2010 Midterm Election Analysis

By Korey Harvey


7 Days Until Election Day



Whether the GOP takes control of the House of Representatives is not the question awaiting an answer next Tuesday.  The real question is how many seats will the GOP pick up.  The GOP Conference needs 39 more seats to take control of the House; that does not include the possibility of GOP losses.  It is likely (though not guaranteed) that the GOP will lose at least two seats—Louisiana’s second district where Republican Joseph Cao is defending his seat from a black Democrat state legislator in a heavily Democratic and heavily black district, and the 10th district in Illinois where President Obama carried 61% in 2008.  Nevertheless, the district has consistently elected Republicans; the current Congressman, Republican Mark Kirk, is running a tight race for the US Senate seat vacated by Obama in 2009.

 Beyond those two primary GOP-endangered seats, the remaining flips will all likely be on Democratic territory.  Some commentators and analysts have made modest predictions in the 39-46 seat range for the GOP.  That would be less than the number of seats the GOP won in 1994.  I think those conservative estimates are unlikely to be the upper limit of GOP wins.  I think the GOP will win 60 or more seats in the House.  Here is why:

1.  The Generic Congressional Ballot in 1994

Gallup’s generic Congressional ballot in 1994, its final poll on the day before the Tuesday elections, had the Democrats ahead by 1 point.  The GOP won 54 House seats the next day.  Gallup’s generic question polling has historically overestimated Democratic strength by just under 1 percent since it began polling in 1950.  Those final 1994 numbers were 46.5 to the GOP’s 45.5.  As of today, Gallup has the GOP ahead by 14 points.  This is an astonishing GOP advantage.  It is possible that Gallup has had a methodological meltdown and is way off.  Highly unlikely.

 2. The only thing better than the Generic Polls – District-specific polls

In the last month, and especially in the last 5 days, polls have emerged showing GOP challengers in superb condition heading into the final week of the campaign.  To put it mildly, there are some polls that are downright shocking.  Why?  Because some of these polls showing tight House races are in districts that just a month or two ago were not even considered competitive.  Additionally, recent polls have shown that some Democratic incumbents that were thought to have been successfully holding off a GOP challenge are back in the danger zone.     

New York 20

Freshman Democrat Scott Murphy was thought to be holding off a challenge from Republican Chris Gibson.  Just one month ago Murphy held a double digit lead.  A recent independent poll now shows Gibson up by 9.

Idaho 1

Democratic Congressman Walt Minnick, who just a month ago was being used as Washington Democrat’s example of a fizzling GOP surge, is now in a statistical tie with GOP challenger Raul Labrador.  This is an erosion in support of 10 points in just 4 weeks.

New Jersey 3

Democratic Congressman John Adler now trails GOP challenger Jon Runyan by 5 in a recent Monmouth University poll.  Just a month ago, Adler was up by 8 in a Zogby poll.

California 20

Democrat Jim Costa, representing this Central Valley district, now trails Republican Andy Vidak by 10.  President Obama carried this district with 60% in 2008.

Hawaii 1

Here, Republican Charles Djou, who won a special election earlier this year to fill the vacancy caused by longtime liberal Democrat Neil Abercrombie, is holding his own against Democrat challenger Colleen Hanabusa, 48-45 in a poll conducted by the Honolulu Advertiser.  Just two months ago, Democrats were certain that Djou, who won in a three-person race (essentially two Democrats vs. Republican Djou), would be a rare GOP scalp on their soon-to-be-sparse trophy wall. 

These are just a few examples.  Perhaps it is best to include a quote from Charlie Cook, the veteran prognosticator, to give a wide-eyed view of recent House polling:

House Democrats are suffering the full violence of this national undertow. Over a quarter of the entire 255-member House Democratic caucus have trailed GOP opponents in at least one public or private survey, and nearly half have tested under 50 percent of the vote in at least one poll.

Bill Clinton Campaigning for Democrats in Blue Districts

The best example is the former President stumping this weekend for Democratic Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez of California, who is under assault from GOP Vietnamese-American Van Tran.  Though the district is majority Hispanic, it has a sizeable Vietnamese American population that votes in disproportionately large numbers.  Sanchez won this seat in 1996 when she beat GOP Congressman Robert K. Dornan. 

