Sabatos Crystal Ball

2018 Senate: How the “Trump Ten” Races Compared to 2016

J. Miles Coleman, Guest Columnist November 15th, 2018



Editor’s Note: The Crystal Ball will be off next week for Thanksgiving. We wish all of our readers a safe and happy holiday. After the holiday, please make a note to watch our 20th Annual American Democracy Conference on the morning of Thursday, Nov. 29. The conference will feature keynote speakers Rep. Adam Schiff (D, CA-28) and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX). We’ll include a reminder in the Crystal Ball that will come out the morning of the conference.



— Last week, Republicans tried to knock off incumbent Democratic senators in 10 states won by President Trump in 2016. While some of these Republican challengers won, nine of the 10 ran well behind Donald Trump’s showing in 2016, perhaps not surprisingly given that all of the Democrats in these states had the power of incumbency and the political environment was generally pro-Democratic overall. The one exception where Trump’s performance wasn’t that much different from the 2018 GOP Senate showing was Florida, which is in the midst of a recount.

— The following maps compare Trump’s 2016 performance in these 10 states to the performance by the GOP Senate candidates in each state.

— Most of these maps measure the relative county-level showings by GOP Senate candidates compared to Trump two years earlier. While this is explained in much more detail below, keep this in mind: The red counties in the relative performance maps are where the GOP Senate candidates declined less than their statewide underperformance of Trump, while the blue counties are where the Republican Senate candidates declined more.

— The comparisons help to illustrate the places where Trump may be more popular than other Republicans, and where other Republicans may have more strength than Trump.

Tracking GOP performance in Senate Democrats’ “Trump Ten”

Heading into the 2018 cycle, Democrats seemed to have many advantages, as the out-party typically does in midterm years. However, one factor that was decidedly slanted against them was the Senate map. A majority of the Democratic caucus — 26 of 49 members — faced the electorate. Further, 10 Democratic incumbents on the ballot represented states that President Trump carried in 2016. In many cases, to win reelection, these senators had to perform significantly better than Hillary Clinton did two years ago.

Going state by state, we’ll see how these Republican challengers compared to the president. All told, Democrats hung on to at least six of these Senate seats (Michigan, Montana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Wisconsin), while Republicans won three (Indiana, Missouri, and North Dakota) and very narrowly lead in a fourth (Florida) pending the completion of a statewide recount.

Keep in mind, too, that vote counts are not necessarily final in many of these states, such as Florida and Ohio, although they shouldn’t change dramatically for the purposes of these comparisons.


From a strictly numerical perspective, West Virginia could have been considered the top pickup opportunity for the GOP. Trump won the Mountain State by 42 points, his biggest win among the 10 states included in the Trump Ten.

Still, Sen. Joe Manchin (D), from his decades in public life, was a known commodity. During his time in the Senate, Manchin cast his votes carefully, which ultimately helped him beat state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey (R). Compared to Trump, Morrisey did significantly worse in every county:

NOTE: For any of the following maps included in this article, click on the map to see a larger version.

Map 1: West Virginia, Trump 2016 vs. Morrisey 2018

Map 1 certainly shows that Morrisey broadly ran behind Trump. In the next map, and in subsequent states, we’ll look at the relative margin by county. Overall, Morrisey did 45.0% worse than Trump statewide (he lost by 3.3% compared to Trump winning by 41.7%). In counties shaded in red, Morrisey’s deficit compared to Trump in 2016 was less than 45.0%, while in blue counties, it was greater than 45.0%.

Just to make sure this is perfectly clear, let’s give a couple of examples. In McDowell County — the southern tip of West Virginia — Trump won by about 51.1 percentage points in 2016. Two years later, Morrisey lost the county by about 0.4 points. So Morrisey ran about 51.5 points behind Trump in that county, a deficit greater than the 45.0 points he ran behind Trump’s margin statewide. So that’s why McDowell is shaded in blue. On the flipside, Trump won Hancock County — the northern tip of the state — by 44.1 points. Morrisey carried it by 2.5 points. So the county is shaded in red because the difference between Trump’s 2016 margin there and Morrisey’s margin (41.6%) is less than the statewide difference (45.0%). As you look at these maps, just remember this: The red counties are where GOP Senate candidates ran ahead of their statewide decline compared to Trump’s showing from two years prior, while the blue counties are where those Republican Senate candidates ran behind their statewide Trump deficit.

