Sabatos Crystal Ball

The End of the Filibuster May Loom

Neither side has a practical path to 60 Senate votes, which may imperil the practice

Hunter Brown, Guest Columnist August 15th, 2019

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Dear Readers: We’re pleased to offer a piece this week from Hunter Brown, an outstanding Center for Politics intern, on a topic of great importance: the Senate filibuster. Hunter finds that neither Democrats nor Republicans have much of a practical, short-term path to a 60-vote, filibuster-proof Senate majority. That may incentivize the next party that wins dual control of Congress and the White House to eliminate the filibuster in order to pass major legislation — something that several Democratic presidential contenders are already proposing.— The Editors

 

KEY POINTS FROM THIS ARTICLE

— With the exception of a brief stint in 2009-2010 enabled by a string of improbable Democratic victories, no party has commanded a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate since the 1970s.

— Given the current partisan composition of the states, it seems nearly impossible for either party to gain 60 seats for the foreseeable future.

— The Republicans, absent any major proposals needing 60 votes, lacked an incentive to end the filibuster in 2017. The Democrats, in contrast, have several such proposals heading into 2020.

Is the end of the filibuster near?

With hopes of winning full control of Washington in the 2020 election, Democrats have proposed bold ideas from Medicare for All to the Green New Deal. Fearing potential roadblocks, some have sought structural changes to American politics recently, calling for abolishing the Electoral College, packing the Supreme Court, and radically transforming the composition of the Senate. However, perhaps the easiest-to-overcome procedural roadblock to progressive policy objectives is the filibuster in the U.S. Senate, which future Senate majorities could end with a majority vote. Ending the filibuster has been mentioned by Democratic presidential candidates such as Gov. Jay Inslee (D-WA) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), as well as former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV).

Of course, the Democrats (or Republicans) could overcome the filibuster by winning the requisite 60 Senate seats needed to invoke cloture.

But, as will be explored in depth below, there have been very few filibuster-proof majorities in recent decades, and there seems to be no realistic path for either party to get another one any time soon.

The filibuster has been a feature of the United States Senate since the nation’s early days. If a senator can talk ad nauseam, a piece of legislation will never come to a vote and thus fail. However, the Senate has slowly been weakening the filibuster’s power over the years. Initially, the Senate allowed unlimited debate, effectively requiring unanimous consent to vote on any bill, as any member could individually hold up a bill by launching a filibuster. However, in 1917, then-President Woodrow Wilson, annoyed at much of his legislation stalling and pressed by an impending entry into World War I, convened a special session of Congress, in which the Senate enacted Rule 22, enabling a two-thirds majority of the body to end debate and proceed to the vote. This threshold was further reduced in 1975 to three-fifths.

The Senate has also begun to limit the scope of the filibuster. In 1974, the Senate passed the Congressional Budget Act of 1974, which created a method of bypassing the filibuster entirely for certain legislation called budget reconciliation. In 2013, with many of President Obama’s judicial nominees stalled and amidst the threat of an impending Republican take-over of the Senate, the Senate Democrats ended the filibuster for executive and judicial appointments excluding those of Supreme Court justices. In 2017, Republicans, in control of both the Senate and the presidency, ended the filibuster on Supreme Court nominees in order to approve the nomination of now-Justice Neil Gorsuch.

Ironically, while it takes 60 votes to kill a filibuster, it would only take 51 to stop filibusters forever, as it could be changed as a part of the Senate rules, which only requires majority support, every two years.

Thus, it may be only a matter of time until the practice ends for good.

It has been increasingly rare in recent years for a single party to command a 60-seat filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. In fact, since the end of the 1970s, it has only happened once: For a brief period from July 2009 to February 2010, Democrats held 60 seats. However, it was a very tenuous hold, only solidifying after Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania switched parties and Al Franken (D-MN) was declared the victor of a razor-thin Minnesota Senate race. Furthermore, the Democrats held many seats they likely would not have much of a chance to win today, including both seats in Arkansas, Montana, North Dakota, and West Virginia as well as a seat apiece in Alaska, Indiana, Louisiana, Missouri, and Nebraska.

Looking ahead, does either party have a reasonable path to 60 seats in the Senate? Probably not.