House Early Warning System

Early Tuesday night some races will likely be over well before polls even close in the rest of the country.  The results of some of those races may give an early warning sign of modest or massive GOP gains.

In Indiana, two Democratic Congressmen, Joe Donnelly and Baron Hill, are in competitive races.  If one or both fall, it could be a good night for the GOP, and it would be evident early in the evening.  If, in North Carolina, Democratic Congressmen Mike McIntyre, Heath Shuler or Bob Etheridge fall (just one or two of them need be the case), expect massive GOP gains….perhaps something analogous to the 70+ seats Democrats lost in 1938.  On the other hand, if Democratic Congressmen Glenn Nye and Tom Perriello, both in Virginia, survive, it could be a disappointing night for the GOP…regardless of whether the GOP gains the necessary 39 seats.


Without a radical development, Connecticut is a lost opportunity for the GOP.  Linda McMahon couldn't close the deal.  A strange thing, but I've observed that good businessmen have difficulty closing the deal in politics.  The same is true in California in the Governor's race.  Meg Whitman probably will lose to Brown, who will for a second time as Governor, be as much of a disappointment as his father.  However, Carly Fiorina remains very competitive in the California Senate race where Democrat Barbara Boxer can't get above 46%, though in a few surveys she crests at 48 and falls back down again.  Whitman losing the Governor's race in California is probably for the best.  California state government is too far gone; let it fall and let the Democrats be the ones to scuttle that ship.  The presence of the incredibly unpopular Republican Governor in Sacramento cannot be helping Whitman’s attempt to keep the Governorship in GOP hands.

Toss-up Senate Races

California--Fiorina can beat Boxer.  There is no doubt of that.  You need proof?  Less than 48 hours ago the National Republican Senatorial Committee laid down more than $3 million in TV ads for Fiorina.  Boxer has been in the Senate since 1992.  Everyone knows her, not just in California.  Her inability to poll consistently above 46% is a bad sign for her.  

Colorado--one person has observed, quite correctly, that Republican Ken Buck can beat Senator Scott Bennett if Buck's handlers can keep his mouth shut.  Send him on vacation for the next 8 days.  Every political consultant in the business has had his fair share of clients that could win races by wider margins if they just shut the hell up or disappeared until after election day.  Buck, who speaks his mind too often, has raised social issues during interviews that are nowhere near the top of the average midterm voter’s list of priorities.  Buck’s positions espoused during these moments of sheer candidate idiocy are not stances that win over independents.

Illinois—I began writing this about 48 hours ago, at that time, I thought I had no hunch as to whether Republican Congressman Mark Kirk or Democratic State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias would win President Obama’s former seat.  Every poll in the last two months (with rare outliers) has had the two candidates within 2-4 points of one another.  But recently, I dove into the “cross-tabs” of a recent poll conducted by a well-respected public polling firm.  The general trend is not good news for Giannoulias; in the all-important suburbs of Chicago, where Giannoulias has to be competitive (almost tied) with Kirk’s vote share, Giannoulias trails with independents in the double digits.  Considering Giannoulias is already a state-wide elected official, this to me, gives me the hunch I didn’t have two days ago.  Kirk wins by a narrow margin; it will be a mega-trophy for the GOP to take Obama’s Senate seat.

Nevada--I expect Harry Reid to lose.  Period.  Polls in the last week have shown noticeable movement to Angle.  Reid can't get above 45-48%.  Rasmussen had Sharon Angle at 50% a week ago.  Rasmussen Reports’ poll released today showed Angle leading Reid by 4 points, 49 to 45.  Everything that could have been thrown at Angle—you know, the whole kitchen sink metaphor—has been thrown at her.  Reid just isn’t beloved in Nevada, and a quick history of his Senate races in the past where he has had real competition, shows there is nothing new in that observation.  There are essentially no undecideds in this race.  Turn-out will be key; though it may seem that saying "turn out" determines every race, it actually does not--there are usually anywhere from 3-7% of voters who vote on election day who are undecided until they cast their ballot.  That is not the case here.  Everyone knows where they stand.  But which side is motivated more?  I say the get rid of Reid side is.

