JOURNAL EDITORIAL REPORT

Are late poll trends pointing to a Republican Senate?

Sen. Pat Roberts on path forward for GOP

 

This is a rush transcript from Journal Editorial Report," November 1, 2014. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

PAUL GIGOT, HOST: This week on the "Journal Editorial Report," three days to go until the midterm elections and some key races remain too close to call. From the battle for control of the Senate to incumbent governors fighting for their political lives, a look at the factors that could determine the outcome.

Democrats have dusted off the War on Women playbook, but is it falling flat this time around?

And move over Koch Brothers. One liberal environmentalist is spending tens of millions on the midterms. So will it pay off when voters head to the polls on Tuesday?

Welcome to this special edition of the "Journal Editorial Report" as we count down to the midterm elections. And with just three days to go some closely watched races remain too close to call, making a Republican wave far from certain.

But GOP pollster, Whit Ayers, is starting to see some movement. He joins me now from Washington.

Whit, great to see you again.

WHIT AYERS, REPUBLICAN POLLSTER: Paul, good to be with you.

GIGOT: So, what do you see here in the last week as these -- as these races move to a climax?

AYERS: Well, we've known for a long time that the broader environment was very conducive for Republican victories. But we haven't seen much hard evidence of that in the polling up until now. But the last week or 10 days or so, we started to see some shifting. And that's not unusual. When waves come in, they tend to come in late. We did Bill Frist's Senate race in 1994 against Jim Sasser. A week before the election, he was only ahead by four points. But by Thursday, he was up by seven. By Saturday, he was up by nine. And he eventually won the race by 14 percentage points. So, we need to be watching the polls all weekend long.

GIGOT: But as I look at the polls, you're seeing I think 10 Senate seats that are still really close, 12 or 13 governors' races that are within the margin of error or very close to that. Can you recall a year when there were so many big races that were this close?

AYERS: In a lot of these wave years, Paul, there are a number of races that get decided by only one or two percentage points.

GIGOT: Right.

AYERS: But they all tend to fall the same way. That occurred way back in 1980 when Reagan was elected and it occurred in '86 when the Democrats made a run back, occurred in '94, 2006, 2010. So, it's -- a wave is a whole lot of races get won by double digits it's that a whole lot of close races fall the same way.

GIGOT: As I see this race coming to an end, you're seeing Republican the going back to the ObamaCare issue, running a lot of ads in a lot of seats on ObamaCare, believe it or not. Now, is this in your view a smart strategy? Because as I see it just about every anti-ObamaCare vote is already a Republican vote. What's the purpose here?

AYERS: The purpose here is to remind people, particularly Independents who may be still deciding what they think about ObamaCare, about the negative consequences for their health care and their costs. ObamaCare remains one of the top-three issues in these critical Senate battleground states, along with the economy and national security and ISIS. So, it is a safe strategy and it's a smart strategy.

GIGOT: But is it a strategy -- you're saying you want to get Independents. Is it persuasion strategy or is this just a base turnout issue, we're trying to remind Republicans who say, oh, I don't care, I don't want to vote, you better get out, if you want to do something about this law?

AYERS: It's a combination of a base strategy to remind them and a persuasion strategy for the Independents who are up for grabs. Keep in mind that ObamaCare is a proxy for Obama.

GIGOT: Right.

AYERS: What people think about Obama they tend to think about ObamaCare so it's a way to reinforce their disapproval of the job the president has been doing.

GIGOT: And do you agree that the president is really the number-one issue here, number-one motivator, certainly for Republican voters?

AYERS: There's no question about that, Paul. The disgust with the administration, with an overall sense of incompetence of being in over their heads is the dominant issue, as it frequently is in the sixth year -

GIGOT: The sixth.

AYERS: -- of a presidential term.

GIGOT: Republicans know all about that from 2006. They were on the other side of this debate.

AYERS: That's right.

GIGOT: You mentioned national security. And we haven't seen that come -- come center stage in an election maybe since, well, certainly from the hawkish side of the ledger since 2004, that is, working for Republicans or those candidate who want to be more aggressive in providing for American security abroad. You've got the Islamic -- the threat from Islamic state, and you've had the Ebola mishandling, and Vladimir Putin on the march. Has that really been an issue that has helped some of the Republican candidates? I know Scott Brown has used it in New Hampshire and Thom Tillis in New Hampshire. What have you seen?

AYERS: Sure, we've seen that very much that there's such disquiet about the state of the world, and particularly the administration's ability to handle these unexpected events that we're seeing national security pop up in a number of races and it's usually to the Republicans' advantage.

