Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose
June 23rd, 2016,
Some of our readers may recall that the Crystal Ball published its first 2016 Electoral College map at the end of March. It was somewhat controversial — at least judging by many of the reactions we received. As you see below, at that time we projected Hillary Clinton at 347 electoral votes and Donald Trump at 191. While Toss-ups are perfectly reasonable at this stage of the campaign, we decided for clarity’s sake to push every close state one way or the other.
Map 1: March 31 Crystal Ball Electoral College ratings
This decisive Clinton edge in the Electoral College came despite the fact that she was still engaged in a tough battle for the nomination (as was Trump back then). We also had no clear picture of the third parties and independents that might play a role in November.
Now that the primary season is over, the overall picture is clearer:
1. Both parties have semi-official nominees in Clinton and Trump, even if Bernie Sanders has not yet dropped out and some unhappy Republicans are still toying with a quixotic convention challenge to Trump. Some have argued that prognosticators should allow for the possibility that one or both of Clinton and Trump won’t actually make it to the November ballot — Clinton potentially derailed by an investigation into her use of e-mail while secretary of state, or Trump being unhorsed in Cleveland or otherwise dropping out — but these scenarios are far-fetched.
2. Potentially significant third-party candidates have jumped into (or failed to qualify for) the race. The Libertarians may be the key “none-of-the-above” entry now that conservative efforts to draft an impressive “real Republican” ticket have fallen flat, and it is not yet clear which party could lose more votes to the Libertarian ticket (Gary Johnson and Bill Weld) as a consequence.
3. The Green Party, led by presumptive nominee Jill Stein, could take some Sanders voters, although it has yet to score any real breakthrough in the polls, having received a mere 0.36% in 2012. Moreover, Democrats frequently urge one another to be on their guard since they recall Green nominee Ralph Nader drew enough votes in swing states to switch the White House from Al Gore to George W. Bush in 2000.
4. A big initial Clinton advantage faded after Trump became the presumptive nominee, and a couple of surveys actually showed Trump with a narrow national lead. Lately Clinton has regained her advantage: Both HuffPost Pollster and RealClearPolitics had Clinton up by about six percentage points as of Wednesday afternoon. Trump has not led any national poll since May. With all of these shifts, it’s time to revisit our map. With no drum roll — that’s overly dramatic in mid-June — here is our new and improved Electoral College map:
Map 2: Updated Crystal Ball Electoral College ratings
Table 1: Crystal Ball Electoral College ratings changes
Now you see why we dropped the drum roll. The revised map is anticlimactic — though startling in another sense because it doesn’t show what so many people may have expected. We simply detect no compelling reason to change very much, thus our subtitle, “plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.”
Our Electoral College totals have not budged: 347 electoral votes Safe, Likely, or Leaning to Clinton and 191 Safe/Likely/Leaning Trump.
So to us, the state of the general election has not shifted much at all in the nearly three months since we issued our first Clinton-versus-Trump map. Clinton remains a substantial favorite. If this is how the election actually turns out — and it probably won’t, at least not exactly, because there is a long way to go — Clinton would win a victory smaller than Barack Obama’s 2008 win (365 electoral votes) but bigger than his 2012 reelection (332).
The ratings tweaks
We are shifting one state a bit toward Trump, although Democrats retain an advantage there. Pennsylvania, potentially the most important state in 2016, moves from Likely Democratic to Leans Democratic. Trump is targeting the state, and a number of his more plausible paths to 270 include turning the Keystone State red for the first time since 1988.
Here’s where we’ll see the success or failure of the Trump appeal to white blue-collar voters (culturally and/or economically). The state as a whole has moved slightly toward the Republicans over the past few cycles. However, we’ve seen much larger average shifts at the county level. Western Pennsylvania has reddened sharply — over the past four cycles, the nine counties with the largest relative movement in the GOP’s direction are located there — while eastern Pennsylvania, particularly near Philadelphia, has trended notably Democratic. But Pennsylvania remains a fairly white state (19th by non-Hispanic white overall), so it’s perhaps unsurprising that early polls there show Trump, who will be very reliant on white voters, has a shot to compete for the state’s 20 electoral votes.