I find it useful to divide the states into six groups, shown in Table 1 and Map 1: the Dominant Democratic, the Ruby Red Republican, the Swinging Sun Belt, the Bush-to-Blue, the Moving Midwest, and the Non-aligned New England. Going through these regions will help illustrate the challenges both parties face in trying to win a filibuster-proof Senate majority.

Table 1 and Map 1: Six groups of Senate states

Note: Categorizes independent Sens. Angus King (ME) and Bernie Sanders (VT) as Democrats because they caucus with the Democrats.

The Dominant Democratic category includes the 14 states where Democrats can be expected to win consistently with little real opposition. Since 2003, only two Republican senators have won elections in these states, both in 2010. Scott Brown (R-MA) faced a disastrous opponent in state Attorney General Martha Coakley (D-MA) and eked out a close victory in the January special election. Mark Kirk (R-IL) also squeaked by in a Republican wave year. Neither man was reelected, and the Democrats now enjoy control of every seat in this category.

The Ruby Red Republican category encompasses the 20 states which are heavily Republican and show no sign of changing any time soon. In 2009, 14 Democratic senators hailed from these states. Now, only three — Sens. Doug Jones (D-AL), Jon Tester (D-MT), and Joe Manchin (D-WV) — remain, with Jones on very shaky ground going into 2020. While both Tester and Manchin were reelected last year, both men faced subpar opponents and won by less than four percentage points in a Democratic wave year. Every cycle, seemingly credible challengers in these states emerge but often fail spectacularly. In 2014, they were Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes and Kansas’ Greg Orman (who ran as an independent). Two years later, former Sen. Evan Bayh (D-IN) and then-Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander (D) came up short. And in 2018, former Gov. Phil Bredesen (D-TN) lost a highly publicized race by double digits. Democratic underperformance in this group of states represents the party’s greatest challenge to the elusive 60 seats.

States in the Swinging Sun Belt category are growing and usually conservative states that have become more competitive for the Democrats in recent years. All of these states, with the possible exception of Florida, have been consistently moving to the left year after year. However, Republicans currently enjoy a 9-1 advantage in the Senate seats here. Thus, while Democrats certainly have potential in this group, it remains to be seen when and how effectively Democrats will be able to capitalize on it. Senate elections in Florida and North Carolina are frequently competitive, and the 2018 midterm elections saw competitive Senate elections in both Arizona and Texas (Democrats narrowly won Arizona, accounting for their single senator in this group, but narrowly lost Texas). The 2020 election, which features Senate races in four of the five states in this category, will offer a key hint to the partisan future of this group.

The Bush-to-Blue states were typically more Republican than the nation but switched from red to blue in 2008 and never looked back. As recently as 2004, Republicans held five of the six Senate seats in this category. Now, the numbers are flipped, with Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) as the only Republican in this category, and he should have a very hard race in 2020. However, Republicans may have underperformed their potential here. For example, subpar candidates almost certainly cost them winnable races in Nevada and Colorado in 2010, and former Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie (R-VA) found himself underfunded in his nearly successful challenge to Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) and came up just short in 2014. Regardless, Republicans are on the decline in this category but outside chances of success still exist.

The Moving Midwest states represent areas with high concentrations of working-class white voters, who have been shifting to the Republican Party since 2010. After Barack Obama twice carried every state in this category, Donald Trump flipped all but Minnesota, and his loss there was very narrow. Senate Democrats currently hold a narrow 7-5 majority of the seats here, a noticeable drop from the 10-2 majority they held in 2009. Democrats swept the region’s Senate races in 2018 amidst a favorable national environment, but still underperformed expectations in Michigan and Ohio. While the short-term future here is murky, the long-term picture seems to favor the GOP, further imperiling Democratic chances at reaching 60 seats.

The Non-aligned New England states of Maine and New Hampshire are outliers. Historically Democratic Maine has been drifting to the right recently. New Hampshire has been a swing state and seems unlikely to lose that status in the near future. Both of New Hampshire’s senators are Democrats while Maine’s delegation is split between an independent who caucuses with the Democrats and a moderate Republican, Sen. Susan Collins, who may not be reelected in 2020. In the short term, Democrats seem to have the advantage, as both of New Hampshire’s senators are personally popular, and Maine has not yet drifted into swing state status. The long-term picture here is decidedly less clear.