The remainder of the maps that follow for all 10 states will show these relative changes between Trump in 2016 and GOP Senate performance in 2018:

Map 2: West Virginia, relative county-level performance, Trump 2016 vs. Morrisey 2018

The relative margin map shows the trends more clearly than the simple margin map, with its ubiquitous blue. Not surprisingly, the region where Morrisey held up best was the panhandle. This region, which is increasingly becoming part of the Washington D.C. suburbs/exurbs, was a key part of Morrisey’s win in his competitive primary victory back in May. Because the area has relatively more transplants than other parts of West Virginia, the name recognition of an incumbent like Manchin could carry less weight. Additionally, the panhandle also has generally been more Republican in some recent statewide Senate and gubernatorial contests than much of the rest of the state. By contrast, and while his margins there weren’t as strong as in past years, the southern coalfields have a certain loyalty to Manchin. Morrisey ran furthest behind Trump in this ancestrally Democratic, heavily unionized area.


After West Virginia, North Dakota voted for the president by the largest margin of the Trump Ten, nearly 36%. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D) won a very close race in 2012, but this time she lost by 11% to Rep. Kevin Cramer (R, ND-AL). Looking at the relative margin map of Trump vs Cramer, a clear east against west divide emerges:

Map 3: North Dakota, relative county-level performance, Trump 2016 vs. Cramer 2018

Heitkamp was raised in Richland County, the bluest county in the southeast, so she had a considerable personal vote there. Cramer likewise underperformed Trump in heavily Native American counties, such as Sioux and Rolette.

Since the mid-2000s, the western part of the state has seen explosive growth from the oil industry; politically, this has driven the state rightward. McKenzie County, on the western border, is a great example of this. It was at the center of the oil boom; it cast 781 more votes in 2018 than 2012, and Heitkamp’s deficit there went from 28% to 44%.


In Ohio, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D) won reelection to a third term. After initially running for governor, Rep. Jim Renacci (R, OH-16) switched to this race. Brown was reelected, and Renacci did 14.5% worse than Trump. While Appalachia and the Mahoning Valley in the eastern part of the state have generally moved away from Democrats, Trump’s 2016 numbers in those regions are difficult for state Republicans to replicate, especially in competitive races.

Something that stands out on the map is Renacci’s contiguous line of relative strength. It runs through the state’s three major urban centers. In the Cincinnati and Columbus areas, Trump ran notably behind the typical Republican, so Renacci had room for improvement. Up north in Cleveland (Cuyahoga County), Renacci’s relative strength may have more to do with a drop-off in minority voters.

Map 4: Ohio, relative county-level performance, Trump 2016 vs. Renacci 2018


Pennsylvania saw a notable east/west divide. President Trump narrowly flipped the Keystone State in 2016; this year, one of his strongest supporters in Congress, Rep. Lou Barletta (R, PA-11), ran for this seat. After initially looking competitive, Barletta’s campaign faded; he ultimately lost by 13% to Sen. Bob Casey (D).

Casey’s family has been popular in Pennsylvania, especially the west, since his father’s days as governor in the 1980s and 1990s. The western part of the state, especially south of Pittsburgh, was where Barletta fared the worst in relation to Trump.

Barletta did better in many urban centers in the east, where he had room to improve over Trump’s relatively weak showing in 2016. Philadelphia, as well as the state capital of Harrisburg (Dauphin County), gave Barletta some of his best relative showings.

Map 5: Pennsylvania, relative county-level performance, Trump 2016 vs. Barletta 2018


At the beginning of the cycle, Wisconsin seemed like it had the potential to be a top-tier contest, but Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D) won a second term by double digits in a state that the president narrowly carried. State Sen. Leah Vukmir (R) had a base in strongly Republican suburban counties surrounding Milwaukee, which helped her win a competitive primary. As a result, she held up best in the southeastern part of the state. Waukesha County is a great illustration of Vukmir’s relative strength. In 2016, Trump was the first Republican presidential nominee this century to take less than 60% in this reliably GOP county. This left Vukmir with ample room for improvement. However, Vukmir underperformed Trump in the swingier area of the state — basically everything outside of the Milwaukee to Madison stretch in the south.

