I’ve been waiting for this election for a very, very long time.
With two days left until the 2018 midterm elections, I feel like it’s time to dust this thing off and give everyone a “brief” rundown of this year’s House, Senate, gubernatorial, and state legislative elections. Donald Trump himself might not be on the ballot, but these elections will still decide who controls the U.S. House of Representatives, the US Senate, 87 state legislatures, and 36 governor’s mansions. This is a very high-stakes election, and in many states, people have already cast their ballots. So, what’s going on?
The short answer is that Democratic enthusiasm is through the roof right now, which gives the Democratic Party a very good chance of winning the majority of contests on the ballot this year. If Democrats get especially lucky, you could see a Democratic House, a Democratic Senate, and Democratic governors in 24 states overseeing ~60% of the nation’s population. That Democratic upsurge could lead to redistricting reform, experimentation with progressive programs, the cooling of President Trump’s agenda, and heightened investigations into government misconduct. Hell, they might even get closer to ending the Electoral College once and for all. On the flipside, a poor Democratic performance could result in a Republican House, a drastically more Republican Senate, and billions of dollars in wasted campaign funds.
Right now, the Democrats are hoping to take back the House, not lose anything in the Senate (more on that later), and pick up decent ground in state governments across the country.
Because I clearly have nothing better to do with my time, I’ve divided this post into seven sections, not including this intro. If you’re too busy to read the whole thing, just skip to the end.
- The U.S. House Elections
- Could the Democrats take back the House?
- What could the Democrats do with the House?
- Oversight and Impeachment
- The U.S. Senate Elections
- Could the Democrats take back the Senate?
- On Beto O’Rourke, a.k.a. Progressive Jesus
- What could the Democrats do with the Senate?
- Confirmation of Judges and Cabinet Officials
- Could the Democrats take back the Senate?
- INTERMISSION: Eggs Benedict Recipe
- Gubernatorial Elections and State Legislative Elections
- Ending the Electoral College: What the “NPVIC” Is
- Redistricting Reform vs. Gerrymandering
- Summary of What “I” Think Will Happen (a.k.a. What FiveThirtyEight Says)
- What I’ll Be Doing On Election Night (Tweeting. Like an Idiot).
Are you still with me? Good. Sit back, turn on some relaxing music, and learn yourself some politics.
Part One: The U.S. House of Representatives
Could the Democrats take back the House? Short answer: yeah.
The House has 435 members, and each sitting member can either be re-elected or be replaced every two years. If one party controls 218 or more seats, they have a majority and are thus empowered to set the House’s agenda. Right now, Republicans hold a slim majority with 235 seats whereas the Democrats have 193 (there are 7 vacancies, most of which will probably be filled by Republicans). Because they have this slim majority, the Republican Party controls the investigative powers of every House committee, pass any bill they want (provided they can keep the party in line), and leave President Trump’s power nearly completely unchecked.
Now that it’s election season, it’s time to change that. Usually, House elections approximately mirror what FiveThirtyEight calls the “generic ballot,” or the average partisan lean of the country. To put it another way, if 54% of the nation says they would rather vote a generic Democrat into Congress than a generic Republican, you would intuitively expect 54% of the U.S. House of Representatives to be Democrat, and 46% to be Republican. Of course, it’s not entirely that simple, because excited Democrat-leaning voters don’t always live in swing districts, Republicans have done a very good job of gerrymandering their own seats into safety, and the allocation of Representatives doesn’t match the nationwide distribution of population.
In fact, to have a good chance of winning back the House of Representatives, Democrats need to have a pretty high lead in the generic ballot – five or six points or so.
If you clicked that handy dandy link above, you’d have seen that the American public is leaning pretty Democratic right now, with ~50% planning to vote for Democrats and ~42% planning to vote for Republicans and ~8% undecided. Assuming the gap between Democrats and Republicans doesn’t drastically change over the next few days, that’s about an 8 point lead for Democrats. While this doesn’t guarantee a Democratic takeover of the House, it’s yet another indicator that incumbent Republican representatives everywhere from Northern Virginia to Utah (!) are in some pretty deep shit right now. Districts that voted for Donald Trump by anywhere between 1 and 20 points might end up electing Democrats to represent them in Congress, with the most closely-divided districts running the greatest risk of flipping.
In order to win back the House of Representatives, the Democratic Party needs to have a net gain of 23 House seats on Tuesday night. At the time of writing, FiveThirtyEight’s House Forecast predicts that the Democrats will win between 20 and 59 seats, with the median being around 38 seats, though it does not rule out the possibility that Democrats win 81 seats… or only win 5. Because there are over a hundred (!) battleground districts in this cycle, almost all of which are held by Republican incumbents, you could actually see a scenario in which Democrats lose the majority of those close contests and still have a net gain at or above 23 seats. Hell, if Democrats just win historically moderate suburban districts, and lose in all their other targets, they could still win the House.
