Every two years, like clockwork, it’s déjà vu all over again. Politicians, pundits and a sensationalist media establishment all conspire to instill in Americans the sense that something historic and life-altering is about to occur, that our nation will never quite be the same again once Election Day passes. We hear from Democrats that people will die if Republicans are elected, we hear from Republicans that criminals and mobs will roam our streets if Democrats are elected, and as a matter of course, both sides spew forth those magic words: “This election is the most important election of your lifetime.” The media, always on the hunt for a compelling narrative, can’t get enough of this divisive ritual as they gleefully exploit it for clicks and views.
But when the smoke clears after Election Day, when we wake up on November 7, as we head to work, sip our morning coffees while sitting in Lakewood traffic, listening to a radio broadcaster breathlessly recount the various results of the previous day’s balloting, will anything of import really have changed? Will the folks we send to Washington be ready to solve the existential issues facing our great nation? The answer, of course, is no, for on the issues that really matter – like debt and entitlements and the bloating of the bureaucracy, the issues upon which our nation’s future will either ride or die – nothing ever changes in Washington. Following Election Day 2018, our national deficit will continue to grow – even as our economy continues to expand and tax revenue last year was at an all-time high. (Imagine what monumental heights the deficit will reach in the event of an economic downturn? But I digress.) Following this “once in a lifetime” midterm election, current generations will continue to steal trillions of dollars from future generations by piling on unsustainable mounds of debt in a reckless spectacle of short-sighted selfishness. Social Security and Medicare will continue to gallop towards insolvency, a problem of epic implications which everyone in Washington is fully aware of but too inept and indifferent to do anything about – all while the impending crisis worsens with each passing day. Unelected government bureaucrats will continue to subtly expand their seemingly unlimited reserves of ill-gotten power, slowly but surely creeping ever-further into Americans’ daily lives.
Do voters really fail to realize that every most important election of their lifetimes turns out not to be very important at all? Republicans rise to power, Democrats supplant them, and the cycle repeats itself ad infinitum, but nothing really ever changes. One or two government policies are periodically tweaked on the fringes (e.g. a tax cut here, healthcare reform there), but none of the existential problems ever get solved – and I use the phrase ‘existential problems’ quite literally, as in the problems upon which America’s continued existence will hinge. Republicans and Democrats in Washington sing very different tunes, but they walk identical walks. Both parties crave power, but neither is willing to govern, to make the tough decisions necessary to secure the future of our republic. No meaningful change will occur in Washington so long as voters believe that Republicans and Democrats, two sides of the same proverbial coin, are the only two electoral choices. Someday that binary choice between Republicans and Democrats will come to an end (in an election that is truly “most important”), but it won’t be this year. Heading into the upcoming midterm election on November 6, which politicians in both parties would have you believe is the most important of your lifetime, this is the thought I would like to leave you with. The election doesn’t really matter all that much.
Readers should feel free to take what they will from the foregoing fatalistic monologue; it certainly isn’t my intention, nor my place, to tell anyone how to vote. You can vote for Republicans or Democrats or Independents, incumbents or challengers, liberals or moderates or “conservatives” (I use the scare quotes because 9 in 10 folks in Washington who call themselves conservatives are anything but). If you keep voting for the same old broken parties, however, just don’t expect anything to improve. After all, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing multiple times and expecting different results.
Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s get to the fun part. Who will prevail on Election Day? Will Republicans hold the House? Will Democrats stun the pundits by wresting control of the Senate away from Republicans? Will President Trump ever get another judge confirmed?
As far as the House of Representatives goes, I have no special insight into what will occur. It seems that Democrats’ political momentum was halted in its tracks by the Brett Kavanaugh fight, and what appeared a mere month ago to be an almost-certain House victory for Democrats may – stress on the may – be slipping away from the party. While I’m still inclined to believe that Democrats will likely pull off a takeaway of the House, a 2019 Democratic House is by no means a foregone conclusion at present. If I had to put a number on it, I’d predict a Democratic majority of about 220-225 members, with a minority caucus consisting of approximately 210-215 Republicans. However, I would not be surprised to see these numbers reversed, and on the flipside, a slightly larger Democratic majority is a possibility as well.
Mitch McConnell’s Senate, on the other hand, is an entirely different story. The Senate seats up for election this year are predominantly Democratic, and there is virtually no chance that Democrats will win control. In fact, my projection is that Republicans will gain some ground in the chamber, padding their slim 51-49 majority. Let’s briefly synopsize, and attempt to predict, the competitive Senate contests one by one. To the extent feasible, I will do my best to project a winner in each race and avoid the “toss-up” cop-out frequently utilized by political analysts when they want to avoid predicting the wrong outcome.
Republican Congresswoman Martha McSally, a former Air Force fighter pilot, squares off against Democratic Congresswoman Kyrsten Sinema, a former state legislator and radical anti-war activist. While early polling showed Sinemawith a consistent and sizeable lead over her Republican opponent, McSally has since bridged that gap. The two candidates are now running neck-and-neck in the polls, and I fully expect McSally to pull out a win in this reddish state.