GIGOT: So, what races are you looking at here in -- as you go to Tuesday, how would you advise viewers to look, which races, as the bellwethers in terms of the Senate?

AYERS: There are five critical Senate races that are all in states that are completely in the eastern time zone. So, we're going to get a pretty good indication early. Georgia, North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, and New Hampshire, if the Republicans only win one of those -- and they're pretty well assured to win West Virginia -- then they can still take control of the Senate but it's going to be a long night. If Republicans win three or four of those five, it's going to be a great night for the GOP.

GIGOT: OK. Now, I know you know Georgia very well and that's one of the races, which is held by a Republican now who is retiring, Saxby Chambliss, so you have David Perdue, the Republican businessman, running against Michelle Nunn, the daughter of Sam Nunn, the former Democratic Senator there. You know that state well. How do you see that going? Because Democrats have been pounding David Perdue for his comments about outsourcing jobs?

AYERS: It's a very close race right now. Michelle Nunn was ahead a couple of weeks ago but it's part of Republican candidates starting to do better. David Perdue has started to pull ahead. The critical question is whether either candidate can get over the 50 percent mark. If not, they go into a runoff that doesn't occur until January 6th.

GIGOT: What do you expect? Do you think that will go to a runoff?

AYERS: The bet now would be that it goes to a runoff. But if you look at the states where Democrats have been leading, like North Carolina and New Hampshire, the lead is narrowing.

GIGOT: Right.

AYERS: If you look at states where Republicans have been leading, the lead is growing. The Arkansas poll just came out this week showing Tom Cotton ahead of Mark Pryor by 13 points among very likely voters. So that's why I think a wave may be building.

GIGOT: Thanks for putting down the marker. We'll check you on it and see how it goes.

Coming up next, with Republicans just six seats shy of a takeover, all eyes are on the battle for control of the U.S. Senate. Our panel takes a closer look at how some key races are shaping up in the campaign's final weekend, when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GIGOT: Well, with Republicans just six seats shy of a takeover, all eyes this weekend on the battle for control of the U.S. Senate where as many as 10 races remain too close to call.

Here with a look at how those contests are shaping up in the campaign's final days, Wall Street Journal columnist and deputy editor, Dan Henninger; Political Diary editor, Jason Riley; and Washington columnist, Kim Strassel.

So, Jason, we heard Whit talk about maybe a wave, a Republican wave building. Do you see that yourself or is this going to be trench warfare, turnout warfare all the way down to Tuesday?

JASON RILEY, POLITICAL DIARY EDITOR: I'm thinking maybe the latter. For it to be a wave, I'd want to see more distance between the Republican candidates and the Democratic candidates. In a lot of these races Republicans are leading, but not by much, often within the margin of error, so that concerns me a little bit.

GIGOT: Daniel?

DAN HENNINGER, COLUMNIST & DEPUTY EDITOR: I'll disagree a little bit with that, Jason.

I think that the Democrats -- these are all incumbents. Incumbents are hard to defeat. What struck me was how much trouble the Democrats have had putting distance between them and their Republican challengers. They've been campaigning hard since the beginning of this summer and they've never built a lead, which suggests to me that if there's going to be a Republican wave, which is what Whit Ayers suggested late in a campaign, the Republicans are going to start pushing out further over the weekend.

GIGOT: Kim, let's talk about specific races because it looks like Montana, South Dakota, and West Virginia Republicans are comfortably ahead. They'll pick up those three seats. They need six to get to 51. Tom Cotton in Arkansas, as Whit Ayers suggested, now getting a more comfortable lead, looks like that one may be a Republican pick-up. Where are the next seats most likely to get pick up, the states that pick up the next two to get to that 51?

KIM STRASSEL, WASHINGTON COLUMNIST: I think you look down at Louisiana, where Mary Landrieu is -- that's going to go to a runoff because it's called a jungle vote and so if no one gets to 50, then they're going to have a runoff --

GIGOT: In December.

STRASSEL: -- after the main election. Yes, in December. And right now there's a third-party candidate, which means not everyone will probably get there. But if you look at Cassidy, who is the Republican, running against her. He, along with, like, Tom Cotton in Arkansas, the numbers are getting pretty big in a head-to-head matchup between him and Mary Landrieu. He's ahead by six or seven.

(CROSSTALK)

GIGOT: That gets you -- that gets you one more. Where do you get the elusive 51?