Considering that the Democrats have a solid generic ballot advantage, polling leads in scores of Congressional districts, and ridiculously strong fundraising numbers (think billions raised for Democratic candidates), FiveThirtyEight says that the Democratic Party has a ~85% chance to take back the House. So… yes. The Democrats will probably take back the United States House of Representatives.
If you’re an idiot, you might look at that figure and think one of two things – “the Democrats are definitely going to take back the House!” or “the polls were wrong about Donald Trump in 2016!” – both of which are wrong, because that’s not how probabilities work. The chance that Republicans keep the House is about 1 in 7 right now, which is the same probability that you’ll correctly guess the day of the week of a random date. Likewise, the forecast based off of polls taken in 2016 gave Donald Trump a 1 in 4 chance of winning, which is the probability of flipping a coin twice and getting “heads” both times. But for now, let’s run with the assumption that the Democrats will probably win:
What could the Democrats do with the House? A lot, as it turns out.
If the House flips to Democrats, that means Speaker Nancy Pelosi (or her successor) will set the House’s legislative agenda, not Paul Ryan or Donald Trump. To put it another way, if President Trump wants to get a law passed, he’ll have to convince Nancy Pelosi to put it to a vote and win the support of Congressional Democrats, something he’s never had to do before. If you didn’t like how the administration tried to repeal Obamacare over the summer of 2017, or how the administration blew up the deficit with its tax cut bill last winter, you can start to breathe a little easier. If you did like those bills, maybe now would be a good time to start sweating, because this could mean the end of the Trump administration’s ability to pass laws without bipartisan support. If Donald Trump wants to build an 18 billion dollar wall on our southern border, he’s gonna have to make some concessions.
Oversight and Impeachment:
The House of Representatives wasn’t just created to pass bills and bore people to death with long, meaningless floor debates. It also has the power to investigate the rest of the federal government and haul anyone it wants in front of any number of committee hearings. In the present day, House Republicans have been content to let the executive branch do their own thing without any meaningful investigations, so the EPA has had free rein to get rid of dozens of its own regulations without public explanation, twenty cabinet-level officials have never had to explain a glut of ethics violations, and the House Intelligence Committee has abdicated its responsibility to investigate collusion between members of the Trump campaign and the Russian government.
If the House flips, that will change. If the Democrats get even 218 seats in Congress, the Democratic Speaker of the House (presumably Nancy Pelosi) will be allowed to pick new committee chairs for each and every House committee, and those committee chairs will have the ability to conduct oversight into the Trump administration’s activities, both legal and illegal. If an administration official gets caught meeting with lobbyists while taking a taxpayer-funded vacation, like Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke was last month, he or she better have a good explanation ready for a public hearing in front of a Congressional committee.
More critically, the House Intelligence Committee will be able to interview key witnesses from the Trump campaign or the administration to determine if/how they helped the Russian government get Donald Trump elected, independent of the Department of Justice’s independent investigators. Considering that President Trump is openly considering obstructing justice by firing key personnel in said official investigation (because nothing screams “I’m innocent” more than getting rid of the people trying to investigate you), that means the House Intelligence Committee and possible-future-Chairman Adam Schiff could bear the mantle of investigating Team Trump’s collusion with the Russians.
There’s one other committee that could become very important over the next two or so years: the House Judiciary Committee. This is the committee that could be responsible for drafting articles of impeachment against Donald Trump, should they find that Donald Trump committed a crime while in office, or in order to reach his office. If Robert Mueller’s official investigation uncovers evidence that Donald Trump was aware of + allowed his team to collude with the Russians, or covered it up after the fact, that could be an impeachable offense, and could merit removal from the office of the presidency of the United States. If the House flips (and therefore, the committee flips too), and evidence is uncovered of criminal acts, this committee will be instrumental in issuing the congressional version of a criminal indictment.
If the House flips, and the Judiciary Committee passes articles of impeachment, it’ll be up to the 435 members of the House itself to vote on said articles. The Republicans currently in charge of the House don’t seem like the types to vote “yea” on impeachment, because they’ve never done anything significant to oppose Donald Trump, ever, and it doesn’t seem likely that they’d spontaneously grow spines even if there’s a mountain of evidence showing that Donald Trump committed impeachable offenses. On the other hand, House Democrats are generally willing to listen to Robert Mueller and his investigative team, and if they conclude that there’s sufficient evidence to warrant a trial, they would likely be willing to vote to impeach.
