Stuart Rothenberg

Where Republicans, Democrats Stand Heading Into 2019
Both parties both have work to do, but one side has much more

As we enter a two-year presidential cycle, the parties stand at very different places. Republicans appear unified behind President Donald Trump, while Democrats are about to begin a contest for a 2020 nominee that will inevitably degenerate into Democrats attacking Democrats.

But while the GOP is unified, the party just suffered a stunning rebuke and has painted itself into an unenviable demographic corner. Its leader ends 2018 with a trainload of political baggage and is seemingly uninterested in expanding a political coalition that lost 40 House seats and half a dozen governorships.

A Mississippi Senate Flip? Probably Not
Absent reliable data, Democratic chances there should be taken with skepticism

ANALYSIS — Alabama Democrat Doug Jones demonstrated last year that candidates matter and that on the rarest occasions — such as when the majority party’s nominee is accused of sexual misconduct by many women — voters in federal races veer from their partisan loyalties. But Jones’s win was the exception, not the rule, and it shouldn’t obscure the difficulty Mississippi Democratic Senate hopeful Mike Espy faces in a runoff in one of the most Republican and conservative states in the entire country.

The Washington Post reported Sunday that the Mississippi Senate runoff “has turned into an unexpectedly competitive contest.” That’s hard to challenge, since expectations are a matter of opinion, as is competitiveness. But until I see hard evidence that Democrats have a realistic shot at the seat, count me as skeptical that the Mississippi seat is in play.

Goodbye Midterm Dynamic, Hello Presidential Politics
It is tempting to see the 2018 and 2020 elections as linked, but give it some time

Midterm elections and presidential cycles have such different dynamics that the two should almost never be discussed together. That will not prevent people from doing so, but they should resist the temptation. 

Midterms tend to be referendums on the incumbent president, while each presidential election is a choice between nominees.

Maybe Stu Rothenberg Isn’t So Bad at This After All
2016 was a disaster, 2018 not so much

Boy, I stunk up the joint in 2016. I was sure that Donald Trump wouldn’t — couldn’t — win the presidency, and I said so without any “ifs” or “buts.” I didn’t pay enough attention to the possibility that Trump could lose the popular vote badly but still win an Electoral College majority. I tried to explain my mistakes as completely as I could in an end-of-the-year Washington Post column.

But this year, watching the midterms from 10,000 feet instead of being in the weeds, I feel pretty good about my analysis throughout the cycle. Maybe it was dumb luck. Maybe it was years of watching campaigns and candidates. Maybe it was some of each.

Two Electorates, Two Outcomes
Consensus, bipartisanship could be in short supply

It’s rare that both parties can celebrate after an election, but that’s exactly the situation after Republicans gained a handful of Senate seats and Democrats picked up around 30 House seats Tuesday night.

Conservatives, white men (particularly those without a college degree) and pro-Trump voters backed GOP nominees, while women (particularly those with a college degree), minorities and younger voters lined up overwhelmingly behind the Democrats.

Democrats Have Much More at Stake in Tuesday’s Balloting
Minority party has lots going for it, increasing pressure to deliver

ANALYSIS — Both parties have a lot at stake in the midterms, but it’s the Democrats for whom Tuesday’s elections are do or die.

With the president’s job approval numbers weak and a majority of likely voters telling pollsters they would prefer a Democratic Congress, Democrats simply cannot afford to fall short of taking back the House on Tuesday.

Iowa and Kansas and Pennsylvania, Oh My  — Split Midterm Decision Likely I Spy
No predictions for the 2018 outcome, but expectations? Sure we got ’em

ANALYSIS — Predictions? Not from me. But I do have expectations as Election Day approaches, and I am happy to share them.

I expect Republicans to hold on to their Senate majority, quite possibly even adding a seat or two.

For Handicapping Midterm Races, Old Rules May No Longer Apply
Unusual turnout patterns, “change” voters, Trump factor among new considerations

ANALYSIS — Political handicapping is more than looking at polls and regurgitating who is ahead. Throughout an election cycle, there are signs political handicappers use to understand what is happening at a given moment and to project how races will play out in the weeks or months ahead.

During the endgame, one of the most reliable rules of handicapping is that for incumbents, “what you see is what you can get.” In other words, incumbents won’t get many undecided voters.

House Midterm Outlook: Look for a Democratic Flip
Two weeks out, all signs still point to Democrats taking the House

ANALYSIS — Are we still headed for a Democratic wave in the House next month? That all depends on how you define a wave. But one thing is clear: Democrats are still likely to flip the chamber even after all the buzz about a post-Kavanaugh Republican bounce.

A wave occurs when a large number of one party’s seats flip to the other party, invariably because of a national political figure (the president, usually) or a national issue. Many competitive seats change hands, and at least a few entrenched incumbents suddenly find themselves in trouble.

Breaking the Midterm Mode: Both Parties Make it About Trump
2018 provides yet another departure from political norms

ANALYSIS — For decades, the rule of thumb for campaigns during midterm elections has been the same: When the president is popular, the president’s party tries to nationalize the election, and the opposition attempts to localize it. On the other hand, when the president is unpopular, his party’s nominees try to localize while the opposition tries to make the election a national referendum on his performance. Perhaps not surprisingly, 2018 has broken that mold.

Both sides are trying to nationalize the November election.

Two Elections: Democrats’ Chance of Taking the Senate Fading, House Likely to Flip
Senate results in midterms crucial for GOP and Democratic prospects in 2020

ANALYSIS — The Democrats’ chances of netting at least two Senate seats always seemed like a long shot. But a month ago, the stars looked to be aligning for them. Today, those stars tell a different story.

