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Falling Into Place: Our Obligatory Post-Labor Day Election Forecast

This is what we’ve been waiting for. Summer may not officially over just yet, but Labor Day generally marks the spot when the summer vacations end, Halloween sales begin, and voters suddenly begin to think more about that pesky election coming up. So to mark the occasion, I’m bringing you a fresh forecast of what we can expect in these final two months of the midterm campaign.

So who’s seeing red, and who’s feeling the blues? Here’s the rundown of the current state of play as the 2018 Election enters its homestretch.

NV-Sen: Same as it ever was
Photo by Andrew Davey

We’ve had all summer to endure the ugliest TV ads, the toughest field programs, and perhaps the silliest of “silly season” hijinks. And yet, despite all that, the Senate race remains close, with a small yet stable lead in the polling average for Rep. Jacky Rosen (D).

With just two months left until Election Day, U.S. Senator Dean Heller (R) has very little time to turn this around. He’s been running the kind of “culture warrior” campaign that makes President Donald Trump proud, but that always seemed like a very strange strategy to use in a swing state that Trump lost in 2016. I know Heller hasn’t ever lost a race thus far, but there’s a first time for everything. I’m keeping the Senate race as Leans Democratic, as the combination of the national environment and Heller’s self-inflicted political wounds might be too much for him to overcome.

NV-03/NV-04: Tale of triage
Photo by Gage Skidmore, licensed under Creative Commons, and made available by Wikimedia

Last week, we learned that the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC, or Congressional Republicans’ campaign arm) is cutting 3rd Congressional District (NV-03) candidate Danny Tarkanian (R) loose by redirecting its reserved Las Vegas TV ad time from him to former Rep. Cresent Hardy (R-Bunkerville) in the neighboring 4th Congressional District (NV-04) instead. Though I was already suspecting perennial candidate Danny Tarkanian was on track to lose yet another election, he has somehow managed to fall even further as his attempted damaged control over his real estate woes and telemarketing scams has only made matters worse. Perhaps the revelation of Tarkanian’s ties to a racist, conspiracy-heavy Facebook group provided the NRCC further cover to make this decision, though Tarkanian’s extensive history of “dog whistling” made this latest news feel a bit anticlimactic. For these reasons, I’m moving NV-03 from Leans Democratic to Likely Democratic, as Tarkanian’s path to victory over Susie Lee (D) is narrowing even further.

On the flip side, this news of the NRCC redirecting resources to Cresent Hardy should be great news for Nevada Republicans. However, I’m not buying it. Yes, they recently coughed up an internal poll showing a tie between Hardy and former Rep. Steven Horsford (D-North Las Vegas), but Horsford responded with his own internal poll showing him with a 10% lead. I’m suspicious of both internals, but I’ve previously noted other data points suggesting a clear advantage for Horsford, so I’m keeping NV-04 as Likely Democratic unless and until I see harder proof that this is a closer race.

Oh, and one more thing: The national landscape still strongly favors Democrats. Just over the weekend, The Washington Post and ABC News released a new national poll showing Democrats opening a 14% national lead in the generic Congressional ballot. Though their numbers seem wildly optimistic for Democrats, they’re not that far away from other high-quality polls showing solid leads for Democrats. If Tarkanian and Hardy couldn’t win in the more neutral 2016 environment, I’m incredibly doubtful that either can win amidst this growing “Blue Wave” of 2018.  

NV-Gov and Other Statewide Races: (Mostly) Too close for comfort, but I still see blue people
Photo by Andrew Davey

Perhaps I overshot in May and June. Polling done since the primary has shown an extremely close race in the Gubernatorial race (NV-Gov), with ever the slightest of edges to Adam Laxalt (R). For this reason I’m shifting the race towards Republicans, but I’m only bumping it down to Toss-up/Tilt Democratic. Laxalt has had the advantage of having TV ad time mostly to himself and allies for most of the summer, but that’s changing with Steve Sisolak (D) beefing up his fall ad reservations. And though Sisolak is still paying the price for his scorched-earth primary against Chris Giunchigliani (D), an endorsement from former President Barack Obama will probably help mitigate at least some of simmering tensions among Nevada Democrats.

As for the other statewide races, I’m keeping them where they are for now. Despite Sisolak’s summer struggle, that hiccup didn’t seem to trickle down to the other statewide candidates. Attorney General hopeful Aaron Ford (D) has had to fight back against a hypocritical, racist attack from national Republicans, but he may ultimately weather this storm. Right now, I expect Democrats to undo their 2014 wipeout and finish 2018 with at least three of the six state constitutional offices.

And finally there’s this: The ground game has changed (again). Much had been said about Nevada Democrats’ vaunted “Reid Machine”, until it fell into disrepair and got washed away by Republicans’ “Great Red Tide” of 2014. Republicans then talked up their field operation in 2016, only for Democrats to win back most of they lost the previous cycle despite Donald Trump boosting Republicans to victory in other swing states. Republicans are again talking up their ground game to get out the pro-Trump vote this fall, but keep in mind that counting attempted calls and door knocks (that did not result in actual conversations with voters) dilutes the potency of their “record 1,000,000 voter contacts!” hype. And since I’ve heard from reliable sources that these canvassing operations are not as robust as they’re portrayed in the media, it seems like Nevada Republicans may be returning to the bad old days of “dysfunction junction” that we witnessed early this decade.

If this dynamic holds in these final two months, we might be surprised (or not) by Nevada Democrats’ success up and down the ballot. Keep an eye on this as we enjoy the beginning of the end of the 2018 election cycle (and the middle of the beginning of 2020).

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