Map 6: Wisconsin, relative county-level performance, Trump 2016 vs. Vukmir 2018


In Indiana, Sen. Joe Donnelly (D) was defeated in his bid for a second term by former state Rep. Mike Braun (R). Before winning his Senate seat, Donnelly served six years in the House, representing the South Bend area. Donnelly’s old district is essentially the bright blue in the northern part of the state; Braun had the hardest time running ahead of Trump here. Southwestern Indiana was once swingy, but in 2016, Trump posted atypically strong numbers there. Throughout much of the rest of the state, Braun held a narrow but consistent relative advantage over Trump.

Map 7: Indiana, relative county-level performance, Trump 2016 vs. Braun 2018


Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D) had a closer race than some expected against businessman and veteran John James (R). While Trump carried Michigan in 2016 by about two-tenths of a percentage point, James lost by 6.5%. Trump’s strongest regions were the “thumb” as well as the Upper Peninsula. These areas are heavily white, rural, and have a fading union presence — in other words, exactly the types of places that swung hard to Trump in other parts of the country. James, by contrast, held up better in the Detroit and Grand Rapids areas. The president ran significantly behind the partisan baseline with suburban voters there.

Map 8: Michigan, relative county-level performance, Trump 2016 vs. James 2018


In Missouri, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D) was denied a third term by state Attorney General Josh Hawley (R). Hawley did 12.5% worse than the president, winning by 6% instead of 18.5%. On the relative margin map, Trump’s best counties create something of a crescent around the St. Louis area. In fact, four of the counties that gave Trump his best relative margin — Jefferson, Washington, Iron, and Ste. Genevieve — all supported President Obama in 2008. While McCaskill still lost them, Hawley’s weaker showing suggests that state Democrats still have some residual support there.

Map 9: Missouri, relative county-level performance, Trump 2016 vs. Hawley 2018


Sen. Jon Tester of Montana (D) has been a top target for Senate Republicans over the past few cycles but won a third term last week. State Auditor Matt Rosendale (R) came up about 3.6% short against Tester in a state the president carried by over 20%. Before he was elected auditor in 2016, Rosendale represented a state Senate seat in the eastern part of the state. Not surprisingly, he did relatively well in this area. By contrast, in the counties that Tester was born and raised in, Chouteau and Hill, Rosendale struggled the most.

Map 10: Montana, relative county-level performance, Trump 2016 vs. Rosendale 2018


Florida is perhaps the state where our “relative margin” metric is least useful, as the 2018 Senate result is only about 1% different than the 2016 presidential result. While small, that 1% is certainly significant — while votes are still being counted in some counties, as of this writing Gov. Rick Scott (R) is leading three-term Sen. Bill Nelson (D) by just .15%.

Compared to Trump, Scott was able to make gains in Miami-Dade County, likely due to the fact that Trump underperformed in 2016 with typically Republican Cuban Americans, some of whom then must have backed Scott. Scott likewise performed well in his home county, Collier (Naples), as well as Osceola; the Scott campaign touted its outreach to Hispanics during the campaign, and this result in heavily Puerto Rican Osceola may be some vindication of that. In 2016, Trump posted massive margins in the panhandle, which has been traditionally friendlier to local Democrats. While Nelson did lose support there from his past races, Scott nonetheless was not able to put up margins as crushing as Trump’s in 2016.

Map 11: Florida, relative county-level performance, Trump 2016 vs. Scott 2018


Overall, Republican Senate candidates ran well behind Trump in nine of these 10 states, although that didn’t prevent at least three of those candidates, Sens.-elect Mike Braun (R-IN), Josh Hawley (R-MO) and Kevin Cramer (R-ND), from winning. The one exception, Florida, has yet to be officially decided, although Rick Scott (R) seems to have a leg up on Bill Nelson (D). Meanwhile, as we look ahead to 2020, Trump will need to replicate his 2016 performance — and not the performance of GOP Senate candidates — to carry key states that voted for him in 2016 such as Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.