If Trump’s blue-collar strategy is going to work, the Keystone State is a logical target. But it’s an open question how many more votes a Republican can add to the party’s net tally in areas such as southwestern Pennsylvania, considering the edge the party has there already. In addition, Trump will also have to overcome what should be at least a 400,000-vote Democratic plurality just from Philadelphia County, not to mention challenges in the big, wealthy, well-educated suburban counties that ring the city. Terry Madonna and Michael Young, two keen analysts of Keystone State politics, see a path for Trump, albeit a narrow one.
Ultimately, for now at least — given Trump’s strategy — we think Pennsylvania should be rated the same as states such as Florida and Ohio, both of which we call Leans Democratic.
Speaking of those three states, Quinnipiac University polled all of them and found Clinton up eight points in Florida but only tied in the other two. We don’t think this is how the election will ultimately play out. Florida has not voted considerably more Democratic than Ohio and Pennsylvania since the days of the overwhelmingly Democratic Solid South, an electoral alignment that started to break up after World War II. These three states have voted fairly close to the national average in recent years, so if Clinton’s national lead is around six points, that’s probably about what her lead in these states is as well. Trump needs to carry at least two of these three electoral vote-rich states to have a path to victory, and in our view he’s an underdog in all three at the moment. Notably, the Clinton campaign is starting to spend heavily on television advertising in some key states, including Florida and Ohio, although her campaign has yet to spend in Pennsylvania, which Democrats see as a significant reach for Republicans.
Excepting Pennsylvania, our new ratings changes favor Clinton.
Currently, we show every Obama 2012 state at least leaning to Clinton, along with North Carolina, the one state won by Mitt Romney where we currently see a Democratic edge. Obama carried North Carolina in 2008 along with Indiana, a traditionally conservative state that has long been the most Republican state in the Midwest. If Clinton’s national lead does grow further, it’s far from impossible that she might be able to carry Indiana, as well as Missouri, which Obama did not carry in either of his elections. But as of now, we think that is unlikely, and Trump remains the favorite in both.
Two Republican-leaning states where Democratic chances might be better are Arizona and Georgia. Both states typically vote several points more Republican than the nation, but they are both becoming more diverse: Arizona has a growing Hispanic population that will in all likelihood be quite hostile to Trump, an anti-immigration hardliner, while Georgia has a significant and deeply Democratic bloc of African-American voters as well as a growing, educated, white-collar professional class that might be turned off by Trump. While Trump is still a favorite in both places, we see Clinton having the potential to grab one or both if she ends up winning a big national victory, so we’re moving Arizona and Georgia from Likely Republican to Leans Republican.
Our ratings are premised to a large degree on a belief that we are not going to see dramatic changes in the electoral performance of the states this year. In other words, we think the states that have been the most Democratic in recent elections will continue to be among the most Democratic, the most Republican states will continue to be the most Republican, and the states that have voted closest to the national average in recent elections — the swing states — will continue to reflect the national average.
Table 2 shows the average two-party presidential performance in each state from 2000-2012. Note that the states that have been consistently the most Democratic in that timeframe all have Safe Democratic designations, while the most Republican states in that timeframe are almost exclusively rated as Safe Republican. Could Clinton win Texas, as she has suggested? Maybe, but only if she is winning nationally in a blowout. The same is true of Trump in California and New York: They only come into play for him if he is rolling up a huge national margin, which at this point is essentially unimaginable. As long as the election is decided by less than 10 points nationally — and we haven’t had a 10+ point margin since Ronald Reagan’s 49-state landslide in 1984 — none of these states should be all that competitive.
Table 2: Two-party Democratic presidential vote by state, 2000-2012
Notes: *Indicates states that award some electoral votes by congressional district. The rating listed applies only to the statewide vote. State results are colored by the party that won. The 2000-2012 average column is colored by the results over the four cycles: Blue for four Democratic victories, light blue for three Democratic victories, yellow for a two-two split, light red for three Republican victories, and red for four Republican victories.
However, there is at least one exception: Utah, which has been the most Republican state in the nation over the last four elections. We’re moving it from Safe Republican to Likely Republican.