STRASSEL: Well, this is why Republicans are feeling good because they feel like they have a lot of opportunities there. You look up to Alaska, where Dan Sullivan has consistently been leading in the polls against Mark Begich. The one uncertainty is there is that polling is infamously difficult to do in Alaska. But you look at Colorado and you look at Iowa where Cory Gardner, the Republican in Colorado, and Joni Ernst, the Republican in Iowa, have been leading consistently, again, all throughout October in the polls and much of September. And the uncertainty in those states is going to be whether or not the Democrats' vaunted ground operation is as good as they say it is.

GIGOT: On that point, Jason, Michael Bennett, the Democratic Senator from Colorado, was behind in every single poll leading right up to the election in 2010.

RILEY: The polling was off.

GIGOT: And he won by a single point. And the Democrats are saying, look, we've invested tens of millions of dollars on turnout and you'll wake up Republicans Wednesday morning, and you'll be surprised that we eked out victories?

RILEY: Both 2010 and 2012, polling was off with respect to the Democratic turnout and they're counting on that to be the case again. In terms of that six or seventh seat, Paul, I've looked at Georgia --

GIGOT: That's a Republican seat.

RILEY: Well, OK. OK, I'm sorry. In terms of the pick-up. I was talking about the Republicans' chances of holding that seat --

GIGOT: OK.

RILEY: -- which I -- which I like because it's another case where you could see a runoff that would favor the Republicans. There have been something, like, five statewide runoffs in Georgia and Republicans have won every single one. So although that race is tight right now, I think as in Louisiana you're going to see a runoff and then the Republican candidate favored.

GIGOT: I want to stress these two races in Colorado and Iowa, Dan, because those are states that Barack Obama carried twice.

HENNINGER: Yeah.

GIGOT: These are also states that where the -- I mean, Republicans do better statewide in Iowa than they have done lately in Colorado? In Colorado, it's been hard to win statewide in many, many years. Why are Republicans so confident about picking up that state?

HENNINGER: Well, I think one thing they have going for them is events late in the campaign. And that is the fact that national security has become an issue. And Cory Gardner in Colorado has been using it against Mark Udall. Joni Ernst certainly has been using it in her race. Add to that the fact that the Democrats have always had to deal with the reality of economic anxiety in the country. Polling continues to say 65 percent of people think the country's going in the wrong direction. The national security anxiety over Ebola hit them late and has put the Democrats on the defensive, kind of pushed them off their game of blaming Republicans, the War on Women, that sort of thing. So, I think that in states like Colorado and Iowa, the Republicans feel the momentum for that reason is building in their direction.

GIGOT: And two states, Kim, that the Republicans have to hold if they're going to keep the majority I think --

STRASSEL: That's right.

GIGOT: -- is Kansas, Pat Roberts the incumbent is running against an Independent, Greg Orman, and then, in Kentucky, where Mitch McConnell, the minority leader, hopes to be majority leader is locked in a very tight race. How do you see those?

STRASSEL: Yeah. The Republicans are feeling very confident about Kentucky at the moment. Mitch McConnell's lead has been pretty substantial for a while now. Democrats threw a little bit of money in that late in the game. I think that was partly just to keep up the spirits of everyone on their side.

I think the bigger concern when you talk to Republicans right now is Kansas where Pat Roberts just continues to have some difficulty getting his own Republican base to rally around him. There's been some controversy down there about whether or not he -- I mean, the fact that he didn't have a home down in the state for a while and a lot of his core voters still are unhappy with him after a very bitter primary he fought, too. So, that has been a very neck-in-neck race and I think that's the one that when you talk to the strategists they're looking at most closely.

GIGOT: OK, we'll be watching it.

We didn't get to North Carolina in this block or New Hampshire but those are also two very important races to watch.

OK. When we come back, 2014 is shaping up to be a tough year for incumbent governors with as many as a dozen facing tight re-election fights. So who is likely to be left standing after Tuesday's vote? Find out next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GIGOT: Well, 2014 has been a rough year for sitting governors, with as many as a dozen incumbents locked in very tight re-election fights, including Democrats in Connecticut, Colorado and Illinois, and Republicans in Florida, Kansas, Michigan and Wisconsin. So, which ones are likely to return to the governor's mansion after Tuesday's vote?

We're back with Dan Henninger. And Wall Street Journal senior editorial page writer, Colin Levy; and assistant editorial page editor, James Freeman, also join the panel.

So, Dan, it's fascinating, but there didn't seem to be a wave in the governors' races.

HENNINGER: No.

GIGOT: Not in the polling. Incumbents on both sides vulnerable. Why is it close on both sides?