With presidential and downballot coalitions becoming increasingly similar, relative margin offers a way to measure a candidate’s unique geographic strengths and weaknesses.

J. Miles Coleman is an elections analyst for Decision Desk HQ and a political cartographer. Follow him on Twitter @jmilescoleman.


How’d we do?

Longstanding picks of a Democratic House, significant Democratic gubernatorial gains, and GOP Senate pan out

Larry J. Sabato and Kyle Kondik, Sabato's Crystal Ball November 7th, 2018


It took a lot of Krazy Glue, but we think we pieced the Crystal Ball back together, reassembling after 2016 shattered us and just about every other prediction group.

As of this writing, early Wednesday afternoon, and with many uncalled House races remaining, the real-time seat projections from both the New York Times and FiveThirtyEight were suggesting that the Democrats would win a 229-206 majority in the House, for a net gain of 34 seats, exactly the seat change we picked in our final selections.

Democrats built their new majority in part by persuading voters in many Republican-held districts carried by Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election to elect Democratic House members. Of the 25 Clinton-won GOP districts, Democrats have won at least 14 and very likely will win several more. But Democrats also will win a similar number of districts won by Donald Trump, including upsets against Reps. Dan Donovan (R, NY-11) on Staten Island and Steve Russell (R, OK-5) in Oklahoma City. Another surprising Democratic win came in Charleston after Rep. Mark Sanford (R, SC-1) lost his primary. But for the most part, the seats the Democrats flipped were ones that we projected to flip.

If indeed the final tally in the House is 229 Democrats and 206 Republicans, that sets up another competitive battle for the House in 2020, when Republicans (under this scenario) would need to net a dozen seats to win back the majority. A good thing for Democrats is that many of the suburban seats they picked up in this election — CO-6, MN-3, VA-10, and others — probably will be relatively easy to hold with Donald Trump on the ballot, and the Democrats did not max out their potential seat gains. Meanwhile, Republicans will focus on unseating several Trump-district Democratic incumbents they were unable to credibly challenge this year and clawing back some of their losses in less Clinton-friendly suburban areas as they plot their own path to restore their shattered majority.

We spent the whole cycle arguing that the lopsided Senate map, one of the worst that any party has had to defend in the history of Senate popular elections, made the Republicans considerable favorites to hold the upper chamber and potentially even add seats, and that’s what happened. While Arizona remains uncalled (and Florida probably is headed to a recount, although the GOP appears to be in the driver’s seat), it seems like the GOP could be headed for a three-seat net gain. If Republicans do get to three, it would give them 54 Senate seats, meaning Democrats would need to win at least four seats to flip the Senate in 2020, depending on which side wins the presidency. As we noted prior to the election in a lookahead to the 2020 Senate map, it will be hard for Democrats to scrape together such a gain next time. That’s particularly because Tuesday night’s results, where three dark-red state Democrats in Indiana, Missouri, and North Dakota were wiped out and two others in Montana and West Virginia only won narrowly, are a very bad sign for the lone remaining Democrat in a heavily GOP state, Sen. Doug Jones (D-AL), who will face the voters in November 2020. (A million things can happen before 2020 — we get it.)

A couple of supposedly close Senate races that the Crystal Ball never rated as Toss-ups, New Jersey (D) and Tennessee (R), ended up not being close. Meanwhile, we warned readers on Monday to watch out for a more impressive result than expected from Beto O’Rourke (D) in Texas, and he turned in a strong showing, losing by about three points. His performance had to have helped the Democrats net two House seats and contributed to other Democrats giving the GOP a scare in several more. Texas may not yet be reaching swing state status, but the dormant Democratic Party there is regenerating in the Trump era.

There will be one more Senate race, a Nov. 27 runoff between Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R) and former Clinton administration Secretary of Agriculture Mike Espy (D) following Tuesday night’s all-party election. The combined two-party vote in the first round of voting was approximately 58% Republican and 42% Democratic; our Likely Republican rating there remains operative.