Several 2016 polls have shown the state to be competitive. While Utah is very Republican, it also stands apart from other states because of its heavy Mormon population (58% of the state, according to the American Values Atlas), a religious group whose members were notably cool to Trump during the primary season. (Trump only got 14% in the state’s caucus, held on March 22.) Ultimately, Utah seems most unlikely to vote Democratic for president, but Trump could wildly underperform there and bleed votes to Johnson’s Libertarian ticket or perhaps someone else — the independent filing deadline is Aug. 15. The reasons for Trump’s troubles with Mormons are legion, according to BuzzFeed’s McKay Coppins, including his apparent hostility to religious freedom (his proposal to at least temporarily ban Muslims from entering the United States) and hardline anti-immigration message. Additionally, Coppins argues, “pitchfork populism doesn’t hold the same visceral appeal for a religious community with above-average education levels, relatively stable families, and comfortable middle-class incomes.” Perhaps more important, if Trump does indeed perform poorly with Mormons, it could also hurt him in more competitive states such as Utah’s neighbors (Arizona, Colorado, and Nevada). These are places with above-average Mormon populations where Trump’s potential underperformance with Hispanics may do him further harm.
The overall picture
If most of the Sanders vote is gradually re-absorbed into the Democratic column — a reasonable expectation — Clinton will get a boost of a couple percentage points nationally and in swing-state polling. Should the Democratic convention be a harmonious show — not a certainty — and Clinton’s choice for VP be well-received across the party and nation, Clinton’s poll gains should harden.
The same thing could happen for Trump, of course, but party unity within the Republican family is a non-starter. Two former presidents (both Bushes), the previous party nominee (Romney), and a host of other top GOP officials, donors, and commentators will never get on the Trump bandwagon. News media coverage is bound to stress who does not come to Cleveland, not just who does. It’s also doubtful that senior officials who have been publicly lukewarm about Trump are suddenly going to start singing his praises in or after Cleveland. They know that on any given day, some new or renewed Trump controversy could force them to stand down and backtrack.
The watchword for much of the party establishment is extreme wariness, although we’re skeptical of a possible coup attempt in Cleveland. As much as many Republicans dislike Trump and fear he will lead to catastrophic losses in the fall, he won the nomination fair and square, and previous attempts to derail the Trump train have failed. If Trump isn’t the nominee, who would it be? The anti-Trump forces have no candidate to rally around, and they almost certainly couldn’t agree on one. Bluntly put, the GOP is stuck with Trump. And a substitute nominee, should one be installed somehow, would be asked to lead a viciously divided party with no real chance of victory.
Nothing here or anywhere is carved into stone in a most unorthodox presidential year. We recognize that Clinton has loads of weaknesses, too. Personally, she isn’t much liked or trusted. She’s also heavily dependent upon President Obama’s job approval, and thus must fear a reversal of his majority standing. Obama’s ratings could take a nosedive on account of a surprise recession or more domestic terrorism. And as we all know, Clinton might face the email music, courtesy of the FBI at an inopportune time. Scandals and controversies are part of the Clinton tapestry over a quarter-century in national politics. Why would 2016 be any different?
So while reasonably confident of the direction of the 2016 general election, your Crystal Ball will always wait and watch. We will revise the electoral map again a few weeks after the conventions have adjourned, and as needed throughout the campaign.
The colors on our map don’t run, but they won’t fully dry either, at least until late on the evening of Election Day, Nov. 8. We can’t rule out a dramatic reassessment, but so far, early in this campaign, one has not been required.
June 21st, 2016,
|Editor’s note: This is the first of two editions of the Crystal Ball this week. While we typically only publish once a week, this is an extraordinary political year and we hope to provide additional commentary and analysis throughout the rest of the cycle as warranted. Today’s piece kicks off “Map Week” for the Crystal Ball: First, Associate Editor Geoffrey Skelley compares Hillary Clinton’s county-level primary performance in 2016 to her 2008 results. We will then follow with an update to our Electoral College ratings map on Thursday.
