By Chris Stirewalt
Published October 29, 2018
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On the roster: Fox News Power Rankings: Texas and New Jersey act alike - Trump’s midterm road trip targets base of the base - Senate Dems focus on health care to rally voters - Sex discrimination settlement roils Maine race - Wait. Who’s kissing their chickens?
FOX NEWS POWER RANKINGS: TEXAS AND NEW JERSEY ACT ALIKE
There are a few different ways to think about this year’s elections.
There are two scenarios that have relatively low probabilities but are about equally likely:
1) Democrats, relying on many new and low-propensity voters, have been consistently understated in polls and are poised to make historic gains in the House and Senate.
2) Republicans will repeat their 2016 performance with suburbanites and beat the polls by a narrow but consistent margin sufficient to barely hold the House and make considerable gains in the Senate.
There’s also the highest probability scenario: That Democrats will flip enough Republican seats to take the House and take a relatively narrow majority of about a dozen seats but actually lose ground in the Senate, where Republicans seem well-positioned to add one or two seats to their current 51-seat majority.
We think that the split decision model makes the most sense and has the most evidence to support it. But then again, as Crash Davis said, “Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, sometimes it rains.” A little humility is never a bad idea in the business of predictions.
In that spirit, we offer a pair of changes to the Fox News Power Rankings. As always, you can see all our rankings here, but today please consider a couple of long shots that might see incumbents coming up short: New Jersey and Texas.
The races look remarkably similar from a distance. Both feature incumbents who are less popular than their parties in their respective states and both have seen an avalanche of spending against them not nearly commensurate with their competitiveness relative to other contests.
Fortunately, we have more and better polling in these states than in many other Senate contests. And in both cases, the incumbents lead by an average of about 7 points in the three most recent, methodologically sound polls, and both incumbents are getting, on average, more than half of the vote.
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, leads Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-Texas, 51.3 percent to 44.6 percent.
Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., leads businessman Bob Hugin 50.3 percent to 43.3 percent.
Given the margins of the abundant polling, electoral composition of the states and the political climate, we had been content to call both of these races “likely.” But there’s something else to consider: Both Texas and New Jersey fit well into the “blue wave” and “red wall” scenarios quite well.
First, New Jersey. Menendez is not a well-liked politician, even in his own party. His decision to seek a third term despite a federal corruption prosecution and an admonishment from the Senate Committee on Ethics for his relationship with a wealthy donor was rightly seen by Democrats as selfish.
The headline on the Newark Star-Ledger’s endorsement of the incumbent today pretty much says it all: “Choke it down, and vote for Menendez.”
In addition to disaffected Democrats, New Jersey also has lots of suburban Republicans and Republican-leaning independents. These are the voters that Republicans have been the most concerned about in the era of Trump, particularly those with college degrees and household incomes above $100,000.
In polls taken before the terrorist attack on a Pittsburgh synagogue and the ersatz mail bombs sent to leading Democrats, there were indications nationally that these traditional Republican constituencies were coming home for the GOP. Some combination of the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation and generally higher satisfaction with the president’s job performance showed signs that it might save lots of seats.
If most of that party unity survives the current struggle between the president, the press and Democrats over who is most to blame for the rotten state of political discourse and Democrats really do shun Menendez, it might just happen for Hugin.
If Republicans are going to have a really good night a week from Tuesday, it will substantially start in the suburban precincts of New Jersey. If it’s even close there, the GOP can feel very confident about what’s to follow – some very big bricks in the red wall.
Now, Texas. Cruz is not as unpopular as Menendez, but he has plenty of detractors among the state’s Republicans. Whether its lingering resentment from Cruz’s bad bromance with Donald Trump or just that he spent much of his first term running for president, he pales in popularity to other statewide-elected Republicans, particularly the very popular Gov. Greg Abbott.
When the conservative Dallas Morning News editorial page endorsed O’Rourke, it acknowledged its ideological disagreements with the Democrat but argued that Cruz had become such a “cutting figure” that “bold steps” were required to start to heal the national discourse.
Texas also has lots of those same kind of upscale suburbanite voters who also live in New Jersey. And if they decide in large numbers to punish the GOP for the excesses of the president, O’Rourke could be in the game.
But the other thing O’Rourke is counting on is that many new and low-frequency voters, including large numbers of Hispanic voters, turn out in force. Texas Democrats have been working for years to organize and mobilize younger Latino voters who skew more Democratic than older ones. And if they’ve succeeded, it’s entirely possible that existing polling models would miss the surge.
