Washington Wednesday: Senate midterms


MARY REICHARD, HOST: It’s Wednesday, the  24th of October, 2018. Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Mary Reichard.

JILL NELSON, HOST: And I’m Jill Nelson. First up on The World and Everything in It: Washington Wednesday.

Polls indicate Democrats are poised to pick up seats in the U.S. House and in governor’s races around the country. But it’s a different story in the U.S. Senate.

The Senate has stood on a knife’s edge since Democrats won a special election in Alabama last December. That gave Democrats 47 seats, plus two independents who caucus with them. Holding their existing seats and picking up two more would mean wresting control from Republicans.

But the 2018 Senate map is the most lopsided in recent history. Of the 35 seats up for reelection, Republicans hold only 10 of them. Democrats hold the other 25—and 10 of those are in states Donald Trump won two years ago.

Add to that the recent Supreme Court confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh, and Republicans are increasingly bullish on their Senate prospects.

MCCONNELL: “We finally discovered the one thing that would fire up the Republican base and we didn’t think of it. The other side did it. The tactics that have been employed both by Judiciary Committee Democratic senators, and by the you know, the virtual mob that’s assaulted all of us in the course of this process has turned our base on fire.”

Back to discuss the Senate landscape is Henry Olsen. He’s an author and a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C. And he’s also a WORLD correspondent. Henry, welcome!

OLSEN: Thanks for having me on!

NELSON: Well, RealClearPolitics compiles polling results, and only a few weeks ago it showed nine toss-up races. Three of those have now moved to lean Republican: In Texas, Ted Cruz is now up by 7 points. In Tennessee, Marsha Blackburn is up by more than 6 points. And in North Dakota, Kevin Cramer is up on incumbent Senator Heidi Heitkamp by almost 9 points.

That leaves us with six tossups. So let’s take those one by one, starting out West with the open seat in Arizona.

OLSEN: Yeah, that is going to be the ultimate toss-up. It’s a state that’s got a lot of Latinos and a lot of high-income Republicans who don’t like Donald Trump. The polls are showing Republican Martha McSally slowly catching up and in some cases being ahead, but right now I’d say that’s the toss-up of all toss-ups.

NELSON: OK, let’s move to Nevada. Now this is a state Hillary Clinton won two years ago, and Senator Dean Heller is probably the most vulnerable Senate Republican.

OLSEN: That’s right and the polls recently show him either running even or slightly ahead, but we have to take that with a grain of salt because Latino turnout is notoriously difficult to poll, and that’s going to be the key to the race is that if we have a Latino turnout more like 2016, then Jackie Rosen will probably narrowly win. If, however, we have the same sort of high fall-off that we had in 2014, Heller could narrowly squeak through with a plurality victory.

NELSON: Okay, up in Montana, incumbent Democrat Jon Tester is trying to hang on to his seat. How is that race looking?

OLSEN: Tester has been ahead in every poll that people take seriously, but he remains below 50 percent. He only won reelection in 2012 with 48 percent against a Republican who was weaker than the candidate this time. Odds are for Tester but it would not at all surprise me if this is the election night shocker that Rosendale pulls votes out of his hat in the last weekend as Republican Trump supporters decide they just don’t want another six years of Tester.

NELSON: Now moving on to the Midwest, let’s talk about Missouri. In August and September, five different polls found this race tied.

OLSEN: Claire McCaskill is an accidental senator. She won because of Todd Akin’s misstatements about abortion six years ago, even polls that have her ahead have her polling in the mid-40s and in races of this sort, the challenger usually gains as television advertising comes up. The polls say it’s a toss-up, but I say it’s Hawley.

NELSON: And over in Indiana, another Democratic seat. President Trump won the state by 20 points, but it looks like Senator Joe Donnelly could hang on there. What are your thoughts?

OLSEN: That’s another one that is very much like Missouri with the exception that the Republican who is running, Mike Brawn, is not as well-known as Hawley in Missouri. That would be my second upset surprise after Montana is the polls suggest Donnelly will hang on, but in 2016, the Republican significantly over performed the final polls as there just wasn’t a whole lot of Republicans who were willing to vote for the Democrat. Brawn might pull this out on the back of similar actions.

NELSON: And finally, Florida. Democratic Senator Bill Nelson is locked in a close race with Republican Governor Rick Scott.

OLSEN: This is going to be totally turnout driven. Rick Scott was reelected in 2014 and an analysis showed that this is really the only big race in the country that was shifted because of minority turnout being down from 2012. There’s an African-American running for governor. He would be the first African-American elected in Florida if he were to win. If he does attract a more Obama-like African-American turnout, then Nelson will win. If he does not, this is another definition of a pure toss-up.

NELSON: OK, Henry, put all this together for us. What do you think the makeup of the Senate will look like in January?

OLSEN: I think the likeliest outcome is 53 Republican votes which is a plus two Republican. I think that can range anywhere from a lightning strikes the GOP zero seat gain to a lightning strikes the Democrats and a four or five seat gain, but I think the likeliest outcome is plus two for the Republicans giving them 53 going into Trump’s last two years.

NELSON: Henry Olsen is a senior fellow with the Ethics and Public Policy Center. Henry, thank you for joining us today.

OLSEN: Thanks for having me on.


(AP Photo/Michael Conroy) Voters cast their ballots early for the midterm elections at the Government & Judicial Center in Noblesville, Ind., Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2018. 

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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One comment on “Washington Wednesday: Senate midterms

  1. William Gillin says:

    Your opening statement says Montana has Kramer vs. Sen. Heitkamp. They are from North Dakota.
    Later, you correctly identify the race in Montana as Tester vs. Rosendale.

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