Stuart Rothenberg

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

President Donald Trump made the midterms about him, but that dynamic is likely to change in some proportion for 2020, Rothenberg writes. (Sarah Silbiger/CQ Roll Call file photo)

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

From left, Sen.-elect Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Sen.-elect Jacky Rosen, D-Nev., talk during a photo-op in Schumer’s office in the Capitol on Tuesday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

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

The 2018 midterm showed the divided electorate with its divided outcome. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

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

Jennifer Wexton, who is challenging Rep. Barbara Comstock in Virginia’s 10th District, is one of the Democrats’ top recruits for 2018. If her party fails to win the House, it could have an outsize effect on its immediate future. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

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

Texas Democrat Beto O’Rourke has run a tough race against Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, but it would be a major upset if he won. Such electoral dynamics make it hard for Democrats to take the majority in the Senate next week. In the House, though, they are favored to win the majority, Rothenberg writes. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

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

The rules of political handicapping suggest much of New Jersey Rep. Tom MacArthur’s support might be hitting a ceiling at this point, Rothenberg writes. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

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

Former Vice President Joe Biden appears with Nevada Democratic congressional and state candidates in Las Vegas on Saturday for an early vote rally at the Culinary Workers Union Local 226. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

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

Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., is among the Democrats whose re-election prospects could be hurt by the nationalizing of the midterms, Rothenberg writes. (Sarah Silbiger/CQ Roll Call file photo)

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

The North Dakota Senate race looks all but over for Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, Rothenberg writes.  (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

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

Supporters stake out their spot for Rep. Beto O'Rourke's Turn out For Texas Rally, featuring a concert by Wille Nelson, in Austin, Texas on Sept. 29. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

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

The retirement of pragmatic Republicans like Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., threatens to move the House Republican Conference further to the right. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

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

Barring something unforeseen, Judge Brett Kavanaugh is likely to be confirmed to the Supreme Court. The effect on the midterms is likely to amount to a split decision. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

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

Among the many things Stu Rothenberg says he is tired of? President Donald Trump and his rallies. (George LeVines/CQ Roll Call file photo)

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

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.