Meanwhile, Democrats appeared to net seven governorships, an impressive tally although not quite as big as Democrats would have hoped. Still, flipping Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin gave the Democrats some marquee victories. Republicans are heartened to have held two big prizes, Florida and Ohio, although they also apparently found themselves on the wrong end of yet another very close gubernatorial election in Connecticut for the third consecutive election. That pales in comparison, though, to Democratic agony in Florida: The Democrats have lost three straight Sunshine State gubernatorial races by about a point each time. As of this writing, it appears as though Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp (R) might avoid a runoff in his race, the one contest we left as a Toss-up in our ratings. Republicans also held their own losses to half a dozen by winning Alaska, but because the Last Frontier has an independent governor, that does not impact the Democrats’ seven-seat net gain.

It may be several weeks before the final outcome is known, at least in some of the closest House races.

But very soon it will be on to 2020. Expect Democratic presidential candidates, and there will be many of them, to start jumping into the race before the year is through. If they’re as smart as many appear to be, they’ll step back first and study the 2018 results. Some candidacies will be encouraged, but others will not. Future Crystal Balls will elaborate!

Thanks again to the hundreds who helped us see through the fog over the last two years. We deeply appreciate it, and your feedback will always be welcome.

Final picks for 2018

Democrats in House; Republicans in Senate; Democrats big in gubernatorial races; be on guard for upsets

Larry J. Sabato and Kyle Kondik, Sabato's Crystal Ball November 5th, 2018




— Sorry, friends, but you are going to have to actually read this one.

— Our full list of ratings changes is available here.

Our best guesses for Tuesday

The 2018 midterm has long been a study in contradictory signs. There is, for Republicans, the benefit of running at a time of relative peace and prosperity. Unpopular wars and economic recessions have spelled doom for the president’s party in many past midterm elections. But then there is also the weak approval rating of President Trump, who thanks to his deliberately polarizing style has kept the GOP base in line but strongly alienated Democrats and, perhaps more importantly, independent, swing voters. Democrats have held a steady lead in the high single digits on the national House generic ballot polling, a lead suggestive of a potential House flip but not one large enough to indicate that such a flip is an absolute lock.

There is the shifting political landscape that emerged nationally in 2016, with some traditionally Democratic blue collar small cities and rural areas across the North moving toward Trump and the Republicans, and some traditionally Republican suburbs dominated by voters with high formal educational attainment breaking sharply away from Trump and the GOP.  Those latter areas make up a significant share of the competitive House districts, many of which seem poised to deliver for Democrats on Tuesday, although some Trumpy, traditionally Democratic turf is part of the Democratic House calculus too.

There are the competing maps in the battles for major statewide offices. In the Senate, Democrats are defending 26 seats while Republicans are only defending nine. In the gubernatorial races, the Republicans are defending 26 seats while Democrats are only defending nine. We’re expecting vastly different overall results in the Senate and gubernatorial contests.

Our expectations for this election have been consistent for the past several months. We favor the Democrats in the House and Republicans in the Senate, and we expect the Democrats to pick up a significant share of governorships. Our picks[1] follow.

We’ve also included an “upset watch” listing in each category to flag some potential surprises that we didn’t pick in our ratings but that might emerge on Election Night.


Table 1: Final Crystal Ball House ratings

Note: Districts shaded by color of current party control (red for Republicans, blue for Democrats.

Our ratings changes leave 229 seats at least leaning to the Democrats and 206 at least leaning to the Republicans, so we are expecting the Democrats to pick up more than 30 seats (our precise ratings now show Democrats netting 34 seats in the House, 11 more than the 23 they need). We have long cautioned against assuming the House was a done deal for the Democrats, and we don’t think readers should be stunned if things go haywire for Democrats tomorrow night. That said, it may be just as likely — or even more likely — that we’re understating the Democrats in the House. Many of our sources on both sides seemed to think the Democratic tally would be more like +35 to 40 (or potentially even higher) when we checked in with them over the weekend.

Those who think the Republicans can or will keep the House will think we are being overly aggressive in some of our ratings. For instance, we now have Democrats favored in all four of their takeover opportunities in New Jersey. If Democrats come through, they will hold all but one of the House seats in the Garden State, sending the GOP to a low in the state’s congressional delegation not seen in more than a century. Democrats netting three seats in Virginia might also seem high to some, along with Democrats netting four combined seats in heartland states Iowa and Kansas.