Pennsylvania--what a difference 4 years makes.  Rick Santorum got trounced by almost 20% in 2006.  I doubt Joe Sestak can overtake Pat Toomey’s lead, which is growing by the day.  The Morning Call nightly tracking poll now has Toomey +8.  Pennsylvania, whether it really understands so or not, is about to elect a very, very conservative US Senator.

Washington--I have no idea who will win.  Dino Rossi (R) has had no missteps.  Patty Murray hasn't either; despite the fact that she is a sub-moron.  I wouldn't be surprised if either won and did so by a slim margin.  In any case, the high turnout should flip at least 1, maybe 2 House seats in Washington to the GOP.  Even if Rossi loses, the high-interest Senate race helped the down-ballot races.

As of Now:

Dems     48
GOP      46
Toss-up   6

Add Nevada, Illinois and PA, GOP has 49 seats.  I expect a GOP win in Colorado (presuming Ken Buck disappears for 7 days or, less likely, quits popping stupid pills when he wakes up every morning).  That is 50 seats.  To get to 51, for a bare majority, GOP would have to win 1 of the remaining 2 toss-ups in California and Washington.  OR.....make a deal with Joe Lieberman and/or Ben Nelson in Nebraska.  As you may recall, after the 1994 midterms, both in the House and the Senate, Democratic members switched sides to the GOP.  The powerful Alabama Senator Richard Shelby comes to mind.


After the shouting and the tears…

After next Tuesday, several topics/issues will arise that are worthy of conversation.  Among them:

1.    How will the Obama White House respond to a midterm election that is absolutely without question a direct result of Obama policies?

2.    How will the Obama White House endeavor to win back independent voters that are flocking to the GOP just 2-4 years after they fled to Democrats?  Obama’s senior political advisers must be in near panic mode: Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, Illinois, California, Virginia….places the President won handily…are all souring on him (California the least of them.)  If Obama has to spend millions in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin in 2012, his re-election prospects will be daunting…though not impossible.  In political time, 2012 is an eternity from now. 

3.    How will Democratic Senators up for re-election in 2012 and 2014 pivot and prepare for the onslaught to come when their time is up?  In this election cycle, the extraordinary has become the ordinary—how easily we forget that the number of Senate seats the GOP has the chance to be competitive in this year are miniscule compared to 2012 and 2014 (Republicans are competitive in California and cruising to victory in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania for God’s sake!)

4.    Dispelling the myth that tea-party backed candidates have fallen flat and been a net negative for the GOP.

5.    Dispelling the myth that self-financing candidates (Meg Whitman in California spending $140+ million of her own money) get the upper hand by virtue of their millions; and in conjunction with that, the incredibly important recent development in American politics of small-dollar donations from thousands of contributors becoming far more important than $4,600 checks from individual “usual players.”  Sharon Angle has raised more than $21 million against the sitting Senate Majority Leader!  Having many connections to the political check-writing establishment is no longer the sine qua non of successful candidates…a candidate with the right message, the right history, hell, even just the right amount of luck, can “go viral” and raise millions of dollars and level the playing field.  It is important to note, however, that several wealthy candidates are doing well; they just happen to be less eccentric than other wealthy, self-financing candidates and/or they are not swimming against the current (as Meg Whitman in California is.)

6.   The emerging impotence of the national party structures, especially the RNC under Michael Steele.  Karl Rove’s American Crossroads organization will have had more of an impact on a victorious GOP outcome than the RNC.  That is a testament both to Rove’s abilities and Michael Steele’s inabilities.

7.     How will Mitch McConnel handle a GOP Conference in the Senate that is the most conservative in modern American history?  There will be at least 2 new Senators (Mike Lee in Utah and Miller in Alaska—I expect him to narrowly edge Murkowski) who have said they won’t vote for legislative instruments not authorized by the narrow confines of Article I of the Constitution.  D.C. hasn’t seen a Senator with such standards/constitutional fidelity since…I don’t know….ever?