HENNINGER: Again, incumbents should win but they're under pressure. The main reason is a lot of the races are in the north, Massachusetts, Michigan, Wisconsin, even Maryland. The economy is a large part of it. And I think --personally, I think you can blame Obama here, which is to say the national economy has grown through most of these terms at best 2 percent. So, no matter what policies they put in place, it has been difficult for the economy in those states to grow. Some have marginally. But I think the sour mood of the electorate has made people want to look at, you know, just overturning the status quo in some of these gubernatorial races.

GIGOT: Let's take the Democrats first, the Democratic incumbents. There's a couple of open seats. Massachusetts is one. You mentioned Maryland, another where it's a very competitive race. But you see the Democratic incumbents, Illinois, Connecticut, put big tax increases on the table. Now they seem to be paying for that as the Republicans attack them for it. What is the problem for these incumbents in those states?

JAMES FREEMAN, ASSISTANT EDITORIAL PAGE EDITOR: I think you hit it. It's not just -- take Illinois as an example. It's not just that Pat Quinn has been increasing taxes. The economy is even worse than the national economy when we look at unemployment. And the state has just massive problems that he hasn't really addressed. The big one is unfunded pension liability. So as high as the taxes are, they're not as high as they should be for all the government they're buying.

GIGOT: Colin, you're in Illinois, what do you think -- I mean, Pat Quinn, the incumbent governor, he's hitting Bruce Rauner, the Republican, for being another Mitt Romney, rich guy, out of touch. Rauner, in many respects, if you look at the economy, should be further ahead than he is. He's not ahead. He's tied or slightly behind.

COLIN LEVY, SENIOR EDITORIAL PAGE WRITER: Well, you know, the race here is very close there's no question about that. But the effort to Romney-ize Rauner, I don't think has been as successful as people say it is, because of the pension liabilities, because the state is hemorrhaging jobs, hemorrhaging people. You had both Chicago newspapers endorse Rauner, which was rather surprising because "the sun-times" doesn't typically endorse candidates. I think the financial acumen that's coming from Rauner is resonating with people, particularly from Chicago, which is a typically overwhelming Democratic place. Remember, Illinois isn't a solidly blue state. Obama won here by 20 points. So Quinn is a weak candidate and I think that -- I think you're going to see some of that start to come through.

GIGOT: OK, Dan, let's talk about the Republican governors here. We've got several who are vulnerable. No question about it. In Pennsylvania, Tom Corbett, the incumbent, it looks like he's already so far behind that they basically -- Republican Governor Campaign Committee, looks like it's written him off. What happened there?

HENNINGER: Well, Tom Corbett simply was not campaigning as an effective Republican governor. I think these governors have to understand that whatever they are doing, they have to get their message out 24/7, like Scott Walker has done in Wisconsin. You have to defend yourself. And maybe Rick Scott in Florida has made that mistake as well. You have to be in front of the voters all the time in the media cycle that we live in these days. Sam Brownback in Kansas, cut taxes, tried to cut spending, should be winning, but he is in a very, very tight race.

GIGOT: Colin, let's talk about Scott Walker because that was so traumatic for two years. The big source of debate. They tried to recall him and he won comfortably, but now he's got a tight race. Why is this race so close this time after he won the recall comfortably?

LEVY: I think Wisconsin is an incredibly divided state. And I think the fight there is also about the economy. There was some pretty interesting news there. The Democratic candidate, Mary Burke, has really been campaigning on her private-sector experience as something that's going to also help the economy there and sort of trying to go after Walker for jobs numbers, which have been strong but not as strong as he predicted. Some stories came out recently that her experience as a Trek bicycle executive weren't all they were cracked up out to be. The Republicans have come in really hard with ads and things. She was something of a disaster when she -- that was said by the commerce secretary when she was working for the state. And then also that she was fired from Trek in 1993.

(CROSSTALK)

GIGOT: I bet you there are not five undecided votes in all of Wisconsin.

(LAUGHTER)

It is going to come down to turnout. Everybody knows what they think about Walker, pro or con. And they'll come out. It depends on whether they can get the turnout.

What about the Republican in Kansas, Sam Brownback. He has become sort of the poster child for Republican tax cuts.

FREEMAN: He has. This is one of the moments where you really learn what the politicians are for. Because we all think of Democrats, generally bigger government, Republicans, generally smaller government, but he's angered a lot of Republican politicians, because when he said he wanted to restrain the size of government, cut the tax burden, he meant it.

(LAUGHTER)

And they're upset because they wanted more of that money to spend. And so this is really the establishment of both political parties going after a reform governor. And I think for taxpayers everywhere, you certainly hope he hangs in there.