Now we will at last consider the Democratic path to 60 seats. We start by gifting them all the seats in the Dominant Democratic and Bush-to-Blue categories, along with the four seats in Maine and New Hampshire, for a total of 38. To get the remaining 22 seats, Democrats would either need to completely sweep both the Swinging Sun Belt and the Moving Midwest or pick off enough Ruby Red Republican seats to make up for any losses in those categories. While possible, this remains unlikely barring a major political realignment.

The Republicans don’t fare much better. The Ruby Red Republican states start them off with 40 seats, necessitating 20 from the remaining categories. The battleground categories of the Swinging Sun Belt and the Moving Midwest collectively command 22 seats, so Republicans would need to nearly sweep these states, possibly supplementing losses with upset victories in Bush-to-Blue states or New Hampshire. While possible, and easier to reach than the Democrats’, this path remains unlikely in an age of large partisan swings between elections where every midterm seems to be a wave one way or the other. Hypothetically, Republicans may have had a shot at 60 seats in 2018 if Hillary Clinton had won the White House — they would have needed to net eight seats, which would have been a possibility on last cycle’s Senate map with the Democrats holding the usual presidential midterm handicap — but even if they would have done it, Clinton still would have held veto power over any Republican grand legislative designs.

In 2017, when Republicans had full control of both Congress and the presidency, the party lacked any legislative priorities requiring a filibuster-proof majority. Their two main initiatives, repeal of the Affordable Care Act and a tax cut package, both could be passed with 51 votes through the reconciliation process (the ACA repeal couldn’t win a majority in the Senate but the tax cuts passed). Thus, eliminating the legislative filibuster would not have advantaged them.

Democrats, eager to pass, among other things, gun control measures, legislation expanding voting rights, and immigration reform, may practically need the elimination of the filibuster to accomplish these and other major goals.

Thus, with an ambitious agenda and little chance at 60 seats, the next time Democrats enjoy full control, they very well may pull the trigger and put an end to the filibuster forever.

Hunter Brown is an intern at the Center for Politics who recently graduated from the University of Virginia with a degree in mathematics. He is currently pursuing a master’s degree at UVA’s McIntire School of Commerce. Contact him at hab3zb@virginia.edu.

 


Did Russian Interference Affect the 2016 Election Results?

Alan I. Abramowitz, Senior Columnist, Sabato's Crystal Ball August 8th, 2019

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KEY POINTS FROM THIS ARTICLE

— Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s recent testimony was a reminder that Russia attempted to influence the outcome of the 2016 election and very well may try to do so again in 2020.

— This begs the question: Is there any evidence that Russian interference may have impacted the results, particularly in key states?

— The following analysis suggests that the 2016 results can be explained almost entirely based on the political and demographic characteristics of those states. So from that standpoint, the answer seems to be no.

What explains the 2016 results?

Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s recent testimony before the House Judiciary and Intelligence Committees, and the Mueller Report itself, make it very clear that the Russian government made a major effort to help Donald Trump win the 2016 U.S. presidential election. What the Mueller Report did not determine, however, was whether that effort was successful. In this article, I try to answer that question by examining whether there are any indications from the 2016 results that Russian interference efforts may have played a clear role in the outcome. One such indication would be if Trump did better in key swing states than a range of demographic, partisan, and historical factors would have predicted.

We know from the Mueller Report that Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort briefed a longtime associate who the FBI believes had ties with Russian intelligence about campaign strategy and, according to Manafort deputy Rick Gates, discussed decisive battleground states such as Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. Manafort also directed Gates to share internal polling data, which may have influenced Russian operations.

In order to address the question of whether the Russian interference effort worked, I conducted a multiple regression analysis of the election results at the state level. The dependent variable in this analysis was the Trump margin. My independent variables were the 2012 Mitt Romney margin, to control for traditional state partisanship, state ideology measured by the Gallup Poll (the percentage of conservatives minus the percentage of liberals), the percentage of a state’s population made up of whites without college degrees, the estimated turnout of eligible voters in the state, the state unemployment rate in November 2016 (to measure economic conditions), the number of Trump campaign rallies in the state, the number of Clinton campaign rallies in the state, a dummy variable for the state of Utah to control for the large vote share won by an independent conservative Mormon candidate from that state, Evan McMullin, and, finally, a dummy variable for swing states. The swing states included Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, Ohio, and Virginia, in addition to Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. The results of the regression analysis are displayed in Table 1 along with a scatterplot of the actual and predicted results in Figure 1.