It’s worth noting that in order to impeach President Trump, a simple majority (50%+1) of the House must vote to do so. That doesn’t remove Donald Trump from office and replace him with Mike “probably not a criminal” Pence, though. That just means that the United States Senate has to hold a trial to determine his fate. In fact, President Trump can only be removed from office if the 67% of the Senate (aka the jury) votes to convict him.
Hey, wait a second. I’m over 1,900 words into this post and I haven’t talked about the Senate yet. Shit, this is going to be a looong post.
Part Two: The U.S. Senate
Could the Democrats take back the Senate? …yeah, but they probably won’t.
Even though Democratic enthusiasm is way up, and Democrats of all stripes are poised to win back the House, it is entirely possible that Democrats could actually lose seats in the Senate, which sucks because the Senate is a way more important legislative body.
The reason for this is pretty simple: only a third of the Senate is up for reelection in each general election, and this time around, Democrats are playing defense in 26 out of 35 contests, whereas Republicans only have to defend 9. Even though Republicans could conceivably lose in 5 of those 9 defensive contests, 8 of the 9 are being held in states that reliably vote for Republicans for Senate. In contrast, there are 10 Democratic senators running for reelection in states that Donald Trump won, 6 of whom could conceivably lose. Imagine being a Democrat trying to win in a state like North Dakota, which Donald Trump won by 35 points. Not exactly easy.
If the Democratic Party wants to win back the United States Senate, they need to have a net gain of +2 seats, or win 28 out of 35 of the seats up for grab this year. This is, to use the scientific term, hard as shit. Before Doug Jones defeated Judge Roy “The Diddler” Moore in Alabama last year, this task looked nearly impossible because it required a net gain of 3 seats. In this scenario, Democrats must defeat two incumbent Republicans in swing/red states just to have a chance at winning the Senate. If any red-state Democrat loses their opportunity for reelection, Democrats must replace that loss by defeating yet another incumbent Republican. You’re probably starting to see why this is so difficult.
Because Democrats can only win back the Senate if they can defeat a bunch of Republicans in reliably Republican states (plus a Republican incumbent in Nevada), FiveThirtyEight’s Senate Forecast predicts that there is only a 1 in 7 chance that Democrats can take back the Senate, and about a ~52% chance that Democrats will actually lose at least one seat. In fact, their “median” prediction is that the Democrats will either gain nothing, or lose one seat. It also doesn’t help that a Senate evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats would default to Republican control (albeit much weaker Republican control) because Mike Pence could serve as the tiebreaker on crucial tied votes. Things are grim enough that, personally, I will be surprised if Democrats win the Senate and pleased if they tie the Senate (obviously I’m a Democrat, but if you’re reading this post you’ve probably known that for years). In fact, I’ll claim “victory,” albeit a shitty and weak victory, if Democrats stay at 49 Senators.
Some Senate candidates are actually pretty high-profile already, despite not being incumbents: Beto O’Rourke, running to unseat Ted Cruz in Texas, has built up a national following as the Second Coming of Christ, thanks to his active online presence and charismatic demeanor. In Utah, Orrin Hatch is almost certainly going to be replaced by 2012 presidential contender Mitt Romney, who, incidentally, started his career as a Senate candidate in Massachusetts.
For those who are interested, I’ve created a brief rundown of every important Senate race, divided between seats currently held by Democrats and those currently held by Republicans (all data provided by the gods of FiveThirtyEight):
Democratic-held Senate Seats In Danger of Flipping:
NORTH DAKOTA: Currently held by Senator Heidi Heitkamp, a moderate Democrat who votes against Donald Trump 45.6% of the time despite representing the 4th most Republican state in the nation. Heitkamp was able to eke out a close victory in 2012 despite being the underdog in her race, but North Dakota’s state government is keen to make sure that doesn’t happen again. They recently passed a strict voter ID law requiring all voters to have a home mailing address listed on their IDs (problematic because the state’s heavily-Democratic Native Americans use P.O. boxes for mail, not home addresses). Because of that, and the fact that North Dakota voted for Donald Trump by 35 points, Heitkamp is not expected to win reelection, with FiveThirtyEight giving her a 1 in 4 chance of keeping her seat. Not a guaranteed loss, but still pretty harsh.
