By Lambert Strether of Corrente.
We have got on to slippery ice where there is no friction and so in a certain sense the conditions are ideal, but also, just because of that, we are unable to walk. We want to walk: so we need friction. Back to the rough ground! –Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations
Election Day, 2018, is Tuesday, November 6, and 246 days is a long time in politics. Nevertheless, coverage is already so intense, and the outcome so potentially important — politically, economically, and in every way — that I feel the need to get my arms around the story now, rather than approach it, race by race, in onesies and twosies, over the coming months. Further, the power of what I can only call a reality distortion field, caused by the desire of many in the political and especially the professional classes to defeat Trump, is so great that I simply don’t trust the coverage (any more than I trust the coverage of any other subject where factions have put themselves on a war footing). Next, throw a Red Scare and War Fever into the mix. Finally, the 2016 election was such a debacle for the establishments of both parties, and their respective allies in the press, that there’s no particular reason to do anything other than treat their views this time around with what filmmaker Sam Goldwyn called a dose of salts. And if I’m feeling this queasy now, imagine what things will be like, closer to the date! So, if only to preserve what remains of my sanity, I need to work my own sums. Hence this worksheet, which I will periodically update and expand, as explained below.
Here are the basic numbers to watch. From the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, this handy chart:
And so you don’t have to count the dots:
Democrats must flip to take over the U.S. House of Representatives. Republicans control the U.S. Senate, 51 to 49. There are 33 GOP governors, and their party controls 32 legislatures.
Just so we’re clear, I have a dog in this fight to the extent that I feel gridlock is our friend; if I had my druthers, the Democrats would win control of the Senate, and the Republicans would retain the House. That’s my preference because (by Article I, Section 2) the House has “the sole power of impeachment,” and impeachment (regardless of the outcome of the Senate trial), at least on my reading of the current, publicly available evidence, isn’t worth tearing the country apart for, which it would assuredly do. Unfortunately for me, the electoral map makes it more likely than not that the Republicans will retain the Senate, while the House really does seem to be in play. (Here is a prediction that the Democrats will win the House with around 40 seats; here is a scenario of how the Republicans will retain their hold on it.)
Thus, I’ll scope the worksheet to cover only the House races (at least for now). But I can hardly cover all 435 House seats, so I need to limit my scope further; the obvious way to do that is to focus only on the seats the Democrats are likely to win. Readers know I have a weakness for old-time handicappers like Charles Cook or Stuart Rothenberg (and even, Lord help me, old-time operatives like Frank Luntz or Peggy Noonan, but that’s another story). At least I know where I am with the bourbon and cigars crowd, so I can try apply a proper discount to their projections (and their guesswork, and their intuitions). So I’m going to take a portion of the table developed by Rothenberg’s Inside Elections (here is the February 28, 2018 version) as my starting point, rework it, and then adapt as I go along. Here is the portion of that table for toss-ups, seats that tilt and lean Democrat, and seats that are likely Democrat (leaving out all the safe seats).
Table 1: Worksheet on House Races, Election 2018 (2018-03-05).
Toss-ups: 10; Tilt D: 7; Lean D: 3; Likely D: 5
Note that the races to watch are in Pennsylvania and Minnesota (4 seats), California, Florida, and New Jersey (3 seats), and then Arizona and Nevada (2 seats), trailed by New Hampshire, Texas, Virginia, and Washington (1 seat each). Of course, as we know even from comparing West Virginia (say) and Oklahoma, political cultures and establishments differ significantly across and between states.
Now, the table as it stands has very little explanatory power. However, with scope limited to a manageable degree (only 25 races, give or take over time) I can add columns. Columns to add might include:
- Primary challengers (illuminating intersections between DCCC/Blue Dog candidates, Sanders-inflected insurgents, etc.)
- Whether the district flippped from Obama to Trump
- Dominant industries in the districts (to see if we can do any reverse engineering of Thomas Ferguson’s “industrial structures,” especially with respect to dark money)
- Donors, television and social media campaigns
- Demographic and social characteristics of the districts
- Strengths and weaknesses of the candidates
And of course, as we go along, we can add and subtract candidates, change seats from “Tilt” to “Likely,” etc.
So this is quite a program of research, but given that I’ve scoped it properly and can plug away at it with periodic new releases (much as in 2016) we should have a reasonably nuanced view of the 2018 elections as we go along and fill out new columns. Readers, you can help in two ways. First, suggest areas for additional (and properly scoped) research. Second, if you live in any of these 25 districts, please share your views of the race from the “rough ground.” Thank you!
 For example, when polling becomes a sort of performative speech, we really are in trouble, aren’t we?
 Assuming House Speaker Pelosi doesn’t betray her base, as she did in the last Democrat wave election, 2006, and with unseemly haste, too.
 Hence Trump’s recent fixation on steel?
 I do not know whether, in general, insurgents are challenging Blue Dogs, especially incumbents, or not.