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Grant Bosse: Three midterms outside Epping, New Hampshire


September 24. 2018 10:38PM


Keeping track of the 2018 midterms is quite a challenge, not the least because there are three distinct sets of elections going on simultaneously. In many ways, the battles for control of the U.S. House, the U.S. Senate, and for gubernatorial offices are playing out on different playing fields.

The House Map

Political pundits are predicting that Democrats will take over the House in November, and they’re always right, except when they’re wrong.

Democrats do have several things going for them. Primarily, the party controlling the White House more often than not loses seats in the midterm. President Donald Trump’s low popularity would enhance this advantage.

Secondly, Democrats have overperformed in off-year, primary, and special elections since losing the White House in November 2016. Republicans have long held an edge in these low-turnout contests. GOP voters have been more reliable in the midterms, while a larger proportion of Democrats vote only in presidential years.

House Republicans also face a large number of retirements, a signal that incumbents currently in the majority aren’t interested in serving in the minority next year.

Republicans should be benefitting from a booming economy at home and relative peace abroad, but Trump’s belligerent personality makes it hard to usher in an Era of Good Feelings for Republican candidates to exploit.

Will higher Democratic turnout carry through to November? If it does, and if Republicans stay home at the rates they have over the past two years, Nancy Pelosi will be picking out a new gavel.

The Senate Map

Senate elections carry the ghosts of six years prior. With Barack Obama and a handful of unelectable Republican Senate nominees on the ticket, Democrats held off a Republican takeover of the Senate in 2012 by winning seats in Republican-leaning states.

The class of 2012 faces re-election this fall, with several Democratic incumbents facing strong challenges in states where Trump remains relatively popular. North Dakota Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp is the most endangered, but the GOP is also looking to flip seats in Montana, Florida, Indiana, and Missouri while defending open seats in Tennessee and Arizona.

West Virignia Democrat Joe Manchin will test whether his immense personal popularity can withstand his state’s shift to the Republican Party. He’s doing well so far.

Earlier this year, Nevada Sen. Dean Heller was the only GOP incumbent on the hot seat, though Ted Cruz is now making things interesting in Texas.

Republicans should have been able to add several seats to their narrow majority. But if the Blue Wave becomes a tsunami, Democratic control of the Senate is possible.

New Hampshire is out of this fight this year.

The Governors’ Map

You’ve got to love federalism. Congressional elections resemble parliamentary elections, with voters casting ballots largely for which party they wish to control Washington. State-level races aren’t completely immune to partisan swings, but governors can possess the popularity to ride above midterm waves.

In 2010, Republicans took 19 of 24 New Hampshire Senate seats and a 3-1 advantage in the House, but Gov. John Lynch survived. Republican Gov. Chris Sununu is favored to win reelection over Democrat Molly Kelly. (I make no predictions. My wife works in the governor’s office.) We don’t know if Sununu will have any coattails for down-ballot Republicans to grasp. Lynch did in 2006. Gov. Maggie Hassan didn’t in 2014.

The gubernatorial map in other states is wild, in no way resembling the Red-Blue maps we’re used to seeing on cable TV. Republicans have an outside chance of sweeping all six New England states. Republican Larry Hogan is coasting to another term in deep-blue Maryland. In Oregon, Republican Knute Buehler is putting up a strong challenge to Democratic incumbent Kate Brown, whose first term has been a train wreck inside a dumpster fire.

Outgoing and deeply unpopular Republican governors in Kansas, Oklahoma, and Georgia are providing Democrats with chances to win races they rarely contest seriously.

Republicans are defending open seats in Florida and Ohio. Wisconsin Republican Gov. Scott Walker is fighting for his life for the fourth time this decade.

All signs point to Democrats gaining back ground lost in the Obama years. But political waves crest or break in the final days. And whatever wave comes ashore in November will roll over these three battlegrounds in very different ways.

This is why I don’t predict the future.

Grant Bosse is editorial page editor of the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. Email him at gbosse@unionleader.com and follow him on Twitter @grantbosse.


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