Midterm Election Update

Democrats are salivating over the prospect of doing what they did in 2006 – as reflected in the above graphic. But can they … will they?

With about 70 days to go, it is time to take an early look at the mid-term election. All the speculation of the past eight months has been good fodder for the news folks and the paid pundits. It helped fill up all those hours of so-called news. It did not, however, give us much of anything that was predictive of the upcoming election. I have frequently cautioned against reading too much into those “breaking stories” and partisan analyses that surface more than 90 days before an election.

Now that the candidates have been selected for the main production in November, we can start to see meaningful trends – but they need serious analysis and interpretation. The information available cannot always be accepted as factual and relevant at face value.

The first consideration is the historic trend. The party in the White House generally – that is “generally” – loses seats in mid-term elections. In modern times, only two presidents were able to see their party gain in a mid-term election – Bill Clinton and George Bush. For Clinton, it was credited to a roaring economy. For Bush it was the combination of a good economy and the patriotic response to 9/11.

Trump is getting increasing credit for a roaring economy. It has not just returned to pre-recession levels but is breaking records. The bull market shows no sign of slowing down. Unemployment is low, with minority unemployment reaching the lowest levels in history. Economic growth has passed four percent – a level predicted two years ago to be impossible to reach for more than a decade.

The good news is offset by three negative factors for Republicans – at least as Democrats and the anti-Trump media see it. First is Trump the person – his unpleasant personality and his myriad of potential legal problems remain the top news … the only news … for the Democrat-allied media. Democrats and the liberal press are strategically committed to make Trump, the person, the major issue. However, they used that strategy in 2016 and lost.

Democrats are also counting on the divisions within the GOP to tamp down enthusiasm among disenchanted Republicans and those all-important independents. The left takes their optimism from two sources: polls that show that Democrats have an eight-point lead in the so-called generic poll and the highly exaggerated favorable coverage in the media. It would not be the first time, however, that those pre-election indicators failed them.

As a person whose business often required me to function as a political pundit, offering my crystal ball view of future outcomes, I have made it a practice to ignore the generic polls – especially those taken more than a couple weeks before an election. To the extent polls are reliable at all, it is those that are taken district-by-district that have relevancy. We do not elect our Congress in a national at-large election, but that is how the generic ballot polls view it.

The most discouraging polling statistic for the Democrats is the president’s stable favorability rating, and the fact that it is at a respectable 42 to 46 percent range – about the same level seen from time-to-time in both the Bush and Obama presidencies. In terms of the respective bases, there is an inverse relationship. While 90 percent of Republicans approve of Trump policies, only 10 percent of Democrats have the same opinion. That makes the independents important, and so far, they are wobbling back and forth.

Then there is the problem of predicting the unforeseeable. We have come to expect an “October surprise.” What that might be requires the most extreme and meaningless speculation imaginable. We refer to it as a “surprise” because we cannot foretell it. Duh!

In terms of the United States House of Representatives, it is truly too close to call. The once predicted 60 to 70 seat gain by the Democrats seems to be fading. If Democrats do gain control of the House, it is more likely to be with a gain of approximately 30 seats – just seven more than they need.

At this juncture, it does seem unlikely that the Republicans can gain seats in the House. It is more likely that if the GOP retained control of the House, it would be by the slimmest of margins – perhaps less than a five-seat advantage. But even that would be a near fatal blow to the Democrats.

Despite the exuberant optimism projected at the beginning of the year, the prospect of a Democrat take-over in the Senate has all but evaporated. The more serious question is how many seats will the Democrats lose? There is even a chance … just a chance … that Republicans could win enough seats to achieve a super majority – taking away the Democrats last hold on power in the upper chamber, the filibuster.

A Republican gain in the Senate and the GOP holding on to the House, even by one seat, could end the Democrat’s claim to be a truly national party – but rather a bi-coastal regional party. It could create a vacuum for the first serious third-party movement since Republicans replaced the Whigs in the mid-1800s. The party of Jefferson and Jackson desperately needs to take control of the House to stay in the game.

So, as my mother often counseled: We shall see what we shall see.

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