GIGOT: Thank you, James.

Much more to come on this special one-hour edition of the "Journal Editorial Report."

Still ahead, it was a potent weapon in the 2012 Democratic elections, but is the War on Women campaign them falling flat this time around?

And the green money machine. Liberal environmentalists are spending big this election season, but will it pay off when voters head to the polls on Tuesday.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(FOX NEWS REPORT)

GIGOT: Welcome back to the special edition of the "Journal Editorial Report" as we count down to Tuesday's midterm elections.

It was a potent weapon in the 2012 campaign and Democrats are once again relying on the War on Women to give them the edge in some key races.

In the closely watched Colorado Senate campaign, Incumbent Democrat Mark Udall has been nicknamed "Mark Uterus" by the media for his focus on women's reproductive issues and he's closing out the campaign with a new ad against Republican challenger, Cory Gardner's sponsor of a federal personhood bill that critics say would ban abortion and outlaw some common forms of birth control.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: As you are making your decision, remember --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A bill that everybody says is a personhood bill at the federal level, you are telling me it's not.

ANNOUNCER: Cory Gardner is still sponsoring the personhood bill in Congress. His name is right there, but Gardner just keeps denying it. Gardner's denials even failed the independent fact check.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And a less charitable interpretation is that you are not telling us the truth.

ANNOUNCER: Whether it's our rights or freedoms or his own words, Colorado just can't trust the real Cory Gardner.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GIGOT: We're back with Dan Henninger and Kim Strassel. And Wall Street Journal, editorial board member, Dorothy Rabinowitz, also joins us.

So, Dorothy, do you think the ad is effective?

DOROTHY RABINOWITZ, EDITORIAL BOARD MEMBER: I think it's not effective. I think, once you've gone into the hellhole of being made a cartoon figure and having a uterus attached to your name, there is no help for you. And I think that -- this isn't an effective rebuttal of the personhood claim on Cory Gardner.

GIGOT: How has he rebutted it? He's basically said he would not vote for the Colorado --

RABINOWITZ: That's right.

GIGOT: Which is why, interestingly, in that ad, they didn't have Cory Gardner's words.

RABINOWITZ: That's right.

GIGOT: They just had the media questioners.

RABINOWITZ: That's right. This is a large part of what is burying the woman's cause here, the fact that the War on Women, along with people outside, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, about pulling women back by the hair.

GIGOT: She's the Democratic Party chief, yes.

RABINOWITZ: Party chief, yes. And the aggregate, you know, impression that this leaves is, it is all too much. I think you have to accept the fact that there are intelligent -- there's an intelligent body of citizen called the women of America who, when is a little consciousness raising, that they've been used by every other alleged afflicted group that the Democrats have ever tried to pull in, they pull back. People understand when they are being used. And you can see it in Colorado.

GIGOT: Right.

But, Kim, if I read another story that talks about how Democrats are - - it's crucial that they get out the women vote, that's their big advantage, they need it, they have to get especially single college educated women out. And that's why I assume Udall is going back to the well despite the fact that he's been so mocked for being a one-trick pony.

KIM STRASSEL, WASHINGTON COLUMNIST: Look, they're doubling down on this strategy. It's flailing. But they don't have anything else. And this is one of the stories of this election. This has not just been a referendum on the president, but on some time-worn Democratic strategies. The War on Women worked for them in the past. They decided to go all-in it. Something like 50 percent to 60 percent of all the ads that have been run out in the states, attack ads, have focused on women's issues. But the problem is that the polls show they've largely alienated women. They also turned off men. And now their deficit among male voters is so huge that the only thing they've got is to try to convince some more women to come out for them. But even then, they are not pulling ahead in women the degree they need to be to offset the damage they've done with men voters, and that's why they are behind in so many polls.

GIGOT: All right. Let's take a look at it a one Senate campaign, the Republicans' response to the War on Women.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CAROLINE ANDEREGG, VOTER: Allison Lundergan Grimes wants me to think that I'm not good enough.

ALLISEN PAWLEY, VOTER: That I couldn't get a job unless Washington passed more laws.

ASHLEY BURKHEAD, VOTER: That I can't graduate college without raising your taxes.

DALLAS KNIERMAN, VOTER: She wants me to believe that strong women and strong values are incompatible.

BURKHEAD: She thinks I'll vote for the candidate that looks like me.

ANDEREGG: Rather than the one that represents me.

PAWLEY: As a strong Kentucky woman, I'm voting for Mitch McConnell.