Table 1: Results of regression analysis of Trump margin in the states

Source: Data compiled by author.

Figure 1: Scatterplot of actual Trump margin by predicted Trump margin in the states

Note: Alaska and District of Columbia omitted due to lack of state ideology data.

Source: Data compiled by author.

The regression equation proved to be extremely successful in predicting the election results, explaining a remarkable 98% of the variance in Trump vote margin in the states. Several of the independent variables had very powerful effects including the 2012 Romney margin, state ideology, and the percentage of non-college whites in the state. Even after controlling for traditional state partisanship and ideology, the size of the non-college white population in a state was a strong predictor of support for Donald Trump. The data in Table 1 also show that Evan McMullin’s candidacy dramatically reduced Trump’s vote share in Utah — although Trump still carried the state easily. In addition, the results show that voter turnout had a modest but highly significant effect on the results — the higher the turnout in a state, the lower the vote share for Trump. These results seem to confirm the conventional wisdom that higher voter turnout generally helps Democrats.

In addition to showing what mattered in explaining the results of the 2016 presidential election in the states, the data in Table 1 also show what did not matter. Economic conditions at the state level, at least as measured by state unemployment, did not matter. The number of campaign rallies held by the candidates in a state did not matter. Finally, and perhaps most importantly from the standpoint of estimating the impact of Russian interference, Donald Trump did no better than expected in the swing states. The coefficient for the swing state dummy variable is extremely small and in the wrong direction: Trump actually did slightly worse than expected in the swing states based on their other characteristics.

Table 2: Predicted and actual Trump margin in key swing states

Source: Data compiled by author.

This can also be seen in Table 2, which compares the actual and predicted results in the three swing states that ultimately decided the outcome of the election: Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. What is most striking about the data in this table is that Donald Trump actually slightly under-performed the model’s predictions in all three states. He did about one point worse than predicted in Michigan, about two points worse than predicted in Pennsylvania, and between two and three points worse than predicted in Wisconsin. There is no evidence here that Russian interference, to the extent that it occurred, did anything to help Trump in these three states.

Conclusions

I find no evidence that Russian attempts to target voters in key swing states had any effect on the election results in those states. Instead, the results were almost totally predictable based on the political and demographic characteristics of those states, especially their past voting tendencies, ideological leanings, and demographics. Of course, that doesn’t mean that the Russians weren’t trying to influence the results or that they might not succeed in the future. Nor does it speak to Russian efforts to hack into U.S. voting systems and potentially alter voter registration data or even election results themselves.

There are plenty of grounds for real concern here. Indeed, the Electoral College system used to choose the president almost invites efforts to interfere in the election. Whereas trying to affect the national popular vote results would probably be prohibitively expensive, efforts to target a few key swing states could be much more cost-effective and harder to detect. As a result, there is little doubt that these efforts will continue in 2020 and beyond, especially if we have a president who seems to be inviting them.

Alan I. Abramowitz is the Alben W. Barkley Professor of Political Science at Emory University and a senior columnist with Sabato’s Crystal Ball. His latest book, The Great Alignment: Race, Party Transformation, and the Rise of Donald Trump, was released last year by Yale University Press.


Notes on the State of Politics

Debate effects can fade; Trump may be running behind his approval; the NC-9 special; a Magnolia runoff?

Kyle Kondik, Managing Editor, Sabato's Crystal Ball August 1st, 2019

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KEY POINTS FROM THIS ARTICLE

— The polling effects from the first debate largely wore off by the time the second round started.

— In 2016, President Trump won some voters who otherwise did not like him, but there are some signs he isn’t benefiting from such a dynamic at the moment.

— The NC-9 special House election moves from Toss-up to Leans Republican.

— Mississippi’s GOP gubernatorial primary may be headed to a runoff.