On the flip side, those who think the Democrats will win the House comfortably will quibble with some of the seats that we’re picking the Republicans to hold. We don’t have Democrats winning any new seats in Georgia, where Democrats are hoping to net a couple of suburban seats, and we have Democrats netting only a single seat in Florida despite the party having a few other credible targets there. If Democrats netted three seats in Pennsylvania, as our ratings indicate, that might be a mild disappointment for them, too. We have something of a split decision in California, with Democrats picking up four seats, a little short of their ideal scenario. Those looking for the Democratic number to go higher might look to these places to exceed our expectations.

Upset watch: Speaking of California and Florida, Reps. David Valadao (R, CA-21) and Carlos Curbelo (R, FL-26) have long seemed like two of the most secure Republicans in districts Hillary Clinton won, and yet both may have been ill-served by the president’s hard emphasis on immigration down the stretch. Curbelo losing actually would not be much of a surprise; some Democrats expect it. Valadao losing would be more surprising. Reps. Don Young (R, AK-AL), Duncan Hunter (R, CA-50), Steve King (R, IA-4), Greg Gianforte (R, MT-AL), and Chris Collins (R, NY-27) are all Republicans in usually safe seats who are being pushed for myriad reasons; it may be asking too much for all of them to win, but that is what our ratings suggest.

Also, watch Reps. Mike Kelly (R, PA-16) and Scott Perry (R, PA-10), who both face credible opponents in redrawn, Trump-won seats. It wouldn’t surprise us at all if one lost. Two Republicans who won very close special elections earlier this cycle, Reps. Karen Handel (R, GA-6) and Troy Balderson (R, OH-12), are also right on the edge of losing.

While his race has attracted zero attention, Rep. Collin Peterson (D, MN-7) represents the most Republican district held by any Democrat — Trump won it by about 30 points. It would be shocking if Peterson lost, but it would make sense in the larger scheme of things. Meanwhile, also in Minnesota, most are assuming Republicans pick up the open MN-8, a Trump-won seat covering the Iron Range. And yet the district’s Democratic DNA is deep enough that a Democratic hold remains a possibility. And an open Democratic-held seat, NH-1, is always competitive and has not been quite as easy of a hold as Democrats might have hoped.

For a list of all 435 Crystal Ball House ratings, please take a look at the chart at the bottom of our ratings page.


Map 1: Final Crystal Ball Senate ratings

Because of the bad map Democrats faced this year, the GOP picking up seats always seemed like a possibility, even a strong possibility. Our final ratings reaffirm this potential; we have 52 Senate seats at least leaning to the Republicans, and 48 at least leaning to the Democrats. If that happened, the GOP would net a seat.

The potential GOP gain would come from places that make sense: We have them favored in three of the five strongly Republican states that have Democratic senators running for reelection: Indiana, Missouri, and North Dakota. Meanwhile the two Republican-held seats where we now favor Democrats, Arizona and Nevada, are much more competitive states at the presidential level and thus are susceptible to Democratic takeovers in a challenging environment for Republicans.

The reasonable range of outcomes in the Senate still seems fairly wide, with a bigger GOP gain possible, or no gain at all or even a Democratic gain. The Democrats still essentially have no path to the majority without winning one of these three states: North Dakota, Tennessee, and Texas, and the Republicans retain what appear to be edges in all three.

Upset watch: An overall upset pick to watch would be the Senate majority itself: Democrats winning everything where they are currently favored, plus Indiana and Missouri, and then one of North Dakota, Tennessee, or Texas. It’s not likely but it is possible: Just this morning, NBC News/Marist showed Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) up by three points, and the same pollster had Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-IN) up a couple of points last week.

And then there is the Lone Star State. We have been flooded with messages from credible contacts in Texas, from both sides of the aisle, warning us not to discount the possibility of an upset by Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D, TX-16) against Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX). The energy on O’Rourke’s side, they say, is palpable. This all may be reminiscent of the grassroots energy that helped power Trump himself to victory in 2016. Of course, analysis by anecdote isn’t always the right formula; while measuring crowd size might’ve helped navigate the last presidential race, it can deceive, too, like back in 1972 when the reporters following George McGovern (D) to big rallies smelled a massive upset brewing against President Richard Nixon (R). McGovern lost in a landslide. So we don’t know if the buzz is real, but we’ve heard enough of it that we’re paying attention.

