longer than the rest, but it will finally stumble home to the Democratic Party. Democrats 12, Republicans 2, 4 nail-biters

(Arkansas owns the 8:30 time slot… but alas, no Senate seats)

9:00 PM—Senate polls close in 10 states: Arizona, Michigan, Minnesota, Minnesota special, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, Texas, Wisconsin, Wyoming

Calls: Fairly quick Democratic wins in Michigan, both Minnesotas, New Mexico, New York, and Wisconsin. Republicans take faster wins in Nebraska and Wyoming.

Close ones: Arizona and Texas. Democrats 18, Republicans 4, 6 nail-biters

10:00 PM—Senate polls close in 3 states: Montana, Nevada, Utah

Calls: Utah quickly to the Republicans.

Close ones: Montana and Nevada too close to call. Democrats 18, Republicans 5, nail-biters

11:00 PM—Senate polls close in California, Hawaii, North Dakota, Washington

Calls: California, Hawaii, and Washington called quickly for the Democrats

Close one: North Dakota. Democrats 21, Republicans 5, 9 nailbiters

And that brings us to…

The Nine Nail-biters
Democrats need 7 of the 9 to reach their goal of 28
Republicans need 3 of the 9 to reach their goal of 8

Closing times for the nine nail-biters:
7:00: Indiana
8:00: Florida, Missouri, Tennessee
9:00: Arizona, Texas
10:00: Montana, Nevada
11:00: North Dakota

The order in which they will be “called” — in other words, when a winner is declared by a major news outlet — is a fun little side game you can all play at home. (As if just calling winners wasn’t hard enough! If we consider all nine races are 50/50 toss-ups — a few are certainly not, but most are close — the chance of hitting all nine is 0.5 to the ninth power, or 1 in 512. So I don’t like my chances.) It’s next to impossible to get right, because the order in which they’re called depends on A) their closing times, B) how close the votes are, and C) how big the states are, as bigger states take longer to count all their votes.

With that in mind, here is my…

Final Senate Analysis and Prediction
(and the order of when each state gets called)

Remember, Democrats are hoping for seven wins here, while Republicans would be satisfied with three.

Called first: Indiana
Incumbent: Joe Donnelly (D)
Match up: Joe Donnelly vs. Mike Braun (R) (vs. Lucy Brenton (L))
Real Clear Politics polls:

Analysis: As the only 7:00 toss-up race, it’ll have an hour head start and not that many votes to count compared to the 8:00 raced. (Fun fact: Tennessee, Indiana, and Missouri all occur successively in a ranking of state populations. That’s just one of the many random things you can learn at Presidential Politics for America!) For that reason, I expect it’s the first of the nine toss-up states to get called.

A concern for the Donnelly Campaign should be that Braun polls best when Benton’s numbers are down. If Benton supporters resort to the lesser-of-two-evils on election day, which third-party supporters often do, Braun should benefit. Nonetheless, after a scary couple of polls for Donnelly, the two latest polls were a welcome sight for him. That lead in the Fox News poll is two times the margin of error. Thus, since the latest poll is also the most convincing…
Pick: Donnelly. Democrats 1, Republicans 0

Called second: Florida
Incumbent: Bill Neldon (D)
Match up: Sen. Bill Nelson (D) vs. Gov. Rick Scott (R)

Analysis: It’s a tight race, but I do think we need to trust the consistency of Nelson’s small lead, especially with a late pop in the Quinnipiac poll released today. As has been true for months, if Scott ever leads, it’s just barely. Nelson is surely benefiting from a fellow Democrat’s surprisingly potent candidacy for governor; Andrew Gillam continues to lead the polling there against against Republican Ron DeSantis. There won’t be many in Florida who vote for one Democrat and not the other. President Obama embracing them in south Florida last week probably further galvanized Democratic turnout and could explain the Quinnipiac jump.
Pick: Nelson. Democrats 2, Republicans 0

Called third: Tennessee
Incumbent: Bob Corker (R)–retiring
Match up: Marsha Blackburn (R) vs. Phil Bredesen (D)

Analysis: Though Missouri will be the last call of the 8:00s, it’s Tennessee that is expected to mark the Democratic Party’s last hope to re-take the Senate. (Ever?) Coaxing popular former governor Phil Bredesen out of retirement to challenge for Bob Corker’s opening Senate seat was seen as a coup for the Democratic Party, and as spring turned to summer it seemed like a last hurrah from the 74-year-old just might work. But then Tennessee remembered it was Tennessee. Republican Marsha Blackburn has since ascended rapidly. Recent polls from a couple of universities give the Democrats a modicum of hope, but the trend remains bad.
Pick: Blackburn. Democrats 2, Republicans 1

Called fourth: Missouri
Incumbent: Claire McCaskill (D)
Match up: Claire McCaskill (D) vs. Josh Hawley (R)

Analysis: Florida has more votes to count, but Missouri will be closer. I mean, look at those polls. In the last 15, McCaskill and Hawley have tied in about half, including in two of the five that make up the current RCP average. Hawley had a good stretch from late September to mid October (3 polling wins and a tie out of 4), but then McCaskill had appeared to claw back in the last week with a win and a couple of ties. But then Hawley pulled in front again over the weekend. It’ll be razor close, but I think a traditional bump for presidents’ opposing parties in midterms helps re-elect Senator McCaskill. (For the record, this is the prediction in which I have the least confidence.)
Pick: McCaskill. Democrats 3, Republicans 1

Called fifth: Montana
Incumbent: Jon Tester (D)
Match up: Jon Tester (D) vs. Matt Rosendale (R)


Analysis: Yes, I have Montana next here, even with its 10:00 closing time coming an hour after Arizona and Texas’s. (Arizona will be CLOSE, and Texas will be closer than we expect and take a long time to count.) Montana’s sparse population will make for fast counting.

