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5 weeks out, Trump optimistic about GOP election chances

Published: Tuesday, October 02, 2018 @ 12:00 AM

With Republicans playing defense in a number of races in Congress, President Donald Trump on Monday sounded a note of optimism about GOP chances to hold control of the U.S. House and Senate, saying he believes his party's candidates will be rewarded at the ballot box for an improving national economy.

"I think we're going to do well, although history is not on our side," the President told reporters in the White House Rose Garden, referring to losses which normally hit the party of the President in a mid-term election, with 1994 and 2010 prime examples of those major swings in Congress.

"Generally whoever holds the White House doesn't do well in the mid-terms, but the difference is that we have the greatest economy in the history of our country," the President said.

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Where do we stand five weeks from Election Day?

1. The President tries to stoke GOP turnout. With campaign rallies this week in four states - Tennessee, Mississippi, Minnesota and Kansas, President Trump is doing his best to get Republicans to turn out in November. The problem for the GOP has been obvious in a series of special elections over the past year - Democrats are turning out in higher numbers, while some Republican voters are taking a pass. Mr. Trump is trying to argue that voters should just imagine that he is on the ballot, because if the Republicans lose control of either the House or Senate - or both - then life will be much different for the President in 2019. That message was being sent out last night by Fox News in Tennessee.

2. It's not all bad news for Republicans. Before we get down into the numbers in the House and Senate, there is polling which shows some bright spots in certain races for the GOP. Republicans hope they can defeat Sen. Heidi Heitkamp in North Dakota. A new poll out on Monday showed Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) continues to be one of the most endangered Democrats running for re-election, and the campaign arm of Senate Republicans was busy sending out that Garden State message.

3. Some evidence of ticket splitting. New Jersey is a good example of polling that shows voters maybe thinking about splitting their ballots. While Menendez might be in trouble for his re-election bid, a series of polls in House races in New Jersey have had very good news for Democrats, as a series of GOP seats in New Jersey seem to be in jeopardy for Republicans. There's also been polling evidence of Democrats doing better in races for Senate in Ohio and Tennessee, while Republicans have the edge in those same states in races for Governor. Ohio might be the best example, where Sen. Sherrod Brown was a big target for the GOP - but right now, he seems to be in very good shape for November.

4. What about voter enthusiasm? Every election is about turnout, but it's also about the underlying energy which spurs that turnout. Democratic strategists and pollsters believe they have the edge in that category, no matter numbers which show some recent gains for the GOP. In five weeks, everything might seem a lot clearer when the numbers roll in on Election Night. For now, Democrats have a lot of high hopes for wins in the House and Senate. Here's their take.

5. Can Democrats really win the Senate? The answer is, of course Democrats can win the Senate. But will they? That's a different kind of question. Sometimes what happens near Election Day is that a series of tight races all seem to fall the right way for one party. My father always talks about how that happened in 1958, in favor of Democrats. We saw it happen in 1980 for the Republicans in the Senate. If there is a "Blue Wave," that would tend to help push a few races over the top - but if the President can find a few states to interrupt that type of momentum, it might be the key to keeping the Senate in GOP hands. Right now it's 51-49, the barest of majorities - but Democrats need to have a lot of races go their way. One of those is in Nevada, where a new poll showed GOP Sen. Dean Heller trailing.

6. Can Republicans hold on to the House? Of course the GOP can stay in power - but there sure are an awful lot of Republican seats which are toss ups right now. A quick look at the Real Clear Politics rundown on the U.S. House shows you all you need to know at this point. Just look at the graphic below, and you see how many "Red" House seats are in the toss up category - 38 Republican and 2 Democratic. That's all you need to know. 38 GOP toss ups. 2 Democratic toss ups. That immediately tells you that Republicans are on the defensive. But, being on the defensive five weeks before Election Day doesn't mean you lose all those seats. Voters tend to "come home" to their party as Election Day nears, making the judgment of independents all the more important in a year like 2018.

7. Why should you believe the polls? The President argued on Monday that he doesn't believe some polls which show Republicans behind in certain races. And actually, that could be an issue for the GOP in some areas, where people think the polls showing tough times for Republicans are 'fake news.' "I see polls that I know are false, having to do with certain of the races," the President said in the White House Rose Garden. The experts who closely follow House and Senate elections definitely see an edge to the Democrats in the House, and maybe an edge to the GOP in the Senate. But in the House, there are growing warning signs where the GOP is deciding not to spend money to help certain incumbent lawmakers. That is never a good signal, especially at the start of October.

The current make up of the House is 240 Republicans to 195 Democrats (that includes the 6 vacant House seats, assigning them the party of the person who most recently held the seat).

Those numbers mean Democrats need to win a net gain of 23 seats to get to 218 and a majority in the House. Republicans can lose one seat in the Senate, and still maintain a majority, with the tie-breaking vote of the Vice President.

Five weeks to go.

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