Debate effects may not endure

According to the RealClearPolitics average, here was the national polling average for the Democratic presidential nomination battle on June 26, the day of the first debate (we’re only listing candidates who were at 2% or higher in the average, rounded to the nearest whole percentage point):

Joe Biden 32%, Bernie Sanders 17%, Elizabeth Warren 13%, Kamala Harris 7%, Pete Buttigieg 7%, Beto O’Rourke 3%, and Cory Booker 2% (no one else had 2% support or more).

On Tuesday morning, the day of the start of the second round of debates, the average was:

Biden 32%, Sanders 16%, Warren 14%, Harris 11%, Buttigieg 6%, O’Rourke 3%, Andrew Yang 2%, and Booker 2%.

In between then and now, Biden did in fact dip several points — hitting a low of 26% in the average — before recovering to his previous standing. Harris rose as high as 15% and is still several points higher than before, but the debate effects seemed to dissipate. The others didn’t change much at all.

So as we wait to see what effect Tuesday and Wednesday night’s debates have on the race for the Democratic nomination, don’t necessarily assume that changes we may see are permanent — if changes occur at all. To our eyes, we didn’t see much from the debates that seems likely to fundamentally alter the race.

Trump: Running behind approval?

A big part of the reason why Donald Trump won the presidency in 2016 was that he captured a not-insignificant percentage of voters who did not necessarily like him but chose him anyway over Hillary Clinton. Only 38% of the electorate reported having a favorable opinion of him, according to the national exit poll, but he won 46% of the vote, meaning that he ran eight percentage points ahead of his favorability. Clinton, whose favorability was 43%, got 48% of the vote, meaning that she only ran five points ahead of her favorability. Additionally, Trump won 47%-30% among the 18% of the electorate who held unfavorable views of both Trump and Clinton.

That Trump was able to capture voters who held an unfavorable view of him suggests that perhaps he could do it again in 2020, particularly if the eventual Democratic nominee also becomes unpopular. This helps explain why Trump is desperate to make the election a choice as opposed to a referendum.

However, in some early ballot tests, there is some indication that Trump is not only failing to pick up support from people who don’t like him, but in some instances he does not appear to be winning every poll respondent who approves of his job performance.

Let’s look at three well-established, live-caller national polls released over the last month that asked both about Trump’s approval rating and tested the president in ballot tests against the leading Democratic candidates: Fox News, NBC News/Wall Street Journal, and ABC News/Washington Post.

The Fox News poll released last week found that Trump’s approval rating among registered voters was 46%, but he only attracted between 39%-42% of the vote in matchups against the top-polling Democratic presidential contenders (Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, and Bernie Sanders — Biden usually does the best in these head-to-heads with Trump at this point). The NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released in early July found Trump’s approval at 45% among registered voters, but his support in ballot tests against the four top Democrats was just 42%-44%. The ABC News/Washington Post survey conducted right after the first debates found Trump at 47% approval among registered voters, but Trump was only at 43% against Biden: against the three others, Trump was between 46%-48%, effectively equaling his approval.

The differences here are slight, but this is something worth monitoring because Trump’s path to victory probably entails him either improving his approval rating so that it’s in the mid-to-high 40s as opposed to the mid-to-low 40s, or running ahead of his approval by capturing a small but significant number of voters who don’t approve of him. But if Trump is actually losing a small number of voters who approve of his job performance, he may have a very hard time cobbling together another Electoral College majority.

Just for comparison’s sake, we went back and looked at how Barack Obama was faring against Mitt Romney in surveys from the same outlets at about the same time in his presidency. In an ABC News/Washington Post poll from mid-July 2011, Obama’s approval among all adults was 47%, but he was at 51% against Mitt Romney, who would become his eventual 2012 opponent. Around the same time, Fox News pegged Obama’s approval at 45% among registered voters and he was at 47% against Romney; NBC News/Wall Street Journal had Obama at 47% approval among all adults and 48% against Romney among registered voters. In other words, Obama was running at or ahead of his approval rating more consistently back then compared to Trump now.

For what it’s worth, the approval rating of incumbent presidents around the time of Election Day who have run for reelection over the past several decades has correlated fairly well with their final share of the vote. We went back to Richard Nixon’s 1972 reelection for this exercise and used the FiveThirtyEight approval average for each president; however, we omitted Gerald Ford in 1976 because it did not appear as though there was any fresh approval polling in the lead-up to the election, which he narrowly lost to Jimmy Carter.