On the other hand, Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) has been a shaky Leans Democratic in our ratings the whole cycle. Would anyone be shocked if he lost? He’s never won a majority and if Donnelly and/or McCaskill end up losing earlier in the evening, it would make some sense that Tester would be in trouble too. Also, Democratic outside groups have put a little bit of money into appointed Sen. Tina Smith’s (D-MN) bid for a first electoral victory and a lot of money in Sen. Bob Menendez’s (D-NJ) bid for a third term. And of course, Republicans could end up winning any of Arizona, Florida, or Nevada, but any one of those happening wouldn’t really be an upset in races we’ve listed as Toss-ups for about a year or more until now. If so, it will likely be the actual Election Day vote (as opposed to the early vote) that would save the Republicans in these races, much like how in 2016 Republicans did very well on Election Day across the country.


Map 2: Final Crystal Ball gubernatorial ratings

For all the focus on the House and the Senate, the real story of the night may be in the gubernatorial races, where we see the Democrats poised to make big gains.

Right now, the Republicans hold 33 governorships, the Democrats just 16, and an independent, Bill Walker holds Alaska. Our ratings suggest the Democrats could net 10 governorships, while the GOP could lose nine (we favor Republicans to pick up Alaska, which throws off the net change statistic a little bit). That does not include Georgia, where we are maintaining a unique “Toss-up/Leans Runoff” rating in anticipation of a possible runoff on Dec. 4 if neither major party candidate gets a majority. If the runoff happens, just think about how much money former state House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams (D) might raise from the Democrats’ hyper-active small donor network. This is something that concerns Republicans if there’s a runoff.

More than half of the Democratic pickups could come in the Midwest. While we think the GOP could claw back one or two of these states — Iowa, Kansas, and Wisconsin are the picks we’re the least confident in – we thought the data and the year’s overall trends pointed to the Democrats in each of these states individually. Besides the national environment, there may just be a fatigue with eight years of conservative GOP rule in places like Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin, particularly in a time of conservative governance in Washington. The public is idiosyncratic and often wants what it doesn’t have; the same dynamic helped Trump win many states in the Midwest after eight years of a liberal Democratic president.

Upset watch: The Republicans have a real shot to pick off Connecticut or Oregon, two blue states agitating for fresh leadership. The Democrats could very well spring an upset in red states Oklahoma and South Dakota. The gubernatorial races follow traditional political patterns less than the federal races. And keep an eye on Alaska, which has tightened considerably since Walker left the race, leaving a matchup between former state Sen. Mike Dunleavy (R) and former Sen. Mark Begich (D) that the latter definitely has a chance to win.


We know, dear readers, that many of these picks — though hopefully not too many — will be off. But we pick all the races because we believe you deserve our best guess as to what will happen in each contest.

One last thing. A couple of months ago, we featured a handful of political science forecasting models that attempt to predict the net change in the House, and a couple of them also try to project the Senate. More details on the models are available here, and their findings are in Table 2:

Table 2: Political science model predictions of 2018 congressional race

While we did not deliberately fit our seat-by-seat projections to mirror these models, our picks do line up fairly well with them, although we’re slightly closer to the smaller forecasts for Democrats in the House than the larger ones. And note that the two models that are more bullish on Democrats in the House still also forecast a modest GOP gain in the Senate, which is also what we’re expecting. A poll-based model from Ipsos on our jointly-run Political Atlas site shows a similar House gain to what we’re suggesting as well if one assumes that the model’s Toss-ups break about evenly.

We’ll be back sometime on Wednesday with a quick reaction to tomorrow night’s results.

A disclaimer

[1]The Crystal Ball picks represent a collaborative, consensus effort between Editor-in-Chief Larry J. Sabato and Managing Editor Kyle Kondik with the help of many special advisers from both parties who have been with us for years (you all know who you are, and we enormously appreciate your help once again). There are two exceptions: Sabato deferred to Kondik on the pick in KY-6, because Rep. Andy Barr (R, KY-6) is Sabato’s former student, and Kondik deferred to Sabato on the pick for Ohio governor because Kondik used to work for former Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray (D).