— The Editors
One striking aspect of the Democratic primary race was the stark role-reversal in Hillary Clinton’s 2016 performance compared with her narrow loss to Barack Obama in 2008’s Democratic nomination battle. Whereas she ran against Obama in 2008, she positioned herself as his successor at every turn during her race against insurgent Bernie Sanders in 2016. It’s very easy to see the effect of this in a county-level map of the change in her performance from eight years ago to this cycle, as shown by the coloring in Map 1 below (a choropleth map). (We recommend clicking on the map for a much larger version.)
Map 1: Clinton percentage of vote won in Democratic presidential nominating contests by county, 2016 vs. 2008
Sources: Dave Leip’s Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections, state election websites, Politico for county-level 2016 Maine caucus results
Notes: County-level or county-equivalent-level data unavailable for 2008, 2016, or both cycles for Alaska, Kansas, and North Dakota. Minnesota’s 2008 caucus results were available by county but some 2016 results were by different geographical constituencies (such as state senate districts), making some county-level data unavailable. Utah’s data compare caucus results in 2016 to primary results in 2008. Election results are as of Monday morning, June 20, 2016. Click on the map for an enlarged version.
Because the comparison map looks at the change in Clinton’s raw vote percentage, it is worth remembering John Edwards also was in the mix during the early 2008 contests. This affects a state such as Iowa, where Clinton actually finished third in 2008 but first in 2016. Winning what amounted to a head-to-head contest in 2016, Clinton’s percentages in the Hawkeye State improved notably compared to her 2008 performance.
Overall, the two most evident differences in Clinton’s support are her improvement in the Deep South and deterioration in much of the Upper South and Appalachia. Running against the man who went on to become the first black president in history, Clinton did poorly with African-American voters in 2008. Eight years later, as a candidate who is effectively running for Obama’s third term, Clinton won over a huge percentage of black voters nationally. Her dramatic improvement among African Americans was most noteworthy in the Deep South, where the Democratic primary electorates were majority black. In fact, if we regress Clinton’s 2008-to-2016 net change on Census demographic data, the regression analysis finds that a one percentage point increase in the African-American share of a county’s population corresponds to slightly more than a one point increase in Clinton’s net result.
Conversely, Clinton did remarkably well in very white states in the Upper South and Appalachia, such as Kentucky, Oklahoma, and West Virginia, in 2008. But in 2016, her performance in large swaths of many such states fell sharply. Our regression analysis finds Clinton’s 2008-to-2016 net change decreased about 0.1 percentage points for every percentage-point increase in the non-Hispanic white share of a county’s population.
With Clinton’s role as the continuity candidate, the map is in some ways also a comparison of Obama to Sanders. Obama fared poorly in many parts of the Upper South and Appalachia in 2008, areas where Sanders ran well. Meanwhile, Sanders mainly struggled to win over black voters who supported Obama resoundingly in 2008. A look at Clinton’s home state of New York illustrates this to some extent: In 2008, Obama did six points worse in the rest of the state than in the diverse environs of New York City; in 2016, Sanders’ percentage outside of NYC was 11 points better than in the Five Boroughs.
While the universe of voters participating in 2008 and then 2016 changed considerably thanks to mobility, interest, and mortality, our map suggests that many ’08 Clinton voters became ’16 Sanders voters, and many ’08 Obama voters became ’16 Clinton voters.
But his re-entry would not dramatically change the Senate calculus
June 16th, 2016,
The horrifying massacre at a gay nightclub in Orlando forces us to ponder whether it will somehow change the national electoral calculus. The short answer is that it’s too soon to tell, but the grim reality is that the frequency of mass murder in the United States — committed by ISIS-inspired lone wolves or others — suggests that this, terrifyingly, might not be the last major spasm of violence that takes place between now and the election. How candidates react could have consequences in November, although it’s also easy to overstate the potential impact of jarring events on the choices that voters make. After all, the American electorate is partisan and the vote choices for the vast majority of them don’t waver much throughout the campaign.
But the Orlando attack could have other political consequences. As the clock ticks down to a June 24 filing deadline, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) gave his strongest signals yet that he might be reconsidering his decision not to seek a second term following his loss in the GOP presidential primary. Speaking with conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt, Rubio said that the attack gave him “pause to think a little bit about, you know, your service to your country and where you can be most useful to your country.” On Wednesday, Rubio confirmed that he was reconsidering his decision not to seek another term.
