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Show Me, Missouri

October 18, 2016

Donald Trump’s presidential campaign went into serious decline on September 26, after his disastrous debate with Hillary Clinton. The decline was so steep that the infamous videotape of Donald Trump and Billy Bush, released on October 7, had relatively little additional effect on the presidential probabilities. But release of the tape (and other events, like Trump’s conspiratorial ranting about rigged elections) has had a major impact on Democrats’ efforts to re-take the Senate majority.

Most dramatically, we see this in the Missouri race between incumbent Republican Senator Roy Blunt and his Democratic challenger, Jason Kander. On October 9, gave Blunt a 74 percent chance of winning, if the election were held that day. As of this morning, Blunt’s winning probability has collapsed to 34 percent. In just nine days, Blunt’s seat has gone from almost out of reach for Democrats to almost safe for Democrats. Kander would be Missouri’s first Jewish senator, and his victory would give Missouri two Democratic senators for the first time since Stuart Symington retired in December 1976.

North Carolina Republican Senator Richard Burr has consistently led his challenger, Deborah Ross, although the projected vote margin has been relatively close. On October 9, Burr showed a 68 percent chance of winning; today, for the first time in the campaign, Ross is more likely to win than Burr, at 53 percent.

In Nevada, the seat now held by retiring Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid is being contested by Republican Joe Heck and Democrat Catherine Cortez Masto. Heck has polled ahead all year. On October 9, FiveThirtyEight gave him a 70 percent chance of victory; Masto went ahead on October 13, and her probability of winning stands at 65 percent.

The FiveThirtyEight “now-cast” has a Democratic take-over of the Senate at 81 percent probability, up from 47 percent on October 9. Democrats need to pick up four seats to take control, provided they lose none of the seats they now hold, and provided that Democrat Tim Kaine becomes Vice President and breaks ties in Democrats’ favor.

Three Democratic pick-ups look safe, meaning that each is more than 70 percent likely in the “now-cast”: Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin. (A win by Democrat Evan Bayh would give Indiana two Democratic senators for the first time since Vance Hartke was beaten by Richard Lugar in 1976.)

Now, all of a sudden, three more Democratic pick-ups look probable, meaning a “now-cast” probability of winning greater than 60 percent: Missouri, Pennsylvania, and New Hampshire. And a Democratic “hold” of the Nevada seat now looks probable.

On top of all that, a Democratic pick-up in North Carolina is now plausible, giving Democrats an outside chance of picking up seven seats. This would more than reverse the Democrats’ disastrous showing of 2010, when Republicans picked up six seats in one of the worst ever mid-terms for Democrats.

If Republican Senate candidates have taken a hit since October 9, it’s likely that other “down-ballot” Republicans have, also. House races are hard to gauge, both because they are less thoroughly polled than Senate and presidential races and because polling of smaller electorates is inherently less reliable. But the fear level of Republican insiders is high enough to convince me that control of the House of Representatives is not beyond Democrats’ reach.

Democrats need to pick up 30 seats to take the House majority, and the pre-October 9 consensus was that Democrats could hope to gain no more than 15 seats. But some insiders are now projecting Democratic pick-ups in the range of 20 seats, and the campaign has three weeks to go.

I’ve pointed out that Republicans hold majorities in 23 state legislative chambers in states that President Obama won twice, and that Republicans’ margin in 10 of those chambers is four seats or fewer. The egregious gerrymandering that was done after the 2010 Republican victories and the 2010 census will protect a lot of Republican state legislatures (and, for that matter, Republican members of the U.S. House), but for many Republicans, the weight of The Donald at the top of their ticket will prove too much to carry.


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