Saturday, September 20, 2014

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Mid-Term Countdown #1

With a bit more than six weeks to go before Election Day, 2014,
I begin a series of weekly reports on the national mid-term
elections campaigns now in full throttle.

As I have predicted, this cycle is not going in a straight line. The
Republicans, most signs indicate, have momentum and
advantage, but in several key senate races Democratic incumbents
are showing some resilience in the polls, and in one case, a
previously “safe” Republican is now in trouble.

No race is final, of course, until the votes are counted and
reported, but certain contests appear to be over, either because
of the mood of a state or congressional district voters, or because
of extreme gaffes by one of the candidates.

There seems to be general agreement that U.S. senate seats in
Montana, South Dakota and West Virginia are going to change
political party control. Revelations, gaffes and bad tactics have
seemed to plague the campaigns of incumbent Democrats in
Iowa (Bruce Braley), Mark Begich (Alaska), Mary Landrieu
(Lousiana) and  Mark Udall (Colorado). These latter campaigns
are not over yet, but their Republican challengers seem to have
the upper hand for the time being. In Arkansas, Democratic
incumbent Mark Pryor also seems to be fading from the
challenge of GOP nominee Tom Cotton, as does Democrat
Jeanne Shaheen in New Hampshire following a surge by GOP
candidate Scott Brown. Both of these races remain too close to
call, as does the race in North Carolina between vulnerable
Democratic incumbent Kay Hagan and her Republican
challenger Thom Tillis.

In Michigan, an open seat previously held by a Democrat, the
Democratic nominee Gary Peters holds a lead in a race that might
yet tighten.

Republican incumbents who have been considered vulnerable
are generally doing well, including GOP senate majority leader
Mitch McConnell (Kentucky), Lamar Alexander (Tennessee),
and Thad Cochran (Mississippi). In Georgia, an open seat
previously held by a Republican, GOP nominee David Perdue
has pulled ahead of his Democratic challenger Michelle Nunn,
although this race is not “over.” On the other hand, veteran GOP
Senator Pat Roberts (Kansas) is in deep trouble. His Democratic
opponent has withdrawn, allowing an independent candidate
Greg Orman to pull ahead in this race. The contest is not over
yet; Orman is now being vetted for the first time, and his centrist
positions challenged, but the race does lean to a non-GOP
takeover. (Although Orman says he will caucus with the party
that has the majority.)

There are a number of races in which Democratic incumbents
have a notable lead, but which could become competitive in the
closing days of their campaigns as large numbers of undecided
voters make up their minds. These contests include Oregon,
where incumbent Chris Markely has a comfortable lead over
his GOP challenger; Delaware, where incumbent Chris Coons
leads his Republican challenger; Virginia, where incumbent
Mark Warner has a big lead; and New Jersey, where Cory Booker
won a special election last year, and has a substantial lead.
Any of these races might have a surprise result in November,
but it would take a true political “tsunami” (something not yet
visible) to alter their outcomes.

Finally, there is Minnesota. Incumbent Democrat Al Franken
has been leading by high single digits, but has been in most
polls under 50%. Still controversial after his recount victory
over GOP Senator Norm Coleman in 2008, Franken has been
mostly invisible in the senate. On the other hand, he has raised
a substantial campaign money war chest. If his GOP opponent
businessman Mike McFadden, making his first political race,
puts some of his own money in the contest, and a national
“wave” does hit this midwestern state, it could be very close on
election day.

In races for state governor, Democrats have their brightest
hopes. They almost certainly will defeat incumbent GOP
Governor Tom Corbett in Pennsylvania, and have
opportunities to replace Republicans in Maine, Kansas and
Georgia. They could also pick up governorships in Florida,
Wisconsin and Michigan. Republicans, on the other hand,
are ahead in Illinois, Arkansas and Connecticut. Minnesota
Governor Mark Dayton, now rated “safe” by most pundits,
could have an election surprise on November 4 (he’s under
50%), but so far seems well ahead of his GOP challenger
Jeff Johnson. This race, like many others this cycle, might
develop late in the cycle.

Republicans not only expect to keep their majority in the
U.S. house of representatives; GOP leaders privately expect
to pick up 5-10 seats. There are about 20 house seats rated as
toss-ups. One of those, Minnesota 8, now represented by
Democrat Rick Nolan, is beginning to look more and more
like a GOP takeover with a spirited campaign by businessman
Stewart Mills turning this normally blue district red in 2014.

Some observations from many years of covering mid-term

With no presidential election this cycle, turnout for the
    party in power will be diminished. This might be
    accelerated in 2014 because Democratic President Barack
    Obama is at, or close to, his historical popularity lows. On
    the other hand, the Democrats have the proven better voter
    ID and get-out-the-vote (GOTV) operation. Republicans say
    they have caught up in GOTV, but it remains to be seen if
    they have.

A much-discussed potential political “wave” is, at this point,
    only theoretical. Such “waves” usually only become evident
    at the very end of a campaign, so any impact of one will
    have to await later campaign countdowns.

There is always one (or more) true surprises on Election
    Night when the results are announced.


Copyright (c) 2014 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

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