MISSOURI: Claire McCaskill represents this state, and although young Democrat Jason Kander nearly beat an incumbent Republican in 2016, this state is still quite conservative, having voted for Donald Trump by 18 points. In 2012, McCaskill cruised to reelection because her opponent was a dumbfuck named Todd “Legitimate Rape” Akin, but this time she’s up against a normal/intelligent human being by the name of Josh Hawley. Still, McCaskill has made a name for herself as a moderate, Harry Truman-like figure (notable because she’s in Harry Truman’s old seat), and Missourians (that’s a word, right?) seem pretty okay with her. FiveThirtyEight gives McCaskill a 3 in 5 chance of keeping her seat. Much better than Heitkamp’s chances, especially considering how red Missouri has become lately.
INDIANA: Moderate Democrat Joe Donnelly only represents this state in the Senate because Republican primary voters replaced popular moderate Richard Lugar with a weapons-grade dipshit named Richard “Rape Is Part of God’s Plan” Mourdock, and general election voters decided they weren’t a fan of that. This time, much like Claire McCaskill, Joe Donnelly is up against a rational human being named Mike Braun. Still, Donnelly is a moderate who, when he’s not swinging an axe (watch this whole video), comes across as low-key, intelligent, and bipartisan. FiveThirtyEight thinks he’s got a 2 in 3 chance of winning reelection. Not bad.
FLORIDA: Democrat Bill Nelson was initially in really big trouble when Governor Rick Scott announced his candidacy – Scott is charismatic, extremely wealthy from the time his company committed Medicare fraud (that’s not spin, that actually happened), speaks fluent Spanish (Nelson does not), and looks good with Floridians because he’s led Florida’s many hurricane recovery efforts. Bill Nelson appears to be in luck, though, because he’s regained his polling lead and may end up being buoyed by Florida gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum’s popularity. Also, fun fact: Senator Bill Nelson flew on a space shuttle once. Into SPACE. Anyways, FiveThirtyEight thinks Nelson has a 7 in 10 chance of hanging onto his seat.
WEST VIRGINIA: Incumbent Senator Joe Manchin has a strong personal brand independent of the national Democratic Party, which is more or less letting him do his own thing. Manchin has been in the Senate since 2010, and before that he spent 5 years as the Governor of West Virginia, which is why West Virginia knows him and is willing to reelect him despite being a Democrat in a state that Donald Trump won by 42 points (68.5% to Clinton’s 26.4%). FiveThirtyEight is giving Joe Manchin a 7 in 8 chance of winning reelection in this state, a stranger to blue water.
MONTANA: This state voted for Donald Trump by a 20.5 point margin, but that hasn’t stopped it from electing a centrist Democrat as its governor, and a moderate Democrat named Jon Tester to the Senate. Tester was initially in a lot of trouble, but he’s managed to brand himself as a politically-independent, authentic Montanan gentleman farmer, whereas his opponent is a guy from Maryland. Apparently Marylanders aren’t too popular in Montana, because FiveThirtyEight thinks Jon Tester, who, by the way, meat-grindered three of his fingers into oblivion at the age of nine, has a 7 in 8 chance of keeping his Senate seat.
All in all, Democrats are favored to keep most of the seats they’re defending, save for Heidi Heitkamp’s seat in North Dakota. That said, none of these red state Democrats are guaranteed to hold onto their seats – Claire McCaskill may be ahead right now, but there’s still a 1 in 3 chance she’ll lose, and “1 in 3” outcomes happen all the time in real life. To compensate for their possible losses, Democrats have set their sights on flipping a bunch of Republican-held seats:
Republican-held Senate Seats In Danger of Flipping:
MISSISSIPPI SPECIAL: This probably won’t end well for Democrats, but it’s worth trying. Democrat Mike Espy, a former Agriculture Secretary under Bill Clinton, is running against both the incumbent Cindy Hyde-Smith, and neo-Confederate state legislator Chris McDaniel. Tuesday’s election isn’t really a general election so much as a primary – assuming none of the three major candidates win an outright majority, the top two winners of the “primary” will advance to a general election held after Thanksgiving. Mike Espy only has a chance if he advances to the primary against Chris McDaniel, because as deep-red as Mississippi is, voters really dislike McDaniel. If Hyde-Smith goes to the general election against Espy, Espy will probably lose. Still, polling has been sparse and anything could happen. FiveThirtyEight says Democrat Mike Espy has a 1 in 8 chance of flipping this seat.
