Wednesday, November 02, 2016

Election Night Guide, Part 1: Alabama-Arkansas

All right, it’s that time of year again-that time when I have to stop the guessing, and start getting real about the election.  We’re about to find out if Schrodinger’s Cat is a Democrat or a Republican.  But before I start diving into state-by-state elections, I think it’s time to acknowledge that this has been, for my political junkie’s heart, the worst election cycle I’ve ever observed.  The hatred and vitriol on one side of the aisle (sorry, but bipartisanship is out the window in the opening paragraph even though I’m even-handed during the predictions), has entered areas that I am deeply uncomfortable with, and like millions of Americans, but for the first time for me, I am hoping not to hear about politics for a while after November 8th.  All of us, no matter who you’re supporting, need to take a long, hard look in the mirror and see what sorts of behaviors in our candidates, in the media, and in our elected officials we want to reward or disparage, and perhaps the millions of people who don’t pay attention to primaries or what happens between Novembers every four years need to start playing a more active role in the direction of our country.

But that is a caveat I’ve shared multiple times, and so let’s get down to business.  First, I want to spell out a couple of things that we do know, as well as a few that we don’t.  First, some knowledge that we know from where the race stands now:
  1.  Hillary Clinton has led nationally, both in the popular vote and in the cumulative electoral vote (at least in terms of getting to 270) consistently and with almost no interruption in any major poll since the DNC.
  2. Donald Trump has gained ground in the past week or so in the polls, both nationally and in select swing states, but has not gained an advantage on Hillary Clinton.  This has largely been driven by Republicans reluctant to support him “coming home” in the waning days of the election.
  3.  Third party candidates have received more press than usual this cycle, but their support, as is typical, has become less-and-less pronounced in polling in the past month.
  4. Despite having a tangible advantage in polling nationally, Democrats have not been able to translate down-ballot in the polls, where most swing Senate and House districts show a tossup, or even a slight advantage for the GOP.
  5. Tens of millions of Americans have already voted prior to the week before the election, so any late-breaking news on either side of the aisle may have an impact, but not as pronounced of an impact as it may have in previous cycles.

What we don’t know, of course, is a few questions that could decide the election in the remaining days.  Here is what, in particular, is making me hedge on any races we are hedging upon:

  1. Due to the historically unpopular nature of the two candidates, particularly amongst key constituencies (Clinton with younger voters, Trump with college-educated white voters), turnout could be a factor in deciding several key races, or more pointedly a lack of turnout.
  2.  It is not abundantly clear how FBI Director James Comey’s actions in the Hillary Clinton email investigation will impact the race, particularly considering Trump had been gaining ground in the week leading up to the FBI’s announcement.  This does feed into a narrative that Clinton was trying to avoid, but like much of Trump’s scandals, may not actually affect her core supporters.
  3. Traditionally Senate tossup elections have gone predominantly for one party each cycle, generally with the victor of the national popular vote, who appears to be Hillary Clinton.  However, so far polls have not reflected that, just that races are competitive.  Will history repeat itself, in which case Republicans may be in for a rougher night than expected?  Does Hillary Clinton have coattails, or is this a repeat of 1996, the most recent year where the Republicans actually gained ground in Congress while the Democrats held the White House?
  4. Hillary Clinton has shown a surprisingly robust strength in a number of traditionally red states, specifically Georgia, Arizona, Utah, Texas, and Alaska, in some cases even leading in polls in these states.  Is this actually something that she can tangibly translate into a surprise electoral victory similar to President Obama/Indiana/2008, or are these simply states that will have a smaller margin of victory, but still vote for Trump?
  5. Donald Trump has over-performed consistently with white lower-income voters, particularly men, in comparison to Mitt Romney.  How will this impact his bids in states like Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Iowa, all states that have in the past voted for President Obama?  Additionally, will this help anyone down-ballot, like Stewart Mills in Minnesota-can any Republican ride Trump’s coattails to a victory over an incumbent Democrat?