If O’Rourke is in the running, it will be a good sign for Democrats across the West and Southwest that their day has come. If that’s what’s happening, Democrats can reasonably expect to clean up on a bunch of House seats where Republicans are counting on suburbanites to stick with them and Hispanic voters to stay home.
Like we said, both seats are probably going to stay with their current party, but both do make helpful channel markers for the direction of the election nationally. And it would behoove us to show a little less certitude. The scenarios preferred by either party are not the most likely ones, but just because something has a low probability doesn’t mean it has no probability.
The 2016 election certainly taught us that, and so do sports.
This is the part in the college football season where dreams of January glory die hard.
Beyond undefeated powerhouses University of Alabama and Clemson University, there are a dozen or so other programs that are still in the running to make the playoffs and, potentially, the national championship.
The good folks at FiveThirtyEight have a handy probability calculator to see the chances of teams to advance beyond the regular season, which wraps up at the end of next month.
Their model holds that, to pick a team absolutely at random and without any favoritism whatsoever, the West Virginia University Mountaineers have a one in five chance of winning their conference and a less than one in 10 chance of making it to the playoffs.
Now, we know this is wrong and foolish on the part of the model, which is obviously shot through with mountain bias. We know that WVU will not only flatten the University of Texas on Saturday afternoon but also hold the line against a perennially overrated Oklahoma University squad on the day after Thanksgiving. It’s obvious.
But maybe – just maybe – it would be helpful for us to remember that these scenarios are just postulated sequences of events. And maybe – just maybe – it would be helpful for us to presume a little less. Maybe the Mounties will win out. Maybe they won’t. Further, it might even be useful to see the probabilities as an interesting way to look at the standing, but not put too much faith in them, either.
And if we can do that about college football, perhaps we could do so about something less important, like midterm elections.
THE RULEBOOK: CLOGGED AND CONVULSED, INDEED
“If a faction consists of less than a majority, relief is supplied by the republican principle, which enables the majority to defeat its sinister views by regular vote. It may clog the administration, it may convulse the society; but it will be unable to execute and mask its violence under the forms of the Constitution.” – James Madison, Federalist No. 10
TIME OUT: SHALOM ALEIKHEM
The executive editor off the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, David Shribman, lives in the same neighborhood where a terrorist attacked a synagogue on Saturday. We recommend highly Shribman’s account of the day and description of Squirrel Hill, a special place in the world. And we send up our prayers to join those of millions of our countrymen for the dead and for the living. May the peace that surpasses all understanding be upon you in this troubled time.
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: “Because this was our neighborhood, caught in the crossfire of the strains of the global village, and for once — sadly, so very sadly — the hurt was ours, and the victims were ours, and the need to heal is ours. For now it has happened here; for millions across this wounded nation, we are the focus of anguish and anger and solace, the it-can-happen-anywhere place of the moment. And we know, given the tempo of tragedy in these times that are ours, that the title won’t be ours for long. In our grief — shared across all faiths — we need something to lean on, to steady us. We might reflect on the passage from Proverbs that lent its name to this place of tragedy, a reference to the metaphor describing Judaism’s most sacred text, the Torah, as a tree of life, or, in transliterated Hebrew, Etz hayyim: It is a tree of life to all who hold fast to it; its ways are ways of pleasantness, and all its paths are peace.”
Flag on the play? - Email us at HALFTIMEREPORT@FOXNEWS.COM with your tips, comments or questions.
Trump job performance
Average approval: 42.2 percent
Average disapproval: 53.2 percent
Net Score: -11 points
Change from one week ago: down 3 points
[Average includes: Gallup: 40% approve - 54% disapprove; NPR/PBS/Marist: 41% approve - 53% disapprove; USA Today/Suffolk: 43% approve - 54% disapprove; NBC/WSJ: 45% approve - 52% disapprove; CBS News: 42% approve - 53% disapprove.]
Control of House
Republican average: 41.6 percent
Democratic average: 50.6 percent
Advantage: Democrats plus 9 points
Change from one week ago: Democratic advantage down 0.6 points
[Average includes: NPR/PBS/Marist: 50% Dems - 40% GOP; USA Today/Suffolk: 51% Dems - 43% GOP; NBC/WSJ: 50% Dems - 41% GOP; Fox News: 49% Dems - 42% GOP; ABC/WaPo: 53% Dems - 42% GOP.]