TENNESSEE: Incumbent Senator Bob Corker made a name for himself as a pragmatic intellectual, and in recent years he’s made a point of openly criticizing Donald Trump as a child who needs constant adult supervision. This has made Corker unwelcome in Tennessee, so he’s decided not to run for reelection. Replacing him will be either Republican Marsha Blackburn, an arch-conservative congresswoman who uses “liberal” as an insult and has almost no bipartisan cred, or former Tennessee governor Phil Bredesen, a centrist Democrat who served two terms from 2003 to 2011, winning reelection by 38 points in 2006. Right now, Bredesen is down by ~5 points in the polls, which is still solid because Donald Trump won Tennessee by 26 points, but he’s still very popular with Democrats and independents, and could conceivably pull off a win. FiveThirtyEight is fairly pessimistic, but gives him a 1 in 5 chance of flipping Tennessee for the Democrats.
NEVADA: Incumbent Republican Senator Dean Heller is in a neck-and-neck race for the Senate in Nevada. His opponent, Representative Jacky Rosen, is hoping to topple Heller over his failure to uphold protections for preexisting conditions in last year’s health care vote, among other things. Nevada voted for Hillary Clinton by a few points, but it’s still a swing state with a Republican governor, so it shouldn’t be counted as a sure win. In fact, at the time of writing, FiveThirtyEight’s three models show results ranging from a 0.6pt Democratic victory to a 0.2pt Republican victory, and its classic model (the one I trust the most) says that Rosen has a 1 in 2 chance of flipping Nevada for the Democrats.
ARIZONA: With the retirement of Republican Jeff Flake, who, like Bob Corker, has been very vocal about how much of a liar Donald Trump is, Arizona has been left an open seat. Vying to replace him are Representative Krysten Sinema, a moderate Democrat, and Representative Martha McSally, a far-right Republican who used to be fairly moderate. Although McSally is a Republican in a red state that has voted for Republican presidential candidates since 1996, Sinema has a lot of pull with the state’s newly-energized Democrats, and FiveThirtyEight believes she has a 4 in 7 chance of flipping Arizona to the Democratic column.
TEXAS: Robert Francis O’Rourke, a.k.a. “Beto” (short for “Roberto”), a.k.a. Progressive Jesus, a.k.a. the Chosen One, a.k.a. Robert F. Kennedy reborn, a.k.a. the King of Kings, is a young Democrat running to topple one of the most conservative, most reviled members of the United States Senate: Ted Cruz, a.k.a. “Lucifer in the Flesh.”
Texas, obviously, is a very Republican state, and has not elected a Democrat to the Senate since 1988, but it’s been getting more competitive in recent years. Texas has a large population of Democratic and independent voters in its major cities, and only voted for Donald Trump by a 9 point margin in 2016. Because of this, Representative O’Rourke has taken it upon himself to barnstorm the massive state of Texas, visiting all 254 counties in the state (and some of these have towns with, like, only 3 Democrats total) while broadcasting his road trips live on Facebook. Everywhere he goes, rain or shine, he is met with massive crowds and incredible enthusiasm, despite his openly liberal political stances. In any normal race, Beto wouldn’t have this level of grassroots support, but it’s worth mentioning that nobody likes Ted Cruz. Ted Cruz is a smarmy liar who began preparing his presidential campaign as soon as he got elected to the Senate, and, as noted above, fellow Republicans have gleefully compared to Satan. Lindsey Graham famously said that “if you killed Ted Cruz on the floor of the Senate, and the trial was in the Senate, nobody would convict you.” In Graham’s words, the Senate would be okay if you murdered Ted Cruz. John Boehner, former Republican Speaker of the House, said that Ted Cruz was Lucifer in the flesh and the most miserable son-of-a-bitch he’d ever worked with. Ted Cruz himself hasn’t done himself any favors either – he talked about how much he loves White Castle (which doesn’t exist in Texas) and tried to insult Beto by calling him… a “triple meat Whataburger liberal” which makes no sense at all.
In short, Cruz isn’t a fun person to be around, but his energetic opponent, Beto O’Rourke, is. There’s been speculation that he’d run for President in 2020 if he wins, just like Ted Cruz did in 2016, but Beto has publicly committed himself to serving a full six-year term in the Senate. In fact, the only way he could run would be if he loses the Senate election and becomes a private citizen… but that probably won’t happen because this man has been pulling 16 hours a day for over a year, and he seriously needs rest. In any case, I think it would be magnificent if Beto O’Rourke could turn Texas blue , but Texas is still predisposed to vote Republican, and FiveThirtyEight thinks Beto O’Rourke only has about a 2 in 9 chance of flipping Texas for the Democrats.
Confirmation of Judges and Cabinet Officials:
If Democrats overperform current expectations, they could keep most (if not all) of the seats they’re defending, and pick up 2 to 3 Republican seats without too much hassle. Let’s assume for now that, somehow, Democrats do hit that “magic” ~15% chance to win back the Senate as well as the House. We’ve already covered the possibility of impeachment and conviction, but there’s one more issue left to consider: the Senate’s role in confirming or blocking nominees to courts and high-level executive branch jobs. Every cabinet secretary, every deputy to those cabinet secretaries, and every judge nominated by the Trump administration must pass a public Senate confirmation process.
