Aiken Standard, Monday, January 11, 2016
With the November elections ten months away, the situation is fluid and predictions are hazardous.
But the outlines of what may occur – however dim – are faintly visible if two key assumptions hold true: First, the fundamentals approach towards the Presidential election is valid. And second, down-ballot results will generally mirror the Presidential results due to polarization within the electorate.
Based on an analysis of the fundamentals, including Alan Abramowitz’s “Time for Change” model, we should know by mid-summer which party will win the White House.
If second quarter economic growth is running at 3 percent to 4 percent, and President Obama’s net popularity (approval minus disapproval) is plus 5 to 10 percent, then the Democratic candidate will win.
But if the economy is sputtering at 1 percent to 2 percent growth (or worse), and Obama’s popularity is hovering in the net minus 5 to 10 percent range, then a Republican victory is likely.
Only if the fundamentals fall between these ranges will the race come down to the wire.
This assumes nothing regarding the identity of the major party nominees. While pundits agonize over the ins and outs of a Donald Trump versus Hillary Clinton matchup, every potential nominee brings unique baggage and opportunities to the contest.
The Republican nomination is currently Trump’s to lose. If he romps through Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, then he’ll be nearly unstoppable.
If Ted Cruz wins Iowa, however, then the race will open up. Cruz, Marco Rubio and Ben Carson could break out, and those in the single-digit pack may gain fleeting opportunities.
The Democratic nomination is simpler. Bernie Sanders must upset Clinton in Iowa and crush her in New Hampshire to threaten her coronation.
South Carolina, however, is her electoral firewall. The race will become wide open if she manages to lose here.
The fight will be entertaining, and while Sanders could theoretically win, the smart money remains on Clinton.
The battle for the control of Congress contains risks and opportunities for both parties.
The Republican’s 55-to-45 majority in the U.S. Senate is vulnerable. They’re defending several seats in states that have otherwise voted Democratic in the last three Presidential elections.
This is a key consideration because in 2004, 2008 and 2012 Senatorial elections have correlated roughly 80 percent of the time with the party winning each state’s Presidential vote.
The most vulnerable Republicans are Mark Kirk (Illinois), Ron Johnson (Wisconsin), Kelly Ayotte (New Hampshire) and Pat Toomey (Pennsylvania). Republicans have long shot hopes for compensating Senatorial pickups in Colorado and Nevada.
To win the Presidency, Republicans must carry some combination of blue states including Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and New Hampshire. If they do, then they have reasonable chances to retain those state’s Senate seats. Control of the Senate will hinge on the nationwide Presidential results.
Democrats have little hope, however, of reversing the Republicans’ 247-to-188 margin in the House of Representatives.
There are simply too few flippable seats within the polarized political environment. In 2012, a mere 26 House seats were won by candidates differing from the party carrying their district’s Presidential vote.
A Democratic Presidential win will reduce, but not eliminate, the Republican margin. Likewise, electing a Republican President will increase their existing margin by a few seats.
Among the 12 governorships facing election, eight are held by Democrats and four by Republicans. Few of these will change hands, though the fundamentals present Republicans with pickup opportunities in Missouri and West Virginia.
In the South Carolina House and Senate, Republicans hold majorities of 28-to-18 and 78-to-46, respectively. Given the fundamentals within the state, coupled with Democratic strength in minority-majority districts, only marginal changes will occur.
In Aiken County, the Republicans will contest the County Council District 3 seat (currently held by LaWana McKenzie), the Clerk of Court (Liz Godard), and the Probate Judge (Sue Roe). The Democrats occupying these offices are resilient and experienced incumbents, survivors within an increasingly Republican county.
The fundamentals boost Republicans chances, as will the announced retirements of Godard and McKenzie. In Aiken County, the Republican “brand” is a major asset in open, down ballot races.
If Republicans recruit credible candidates and pull off this trifecta, Democrats will be reduced to their minority-majority district strongholds.
Can local Democrats hold onto these three offices? Will they can take the fight into Republican territory come November? Expect some local drama in this year’s elections.
Is this crystal ball on target? Or will it roll of the table and crack? We’ll know either way on November 8.