Can Republicans hold on to Congress?

Republicans take lead in key Senate races as Democratic lead in House narrows. But will it be enough for GOP to retain majority?

David Rosenberg ,

Capitol Hill Washington DC Congress America
Capitol Hill Washington DC Congress America

With just eight days left until this year’s mid-term elections, Republican prospects for retaining control of Congress continue to rise, buffeted in part by what some have called the “Kavanaugh Effect”, named after US Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

For much of the campaign cycle, both generic ballot polls and polling of individual races suggested that the election would likely result in a “Blue Wave”, with Democrats sweeping control of the House of Representatives and picking up as many as 40 or 45 seats.

In the Senate, Democrats seemed poised to make gains by picking up Republican seats in Arizona, Nevada, and even deep-red Tennessee – potentially flipping the Senate as well, despite the fact that only 9 of the 34 seats up this year are held by Republicans.

The polling data seemed to reinforce the narrative that the Democratic base, still frustrated over President Trump’s surprising 2016 win and angered by his policies on immigration, would turn out en masse, while Republican voters would vote in smaller numbers, as is often the case with supporters of the party in power.

By mid-September, according to the RealClearPolitics average of polls, Democrats were averaging 31 net pickups in the House of Representatives, 8 more than the 23 they need to take control over the 435-seat lower chamber.

In the Senate the RCP average showed the Democrats with an average net pickup of one seat in the Senate, bringing the upper chamber to 50-50, with Vice President Mike Pence as the tie-breaker.

But since a televised Senate hearing featuring testimony by Judge Brett Kavanaugh, President Trump’s nominee to replace Justice Anthony Kennedy, and Kavanaugh’s accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, polls have shown a distinct shift in the GOP’s favor.

Kavanaugh’s impassioned rebuttal to his accuser’s claims not only secured his confirmation – which passed by a narrow 50-48 margin – but also placed the spotlight on Democratic lawmakers who voted against Kavanaugh’s confirmation. Culture wars over political correctness and the role of gender and race in the public sphere seemingly reinvigorated Republicans and Republican-leaning voters.

During the three weeks after the September 27th hearing, Republicans went from a one-seat net loss in the Senate, according to the RCP average, to a three-seat net gain.

Republicans gain ground in the House as well, cutting the average Democratic lead from 17 seats and an average of 31 pick-ups to an average lead of just 4 seats with 24 pick-ups. As Democrats need 23 pick-ups to take control of the House, this places Republicans on the cusp of retaining control of the lower chamber.

Fueled by significant increases in support among male voters, Republican-leaning voters, and middle class voters, the Republican gains in the polls have benefitted the president as well, pushing his approval rating according to the RCP average of polls from 41% on the eve of the Kavanaugh hearing to 45%.

Online gamblers now see the GOP as favorites to retain control of the House, with MyBookie putting the odds at -140 to +110 in favor of Republican control – meaning that to win $100 in such a bet on the site in favor of the GOP, a gambler must bet $140. If Democrats win, however, a $100 bet would net the gambler $110.

This year’s midterm could result in some significant surprises, however, with turnout rates reaching record highs for the post-World War II era.

According to data compiled by University of Florida professor of political science Michael McDonald, turnout in 2018 is on track to hit at least 48% - not seen since 1966 – and potentially reaching as high as 51%, the highest since 1914, The New York Times reported.

“If these patterns persist, we could see a turnout rate at least equaling the turnout rate in 1966, which was 48 percent, and if we beat that then you have to go all the way back to 1914, when the turnout rate was 51 percent,” he said. “We could be looking at a turnout rate that virtually no one has ever experienced.”