Table 1: Presidential approval at Election Day, 1972-2012

Sources: FiveThirtyEight and Dave Leip’s Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections

Bill Clinton was the only president who underperformed his approval, and that probably had at least something to do with the unusual circumstances of the election, which featured Ross Perot’s second presidential campaign (as it was, Clinton soundly beat Bob Dole 49%-41%, with Perot winning 8%).

To be clear, horse race polls this early in an election cycle are not predictive, and there are not huge differences in Trump’s approval and his horse race polling. But one might generally expect an incumbent president to win a share of the vote commensurate with his approval rating. In some national polls, Trump is running behind his approval. It’s worth watching whether that continues as the marathon campaign meanders on.

NC-9 Leans Republican

Campaigns sometimes confuse us with their decisions to release internal polls. Generally speaking, one has to take these polls with a grain of salt, and it’s usually a safe assumption to believe that they present a rosy picture of whichever campaign releases them. So it was a little odd that the campaign of Dan McCready (D), a Marine veteran running in a special, do-over election in NC-9, released a poll only showing him tied with state Sen. Dan Bishop (R). The poll showed the candidates knotted at 46%, with McCready outperforming a generic ballot in the district, which showed a Republican leading 48%-39%.

This is effectively the last election of the 2018 cycle; McCready seemed to narrowly lose last November to former pastor Mark Harris (R), but credible allegations of fraud designed to help Harris prompted a second election.

This internal poll is a reminder that this district, which extends east and south from the Charlotte suburbs and which Donald Trump won by about a dozen points, leans considerably to the right of the nation. We have little doubt that McCready, a very well-funded candidate, can and will outperform the generic lean of the district, as this poll suggests. But the district may end up being too hard in a political environment that may not be as Democratic-friendly as it was prior to the midterm.

According to a compilation of the results by the liberal site Daily Kos Elections, Democrats on average ran 11 points ahead of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 margin in state and federal legislative special elections held between the 2016 and 2018 elections. That’s the kind of overperformance Democrats would need to win NC-9. During this cycle’s legislative special elections, Democrats are still overperforming Clinton’s 2016 showing on balance, but by less on average, six points. This may help provide context for the political environment in which NC-9 is being contested: If this race was happening during the 2018 cycle, it may really have been a Toss-up, as it basically was on Election Night. But now that it’s happening in the 2020 cycle, when the parties may be a bit closer in terms of off-year motivation, it may be that the district is a bit too Republican for the race to feel like a true Toss-up.

Special elections are unpredictable, and we still think NC-9 should be close. McCready has a substantial money edge on Bishop, although so far Republican outside groups seem to be making much more of an investment in the race, which will even things out for Bishop (this according to a helpful summary from Politico). All told, we think we’d probably rather be the Republicans here with less than a month and a half to go until the Sept. 10 election. So we’re moving NC-9 from Toss-up to Leans Republican.

We also wanted to make note a few other House ratings changes that we have announced on Twitter over the past couple of months but that we have not specifically addressed in the Crystal Ball. These have been predicated on candidate decisions — either incumbents retiring or noteworthy challengers emerging.

Table 2: House ratings changes

Member/District Old Rating New Rating
NC-9 Vacant/Special Toss-up Leans Republican
TX-22 Open (Olson, R) Leans Republican Toss-up
T.J. Cox (D, CA-21) Likely Democratic Leans Democratic
IN-5 Open (Brooks, R) Safe Republican Leans Republican

Note: TX-22 change previously announced July 25 via Twitter; CA-21 change announced July 18; IN-5 change announced on June 14.  

Most recently, last Thursday, we moved TX-22 from Leans Republican to Toss-up following the retirement of Rep. Pete Olson (R). This suburban Houston seat is one of many that appeared to be very safely Republican until the emergence of Donald Trump as the leader of the Republican Party pushed many voters in affluent, highly-educated suburban areas toward the Democrats. This district shifted from voting for Mitt Romney by 25 points in 2012 to backing Trump by only eight in 2016. This shift continued in 2018, as Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) only carried the district by less than a point against challenger Beto O’Rourke (D) according to election analyst J. Miles Coleman, and Olson only won by five points against Sri Preston Kulkarni (D), who is running again. It may be that the GOP is eventually favored, but this district was already strongly on both party’s radars even before Olson retired.