BURKHEAD: I'm voting for Mitch McConnell.

ANDEREGG: Because he believes in me and he works for us.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GIGOT: Do you think these testimonial ads work, Dorothy? I guess it's better than having Mitch McConnell on there, but as --

(LAUGHTER)

RABINOWITZ: I think their hearts, their tongues are in the right place. But that's not the kind of comeback we need because it looks very much like an election pony.

(LAUGHTER)

What they really need now is an all-out assault on what has been going on for a long time, saying this is what the Democratic Party is, this is what they do with people. They put them in this undifferentiated blog of a mess and people are not unconscious of these things. What is required is raising that consciousness. And that's what the Republicans should do.

GIGOT: In other words, attacking them for saying they are trying to be manipulative.

RABINOWITZ: Absolutely.

GIGOT: Dan, this is all part of the Democratic theme, which is identity politics, right?

DAN HENNINGER, COLUMNIST & DEPUTY EDITOR: Yeah.

GIGOT: You play to specific group identities, whether it's African- Americans or Hispanic Americans or young people or women, and you hit two or three themes that are assumed to motivate them, particularly if you are raising their fear level, and then you try to drive turnout.

HENNINGER: Absolutely. But this is a theme they've been running now for several election cycles. And especially the War on Women is beginning to lose altitude. It's simply an old campaign theme that's starting to show, you know -- it's yellowing.

Let's look at the candidates. There are only two women guaranteed to win in these Senate elections, Susan Collins in Maine and Shelley Moore Capito in West Virginia.

GIGOT: Two republicans.

HENNINGER: Two Republican women. And Joni Ernst in Iowa defeated four men in her Republican primary and it looks like she may defeat Bruce Braley in Iowa. So in terms of end results, it's the Republican women showing results.

RABINOWITZ: And she said I do not plan to run on my gender, as a second lieutenant in the National Guard should say.

(LAUGHTER)

GIGOT: So, Kim, what's the single biggest difference between why it isn't working as well this year but did work in 2012?

STRASSEL: One, I think that they've overdone it. But the other thing, too, is the issues are different this year. We've been talking, for instance, national security. People forget it's a big issue for a lot of women voters. And we've had a lot of oversea questions, they've been turning more to candidates they feel comfortable about, and that's often Republicans.

GIGOT: OK. Going to be interesting to watch.

Still ahead, the forgotten House. With all 435 seats up for election Tuesday, Republicans are expected to make some midterm gains in the House. From immigration to tax reform, what the outcome could mean for John Boehner's legislative plans.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GIGOT: While all 435 House seats are up for election on Tuesday, fewer than 40 are considered competitive, with House Republicans expected to grow their majority by anywhere from five to 15 seats. But will governing get any easier for beleaguered House Speaker, John Boehner?

We're back with Dan Henninger, Jason Riley and Kim Strassel.

So, Kim, you know, the question that I have is, why are so few seats really competitive this year? I read in some places only 30, so you're talking about well under 10 percent of the seats up.

STRASSEL: Well, some of it's structural, right? We always have these conversations about gerrymandering. And after the 2010 census the gerrymandering was really amped up --

GIGOT: Right.

STRASSEL: -- and that's just made -- put a lot of people in safe seats.

But I also think Republicans have made a mistake going into this election in that they decided they were not going to come out with an agenda, with a unifying theme, something that they could go to the voters and say, look, we, as a party, if you give us more seats, we promise we'll pass these four, five, six manageable things. They decided instead to make this entirely about a referendum on Barack Obama. That's clearly helping them or working, but I think had they come out with a positive message they would have expanded the playing field even more.

GIGOT: Why didn't they come out with a positive message? Was it a simply a matter they weren't unified, even in the House, they couldn't get their act together to do that? Or did they think it was a bad strategy to give the voters some positive reason for voting for them?

(LAUGHTER)

STRASSEL: Yes. And --

(LAUGHTER)

They've been very -- yes and yes.

(LAUGHTER)

They've been very divided obviously, and that was a huge issue. Getting this House caucus to gel around any one program has often proven tough, which gets to your point about the need for a greater majority. But I think the other thing, too, is there was a little bit of fear about coming out. They worried that it might give Democrats ammunition to go after them and they wanted to keep this focused on the president.

GIGOT: Jason, though, still not much doubt, despite the caveats from Kim, that the Democrats are playing defense for the most part. They've had to give up going after most Republicans they thought they could go after, and now they are trying to defend safe -- what they thought were safer Democratic seats. Where are some of the vulnerabilities for the Democrats?