Those are really the five questions that are shaping the race in the final week, and my gut instincts on how to answer them will shape the below predictions.  As always…

A Few Notes

  • I will be discussing all presidential, gubernatorial, and Senate elections.  If a House race is not listed, I’m considering it a lock for the incumbent party and of little note otherwise.
  • I don’t believe in leaving races at “Tossups”-even in a race where I’m essentially tossing a coin, I’m going to make a call.  This means I’m wrong more than the likes of some pundits who head into the Election Night with tossup predictions still in place, but if you guess both candidates (which is essentially what a tossup is), I don’t think that’s really predicting.

And with that, let’s get started…


President: There have been rumblings about a couple of southern states that might be friendlier to Clinton than average-this is not one of them.  Easy victory for Trump out the gate.
Senate: It’s always a good sign for an incumbent when I have to look up if there’s an election.  Sen. Richard Shelby wins an easy sixth term.


President: This is one of the weirder races, because Alaska is traditionally so hard to poll, and because third party support is sometimes legit in Alaska, a state that traditionally does go for third party candidates at a higher percentage than the remainder of the country.  As a result, I could actually see Hillary Clinton potentially winning here (can you imagine if the election came down to Alaska, one of the slowest-to-count-vote states in the country?), but I’m not betting on it.  Trump holds, probably by less than ten.
Senate: Six years ago Sen. Lisa Murkowski made history, becoming only the second candidate ever to win as a write-in nominee for the US Senate.  This year, she’s the Republican nominee outright and against a motley crew of opponents.  She’ll take her fourth term with less fanfare.
House: Every time the Democrats gain some momentum nationally there’s talk about them besting longtime (and frequently controversial) Rep. Don Young (R), but it is always for naught.  This year there’s less rumbling than usual, and probably for good reason.  He’s going to win.

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ)

President: Now we’re talking in terms of competitive seats.  The shift in Arizona has been a remarkable thing for Hillary Clinton, and unlike states like Georgia or Texas, appears less a pipe dream and more an actually achievable accomplishment.  There’s a reason that her chief surrogates are going here, and it’s not to psych out Trump-it’s because she actually could win here, and considering that she’s lost ground in a couple of other states, this could serve as a bit of an insurance policy.  I’m torn here-the fundamentals consistently favor Trump-he has led in most aggregate polling for months, but Clinton has a lot of factors in her corner here, and has made it a priority.  The question here is turnout-if Democrats can pick-up enough votes from the Latino communities (they’ve seen solid numbers elsewhere on the map, more than usual), then this could be in play.  I’m sticking with Trump for now, but any sort of wind here gives this a surprise victory for Clinton.
Senate: Sen. John McCain has had a horrible election season.  His reputation is likely forever tarnished for standing behind Donald Trump despite the Republican nominee berating him over his military record.  That being said, every recent poll has shown that McCain will beat Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, so he’ll likely have another six years to redeem himself.
House: The Republicans badly messed up in what could have been one of their few pickup opportunities in the 1st district, as Kirkpatrick’s Senate run meant an open seat in a very friendly district.  However, they nominated controversial Sheriff Paul Babeu against moderate State Sen. Tom O’Halleran, and polls have shown that O’Halleran is likely to win the district, perhaps even by a bigger margin than Kirkpatrick two years ago.  In the second district, Rep. Martha McSally will probably win by single digits, but that’s still bigger than her marginal victory two years ago.


President: Being married to the popular former governor won’t really help Hilary Clinton in the Natural State, as it’s unlikely even Bill could win here as it’s turned so red.  Trump takes another one.

Senate: In another state US Attorney Connor Eldridge might have had a political future, but even the most talented of Democrats in Arkansas are no match for an incumbent, in this case Sen. John Boozman.  Eldridge’s best option will be as a federal judge if Clinton were to win the White House.

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