Ultimately, only Rubio knows whether he will run again. He and his staffers have insisted that he will be transitioning to the private sector next year, and there is some indication that Rubio really does want to spend some time outside of politics in order to refill his family’s coffers. However, we also know from experience that statements disclaiming interest in running for office are operative only until they are not. And perhaps Rubio’s calculus truly has changed after spending time in Orlando after the shootings. We’ll find out soon enough.
But we did want to note in advance that, at least at the outset of a reconfigured race, Rubio changing course and seeking a return to the Senate would not change our rating in the Florida Senate race. We would still call it a Toss-up. Rubio’s star has dimmed after his presidential race, and he could potentially face problems in both a primary and a general election.
For weeks, Republican leaders have been publicly leaning on Rubio to seek another term in large part because they believe Rubio, the incumbent, is by far their best potential candidate to hold the seat. They probably are right about that: None of the current GOP contenders has truly emerged so far, and the best candidate on either side might be Rep. Patrick Murphy (D, FL-18), who (despite some recent stumbles involving overstatement of his educational and other credentials) is a very strong fundraiser. Murphy defeated an incumbent Republican in 2012 — controversial Allen West — and has won two terms in the House in a GOP-leaning district.
We do not know what his re-entry might do to the current Senate field. One of the current GOP Senate contenders, Rep. David Jolly (R, FL-13), has already said he would drop out in deference to Rubio, and he may be planning to run for reelection to his House seat — he is making an announcement about his future plans on Friday (more on Jolly below). Two other candidates, self-funding developer Carlos Beruff and former CIA agent Todd Wilcox, have said that they will stay in the race regardless, and Beruff, who is in some ways a Trump copycat, has already spent more than $3 million of his own money on ads and led the splintered field in a recent Mason-Dixon poll. Another candidate, Rep. Ron DeSantis (R, FL-6), has the backing of the conservative Club for Growth, but the Club likes Rubio too. And Rubio has been helping another candidate in the race, his friend Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, and is scheduled to host a fundraiser for him on June 24, the filing deadline day. But Lopez-Cantera has apparently given Rubio the green light to run and would step aside if he did, Politico reported Wednesday.
Anyway, if Rubio runs, there are going to be some domino effects. It might actually be better for Rubio if more candidates stay in the primary, because any anti-Rubio vote would be splintered.
Still, the incumbent’s poor performance in the Florida presidential primary — Donald Trump beat him by almost 20 points — shows that Rubio isn’t as strong at home as he might have seemed before he became a presidential candidate. Remember: Rubio upset Bush family loyalists when he entered the presidential race against former Gov. Jeb Bush, who started the 2016 presidential primary as a prime contender. Rubio surely would have to mend some fences with some Bush-backing Sunshine State Republican donors and rank-and-file. Additionally, Rubio could face criticism over what may look to some like opportunism — effectively using the Orlando shootings as an excuse to reenter politics. That may or may not be fair, but Rubio would have to deal with that perception nonetheless.
In other words, while we think Rubio would definitely start as a favorite in his primary, he would not necessarily be a lock.
Then there’s the general election. Republicans are hoping that Rep. Alan Grayson (D, FL-9), an acid-tongued liberal with ethical baggage, wins the Democratic primary over Murphy. Rubio would be favored over Grayson in a general election, and maybe other Republicans would as well. However, Murphy is probably leading in the primary, and we don’t see much reason why he couldn’t run closely with Hillary Clinton as both try to win statewide: The Democratic firm Public Policy Polling, in a recent survey, showed Trump leading Clinton by one percentage point in Florida while Murphy led Rubio by one. If that’s an accurate read of the electorate, and it might not be, it shows that Rubio has some work to do to demonstrate a bit of crossover appeal. Additionally, if Rubio runs, Democrats will flood the state with money in an effort not only to win the seat, but also potentially end Rubio’s career before he has the chance to make another run at the White House. Interestingly, if Rubio ran he would in some ways be tying his fate to his one-time rival Trump: If Trump won Florida, Rubio would almost certainly win. If Trump lost Florida, Rubio probably would still have a chance, but he might not have much margin for error. In that, his situation would be similar to that of some of his fellow first-term Republican senators running for reelection, such as Kelly Ayotte (NH), Rob Portman (OH), and Pat Toomey (PA). We call all of those races Toss-ups, and to us Rubio has not earned any more benefit of the doubt than those other incumbents have.
