Stuart Rothenberg

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

National Republicans are hoping the strong economy will boost candidates like Jim Hagedorn, their nominee in Minnesota’s 1st District, seen here campaigning Sunday at the Applefest parade in La Crescent, Minn. However, public polling shows the economy is not at the top of voters’ concerns. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

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

Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., must win her Arizona Senate race for Democrats to have a chance at winning back the chamber. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

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

Rep. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., is running for Senate, leaving behind a House seat that Hillary Clinton carried in 2016. It’s a prime takeover target for Democrats this fall. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

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

Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., talks with constituents before a parade at Crow Fair in Crow Agency, Mont., on August 19, 2018. Tester is being challenged by Republican Matt Rosendale for the Senate seat. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

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

President Donald Trump has stated a desire to insert himself into the midterm election process. That could be a problem for Republicans in tough races. (Sarah Silbiger/CQ Roll Call)

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.

Surveys Say: Polling Still Points to Rough November for Republicans
From Fox News to NBC News & the Wall Street Journal, the numbers aren’t good for GOP

President Donald Trump is not losing many of his base of support among Republicans, but Democrats don't need them to win the majority. (Sarah Silbiger/CQ Roll Call)

Analysis — If you trust the July 9-11 Fox News poll and the July 15-18 NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey — and I have no reason not to — the GOP still looks headed for a difficult election and the likely loss of the House.

No, President Donald Trump’s voters are not fleeing him, and his personal poll numbers have not cratered even after his behavior at the NATO summit in Belgium and his Helsinki meeting with Vladimir Putin. So, maybe he really could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and not lose any voters. But that says something about Trump’s supporters, not the overall electorate.

Opinion: The Grand Old Patsies
Few Republicans dare to criticize Trump over his behavior toward Putin

Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., was among the Republican lawmakers who did not criticize the president directly after the Helsinki summit. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Commenting after President Donald Trump’s performance in Helsinki, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell observed, “I have said a number of times, I’ll say it again: The Russians are not our friends. And I entirely believe the assessment of our intelligence community.”

Tennessee Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander said in a release, “There is no doubt that Russia interfered in our 2016 presidential election.”

Analysis: Brett Kavanaugh and the Midterm Effect
Three scenarios provide mixed bag on effect of tight Senate races

Reporters swarm Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, as she arrives in the Capitol on Tuesday, the day after President Donald Trump nominated Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. Murkowski, who supported Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, is an expected to be a key vote on the current nomination. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The selection of Brett Kavanaugh for the Supreme Court will have less of an impact on November’s midterms than you think. Sure, depending how the confirmation process develops, it’s possible the nomination could affect a handful of races, but the most likely scenario will not change the overall trajectory of the November elections.

The most likely outcome of the Kavanaugh nomination involves all 50 Republican senators voting to confirm him to the Supreme Court (with John McCain not voting).

Opinion: Where Do We Go From Here?
Wholesale change in the political environment seems far off

President Donald Trump makes remarks to the media upon arriving in the Capitol for a meeting on immigration with House Republicans on June 19. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

On Monday evening, Judy Woodruff asked me and USA Today’s Susan Page on the “PBS NewsHour” how the country moves forward from its current state of division. I didn’t have a good answer.

I said what I have been saying for years: I don’t see an obvious solution.

Analysis: The Wrong Fight at the Wrong Time for the GOP
The more quality of life issues dominate the election cycle, the worse it will be for Republicans

The political consequences of President Donald Trump’s immigration policies could be bad news for his party in November, Rothenberg writes. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

You need to hand it to President Donald Trump, his entire administration and his party. It takes more than a little chutzpah to act in a way that seems callous to the concerns of children. First, it was gun control. Now it is immigration in general, and separating children from their parents in particular. If this is the way to winning the midterms, it’s hard to see how.

Republicans have talked for decades about crime, drugs, national security, traditional values, the dangers associated with big government and helping businesses produce economic growth.

Analysis: The GOP Civil War Continues Without Even a Pause
Battle for Trey Gowdy’s open seat in South Carolina a bitter affair

The battle for the open seat of retiring Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., has laid bare the ongoing GOP civil war. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

While many dissected Corey Stewart’s recent Virginia Republican Senate primary victory and South Carolina Rep. Mark Sanford’s defeat in his bid for renomination, an even more interesting runoff race is underway in the Palmetto State.

The June 12 Republican primary in Trey Gowdy’s open 4th District seat produced a runoff pitting first-place finisher Lee Bright, a former state senator, against William Timmons, a first-term state senator.

Analysis: The House Blue Wave Is Alive and Well
In the generic ballot and presidential approval numbers, fundamentals remain unchanged

Reports of the receding of a blue wave have been exaggerated, Rothenberg writes. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

For the last couple of months, I’ve heard from many quarters that the “blue wave” has dissipated. Meh. 

Advocates of that view usually point to the RealClearPolitics generic ballot average or Donald Trump’s job approval ratings, which suggest the president’s popularity has risen and the Democratic House advantage fallen.

Analysis: Steve Bannon Is Right About the Midterms — Until He Isn’t
Midterms are rarely about choices, mostly about the incumbent party

Former White House adviser Steve Bannon, here with senior White House aide Kellyanne Conway at President Donald Trump’s inauguration in January 2017, has a strategy for the midterms that is all about placing the president up front. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Former Trump campaign chief executive and White House strategist Steve Bannon recently told CNN’s Fareed Zakaria that the midterm elections will be “an up or down vote” on the president. He also asserted that it’s imperative that Donald Trump nationalize the midterm elections.

“Trump’s second presidential race will be on Nov. 6 of this year. He’s on the ballot, and we’re going to have an up or down vote. Do you back Trump’s program, OK, with all that’s good and all that’s bad? Do you back Trump’s program, or do you back removing him?” Bannon told Zakaria.

Analysis: Why You Should Focus on Independents
Their attitudes could provide insight into the midterm elections

The two big wave elections of the past 20 years were driven by independents, who preferred Democrats in 2006 and Republicans in 2010, Rothenberg writes. (Meredith Dake-O'Connor/CQ Roll Call file photo)

I don’t trust anyone who tells me they already know the makeup of the midterm electorate. We can’t possibly know who will vote in the fall, let alone how they will cast their ballots.

If I were going to focus on a handful of variables to understand how the cycle is unfolding, I’d certainly pay close attention to partisanship. But instead of focusing primarily on the percentage of Republicans and Democrats among voters, I’d pay more attention to the attitudes (and then the behavior) of self-identified independents.

Analysis: The Trump Agenda’s Unintentional International Consequences
Signs of fraying relationships among close allies starting to show up

Mexican presidential hopeful Andrés Manuel López Obrador has promised to put Donald Trump “in his place.” (Hector Vivas/Getty Images)

President Donald Trump, who preaches pro-business policies at home and more favorable terms for the United States in trade deals, may well help elect more anti-American leaders around the world and leave the United States more isolated and embattled.

We could see the first manifestation of this in Trump’s confrontational approach with Mexico. His positions on trade (particularly the North American Free Trade Agreement) and immigration, and his characterization of the people of Mexico, have boosted the prospects of presidential hopeful Andrés Manuel López Obrador in Mexico’s July 1 election.