With the Republican challenger, Rep. Kevin Cramer, opening up a clear lead over Democratic incumbent Heidi Heitkamp, the North Dakota Senate race looks all but over now, according to multiple insiders. That means Democrats will need to swipe at least three GOP seats to take back the Senate — an outcome that currently appears somewhere between unlikely and impossible.

Beware Kavanaugh Narratives, Final-Month Musings Unlikely to Change November Outcomes
Despite what you may hear, the House is still poised to flip and the Senate is still not, Rothenberg writes

During a brief period when I was working for the political unit of CBS News around the 2006 midterm elections, I attended a pre-election meeting run by Sean McManus and Paul Friedman. McManus was then president of CBS News, while Friedman was vice president.

I remember McManus, who made his mark running CBS Sports, saying he had bumped into a friend or acquaintance who told him the alleged Democratic midterm wave had crested and Republican prospects were rebounding.  

House GOP Moving Right, Democratic Direction Less Clear
With pragmatists in fewer supply among Republicans, conference will be in less of a mood to compromise

ANALYSIS — We don’t know exactly how many House seats Democrats will gain in November, though Democratic control of the chamber next year looks almost inevitable. But even now it is clear that the midterm results will move Republicans further to the right. Where the Democrats will stand is less clear.

In the House, GOP losses will be disproportionately large in the suburbs and among members of the Republican Main Street Partnership, the House GOP group that puts “country over party” and values “compromise over conflict,” according to its website.

How Will Kavanaugh Shape the Midterms?
Debacle over his Supreme Court nomination likely to yield mixed results

Assuming the FBI investigation of Judge Brett Kavanaugh doesn’t uncover some startling new information, the Senate is likely to confirm him to the Supreme Court and the political effects on the midterms could go in two different directions. 

Democratic lawmakers will complain, of course, that the inquiry wasn’t thorough enough, that Kavanaugh lacks a judicial temperament, that he is too partisan to sit on the land’s highest court, and that he wasn’t completely honest with the Senate Judiciary Committee about his drinking.

I’m Just Tired of All of It
Trump, the media, Capitol Hill hypocrisy and partisanship, and more create stifling brew

OPINION — I’m tired of all the noise and hype. I’m tired of the daily crises. I’m tired of the drama that is produced by President Donald Trump. I’m tired of the suffocating coverage by the national media of the chaos that swirls around the administration. I’m tired of the obvious partisanship on Capitol Hill. I wish it would all stop, but I know it won’t.

I’m tired of the stupid tweets from the president of the United States that wouldn’t be appropriate for a 12-year-old school yard bully, let alone someone who is supposed to be a world leader.

Why It’s NOT the Economy, Stupid
With growth up, unemployment down, voters are focusing on other issues

ANALYSIS — Last week, the National Republican Congressional Committee released a web video entitled “Better Off Now.” According to NRCC communications director Matt Gorman, who was quoted in the accompanying press release, “November comes down to one question: Are Americans better off now than they were two years ago?” That might be what Republicans want, but it is not likely to be voters’ sole motivation as they cast their ballots. 

According to Gorman, voters will “keep Republicans in the majority.” The economy certainly is good, and there is no reason to believe that will change before November.

Surprisingly, the Senate Is Now in Play
Despite heavy odds stacked against them, Democrats are in the hunt

ANALYSIS — I have argued repeatedly that while the House is up for grabs — and indeed likely to flip to the Democrats in November — the Senate is not in play. I now believe that it is, so I must revise and extend my remarks.

Only about three weeks ago, I reiterated my view that Democrats didn’t have a path to a net gain of two Senate seats, which they need for a chamber majority. But a flurry of state and national polls conducted over the past few weeks suggest Democratic prospects have improved noticeably, giving the party a difficult but discernible route for control.

A Back-of-the-Envelope Look at How the House Could Flip
Electoral waves, ranging in size, are the norm for midterms going back decades

Count the House races, and you’ll get a pretty good idea of whether the House will flip in the fall. No, you can’t be entirely certain how an individual toss-up contest is going to turn out in November. But you can arrive at a ballpark assessment of House changes right now by looking at three baskets of districts and how similar ones behaved in previous midterms.

There are 25 Republican House members representing districts carried by Hillary Clinton in 2016 (up from 23 before Pennsylvania drew a new congressional map). Almost one-third of those members, eight, are retiring. Given the current political polarization, the normal midterm dynamic (which punishes the president’s party) and the added risk of losing open seats, it’s likely that most of those 25 GOP districts will flip party control.

Is the Senate Up for Grabs Yet?
The map and demographics still give the edge to Republicans

ANALYSIS — President Donald Trump’s problems continue to mount, raising more questions about turnout and how independent voters and college-educated women will vote. But the Senate map remains daunting for Democrats, and the polarized nature of our politics continues to limit Democrats’ Senate prospects.

While handicappers generally label Nevada as a toss-up and the early polls are tight, the Democratic nominee, Rep. Jacky Rosen has an edge over incumbent Republican Dean Heller in a state that went narrowly for Hillary Clinton in 2016.

Donald Trump’s Toughest Adversary? That Would Be Donald Trump
The president’s desire to hog the midterm spotlight guarantees a nationalization of the election

OPINION — While President Trump complains about the national media, Democrats, Robert S. Mueller’s Russian “witch hunt” and the political establishment, none of those things is why the November House elections are a major headache for the Republican Party. Donald Trump’s biggest problem is Donald Trump.

Trump has turned what could have been a challenging midterm election environment into a potentially disastrous one. Through his tweets and statements, the president continues to make the 2018 midterm elections a referendum on his first two years in office.