If Rubio does not run for reelection, we will still keep the race as a Toss-up, given the primary uncertainty on both sides. But if Murphy wins his primary and none of the GOP candidates proves formidable, we think it would be the Democrat’s race to lose.
Florida is a vitally important piece of the Senate puzzle. Take a look at our Senate ratings, shown in Map 1:
Map 1: Crystal Ball Senate ratings
The current Senate alignment is 54-46 Republican. In our ratings, we have two current Republican seats, Illinois and Wisconsin, leaning to the Democrats. There are some signs that Republicans already view Illinois, where Sen. Mark Kirk (R) is trying to win a second term against Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D, IL-8), as a lost cause, while Sen. Ron Johnson (R) has trailed ex-Sen. Russ Feingold (D) in every Wisconsin poll so far. If Republicans can’t play offense in Nevada, a Democratic-held Toss-up open seat where Trump is unlikely to be an asset thanks to a growing, diverse electorate, then the Senate probably comes down to one party winning three of these four seats — Florida, New Hampshire, Ohio, and Pennsylvania — to hold an outright majority, with a two-two split resulting in a tied upper chamber in such a scenario.
Had Rubio not run for president and simply run for another Senate term, we suspect he would have been the favorite in the fall. He may still ultimately be a favorite if he re-enters the fray now, but because of his failed presidential run and the dominoes his campaign demolished, the picture is hazier. Nonetheless, Republicans are right to hope for a Rubio run.
House rating changes
There are 28 House seats currently held by Republicans that we consider truly vulnerable right now. These include all of the GOP seats we rate as Leans Republican, Toss-up, or at least leaning to the Democrats already. As of now, these seats, along with a handful of currently Democratic seats, represent the true House battlefield. Because Democrats need to net 30 seats to actually win the House, even winning all of these seats and holding their own — which is very unlikely at this point — would still leave them several seats short of a majority.
The 28 GOP seats are, on average, fairly representative of the nation. President Obama’s mean performance in these 28 seats in 2012 was 51%, the same as his national share of the vote. A few of these seats are significantly more Democratic than the nation: Obama got 61% in both FL-10 and VA-4, open seats that mid-decade redistricting turned into Democratic bastions that the current Republican incumbents abandoned to run elsewhere. But for the most part, Obama performed just a little bit above or below his national performance in these seats.
But there’s one major outlier on our list of truly competitive Republican-held House seats: UT-4, held by first-term Rep. Mia Love (R). Obama got just 30% there in 2012. To put that in perspective, the most Republican-leaning district held by any Democrat is MN-7, Rep. Collin Peterson’s seat, where Obama got 44%. UT-4 is an extreme outlier, and remarkably, we’re actually moving its rating toward the Democrats this week, from Leans Republican to Toss-up.
The reason is that the topline presidential number does not tell the whole story in UT-4. Former Rep. Jim Matheson (D), a classic blue dog moderate Democrat, held the seat or a version of it for more than a decade. He even withstood 2012’s Mitt Romney Utah wave, which washed over the Mormon-dominated Beehive State. Matheson beat Love in 2012 and then retired in advance of the 2014 election, giving Love, a favorite of national Republicans, a seemingly clear shot at the House. But Love underperformed in 2014, winning by just five points against Doug Owens (D), who like Matheson is a member of a prominent Utah Democratic family. Owens is back for a rematch, and there are several signs that this will be a competitive race. For one, Owens is keeping better pace on the money front: Love outspent him more than five to one in 2014, but this time they are relatively close on cash on hand, $1.1 million for Love to about $770,000 for Owens.