TRUMP’S MIDTERM ROAD TRIP TARGETS BASE OF THE BASE
Axios: “President Trump is adding an 11th rally to his final six-day blitz leading into the Nov. 6 midterm elections. … Trump is going to Trump country within Trump states. Only two competitive House seats lie within these locations. The locations and dates we cite here, the big picture details of which were first reported by Bloomberg, are based on internal White House planning and could change: Oct. 31: Fort Myers, Florida; Nov. 1: Columbia, Missouri; Nov. 2: Huntington, West Virginia and an undisclosed location in Indiana; Nov. 3: Bozeman, Montana and an undisclosed location in Florida; Nov. 4: Macon, Georgia and Chattanooga, Tennessee; Nov. 5: Fort Wayne, Indiana and Cape Girardeau, Missouri; Another rally, on a date [Axios hasn’t] established: an undisclosed location in Ohio. … Trump is ‘going to the places where he remains popular, more rural or exurban, and he's staying away from big cities that have suburbs where he's toxic,’ [Cook Political Report's elections analyst Amy Walter] said.”
White House braces for impact - Bloomberg: “White House officials are largely resigned to losing Republican control of the U.S. House and are bracing for an exodus of staff worried about a torrent of subpoenas from Democratic congressional investigators. President Donald Trump’s team still sees a possible path to victory. But talk of a ‘red wave’ has ceased, advisers inside and outside the White House said. Trump last uttered the boast in public in August. The mood around the president has darkened as many challengers continue to out-raise seasoned Republican incumbents and Democratic enthusiasm surpasses that of the GOP. Bill Stepien, the White House director of political affairs, is already laying the groundwork to shift blame away from Trump should the party lose the House. He argued in an internal memo obtained by Bloomberg that the GOP has been hindered by historical headwinds, a wave of incumbent retirements, and strong fundraising by Democratic challengers.”
LATE DEM DOLLARS MAY MAKE THE DIFFERENCE
NYT: “As the 2018 midterm campaign enters its final full week, House Republicans are rushing to fortify their defenses in conservative-leaning districts they thought were secure, pouring millions of dollars into a last-minute bid to build a new firewall against Democrats. …Republican officials are increasingly concerned about Democratic incursions in some of the remaining 30 competitive districts on the House map where the Republican candidates thought they had an edge. For the final two weeks of the election, Democratic campaigns and outside groups are on track to substantially outspend Republicans, strategists on both sides say. Democrats are set to spend $143 million on television advertising in House races, compared with $86 million for Republicans, according to one analysis by a Democratic strategist tracking media buys. Democratic super PACs and other outside groups are poised to outspend their Republican counterparts by a wide margin, erasing an advantage Republicans planned on having.”
How Sessions plans to survive midterms - National Journal: “Rep. Pete Sessions is running for reelection against a former NFL linebacker. But only one of them brags about winning a Heisman Trophy—and it’s not the onetime football player. That "Heisman" is what Sessions calls his Spirit of Enterprise Award from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. … That’s the Sessions playbook: Convince midterm swing voters to prioritize a longstanding allegiance to the Chamber-style fiscal conservatism embodied by George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan over their uneasiness with the demeanor of the party's current standard-bearer. … Incumbents such as Sessions in traditionally Republican-leaning seats in affluent suburbs are in grave political peril, in no small part because of Trump’s low approval ratings. … But Sessions is banking that a pure economic argument against big government will win over educated voters in a state as fiercely independent as Texas and with an economy as robust and booming as that of northern Dallas.”
Will Iowa voters care about Steve King’s ties to white nationalists? - WaPo: “[After] Eleven Jews had been massacred in Pittsburgh, gunned down at their synagogue. … No one questioned whether their well-liked representative, Steve King — the U.S. congressman most openly affiliated with white nationalism — might be contributing to anti-Semitism or racism through his unapologetic embrace of white nationalist rhetoric and his praise of far-right politicians and groups in other nations. … The belief … expressed Saturday in Remsen, in the wake of the deadliest attack on American Jews in history, is prevalent across Iowa’s 4th District, where King is seeking a ninth term in Congress. In his 16 years in the House, King has become better known for making incendiary remarks about immigration and race than for passing a bill. … In an interview after Saturday’s shooting in Pittsburgh, King said he was not anti-Semitic, touting his strong support for Israel and insisting there’s ‘a special place in hell’ for anyone who perpetrates religious or race-based violence.”