Because Senate Republicans have barely been able to get key pieces of legislation through the chamber (tax cuts passed, but the Obamacare repeal failed miserably), they’ve focused on getting a ginormous slate of hard-right conservative judges confirmed to benches all across the United States. Most fly under the radar, but everyone should recognize two names: Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, both confirmed to the Supreme Court of the United States under highly partisan circumstances (Gorsuch because the Senate ignored the previous nominee for ten months just to say they could, and Kavanaugh because of the poor handling of sexual assault allegations made against him). Some cabinet nominations have gone over fairly well – Defense Secretary James Mattis sailed through the Senate with a 98-1 vote, but Education Secretary Betsy DeVos only got in because Mike Pence overruled a tie caused by 2 Republicans joining 48 Democrats to oppose her nomination. A Democratic Senate probably (hopefully) won’t result in blanket opposition to all nominees, just opposition to idiots like DeVos.
Holy shit, 4,460 words in. We’re almost done. Wait, no, we’re not.
Part Two: Intermission: Eggs Benedict Recipe
I used to think that Eggs Benedict could only exist in restaurants because Hollandaise is complicated, but apparently it’s not hard to make them at home. I guess it makes sense, since none of the ingredients are that complicated.
Here she is making a batch of cornbread muffins. Here’s a different chef from the same company making beef jerky. God, I could watch these all day. Actually, I already have – that’s why this is being posted on November 4th and not October 28th.
Done with that? GOOD.
Part Four: Gubernatorial/State Legislative Elections
There are 36 gubernatorial elections this year, and Democrats are expected to win 23-24 of them. Most, like the gubernatorial contest in California or the contest in Alabama, aren’t meaningfully competitive. Because of heightened Democratic turnout, however, there are some pretty interesting races on the, uh, docket. FiveThirtyEight has a forecast for these races, too. In fact, I’m using all their data, so be sure to check it out since they (specifically: wizard man Nate Silver) are the ones who did all the heavy lifting.
First up, we have races in traditionally swing-ish states that could go either way, depending on Democratic enthusiasm: Nevada, Ohio, Wisconsin, Florida, Georgia and Iowa are all fairly swingy at some level, and although certain candidates are favored in each one (Democrat Andrew Gillum of Florida is expected to win against his Republican opponent, with a 3 in 4 chance of victory). With this, adding onto expected victories in states like Illinois, Michigan, and Maine (all states that have Republican governors but are expected to flip), the Democratic Party is expected to have governors “overseeing” the governments of a little over 60% of the American population. There are a few races where Democrats actually have a low double-digits chance of prevailing over Republicans in heavily-Republican states: South Dakota, Alaska, and Oklahoma (where the incumbent has lost popularity for, among other things, letting her daughter live on governor’s mansion property in a trailer). In Kansas, unpopular Republican state Secretary of State Kris Kobach is running nearly even with Democrat Laura Kelly, and even though Kobach is favored to win (4 in 7 chance to win to Kelly’s 3 in 7), it’s notable that a Democrat is within easy striking distance of the Kansas governor’s mansion.
And then there are the deep-blue states represented by popular Republican governors. Despite this being a wave year for Democrats, governors like Charlie Baker of Massachusetts, Larry Hogan of Maryland (<3 u Larry), and Phil Scott of Vermont are all in solid shape for reelection. This is because heavily-Democratic states (especially Massachusetts) don’t mind having centrist Republican governors, since they tend to act as checks on Democratic legislative majorities without pushing archaic social agendas. For all the excitement about Maryland potentially electing its first ever black governor, Democrat Ben Jealous has less than a 1% chance of prevailing over Larry Hogan. To put it another way, in terms of gubernatorial contests, Maryland is more Republican than Alabama, where the Democrat has a 1 in 80 shot.
At the same time as these 36 gubernatorial elections, there are 87 separate state legislative elections happening this year. According to the Washington Post’s analysis of state legislatures, Democrats are poised to make gains almost everywhere – if a state has a veto-proof majority of Republican legislators, the 2018 elections could narrow that down to “just” a regular majority. Even the replacement of one Republican with one Democrat could change the outcome on certain bills in some places. That said, the real prize is getting to flip a Republican legislative chamber to a Democratic legislative chamber, something Democrats have historically failed at. From 2010 through 2016, Democrats have lost something like a thousand seats in legislatures all across America, and despite some recent gains they still only have control of 32 out of 99 legislatures. Even if they, as hypothesized in the Post analysis, only pick up legislative seats in districts that Hillary Clinton won, the Democrats would be in a good position to pick up about eight more legislatures outright: Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Maine, Michigan, New Hampshire (x2), and Vermont. Michigan currently has a Republican governor and two Republican state legislative chambers, but currently Democrats seem favored to take back the governor’s mansion and the State House, while making gains in the State Senate (personally I think it’s possible for them to take it back entirely, if they have a good night).