A couple of weeks ago, we also moved Rep. T.J. Cox (D, CA-21) from Likely Democratic to Leans Democratic after ex-Rep. David Valadao (R) took steps toward a rematch. This is an odd district: Hillary Clinton won the Central Valley-based, majority Hispanic district by 16 points but Valadao won easy victories in 2012, 2014, and 2016 before narrowly falling to Cox last year. On paper, this is not a district a Republican should win in a presidential year, but Valadao is a strong candidate who should not be counted out.

In mid-June, we moved IN-5 in the Indianapolis suburbs from Safe Republican to Leans Republican following the retirement of Rep. Susan Brooks (R). It is another highly-educated suburban seat that is newly vulnerable in the Trump era, but it doesn’t seem quite as difficult for the Republicans as TX-22: It is somewhat similar to OH-12, the seat in Central Ohio that Republicans held in a nationally-watched special election last year (Trump won both IN-5 and OH-12 by roughly a dozen points).

A number of other Republicans from Safe Republican seats announced their retirements over the last week: Reps. Martha Roby (R, AL-2), Paul Mitchell (R, MI-10), Mike Conaway (R, TX-11), and Rob Bishop (R, UT-1). None of these seats are competitive in a general election. But sometimes retirements can be an ominous sign for a party, because it may signal a lack of confidence in the next election: These are members who wouldn’t have had trouble winning a general election, but serving in the minority is unpleasant and perhaps they do not feel good about the prospects of the GOP winning the majority in 2020. Ultimately, no one except the members themselves know exactly why they retired, and the fact that several Republicans who lost in 2018 appear to be running again — Valadao prominent among them — presents an opposing and more bullish view of GOP confidence about 2020. We wouldn’t read into these developments too much either way about the outlook for next year, which is still a long time away anyway and will hinge on several factors that are as-yet unknown.

Overall, we have 224 House seats rated as Safe, Likely, or Leans Democratic, 194 Safe, Likely, or Leaning Republican, and 17 Toss-ups. Splitting the Toss-ups roughly evenly, let’s say nine for the Republicans and eight for the Democrats, would result in a 232-203 House, or a net loss of three for the Democrats. Republicans need to net at least 18 seats to win the House (depending on what happens in NC-9).

A Mississippi runoff?

The primaries for the Mississippi governor’s race are next Tuesday. Even though Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves (R) has long been the favorite, he may have to face a runoff. A Mason-Dixon poll released earlier this week showed Reeves with 41%, followed by former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Bill Waller, Jr. at 31%, and state Rep. Robert Foster lagging back at 13%. Foster has made the most national news, thanks to his refusal to allow a female reporter to follow him on a campaign trip without a male colleague tagging along, but the real story is that Waller appears to really be pushing Reeves. The runoff would be Aug. 27. State Attorney General Jim Hood (D), a social conservative with an impressive electoral track record, is the likely Democratic nominee.

Republicans are gunning for their fifth-straight gubernatorial victory in racially-polarized Mississippi, where a unified and Democratic African-American voting bloc is typically outvoted by a slightly-less unified but significantly larger Republican white voting bloc. While Hood is the strongest-possible Democratic candidate, this is still the GOP’s race to lose given the state’s Republican leanings. We rate this race as Leans Republican, which is the same rating we’ve given to Kentucky’s governor’s race, where unpopular Gov. Matt Bevin (R) faces a very credible challenge from state Attorney General Andy Beshear (D).

The other gubernatorial race this year, in Louisiana, we rate Leans Democratic as Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) seeks a second term. That race features an all-party primary on Oct. 12; if no one gets over 50% — Edwards hypothetically could but probably won’t — there will be a runoff on Nov. 16. Edwards’ two leading challengers are Rep. Ralph Abraham (R, LA-5) and businessman and political donor Eddie Rispone (R). Abraham is favored to face Edwards in the runoff but Rispone is spending a lot of personal money to catch up, and it would hardly be surprising if a business figure surpassed an elected official in a GOP primary setting.