The 2018 midterms could very well be the most significant midterm election cycle in modern American history.
Newt Gingrich’s Republican Revolution 24 years ago proved that midterms could, in fact, be relevant and indeed game-changing events. Although the 1998 and 2002 midterms were barely ripples in the political landscape, the last three consecutive midterm cycles have all resulted in wave elections.
The Democrats had their first ever modern wave election in the 2006 midterms, capitalizing on the widespread unpopularity of then-President George W. Bush to retake both houses of Congress. The Republicans then returned to the throne as the dominant midterm party by retaking the House in 2010, and the Senate in 2014, both of which were two of the largest midterm landslides in American history.
Now, Democrats hope to nearly replicate their 2006 performance in 2018, with the goal of flipping the House back into their hands. This is in addition to a number of tightly-contested gubernatorial races around the country, and a handful of U.S. Senate races to watch as well (even though this chamber is widely expected to remain in Republican hands).
But the most likely scenario is that, against all conventional wisdom, the Republicans will pull off yet another upset that will come as quite a surprise to the Democrats most of all. Here is a full list of my predictions for the 2018 midterms.
I am obligated to focus first on my own state before moving on to the bigger national picture. You may think California as a whole is a lost cause, and you’re probably right. But there are a few races to keep an eye on nonetheless.
In the State Assembly, the actual overall composition will probably not change even though there will be a handful of flips. Keep an eye on Assembly Districts 32 and 60, where Republican challengers Justin Mendes and Bill Essayli will likely oust incumbent Democrats Rudy Salas and Sabrina Cervantes, respectively.
At the same time, watch for the Republicans to lose a seat in District 40, with Democrat James Ramos likely to beat Republican Henry Nickel in the race to succeed the outgoing Marc Steinorth. Since the state’s top-two primary system has already guaranteed that District 76, vacated by Republican Rocky Chavez, will go blue due to the top two candidates in that primary being Democrats, the result will be a net change of zero in the lower chamber, as both parties will have gained two seats and lost two seats.
In the State Senate, the one and only truly contested race is in District 12, with a close contest for the seat of outgoing Republican Anthony Cannella. Democratic Assemblywoman Anna Caballero, whom Cannella narrowly defeated for the seat in 2010, will likely triumph over Republican Rob Poythress. This one race is very crucial, as such a Democratic flip would return the party to a two-thirds supermajority in the upper chamber. Combined with their supermajority holding steady in the Assembly, this will give the Democrats complete and total domination of the California State Legislature for at least two more years.
In the statewide races, expect Democrat victories all up and down the line, including in the top race for Governor, where Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom will defeat Republican businessman John Cox. Although Cox will likely perform better than the previous two nominees who got slaughtered by Jerry Brown, he will still fall well short of victory. He is most likely to lose by double-digits, and at the absolute best will lose by eight points.
However, there is one statewide race that could be an upset: The race for Insurance Commissioner, where former Republican Steve Poizner is now running as an independent. Having previously held the office from 2007 to 2011, Poizner’s experience has garnered him many endorsements from business groups and virtually all of the state’s major newspapers. Such a win would be the first statewide victory for an independent in California’s history; the race will be extremely close, but expect Poizner to pull it off against Democrat Ricardo Lara by no more than 2 points.
Then there is the race for U.S. Senate. Ancient incumbent Democrat Dianne Feinstein is being challenged from her left by the socialist Kevin de Leon. He has proven a more formidable challenger than previously expected, having the support of the grassroots base and even earning the endorsement of the state party over the incumbent.
His threat to her re-election is most likely what led to her spearheading the repulsive crusade against Justice Brett Kavanaugh. Although her actions there have greatly increased Republican aversion to her while not exactly winning back the far-left, it is still more likely that she will win another term. But this too will probably be close, most likely by single digits.
And last but not least, there is the state’s delegation to the U.S. House. As California is considered crucial to Democrats’ plans to retake the lower chamber, they have to win at least a few seats in this state in order to regain control of the House. But they’re all in for nasty surprises in virtually all races. In the primary, Republicans combined won more votes overall than the Democrats combined in every single contested race, with one exception: The 49th District, vacated by Republican Darrell Issa.
Now, in the general election, Republican voters in California actually have even more motivation to turn out, with a Republican actually on the ballot for Governor (a rarity these days for such a crucial statewide race), as well as enthusiasm for Proposition 6, a measure to repeal a recently-enacted 12-cent gas tax increase.
Although I predict that both Cox and Prop 6 will ultimately fail at the statewide level, the down-ballot effect of these two votes will be enough to save all entrenched incumbents: Jeff Denham (10), David Valadao (21), Devin Nunes (22), Steve Knight (25), Mimi Walters (45), Dana Rohrabacher (48), and Duncan Hunter (50). In the two open seats, former Assemblywoman Young Kim will most likely win the 39th District and succeed her former boss Ed Royce.