Aside from passing state-level laws, what’s the point of caring about state legislatures? More importantly, why do I care about the composition of a state government in a state like North Dakota, which I will never visit? Two things:
Ending the Electoral College: What the “NPVIC” Is
There is currently a plan in the works to, well, end the Electoral College, called the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. If you believe that the Electoral College is problematic because it ignores the national popular vote and lets candidates like Donald Trump win the presidency even though Hillary Clinton got 2.8 million more votes than he did, then boy do I have a product to sell you. The NPVIC is an agreement drafted up by non-swing states (all of which are heavily blue, so far) to pledge to give all of their electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote regardless of party, starting when the signatories of the NPVIC amass a collective 270 electoral votes. If this compact comes into effect, Republicans and Democrats will have to compete everywhere, not just swing states like Florida and Iowa, because a voter in Dallas will have just as much power to swing the election as one in Miami. The Constitution gives the states a wide berth to decide how they want to allocate their electors for each presidential election, and doesn’t even mention voting in the article responsible for outlining the Electoral College, so this is/should be perfectly legal.
Right now, the NPVIC has support from just twelve states (including DC) and 172 electoral votes, so it’s not actually in effect and those twelve entities are free to allocate electors however they please, and there’s hope on the horizon that it could pick up support in states like Delaware (3 EVs), Oregon (7) and New Mexico (5). It’s unlikely that the NPVIC will get meaningful support from swing states (or states that could become swing states in the near future) because the NPVIC would eliminate the necessity for candidates to campaign specifically in swing states, and states like Iowa and New Hampshire would no longer have any reason to exist. However, its supporters are trying to get help from deep red states like Oklahoma and Arkansas, because they get ignored in presidential elections too. Since it’s a given that Democrats generally aren’t huge fans of the Electoral College, adding more Democrats to the legislatures and executives of deep red states would boost the NPVIC’s chances and give it some much-needed momentum.
Of course, the NPVIC is sort of a pipe dream for now. After all, it’s hard to get deep red states and deep blue states to work together on killing an institution that has, so far, greatly benefited Republicans by electing George W. Bush in 2000 and Donald Trump in 2016. Still, it’s worth keeping an eye on.
Redistricting Reform vs. Gerrymandering
Since the NPVIC probably won’t happen, it’s probably smart to focus on another concept of electoral fairness – redistricting reform. The Constitution presently lets states draw their own Congressional districts, and as most of you already know, this means that partisan legislators can use all sorts of black magic bullshit cartography to give their political party an unfair advantage in congressional elections – if you don’t believe me, just look at FiveThirtyEight’s Atlas of Redistricting – they have maps of all 50 states and all 435 Congressional districts, as well as alternate maps if they were gerrymandered one way or another, or if more fair criteria were imposed. Unfair “black magic bullshit cartography” goes by a much shorter name, one that is likely familiar to most readers – gerrymandering.
Both parties try to pull this, with a few exceptions (California has a non-partisan redistricting commission that gives Republicans a chance at controlling up to 16 congressional districts, although they could knock that number down to 6 if they gerrymandered the hell out of the state), but the Republican Party has a hell of a lot more power right now, since they control a ton of state legislatures. This means that states from Michigan to North Carolina to Texas have had their populations divided in arbitrary ways such that Republican members of the House of Representatives can have an easier time winning their elections, not so that they can better represent a population center with shared interests.
If Democrats were entrenched in power, the reverse could have been true – there is no tenet in the “big bag of liberal ideas” that says gerrymandering is a sin, and to prove this, just look at how badly Illinois and Maryland have been gerrymandered by their respective legislatures. Montgomery County MD has been chopped up into like 3 or 4 separate districts, with my own house in Potomac being stuck in the same district as a house in the coal mining town of Cumberland. There is no logical reason for this to be the case, because Cumberland has vastly different political interests than Potomac, but that didn’t stop the state legislature from doing it anyways. I think it’ll improve in the 2020 redistricting cycle, because Republican Larry Hogan, hallowed be his name, will have the ability to veto ridiculously gerrymandered maps whereas his predecessor, Martin O’Malley, tolerated gerrymandering as a necessary evil to counteract Republican gerrymanders in red states. It’s also worth noting that Democrats have started to turn against gerrymandering and have proposed ballot measures like Michigan’s Proposition 2, which would create an independent commission to handle the creation of Michigan’s congressional districts. Those commissions won’t be immune to partisan pressures, but they’d be a lot more insulated than openly partisan legislatures.
