Sure looks as if it’s going to be a Republican night.
Polling, history and lots of anecdotal evidence are on the Republicans’ side as voters go to the polls Tuesday. A president’s party usually loses congressional seats in his sixth year. The latest averages of new polls show Republicans ahead in seven of the country’s 10 tight Senate races. And surveys show Republicans far more enthusiastic and engaged.
Turnout is expected to be low even by depressed midterm election standards. That’s generally bad news for Democrats, who are struggling to get their most loyal constituencies, notably blacks, Hispanics and unmarried women, to the polls.
“Like most midterms, the 2014 election is a backlash against the party that holds the White House. The president is unpopular, and his party pays the price,” said Kyle Kondik, managing editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball, a nonpartisan political website.
Tuesday’s biggest prize is control of the U.S. Senate, where 36 seats are at stake, 21 of them now held by Democrats. Republicans need a net gain of six for a majority, a goal well within range, though the outcome might not be clear for weeks.
If no one gets a majority in Louisiana or Georgia, which polls say is likely, the top two finishers in each would vie in runoffs. Republicans might need to defeat Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., on Dec. 6 to get to six. They also would need to hold Georgia a month later.
Republicans are more secure in the House of Representatives. The party has a 34-seat edge , a margin that’s likely to grow.
The least predictable races involve governors. Thirty-six statehouses are up, 22 held by Republicans and 14 by Democrats. At least eight Republicans and four Democrats are vulnerable. Also in play are open seats in Massachusetts, Arkansas, Arizona and possibly Hawaii, Maryland and Rhode Island.
Tuesday’s results could take two paths. One would be a kind of wave that develops for one party. Three of the past five midterm elections were waves, as voters elected dozens of new congressional Republicans in 1994 and 2010 and Democrats in 2006.
The more likely scenario is a mixed result that boosts Republicans but barely alters the status quo. Should Republicans gain only a slight Senate edge or Democrats maintain Senate control, the parties probably will spend the next two years engaging in more partisan squabbling and gridlock.
Tuesday’s votes are hard to predict, largely because voters are so disgusted with most incumbents, regardless of party.
“Candidates are not offering voters much of a positive agenda to move us forward. It’s tough to mobilize voters,” said Susan Carroll, a senior scholar at the Center for American Women and Politics at New Jersey’s Eagleton Institute of Politics.
Here’s how to follow Tuesday’s results:
▪ Is there a Republican wave starting? Watch New Hampshire, North Carolina and Georgia, three of the earliest poll closings.
In New Hampshire, Democrats until very recently thought Sen. Jeanne Shaheen was safe. But the latest University of New Hampshire Survey Center poll had her in a virtual tie with former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown, the Republican. A Brown win would be the first GOP pickup of the night and a bitter loss for the Democrats.
In North Carolina, Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan has been slightly ahead of Republican Thom Tillis. Should she lose, it would suggest that close races were breaking for the Republicans.
And in Georgia, Republican David Perdue was fighting to hold a GOP seat — without a runoff — against a challenge from Democrat Michelle Nunn, who was gaining.
▪ A big wave? Check Maryland and Connecticut, two reliable Democratic states. If the party’s gubernatorial candidates face trouble, that’s a strong clue Republicans are in for a huge night. A win by Connecticut Republican Tom Foley in the governor’s race would be notably galling to President Barack Obama, who campaigned Sunday for Democrat Dannel Malloy.
▪ Who’s showing up to vote? Keep an eye on black voter turnout in the South and Hispanic turnout in the Northeast and Colorado. If it’s way down from 2012 levels, Democrats are in trouble.
▪ Five states whose polls start closing at 8:30 p.m. — Kansas, Colorado, Iowa, Arkansas and Louisiana — could determine Senate control. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said last week that a win by Republican Joni Ernst in Iowa would give that party Senate control. All five races could be tight, with results not clear Tuesday night.
Will voters throw incumbent governors out? There’s a long list of vulnerable Republicans, notably Wisconsin’s Scott Walker, Michigan’s Rick Snyder and Kansas’ Sam Brownback, as well as Democrats Pat Quinn of Illinois and John Hickenlooper of Colorado. All are in jeopardy; if all or most fall, the story line becomes a voter rejection of incumbents, regardless of party.
▪ Can Democrats cut into the big Republican House majority? Democrats hold most of the competitive seats, and three Arizona races will provide strong hints about the party’s fate. Watch the races involving Reps. Ron Barber, Kyrsten Sinema and Ann Kirkpatrick, all Democrats. Sinema and Kirkpatrick won last time with 49 percent. Barber barely won, and only after it took 12 days to count all the votes.
▪ Personalities. Midwestern voters like their politicians plainspoken, free of Washington-speak. Wave or no wave, that could mean trouble for Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts, Colorado Sen. Mark Udall and Iowa Rep. Bruce Braley. They all have personable Senate opponents who relate easily to voters: Ernst, Kansas’ Greg Orman and Colorado’s Cory Gardner.
▪ Senate control could come down to Alaska, a state notoriously hard to forecast thanks to its independent and largely rural nature. Because many cities are so remote, it’s even hard to predict when the count in the battle between Sen. Mark Begich, a Democrat, and Republican Dan Sullivan will be final.
▪ Middle-of-the-night stunners? An upset in the Oregon Senate race? Minnesota? Five tossup House seats in California, now held by Democrats, all going Republican, even as Democrats sweep statewide offices? Could a Republican become governor of Hawaii?