The Tester-Trump showdown in the Big Sky State is a juicy one, and the traditional metrics — a heavily Republican state thrice visited by a President very popular with the party — suggest a win for Matt Rosendale. However, Jon Tester knows his state, and all state polls for the last five months suggest the state likes knowing Jon Tester.
Pick: Tester. Democrats 4, Republicans 1

Called sixth: Arizona
Incumbent: Jeff Flake (R)–retiring
Match up: Martha McSally (R) vs. Kyrsten Sinema (D)

Analysis: Arizona, despite its one-hour head start, will finally be called after Montana. I’m venturing Missouri as the closest state of the night, but Arizona takes the silver. A quick note on early voting here, since Arizona has it. If you’re conservative, you might be reading articles like this one from Fox News saying early voting looks really good for Republicans in Arizona. If you’re not, perhaps it’s an article like this one, saying early voting in Arizona is proof of a blue wave, that has tickled your political fancy. In either case, don’t read into it.

This race has dramatically seesawed all fall, with Sinema looking like a good bet in September before McSally grabbed the reins for most of October, but since then Sinema roared back in front in the last two weeks before a local ABC affiliate said “Not so fast!” Still, with four polling wins by 3 to 6 points in the last six surveys, momentum here looks to be with the Democrat at the right time.
Pick: Sinema. Democrats 5, Republicans 1

Called seventh: North Dakota
Incumbent: Heidi Heitkamp (D)
Match up: Heidi Heitkamp (D) vs. Kevin Cramer (R)

North Dakota
Analysis: All North Dakota polls will finally be closed at 11:00, but I think it’ll be the fastest state of these nine to call. You see the polling. Frankly, it doesn’t even make sense that the most rural state in the history of civilization had a Democratic senator these last six years in the first place. She barely won in 2012, and that was before North Dakotans connected so strongly to a millionaire TV star from New York.
Pick: Cramer. Democrats 5, Republicans 2

Called eighth: Nevada
Incumbent: Dean Heller (R)
Match up: Dean Heller (R) vs. Jacky Rosen (D)

Analysis: Here’s another captivating race, and I believe it’ll earn the bronze medal in the closest Senate race competition. Its 10:00 closing time combined with its close nature will make it a very late close. (It might not even be Election Day on the East Coast anymore.) Whereas Republicans see North Dakota and Missouri as their most likely “pick-ups” (seats held by the opposing party that they win control of), Nevada has been targeted as the Democrats’ most likely pick-up for this entire election cycle. Of the nine toss-up states, only Nevada is a state won by Hillary Clinton two years ago.

Since that election, Morning Consult, which tracks the President’s popularity in every state, found he has shifted from a 49/39 (+10) approval/disapproval on inauguration day to 44/52 (-8) this fall, a shift of 18 points in the wrong direction. If accurate, I don’t see how the state votes with his candidate this time.
Pick: Rosen. Democrats 6, Republicans 2. (One state left… the winner of it wins the Senate!)

Called ninth: Texas
Incumbent: Ted Cruz (R)
Match up: Ted Cruz (R) vs. Beto O’Rourke (D)

Analysis: If the Democrats win the Senate, they’re surely winning the House. And if they win both, Trump’s presidency will be a living hell. And so, his entire presidency might come down to… wait for it… Ted Cruz — the guy who’s wife he face-shamed and whose father he accused of helping to assassinate JFK. It goes without saying that their history is… complicated.

Cruz should — should — win Texas handily. He’s a Republican Senator in a very Republican state. Unlike Nevada, President Trump has sustained his popularity in the Lone Star State. According to Morning Consult’s work, he’s still six points above water there.

But there’s something about Beto O’Rourke that makes me go mayyyyyybe? His fundraising strategy has been impressive, though its greatest asset is being a Democrat in Texas who might unseat Ted Cruz, a potential which has induced thousands of online donations from liberals across the country. The two candidates have combined for over 100 million dollars raised, most of which has gone to O’Rourke, and that doesn’t even count considerable dark money, most of which has gone to pro-Cruz Super-PACs. FiveThirtyEight tells us of O’Rourke’s mythological status among Texas Democrats. The Washington Post correctly identified him the biggest story of the 70 major candidates running for U.S. Senate. The Wall Street Journal reported on his massive crowds — though it qualified the success by doubting whether the avid supporters would vote, a doubt cast upon candidate Trump’s massive crowds two years ago. Prominent Texas newspapers that have previously endorsed Republican candidates, including Cruz himself, have endorsed O’Rourke.

The many, many votes that need to be counted in this huge state will make this 9:00 closing just the beginning of a long, excruciating wait. The race will be closer than the polls suggest, and my gut feeling is that more Texas Democrats will show up to vote for a state-wide office than ever before.

But that still won’t be enough to outweigh the far more common Texas Republicans.
Pick: Cruz. Democrats 6, Republicans 3


  • A 50/50 split. Perfect for this country right now. Vice President Pence serves as the tiebreaker. Republicans keep the Senate.
  • Though I pick the Democrats in 6 states and Republicans in 3, I actually like the Republican chances in their 3 a lot more than the Democrats in their 6. Chances are I missed one or two of those super close races to which I gave the Democrats the edge. Therefore, I think it more likely that Republicans end up with 51, 52, or even 53 seats than it is the Democrats take the Senate.
  • But if Texas tilts to O’Rourke or Tennessee to Bredesen… who knows?

Tomorrow: the Final House prediction. See you then.


6 thoughts on “The PPFA Midterm Preview-and-Prediction-palooza, Part I: The Senate”

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