JASON RILEY, POLITICAL DIARY EDITOR: I look at Arizona where there are a couple of very close House races. Kirkpatrick could lose --

(CROSSTALK)

GIGOT: Ann Kirkpatrick in the north of the state.

RILEY: And Barbara, who has --

GIGOT: Down Tucson way.

RILEY: Who she has Gabby Giffords' old seat. So I think that's a place where Republicans can make some gains. Also in the Hudson Valley of New York, Nan Hayworth, an eye doctor, is running for her old seat, which she lost in 2012. And she's doing quite well in the polls. So there are some spots where the GOP could do very well.

GIGOT: The Republicans have been so wiped out in New York and northeast New England that anything looks like up from there, so they've got a seat in New Hampshire they're competing for and three in New York State they might pick up, and there's a Maine seat, too, which has been competitive.

HENNINGER: Yeah. I mean, Carol Shea Porter in New Hampshire, the Democrat, is under a lot of pressure. Republicans could come out of the election with three new House seats -- three new governorships in the northeast. It was just unheard of. A lot --

GIGOT: Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island are very competitive.

HENNINGER: Yeah. So a lot of these House seats I think have been nationalized, Paul, that people that vote in House elections watch national politics. And, again, Barack Obama is hanging over a lot of these elections, putting the Democrats on the defensive, even in seats they thought were safe.

RILEY: But to pick up on something Kim was saying about the divisions in the GOP, it will be very interesting to see how Boehner handles this caucus, even if it's a larger caucus. What types of Republicans is he going to be dealing with in terms of Tea Party folks, conservatives and so forth? And he's also lost some of his major lieutenants. Eric Cantor won't be there. Tom Latham is gone. Buck McKeon is gone. So he's going to have his work cut out in terms of making sure that his caucus is on the same page.

HENNINGER: But he's campaigning, too. John Boehner has raised $100 million for these House races and this weekend he's campaigning all over the country, New York, California, West Virginia, the northeast. He's building chit in the events the candidates win. They get to the House, they're going to owe John Boehner.

GIGOT: Kim, if the Republicans do get to 246 seats -- which I guess they have 233 now, there's a couple open seats -- and get to 246, it would be the biggest Republican majority in the House since the 1920s.

STRASSEL: Yes.

GIGOT: So that would be an historic event if they get that far. Most people are saying they probably won't get that many. But where else do you see Republican -- Republicans can lose seats?

STRASSEL: Where Republicans could lose seats? Well, they fielded a couple of candidates that are having a little bit of difficulty. You know, for instance, lee terry is one of them, just having a bit of trouble getting along.

The thing that's more interesting to me, Paul, I heard a statistic, 80 percent of all the money that Republicans are spending, independent money right now, is going to districts that Barack Obama won. And so that's -- as we've been talking, Illinois, California, New York, Hawaii, places, so this is Republicans pushing into a lot of new territory and largely limiting their losses around the country. That's not their concern much at the moment.

GIGOT: All right. And John Boehner does need a new majority so he can govern and the back benchers don't basically run the show over there.

So, when we come back, the green money machine. Move over Koch Brothers, billionaire environmentalist, Tim Steyer, is spending big in some tight midterm races. So will it turn the tide in the Democrats' favor on Tuesday?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GIGOT: Well, after decades of complaining about the influence of big money in politics, environmentalists are spending the big bucks themselves this election cycle. Liberal hedge-fund billionaire, Tom Steyer, has reportedly spent a whopping $74 billion in the midterms with his Next Gen political action committee, running ad like this one against Florida Governor Rick Scott.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: Out of 100 scientists, 97 agree that climate change is real. At this point, who's refusing to accept the science?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I guess we could agree to disagree.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Don't look at me. I'm not a scientist.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ah. We like it hot.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GIGOT: We're back with Kim Strassel and James Freeman.

An ad so simplistic even a caveman could see through it.

(LAUGHTER)

What do you make of that?

JAMES FREEMAN, ASSISTANT EDITORIAL PAGE EDITOR: Well, I think it's interesting because that's one of the few places in the country where Steyer is spending money on the climate change message. In other places, it's a political loser that even as he pours money into these races to try and affect the outcome, he doesn't talk about his real agenda there. There -- I guess, I don't know how accurate it is -- this claim that everyone except a caveman believes we're in a catastrophe is obviously pretty ridiculous. But I think it -- maybe that's one place where voters actually do want the Steyer agenda.

