Oh My: CBS Battleground Poll Shows Tight House Fight, Sources Say GOP Could Gain Senate Seats

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Posted: Oct 15, 2018 10:25 AM
Oh My: CBS Battleground Poll Shows Tight House Fight, Sources Say GOP Could Gain Senate Seats

Let's not overstate matters.  The CBS News 'battleground' tracking poll is monitoring close House races across the country, and it's still (mostly) finding encouraging news for Democrats.  The opposition party holds a three-point edge (47/44) on the generic ballot within these tossup districts, and based on the analysts' best projections, Democrats stand to win a 226-seat House majority.  Wisely hedging their bets, however, the pollsters caution that things remain so competitive that shifts in sentiment or turnout could swing the outcome "in either direction:"


If the dominoes disproportionately fall to the left -- which remains likely, in my opinion -- it could be a big night for Team Blue.  CBS models a scenario under which Democrats control 235 House seats in the next Congress, with the GOP ranks reduced to just 200.  But if things move in the other direction, perhaps via mediocre participation among important Democratic demographics, another version of the model shows Republicans clinging to a bare majority:

In this scenario, we assume that the demographics of this year's electorate generally mirror those of recent midterms and that people who haven't voted in a recent midterm stay home again this year. These assumptions would result in lower overall turnout and work in favor of Republicans. Specifically, youth turnout stays close to its recent levels (10 percent under 30), and white voters make up a similar share of the electorate as in 2010 (78 percent). Contrary to recent trends, the share of voters without a college degree is similar to its share in 2016. Additionally, new midterm voters stay home in this scenario. By "new," we mean registered voters who tell us that they didn't turn out in 2010 or 2014. This group leans Democratic in their current vote intention: they favor Democratic candidates over Republican ones by 21 points in key House races, while the parties are even among all other likely voters. If these potentially new voters decide not to vote this year, in addition to the demographic patterns above, we estimate that Republicans would win 218 seats, just barely hanging onto control. Democrats would gain 22 seats but fall one seat short of winning a majority.

I'm highly skeptical of this rosier possibility.  We've seen in special and off-year elections that Democrats have been extremely motived to vote since the election of President Trump, so the likelihood that the 2018 electorate will even remotely resemble those of 2010 or 2014 is very slim.  It's all well and good that traditional midterm voters are split evenly between the two parties; many of those "new" voters, who are favoring the Democrats by roughly 20 points, are quite likely to show up in November.  The GOP may mitigate some of its House losses  thanks to renewed base enthusiasm, but other structural advantages this cycle remain decidedly slanted leftward.  As we've been chronicling, however, it looks like the battle for the US Senate is a horse of a different color. A much redder color.  With Republicans apparently leading somewhat comfortably in Texas and Tennessee, and competitive in Arizona and Nevada, Democrats' pick-up opportunities are limited.  

If either of their flawed nominees out west end up losing (will Arizona voters punish Krysten Sinema for her open contempt for their state?), their designs on a majority are toast. North Dakota has broken decisively against incumbent Democrat Heidi Heitkamp, who may have sealed her fate with an incoherently-explained vote against Justice Kavanaugh.  And some operatives are starting to whisper to journalists about a yet-undetected trend in the out-of-date public polling (also taken prior to the Kavanaugh effect, or "Brett bump" fully materializing):

Of all Republican congressional hopefuls, no one viewed Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s contentious confirmation hearings more favorably than Senate candidate Josh Hawley. Hawley, who is Missouri's attorney general and a former clerk to Justice John Roberts, is one of the few GOP candidates to focus his campaign message on the Supreme Court and is already seeing a late surge in his race against Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill...Republicans now view Missouri as the party’s second-best pickup opportunity, after the North Dakota contest that’s increasingly looking like a GOP landslide. If Hawley’s post-Kavanaugh surge is lasting, Republicans believe their fortunes in several other red-state races will turn their way...A Fox News poll, released last week, showed the race tied at 46 percent but with Hawley having more room to grow with his base than McCaskill, who already consolidated most of hers. Hawley’s campaign believes that the Kavanaugh fight has nationalized the contest, engaging partisans and pushing undecided GOP-leaning voters in Hawley’s direction. The campaign’s own tracking has shown an expanding Hawley advantage in the past week. “This race is moving the way of North Dakota,” said one national GOP operative.

The Hawley camp is pressing its perceived advantage over the Kavanaugh fight, keying in on the issue as a major motivating flashpoint:

McCaskill voted against both Justices Gorsuch and Kavanaugh, siding with Chuck Schumer and the left wing, as is her wont.  If Hawley's internals show a clear swing in his direction, that's fantastic news for the GOP's hopes to retain or even expand their upper chamber majority.  On that score, I spoke with two plugged-in Republican operatives with deep knowledge of the national Senate landscape over the weekend, and each told me something similar: Based on internal polling and data, the GOP has a legitimate shot at swelling its Senate majority in November.  On a race-by-race basis, here's what I'm hearing, based of the latest available information (starting with four Democratic targets):

Texas: Ted Cruz has been tracking at or above 50 percent for weeks.

Tennessee: Marsha Blackburn has opened up a lead outside the margin of error (double digits may be overly optimistic).

Nevada: Dean Heller is tied, or ahead by a hair.

Arizona: Democrats had a modest lead, but the aforementioned oppo dump on Sinema could be a pivot point, especially if Republicans can hammer the message home. No polling has been in the field since those stories broke. Of the two western races, one of my best sources says, "we could realistically win both, either, or neither." They're that close.

North Dakota: Heidi Heitkamp is all but finished.

Missouri: Josh Hawley has opened up a lead, just outside the margin of error, over Claire McCaskill.

Indiana: Joe Donnelly is now losing, though the margin barely within the margin of error.  Mike Braun's outsider status is an asset.

Montana: Jon Tester may be in trouble, and GOP donors are finially realizing it. Will a flurry of late spending help push this race from a Democrat-favoring margin-of-error contest to the other side of that equation?

West Virginia: Joe Manchin is hanging tough. Equivocating for weeks on Kavanaugh may have hurt him, but he eventually voted for confirmation.

Florida: Rick Scott was on the sunny side of a statistical tie before Hurricane Michael hit, which has likely bolstered his standing further, due to his strong leadership. It's a virtually even race, but the Republican is slightly ahead -- and Democrat Bill Nelson is little known, and not terribly well-liked.

Wisconsin and Michigan: Despite some talented and appealing candidates securing their respective GOP nominations, Democrats are clearly favored to hold both seats.

Let's say Republicans hold two of the four seats Democrats are trying to flip, then unseat three Democrats.  That would put them at 52 Senators.  That's hardly unrealistic, and a more favorable outcome (only lose one red seat, while ousting up to four incumbents) is entirely plausible.  Two grains of salt: Both of these sources are Republican strategists, so they may be looking at these races with tinted glasses. And despite the GOP's major strides on sophisticated data-gathering, when cycles 'break bad,' parties' internal numbers are often proven wrong (see: the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign).  Also, the election is not being held this week.  The current snapshot may look more positive for Republicans, but things can change with the political winds.  Nevertheless, I asked both sources point-blank whether, based on their best information and knowledge, the GOP will gain net seats (ending with with at least 52) in the midterms.  Both replied "yes."  I'll leave you with the president's updated travel schedule, as well as Bernie Sanders declining to confront and condemn the hard Left's intimidation tactics, which will play into conservatives' developing "mobs vs. jobs" election narrative:


UPDATE - This is an interesting internal data point from the latest Washington Post national poll.  I had to re-read that second sentence: