The Democrats’ ‘blue wave’ is drying up

Don’t count your elections before they’ve hatched. That’s the lesson of the past couple of weeks.

Now, the so-called “fundamentals” that supposedly govern the 2018 midterm elections still point, as they always have, to a good-to-great night for Democrats. They are the out-party and the out-party generally does better than the party in power.

The special elections since Donald Trump’s ascension have shown Democratic voter enthusiasm at stratospheric levels and Republican voter enthusiasm nowhere near. The president’s approval rating is in the low 40s, which is not good for the GOP’s position on Election Day.

Fundamentals, schmundamentals. Things happen. And things that have happened over the past two weeks aren’t great for Dems.

Call it the Kavanaugh Effect. The Partisan Reversion. Whatever you want. The fact of the matter is GOP voters seem to have woken up and decided to tell pollsters they are going to vote Republican in certain races that once seemed competitive.

In a weird reversal of 2012, when conservatives were trumpeting national polls showing Romney ahead and were getting yelled at by liberals citing state-level polls, liberal journalists are citing national “generic” polls (the ones that ask if you’d vote for a Democrat or Republican) to support their case that Democrats are in fine shape, while Republicans are citing specific state-level polls as evidence of their revival.

One thing that may have blinded everyone to the possibility of a GOP revitalization was the phenomenon of double-counting. Throughout the Kavanaugh controversy we were told it would be deadly for Republicans among suburban women voters they need to avoid being blown out in November.

But given the reduction in the number of Republican voters since the 2016 election, it’s very likely those suburban women have already switched sides to join the Democrats or have withdrawn from politics altogether this year. The Republican suburban women left are likely socially conservative and pro-life — and Kavanaugh would have made them more enthusiastic about voting GOP rather than less.

That said, two “generic” polling questions this week have Democrats up 12 and 13 points respectively. That would suggest a so-called “blue wave” in which most House and Senate seats in play will likely tilt Democratic. And it’s in line with the 2010 Republican numbers around now; on Election Day that year, Republicans picked up 63 House seats and six Senate seats.

Yet state-level polls over the past two weeks show no such wave, at least not in the Senate. Indeed, they suggest Democrats appear to have almost no serious chance of winning a majority in the Senate, which would require them to pick up three GOP seats. At this moment, it’s far more likely Republicans will pick up one of theirs.

In Tennessee, where popular former two-term Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen was staging a strong race against a Republican, the latest polls show Bredesen tanking — a New York Times poll this week has him down 17 points. Seventeen.

Most important is Arizona, a state whose open Senate seat Democrats must win to have any hope of ousting Mitch McConnell from his majority-leader position. Democratic Rep. Kyrsten Sinema has led in most polls over the past few months, but in the week following the Kavanaugh testimony, Republican Martha McSally finally took the lead in one — and outside the margin of error, by six points.

And Thursday, a startling piece of opposition research surfaced in which Sinema is seen telling a small audience at a political conference in Texas in 2011 that Arizona is “crazy” and offering advice on how to make sure Texas doesn’t become like crazy Arizona. That’s, like, really, really, really, very bad. Extremely bad. Like lose-you-the-election bad. McSally and her team will make sure there isn’t a person in the state who is unaware of this speech by Election Day.

Even more telling, no political prognosticator is willing to say the Democrats are certain to control the House of Representatives on Election Day, even though they only need to win 23 seats, and that’s not a big ask. The polling and other data just don’t yet support it.

For example, The Cook Political Report points out that 44 Republican seats are toss-ups or worse whereas only three Democratic seats look that way — which would tell you that if you had to bet, you’d bet on the Democrats, but if you didn’t have to, you might not want to just yet.

Hard to imagine Democrats not winning those seats to take control of the House. But it’s not impossible. A few weeks ago it was. No wonder everybody’s confused.

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