The only possible flip here is the aforementioned 49th District. Although Democrats overall outnumbered Republicans in the primary, they did so by the slimmest of margins (51 to 48). In addition to the enthusiasm factors of Cox and Prop 6, Republican nominee Diane Harkey is a very strong candidate; a member of the state Board of Equalization (and thus one of the only two Republicans that technically occupy some kind of statewide office), and endorsed by President Trump, Harkey has been holding her own quite well against the radical progressive Mike Levin. This seat will be close no matter what, but I truly believe Harkey will narrowly win by less than one percent.
Most of the governorships will remain in the hands of the current party, but a handful will change hands. Expect Democrats to make gains in Illinois, Maine, and New Mexico, while the Republicans will retake the governorship of Alaska from independent Bill Walker.
Although races in the Rust Belt states of Wisconsin and Michigan are not looking good for the Republicans hoping to hold those seats, it is most likely that both contests will be extremely narrow.
In Wisconsin, Scott Walker may very well pull off a close re-election; if he does, it could boost the chances of Republican Senate nominee Leah Vukmir to come close or even pull off an upset. In any case, the most likely scenario is that Walker will narrowly win while Vukmir loses. The reverse could also be true in Michigan; if Republican Senate nominee John James does better than expected, it could carry over and allow for gubernatorial nominee Bill Schuette to also outperform expectations, even though both will probably still lose.
All of the key swing states will most likely see Republican victories. In Nevada, early voting shows the Republicans with an improvement from their 2016 total, while Democrats are slightly below their 2016 levels. Like in Michigan, the tightly-contested Senate race will most likely see incumbent Republican Dean Heller help carry gubernatorial nominee Adam Laxalt over the finish line, as both win by extremely close margins.
Another state that many have been focusing on is the state of Georgia, where Democrat Stacey Abrams is polling surprisingly close against Republican Brian Kemp. Democrats are banking on massive turnout by African-American voters to give Abrams the victory, but with the decreased enthusiasm among this bloc since Obama left office, combined with rising black approval of Trump, it is more than likely that this will not pan out the way Democrats want.
Kemp already pulled off one incredible upset in the primary; he lost the first round of the primary to Lieutenant Governor Casey Cagle by a margin of 39 to 26, after Cagle had received the blessing of outgoing Governor Nathan Deal and other top party officials. But in the runoff, Kemp suddenly turned it around into a 38-point victory, beating Cagle 69 to 31. Since President Trump has repeatedly and enthusiastically endorsed Kemp, it is more than likely that Kemp will win by a comfortable margin.
Arguably the two most important gubernatorial contests are in Florida and Kansas, and they are important for the same reason: The Republican nominees in these states both stand a strong chance of being future leaders of the Trump movement and the MAGA agenda after the President leaves office in 2025.
In the red-hot battleground state of Florida, Representative Ron DeSantis is running to succeed the popular Rick Scott, who is running for Senate. Just as with Michigan and Nevada, the dynamics of the Senate race are all but guaranteed to cross over into the gubernatorial contest.
Scott’s name recognition, high approval ratings, and funding will more than likely grant him victory in his own race, and DeSantis will easily ride that wave to victory as well. Republicans are already dominating early voting against Democrats, having substantially increased their lead from this same point in the 2016 election. The primary alone indicated a strong performance for Republican candidates; over 100,000 more Republicans voted than Democrats, and DeSantis got nearly 400,000 more votes in his primary than the Democratic nominee, Andrew Gillum, did in his.
Coupling that with the fact that Gillum is an avowed socialist, and under several federal investigations for corruption charges, DeSantis will definitely win this race, but by no more than 3 points.
In the safe red state of Kansas, Secretary of State Kris Kobach is the Republican nominee. Kobach has long been running on the same agenda as President Trump, with a strict stance on immigration and numerous successful efforts in the past to combat widespread voter fraud. Like Kemp in Georgia, Kobach pulled off a stunning upset when he challenged incumbent Governor Jeff Colyer in the primary, with Trump’s endorsement; he won by less than 400 votes.
As some moderate Republican figures claim Kobach is “too radical,” polling seems to indicate a closer race between Kobach and Democratic State Senator Laura Kelly. There is also the unfortunate factor of independent candidate Greg Orman, who was the runner-up in the 2014 U.S. Senate election, when he finished only 10 points behind incumbent Republican Pat Roberts. In this race, he has polled anywhere from the high single-digits to the low double-digits.
It is because of Orman’s spoiling of the top two dynamic that this race will be close. Kobach still has an edge and will most likely win, but probably by a closer margin of 3 to 5 points.
This is probably the most fun area to look at, even if the overall outcome is still a foregone conclusion. Republicans will hold this chamber.
The question is: How many seats will they gain?
In the aftermath of the Kavanaugh confirmation drama, Republicans have guaranteed a net gain of no fewer than five. Five Democrats who can kiss their seats goodbye are Heidi Heitkamp in North Dakota, Claire McCaskill in Missouri, Joe Donnelly in Indiana, Jon Tester in Montana, and Bill Nelson in Florida. Take those five to the bank.
In addition, the races in New Jersey, Ohio, and Michigan have proven surprisingly close. It is unlikely Republicans will pick up any of these three, but they are interesting races to watch nonetheless; if I had to pick one of these three that is most likely to be an upset on Tuesday, I’d guess New Jersey. When the extreme unpopularity of the scandal-ridden incumbent Democrat, Robert Menendez, is combined with the more than 2-to-1 spending advantage of Republican challenger Bob Hugin, this particular race has all the makings of a surprise victory.