SENATE DEMS FOCUS ON HEALTH CARE TO RALLY VOTERS
NYT: “After years of running as far as they could from President Barack Obama’s health care law, Ms. [Claire McCaskill] and vulnerable Senate Democrats in Florida, West Virginia and other political battlegrounds have increasingly focused their closing argument on a single issue: saving the Affordable Care Act. … It is unknown whether Democrats’ health care message will hold up as Mr. Trump, through almost daily rallies and frequent Twitter blasts, tries to dominate television news and social media in the campaign’s final days. He has said the midterms would be about ‘Kavanaugh, the caravan, law and order, and common sense.’ But after years of trying and failing to rally voters behind the complicated features of Mr. Obama’s health care law, Democrats have discovered this year the emotional power of one of its benefits, protecting people with pre-existing illnesses. The subject has lit up polls, monopolized advertising budgets and driven a national strategy for Democrats, who are defending 10 Senate seats in states Mr. Trump won and are relying heavily on health care as a defining issue in key states including Arizona, Florida, West Virginia and Nevada.”
John James cuts Michigan Sen. Stabenow’s lead in half - Fox News: “Underdog Republican Senate candidate John James appears to be gaining momentum in Michigan, as the latest polls show the political newcomer cutting incumbent Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow’s once-comfortable lead in half. James, an Iraq War veteran, is now trailing the incumbent by roughly 7 points, according to the latest Real Clear Politics average of polls. The split is similar to the race in Texas, where Democrat Beto O’Rourke is trailing incumbent Republican Sen. Ted Cruz. Like O’Rourke, James remains the underdog. But unlike in Texas, the polls in Michigan reflect a steady tightening. Stabenow, D-Mich., for months had led by double digits. As of mid-October, Stabenow was 16 points ahead of James, according to an MRG poll. But an EPIC-MRA poll from late October showed Stabenow with just a 7-point lead, an Emerson poll showed her up 9 points and a new Mitchell Research & Communications poll showed the incumbent leading by 6 points.”
McSally supporters try capitalizing off Sinema’s ‘crazy’ remark - Fox News: “There was a new addition to a weekend rally for the Arizona Senate campaign of Republican Rep. Martha McSally: signs that read ‘AZ isn’t crazy, voting Democrat is!’ Supporters excitedly waved the signs during remarks Friday by McSally and Vice President [Mike]Pence. The signs referred to recently surfaced comments made by Democratic Candidate Rep. Kyrsten Sinema. ‘People have watched what was happening in Arizona, and been like, ‘Damn, those people are crazy,’ Sinema said in a video recorded in 2011 and posted this month by The Reagan Battalion, which describes itself as a source of conservative information. Sinema also has also been scrutinized for expressing indifference in a 2003 clip, when a radio host asserted that joining the Taliban is a ‘personal decision.’ ... Asked for a response to McSally’s charges, a spokeswoman for the Sinema campaign directed Fox News to tweets posted Saturday about the defining issue of their campaign – health care.”
SEX DISCRIMINATION SETTLEMENT ROILS MAINE RACE
NYT: “Shawn Moody has made his difficult upbringing and success in business the twin pillars of his campaign to become Maine’s next governor… But for Jill Hayward, herself a single mother, there is nothing quite as painful as seeing Mr. Moody appear on television… In 2006, Ms. Hayward, a former member of management at a Moody’s store, filed a sexual discrimination complaint against Mr. Moody with the Maine Human Rights Commission, accusing him of firing her because he did not think she was up to the job after giving birth to her son. … Mr. Moody has made his reputation and character a part of the campaign because of how much he leans on his biography in his race against Janet Mills, the Democratic state attorney general. Opinion polls show a tight contest to succeed the pugnacious term-limited governor, Paul R. LePage, whose lieutenants are guiding Mr. Moody’s campaign.”
Jimmy Carter urges Kemp to step aside as secretary of state - AP: “Former President Jimmy Carter is wading into the contentious Georgia governor’s race with a personal appeal to Republican candidate Brian Kemp: Resign as secretary of state to avoid damaging public confidence in the outcome of his hotly contested matchup with Democrat Stacey Abrams. The 94-year-old Carter’s request, made in an Oct. 22 letter obtained by The Associated Press, is the latest turn in a campaign whose closing month is being defined by charges of attempted voter suppression and countercharges of attempted voter fraud. Kemp has thus far dismissed Democratic demands that he step aside as Georgia’s chief elections officer. But Carter attempted to approach the matter less as a partisan who has endorsed Abrams and more as the former president who’s spent the decades since he left the Oval Office monitoring elections around the world.”