The reason I bring this up now is simple – states dominated by the Republicans have been able to gerrymander their way to a greater House majority than they actually “deserve,” but the easiest way to counter this is to elect Democrats as governors or as state legislators, because then state-level Republicans will no longer have the ability to easily create unfair maps; a state with a divided government might have to actually work together to create fair and balanced (heh) maps instead of obviously rigged ones. If electing Democrats is verboten to the electorates of those states, they can skip that step and pass ballot measures like Proposition 2 without actually letting Democrats into statewide offices. The reverse is true – Democratic voters in Maryland could get rid of its horribly unfair districts by reelecting Larry Hogan, or by proposing a ballot measure for the 2020 election to create some form of nonpartisan-ish commission.
This is urgent, because states must adjust their congressional district maps every ten years according to the results of the 2020 Census, and institute new districts by the 2022 midterm elections. If reasonable people can come together, they can limit the degree to which states are unfairly redistricted, and come 2022 the House of Representatives might actually look a little bit more, well, representative of the nation’s views. If no meaningful progress is made after the 2018 and 2020 elections, voters won’t have a chance to repair their districts until close to the 2030 elections.
Moving right along…
Part Five: Summary of My* Predictions
If you weren’t paying attention to the bulk of this post (and I can’t blame you because it’s 6,500 words long), here’s a short summary of everything that I expect will happen… and when I say “everything that I expect will happen” I really just mean what elections experts and the journalists/statisticians at FiveThirtyEight think, because this entire post is just a collection of things that they’ve already said, with minor adjustments and subjective spins. If you can’t tell, I’ve been reading a lot of their stuff and listening to their weekly podcasts (highly recommended).
Fair warning: FiveThirtyEight has repeatedly said that there is a decent (~40%) chance that at least one of their forecasts will be wrong (i.e. the chance that the Senate will flip Democrat unexpectedly and/or the House stays Republican).
U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES: I expect that the Democratic Party will take back the House from the Republicans.
- FiveThirtyEight: 85%ish chance of Democratic takeover, expecting a +20 to +57 seat gain.
U.S. SENATE: I expect that the Republican Party will hold onto the Senate, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the Democrats win a slim majority or reach 50 Senators (tying the Senate and forcing Mike Pence to tiebreak important things).
- FiveThirtyEight: 15%ish chance of Democratic takeover, expecting a -0.7 seat loss on average.
U.S. GOVERNORS: I expect that the Democrats will win gubernatorial contests in a number of states and end up governing a majority of the population.
- FiveThirtyEight: 194 million Americans will live in ~23.7 Democrat-governed states, 135 million Americans will live in ~26.3 Republican-governed states, on average (duh).
In short, this is a blue wave.
What I’ll Be Doing on Election Night
Live-tweeting the election, under the handle @jnsndorsey. Yeah, live-tweeting. That’s how sad I am. I tend to stay up very late and talk an awful lot, so if you follow the things I say/do from Tuesday through Friday (when all/almost all of the important election returns will have come in), you’ll be pretty caught up. I’ll also be watching a few cable news and broadcast networks, and if you feel like sticking your face into a “breaking news” firehose for 72 hours, feel free to do that too.
Most of the people reading this will recall that I spent about 7 hours on November 8/9 2016 doing Facebook Live streams, reading/analyzing election returns as they came in. I’m not going to do that this time for two reasons:
1. I singlehandedly jinxed the 2016 election with my initially overconfident livestream, and that makes me wholly responsible for Donald Trump’s election.
2. We won’t know the full results of every 2018 midterm race until Thursday or Friday, and I’m not going to spend four days staring into a camera, nor are you gonna spend four days looking at the other end.
There are a million more things I could say about Tuesday’s midterms, and the only thing stopping me from doing so is space – the full text of this post is exactly 7,000 words long, or ~10% the length of an average novel. If you know how to reach me, please contact me with any questions. Go out and vote for reasonable Democrats and/or Republicans this Tuesday if you have not already done so (here’s a link with instructions). If you want to make a blue wave happen (or if you want to stop it from happening), you have to work for it. Follow the shit I’ll be saying on Twitter this Election Night at @jnsndorsey (jsndorsey was taken and so was jsdorsey).
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