Additionally, the presidential race could hurt Love: While Trump should eventually win Utah, a recent poll showed the Clinton and Trump tied statewide — and Love trailing Owens by six. That seems like a rosy projection for Democrats, but it’s yet another signal the race should be close, and Romney’s 2012 performance makes this district seem more Republican than it is. John McCain won 56% there in 2008. That’s still better than McCain performed in any other current Democratic district, but it’s also a far cry from Romney’s 68% four years later.
For the most part, districts that look like this should not be in play for Democrats, but this one could very well be an extraordinary exception.
We’re making a few other ratings changes this week:
— In California, where votes from last week’s primary are still being counted, Democrats are pleased that Bryan Caforio, an attorney, advanced to the general election against Rep. Steve Knight (R, CA-25) in last week’s all-party primary. A surprisingly weak 10-point win by Knight’s predecessor, former Rep. Buck McKeon (R), in 2012 against a little-known opponent provided some evidence that the district, which Romney won by two points in 2012, was trending Democratic, and that trend has only continued over time. National Democrats seem prepared to play here, and Republicans are so weak right now in California that their grip on districts that are much more Republican than the state as a whole may be loosening. Knight remains the favorite, but we’re moving this race from Likely Republican to Leans Republican.
— Democrats caught a break in Nevada on Tuesday night in the open NV-3, which Rep. Joe Heck (R) is leaving to run for Senate. The top potential Republican candidate, state Senate Majority Leader Michael Roberson, lost a primary to Danny Tarkanian, the son of former UNLV basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian and a perennial candidate. Tarkanian has had some success in primaries but has lost several recent general elections. The Democratic nominee is Jacky Rosen, a synagogue leader. This is a swingy district that Obama won by less than a percentage point in 2012. Perhaps this is finally a chance for Tarkanian to make a breakthrough, but NV-3 is a diverse district where Trump probably will do worse than Romney did. So we’re moving this open seat from Toss-up to Leans Democratic.
— As noted above, Rep. David Jolly (R, FL-13) appears poised to leave the Senate primary and run for reelection to his House seat. If he does and wins the primary, he would likely face ex-Gov. Charlie Crist (D) in a reconfigured Tampa-area district where President Obama won 55% of the vote in 2012. Crist won election as governor in 2006 as a Republican, lost a Senate race as an independent to Rubio in 2010 (after Rubio forced him out of the GOP primary), and then lost a very close election for governor as a Democrat in 2014. Jolly won a high-profile special election in 2014 against 2010 gubernatorial nominee Alex Sink (D) in a FL-13 that was less Democratic than the current one. We currently call FL-13 Likely Democratic, but in the event that Jolly runs for reelection, we will move the race to Leans Democratic. One could argue that Toss-up is the more appropriate rating: St. Pete Polls had the race tied at 44% apiece in a recent survey, and Jolly’s net favorability was much better than Crist’s. It’s possible that FL-13, which backed Crist in the gubernatorial race, is nonetheless afflicted with Crist fatigue. But the seat is tough for Republicans as currently drawn, and Trump could end up making it even tougher if he underperforms. Additionally, Jolly does not get along with the National Republican Congressional Committee. Even while Jolly was winning in 2014, his relationship with national Republicans was rocky, and he didn’t help matters by participating in a 60 Minutes piece that showed undercover footage of members dialing for dollars, which enraged the NRCC. Still, if the NRCC sees a path to victory, it probably will spend big in the race, albeit through clenched teeth: After all, Jolly is an incumbent, and both party congressional campaign arms are first and foremost for incumbent protection. Jolly has proposed banning lawmakers from personally soliciting donations, which seems to have only depressed his own fundraising: As of the most recent fundraising reports (March 31), Crist had slightly more cash on hand than Jolly, even though Jolly was running for Senate in a huge state while Crist was just running for one of the state’s 27 congressional districts. All that said, Jolly’s potential move back to the House race would give the Republicans a real chance to win a district that appeared lost. And even if Jolly didn’t win, national Democrats very well might have to expend resources on a seat that might have otherwise been a walk.
Anyway, because Jolly has not yet announced his decision, we are going to hold off on officially changing the rating to Leans Democratic. But we will immediately make the switch on Friday if he does in fact run for reelection.
Our full House ratings are available here.