The most important factor to remember in this particular cycle is that the Republicans will not lose a single seat. The Democrats were downright delirious with notions that they could take Tennessee or Texas, and although they may come close in Arizona, Democrat Kyrsten Sinema was always at a disadvantage in the solidly red state; her fate was sealed with the leak of several videos where she repeatedly bad-mouths virtually the entire state of Arizona and its residents, including stay-at-home moms. McSally will win by around 3 points.
And as already mentioned, Dean Heller should pull off a close but secure re-election against Democratic challenger Jacky Rosen, somewhere between one and two points ahead.
So the final prediction is that the GOP will finish with no fewer than 56 seats in the Senate, which will already break the record for the largest Senate majority in the party’s history. There is a chance that it could rise to 57, but the safe bet is definitely 56.
This is the no man’s land. This is the dead land. This is the cactus land.
Ground zero for the 2018 midterm elections is the brutal fight for control of the House of Representatives. The Republicans have held a sizeable majority since the 2010 landslide, and as such the Democrats need to flip at least 23 seats just to narrowly cross the threshold of 218 for a majority.
In so doing, however, they would need to almost match their performance in the 2006 wave election, where they took 31 seats in the House. This already presents a huge disadvantage, since the conditions in this year are not nearly comparable enough to 2006 to generate that much Democratic enthusiasm or dampened Republican turnout. It was the sixth year of the widely unpopular Bush Jr., in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and two prolonged wars.
This year, Trump’s approval is actually rising while overseas action is winding down; the Republican response to recent hurricanes has been overwhelmingly approved by most voters, and the economy is still roaring. In fact, Trump’s approval ratings right now are actually higher than Obama’s were at this same point heading into the 2010 midterms.
If the nine special elections that have taken place in Republican-held seats since Trump took office are any indication, the party has little to worry about. Despite constant media hype for special elections in Georgia, South Carolina, and Ohio, as well as millions of dollars spent in some of those races, the Republicans have managed to successfully hold eight of those nine seats, if even by close margins.
The same is likely to be true for Republicans across the country on Tuesday. Expect many excruciatingly close races that will still ultimately stay in Republican hands, amidst just a few flips from Republican to Democrat.
At the same time, keep in mind that there are a handful of seats that are widely expected to flip from Democrat to Republican as well, including Minnesota’s 1st and 8th Districts, as well as Pennsylvania’s 14th District. The key to control of the House lies in net gains, where the Democrats are more than likely going to fall short of the 23 required after all of the respective Democrat-to-Republican flips are taken into account.
It is almost impossible to predict the exact total that will emerge from this battle royale, but I believe that while the Democrats will make a net gain overall, it will not be enough to retake the House. Their strongest performances will be in open races, while virtually all incumbent Republicans will manage to hold onto their seats. Expect the Democrats’ final net gain to be no greater than 15 seats in the lower chamber.
2016 All Over Again
Steve Bannon is right when he says that the 2018 midterms will essentially be “Trump’s first re-election.” The 2016 presidential election was a rejection of establishment politics that have dominated America - and indeed, the West - for decades now. The 2018 midterms will be a reaffirmation of America’s commitment to Trump’s National Populism as the definitive alternative to the establishment, so that we may never go back to the way things were.
As the New York Times declared in a recent op-ed: “The GOP is Trump’s party,” since President Trump has “reclaimed the formula that made the landslide victories of the Nixon and Reagan years possible” once again. This has only been solidified by the Democrats' neverending efforts to shift as far to the Left as possible, sacrificing moderate policy positions and civil rhetoric in the name of identity politics. The few gains they make in the House this year will still pale in comparison to the broader ground they have lost in Middle America.
These midterms will ultimately prove not only the new GOP’s dominance at the national level, but a capability of maintaining a strong coalition at the local level as well. This will become evident when they hold the House and increase their Senate majority. And the Trump Agenda will continue full-speed ahead for the next six years.
D hold in all statewide offices EXCEPT Insurance Commissioner (I pickup)
U.S. Senate: D hold (Feinstein)
State Senate: D+1 (District 12)
State Assembly: No net change (R pickups in Districts 32 and 60, D pickups in Districts 40 and 76)
U.S. House: No net change (R’s hold all contested Congressional seats)
Alaska: R pickup
Florida: R hold
Georgia: R hold
Illinois: D pickup
Kansas: R hold
Nevada: R hold
New Mexico: D pickup
Maine: D pickup
Michigan: D pickup
Wisconsin: R hold
Final Composition: 30 (R) - 20 (D)
Arizona: R hold
Florida: R pickup
Indiana: R pickup
Michigan: D hold
Missouri: R pickup
Montana: R pickup
Nevada: R hold
New Jersey: D hold
North Dakota: R pickup
Ohio: D hold
Tennessee: R hold
Texas: R hold
Final Composition: 56 (R) - 44 (D)
Outcome (estimate): D <15
Final Composition (estimate): 220 - 230 (R’s) v. 215 - 205 (D’s)