Massachusetts: Elizabeth Warren* (D) 56% vs. Geoff Diehl (R) 34% - Boston Globe/Suffolk
Texas: Ted Cruz* (R) 51% vs. Beto O'Rourke (D) 46% - Quinnipiac University
CA-25: Stephen Knight* (R) 48% vs. Katie Hill (D) 44% - NYT
KS-02: Steve Watkins (R) 36% vs. Paul Davis (D) 39% - NYT
NC-09: Mark Harris (R) 45% vs. Dan McCready (D) 44% - NYT
PA-01: Brian Fitzpatrick* (R) 47% vs. Scott Wallace (D) 46% - NYT
VA-07: David Brat* (R) 45% vs. Abigail Spanberger (D) 46% - Christopher Newport University
Massachusetts: Charlie Baker* (R) 65% vs. Jay Gonzalez (D) 26% - Boston Globe/Suffolk
New Mexico: Steve Pearce (R) 44% vs. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) 53% - Greenberg Quinlan Rosner
Texas: Greg Abbott (R)* 54% vs. Lupe Valdez (D) 40% - Quinnipiac University
Jobs and earnings dominate the week ahead - Fox Business
President and first lady to visit Pittsburgh on Tuesday - USA Today
AUDIBLE: COME TOGETHER
“I condemn this shooting in Volusia County in the strongest possible terms, & urge anyone with information to share it with the authorities. I want supporters on all sides of this election to stay safe.” – Tweet from Florida Democratic gubernatorial nominee Andrew Gillum in response to news that someone had vandalized a country Republican campaign office over the weekend.
FROM THE BLEACHERS
“Bravo! Thank you for making it so simple. I am saving and sending [Friday’s note] to my grandchildren … to save and give to us something to contemplate whenever reach the point in our existence where we need to stop and think before we continue down a path of destruction that not only impacts our little life, but that of all humanity. We all need to ponder the words written so eloquently about the current state of our country perpetrated by all involved over such petty differences that we have to resort to such deviant behavior in the name of ‘the cause.’ Seldom is it offered to us the truth in such a clear voice.” – Tom Kyte, Seymour, Tenn.
[Ed. note: Thank you, Mr. Kyte! There’s high praise and then there’s grandpa-sends-it-in-the-mail high praise! I try to keep this note about politics and voters as much as possible. Others are better suited and situated than I am to write about our culture, especially when we’re so busy keeping up with the cascade of information about an election that’s now very nearly upon us. What I didn’t know when writing about our rotten politics on Friday was that the next morning would bring a new and even more devastating reminder that evil is real and will not be ignored. After a wonderful day with my sons out in the country, I belatedly got the news about what had happened at the Tree of Life Synagogue. I confess that tears flowed from my eyes as I sat alone in my parked car and read the accounts. Make no mistake: The terrorist’s actions were not the fault of any other person, but rather his alone. He pulled the trigger. He lost his way in the darkness. But if we understand that such men will always be tempted by the lure of that same darkness, are we not all obliged to bring light? Perhaps some of our brothers and sisters will be saved, and at the very least, we can bring support and comfort in a world where, no matter what, man will always inflict suffering on his fellow man? We will not long persist as a free people if we are not a virtuous people. It is up to each of us to work that out as best we can. But how long must we wait before Americans in one clear, strong voice demand leaders who reject division, dishonesty and cynicism? My heart is still broken over what I saw and read on Saturday and I pledged myself again to speak the truth in a spirit of love, to choose kindness over cruelty and choose hope over cynicism. I said that with the same words I offered at my own confirmation and at the baptisms of my sons: “With God’s help, I will.”]
Share your color commentary: Email us at HALFTIMEREPORT@FOXNEWS.COM and please make sure to include your name and hometown.
WAIT. WHO’S KISSING THEIR CHICKENS?
KUTV: “Despite some news reports, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention doesn't warn people against dressing up chickens for Halloween. The CDC stated … that despite news reports saying otherwise, people can dress up chickens in Halloween costumes. However, the public health institute does advise chicken owners to handle them carefully to keep their families and chickens safe and healthy. If you're handling any chickens during the spooky holiday, here are some tips: … Keep your chickens outside and never let them inside your home. Don't eat or drink in areas where the chickens live or roam. Don’t kiss or snuggle with your birds, and don't touch your face immediately afterward. Children under 5 years old should not be in contact with chickens - young children are more likely to get sick because of their developing immune systems, and more likely to put their fingers or pacifiers and other items in their mouths.”
AND NOW, A WORD FROM CHARLES…
“The cliché is that if you’ve infuriated both sides, it means you must be doing something right. Sometimes, however, it means you must be doing everything wrong.” – Charles Krauthammer (1950-2018) writing in the Washington Post on May 11, 2017.
Chris Stirewalt is the politics editor for Fox News. Brianna McClelland contributed to this report. Want FOX News Halftime Report in your inbox every day? Sign up here.