Analyst: Rural states to decide Senate majority, suburbs the House
February 12, 2018
PHOENIX — The suburbs of big cities will decide which party controls the House of Representatives next year while the rural states will decide which party controls the Senate, David Wasserman of The Cook Political Report said here this week as the Cook organization shifted its ratings of 21 more House seats in favor of the Democrats.
"I have never seen such a small overlap" between which voters will decide the control of the House and which will decide control of the Senate, Wasserman, the Cook Report House specialist, said in a speech at the Crop Insurance Industry Convention in Phoenix last week.
The Cook Political Report said up to 75 House seats now held by Republicans are now in play while fewer than 20 seats held by Democrats are in play. Under the Cook organization's system, a race that is "in play" means the race is rated as "leaning or likely" favoring one party rather than being "solid" for the party" or is a true "toss up."
"You could have a very bifurcated outcome," Wasserman told the crop insurers as he pointed out that races for House seats in suburban districts throughout the country currently held by Republicans — but particularly in California and other blue states — could determine control of the House. He said races for Senate seats in Missouri, Montana, North Dakota, Indiana and West Virginia, currently held by Democrats, could determine whether Democrats maintain the 49 Senate seats they hold to the Republicans' 51 seats, and are in a position to gain the majority.
For the Democrats to win control of the Senate, however, the Democrats also would need to beat Republican Sen. Dean Heller in Nevada and win the open seat being vacated by Republican Sen. Jeff Flake in Arizona, Wasserman said.
The Cook organization also rated the Senate seat in Tennessee being vacated by Republican Sen. Bob Corker as a toss up.
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Wasserman pointed out the possibility of elections to succeed Republican Sens. Thad Cochran of Mississippi and John McCain of Arizona, due to health problems.
The Democrats' path to a majority in the Senate is "narrow," Wasserman said, but he noted that the victory of Democrat Doug Jones over Republican Roy Moore in Alabama made Democratic control of the Senate in 2019 possible. The Jones-Moore race was to fill the Senate seat vacated by Republican Jeff Sessions when he became attorney general.
Approval ratings for Republicans have improved slightly in recent weeks, but the Cook Report still gives Democrats the edge to win the 24 seats they need to take control of the House, Wasserman said in his speech and in his ratings reappraisal.
Democrats's prospects are enhanced by the fact that of the 50 House members who have retired, 37 are Republicans, Wassserman said. The six retirements in swing districts that Hillary Clinton won are particularly problematic for the Republicans, he added.
And Republicans' prospects are worsened by "new district-by-district fundraising and polling numbers are downright terrible for Republicans, even in seats previously thought to be safe," Wasserman said in the reappraisal.
But a Democratic victory is far from certain, he noted.
"This week, we're shifting our ratings in 21 races towards Democrats," he wrote in the reappraisal. "If anything, that still understates Democrats' potential in individual races. If Democrats win the national House vote by six points (as today's polls indicate), House control would be a coin flip. But according to our new ratings, if each party were to win an even number of toss up races, Democrats would only win 13 or 14 seats — 10 shy of the 24 they need."
A big factor in the House races will be the votes of working class Democrats who voted for both Barack Obama and Donald Trump and of college-educated people who voted for Trump but now view him negatively.
Working-class people remained with the Democratic Party because they viewed it as the party of the working class and viewed the Republicans as "Bible thumpers," but Trump won them over by emphasizing economic issues rather than social issues, Wasserman said.
Polls show, of white Democrats without a college degree, 39 percent believe free trade does more harm than good and 38 percent have a favorable view of the National Rifle Association and believe immigrants are a burden to society.
But only 26 percent believe abortion should be illegal in most cases, and only 20 percent believe homosexuality should be discouraged and that reductions in Social Security should be considered, Wasserman said.
Trump emphasized the first three of those issues, not the last three, Wasserman noted.
Some Democrats voted for Trump because they disliked Clinton, Wasserman said, but Trump is not on the ballot this year, and support for the president may not carry over to Republican House candidates.
Election year 2018 may shape up to be the revenge of the college-educated voter, Wasserman said, citing polls that show white voters with a college degree supported Trump by 2 percent but now 52 percent of college graduates disapprove of Trump "strongly."
One issue on which there is room for compromise in the coming months is immigration, Wasserman said.
Democrats think Republicans want to kick the "Dreamers" — the young undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States by their parents — out of the country, but polls show the Republicans have a more nuanced view on that issue, Wasserman said.
But he also noted Trump said he does not want to sign an immigration bill without more money for the border wall.