GIGOT: OK, Kim, how is it working -- that campaign working more broadly? I remember advising Tom Steyer to spend his entire fortune this election. I guess he's not doing all of that. It's a shame. But he's doing a lot.

STRASSEL: Yeah, right. He's getting close. We may be able to categorize this as the biggest investment in nothing ever. I mean, $75 million from him to super PACs. You have the coalition of outside environmental groups, some of the big players. The tally at this point is $85 million that they have spent on the election. Yet, Paul, the Gallup just recently did a poll. 13 issues, asked voters which ones they cared about most, climate change came in at the dead last. And it does every single time. That's despite this huge push by these groups. It's not being talked about on the campaigns. The voters are not interested in it.

In fact, what you have seen are polls showing that, I think, one of the reasons that some of these incumbents are going to lose their jobs is because voters want the opposite. They want more natural gas drilling. They want the pipelines. Keystone remains very popular. This has not been a great investment for them at all.

GIGOT: Here's the thing, what they're saying -- and I take all that. But what they're saying is -- Steyer and company are saying is, we're playing the long game, OK, yeah, we may not win this time but we're preparing the field for 2016 and beyond, OK? And going to make it easier for Democrats in 2016 or in more swing states to be able to win, and influence President Obama and the Democratic Party's agenda. So they're continuing to try to ban coal, for example. They continue to try to limit -- not all of them but in New York State, for example, there is a ban on fracking for natural gas. They want to extend that around the country.

FREEMAN: That's right. Certainly they're putting money into races where they think politicians they're supporting will do what they consider the right thing, will make sure the EPA can keep regulating emissions for greenhouse gases. But it's really striking how much of this agenda is hidden with all of that money. You look at Pennsylvania. Some of the ads they're running are about education. In Colorado, gay marriage, abortion. New Hampshire, they're talking about bogus claims that Scott Brown supports tax giveaways for out-of-state companies. Very careful efforts to pick their spots and avoid talking about the real agenda behind all of this money, which is higher energy prices.

And as Kim said, I think we may get up Wednesday morning and learn a very nice lesson, a refreshing one, that money alone is not enough to move an agenda in American politics because it's hard to see right now how this is moving the needle.

GIGOT: Yeah, but it's moving President Obama, is it not, Kim? I don't think he'll approve the Keystone Pipeline, contrary to my earlier predictions in his first term.

(LAUGHTER)

I have been a loser on that one for years. The president is going to continue to try to, as James said, regulate green house gases. So maybe this is all about making sure that Democratic presidential candidates in 2016 go along with the Tom Steyer flow.

STRASSEL: You completely put your finger on it. And that's what this show of money is about. It's to remind President Obama and future candidates that a lot of their bread is buttered by a very wealthy community.

GIGOT: All right. Thank you all.

We have to take one more break. When we come back, our panel's picks for the biggest upsets on Tuesday.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GIGOT: Time now for our "Hits & Misses" of the week. This week, our panel makes their predictions for the biggest upset races on Tuesday.

Dan, start us off.

HENNINGER: The governorship of Maryland. Very blue state. Attorney General Anthony Brown, a Democrat, running against businessman, Larry Hogan. Brown started 20 points ahead. That race is now dead even. Hogan has closed on taxes and the economy. This is a race to watch.

GIGOT: Jason?

RILEY: A pickup opportunity for Republicans in the governorship of Rhode Island where Gina Raimondo, the Democrat, was well ahead until two weeks ago when she sought the endorsement of Planned Parenthood in one of the most heavily Catholic states in the country. The race is now dead even.

GIGOT: OK.

All right, Kim? STRASSEL: Watch Minnesota Seven. This is Collin Peterson's seat, one of the more powerful figures in the House Democratic caucus, a ranking community chairman running for his 13th term. And yet, he has got a race on his hands. If he loses this, it could be a big night for Republicans.

GIGOT: And I'd say watch the main governor's race, where the incumbent governor, Paul LePage, the Republican, is the luckiest man in American politics. He won't four years ago by drawing an Independent candidate and making it a three-person race. Won with a plurality. And he's done it again. And he may yet pull it out this year, despite all the controversies of his term in office. So watch that one.

If you have your own upset prediction, be sure to tweet it to us at JERonFNC.

That's it for this week's show. Thanks to this week's panel and especially to all of you for watching. I'm Paul Gigot. I hope to see you right here next week.

Content and Programming Copyright 2014 Fox News Network, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Copyright 2014 CQ-Roll Call, Inc. All materials herein are protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written permission of CQ-Roll Call. You may not alter or remove any trademark, copyright or other notice from copies of the content.