It is fitting that Florida, the quintessential swing state, features the quintessential toss-up race of the midterms. The Senate contest features a pair of Florida heavyweights: incumbent Senator Bill Nelson (D) and current Governor Rick Scott (R). Conventional wisdom has it that this race is a pure toss-up, but I happen to believe that Scott’s campaign will probably fall short in its effort to oust the moderate, well-liked Nelson.
If the outcome of any election in this country is likely to hinge upon the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation fight, it’s the Senate race in Indiana, in which Democratic Senator Joe Donelly faces Republican businessman Mike Braun. Donnelly, a centrist Democrat, is being hammered in bright-red Indiana for his refusal to back the president’s Supreme Court nominee. While before his “no” vote I would have predicted a Donnelly win, I am now forced to run with the challenger in this nail-biter of a contest.
Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow will most likely be able to fend off Republican John James in the Michigan Senate contest, but expect the margin to be in the single digits. James, a businessman and combat veteran, is an excellent, unabashedly conservative candidate who has run a remarkably spirited campaign in a tough year for a Republican to be running in a blue state. Don’t be surprised if you hear his name again at some point in the future.
While the Missouri race is almost universally regarded as a toss-up between incumbent Sen. Claire McCaskill (D) and her GOP challenger, state Attorney General Josh Hawley, I’ve promised to avoid weaseling out of making predictions in tight races – and it’s a promise I shall keep. Welcome to Washington, Senator Hawley.
In spite of President Trump’s bitter personal animus for Democratic Senator Jon Tester and multiple presidential trips to the state to defeat the incumbent, Montana is one red state where the Democrat seems likely to hold on. While I expect to see a razor-thin electoral margin between Tester and Republican State Auditor Matt Rosendale, my money is on Tester pulling through and earning himself another six years in DC.
The good news for Dean Heller, the most vulnerable Republican senator up for reelection this year, is that he continues to cling to a narrow polling lead over Democratic Rep. Jacky Rosen heading into the final stretch of campaigning. The bad news is that he’s a conservative Republican running in an increasingly blue-tinged state at a time when voters seem to care more about leaders’ political party affiliations than they do about leaders’ ability to lead. This race can easily go either way, but my guess is that Heller will emerge victorious from the brink of political demise.
Like many of my fellow New Jerseyans, I’m very excited by the rare occurrence of a truly competitive Senate race in New Jersey this year – our inaugural competitive Senate contest of the twenty-first century! Likewise, I’m excited by the potentiality of toppling Democratic Senator Bob Menendez, a living monument to all things corruption. Republican challenger Bob Hugin has certainly managed to make the race interesting, and Chuck Schumer-aligned super PACs have been forced to dump millions of dollars onto the New Jersey airwaves in a last-minute, panicked effort to boost Menendez. Last week, the Cook Political Report shifted the New Jersey race from “Leans Democratic” to the Toss-up column. However, I must sadly report that I believe Hugin’s prospects to be somewhat overrated. He will almost certainly come close, and his feisty campaign will indubitably have a positive impact on down-ballot Jersey Republicans running in tight races. But vanquishing Menendez remains a bit of a stretch, primarily because Hugin has offered voters few compelling reasons to vote for him other than the fact that he isn’t Menendez. While that may be something, it probably isn’t enough to unseat the entrenched Democratic incumbent in deep-blue New Jersey.
After Republican candidate Josh Mandel was forced to bow out of the Ohio Senate race earlier this year due to family issues, Rep. Jim Renacci stepped in to fill his shoes. Renacci has consistently trailed Sen. Sherrod Brown by double digits in the polls (the RealClearPolitics polling average has the Democrat leading by 16), and most political pundits would not include this state on a list of competitive races at all. While a Brown victory is no doubt the most likely outcome, I wouldn’t discount Renacci as cavalierly as many others have. If I had to choose one 2018 Senate race that’s ripe for a shocking upset, it would be this one – and that’s why Ohio has made this list.
Tennessee will likely feature a single-digit race between Republican Rep. Marsha Blackburn and Democratic ex-Governor Phil Bredesen, but I gotta go with Blackburn in the ruby-red state of Tennessee.
Rep. Beto O’Rourke deserves credit for having run a spirited and well-funded challenge to incumbent Sen. Ted Cruz (R). But in 2018 Texas, it seems unlikely that the votes will be there for him on Election Day. I don’t view this race as particularly close, and I’d be very surprised if O’Rourke is victorious.
The North Dakota Senate race was competitive for most of the year, but it’s becoming increasingly clear that Rep. Kevin Cramer (R) has pulled far ahead of Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D) in recent weeks. It’s difficult to envision a scenario in which Heitkamp’s campaign recovers, especially in the wake of her vote against Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court.
There’s certainly a chance that GOP state AG Patrick Morrisey will unseat Sen. Joe Manchin (D) on November 6, but I wouldn’t bet on it. Manchin is popular in his homestate (which President Trump won by 42 points!), he’s run a strong campaign, and Morrisey has stumbled in the face of an onslaught of attacks centered around his drug lobbyist past. Manchin will most likely continue to defy political gravity with another Democratic win in West Virginia.
Republican Leah Vukmir is a formidable candidate who would probably be running a lot closer to Senator Tammy Baldwin (D) if it wasn’t 2018. As it is, I think she may give Baldwin a scare next week – but I wouldn’t go so far as to predict that she’ll pull off an upset. Baldwin will probably win the Wisconsin race.