Decision Day 2014 is here, and so the vote counting finally begins in the longest, most expensive, and most talked-about midterm election cycle in our history. (And it’s likely to get longer and more expensive with possible runoffs in Louisiana and Georgia.) We already know it’s going to be a good night for Republicans, but a great night would be capturing control of the U.S. Senate and making gains in the blue and purple battleground states. And guess what: We’ll have a good idea early in the evening of how Election Night is going to break. The two states to watch — North Carolina (where final polling places close at 7:30 pm ET) and New Hampshire (where they close at 8:00 pm ET). Every scenario of Democrats holding on to the Senate assumes they win those two states. If we’re able to put those two in the Democratic column, then we’re going to have to wait for Alaska, especially if Georgia goes to a runoff. But if Republicans win one or both of North Carolina and New Hampshire, then Katy bar the door. It’s going to be an ugly night for Democrats. Here is the list of our other states to watch by final poll-closing time.
New Hampshire, the biggest state bellwether over the past decade
Indeed, if any state has been a bellwether of the nation’s political mood over the past decade, it’s been New Hampshire. Consider: Democrat Jeanne Shaheen lost the state’s Senate contest in the pro-GOP year of 2002; Democrats swept the state in 2006 and 2008; Republicans made gains there in 2010; and Democrats won them back in 2012. The only exception here was in 2004, when John Kerry (who was from neighboring Massachusetts) won New Hampshire, despite the GOP’s narrow wins that year. So for Democrats to have a good night, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Gov. Maggie Hassan (D) are going to need to buck history.
There is a final reason to pay attention to New Hampshire and North Carolina tonight; they’re two of four presidential battleground states — Colorado and Iowa being the others — that feature a top Senate contest. For Republicans to have an Election Night that has the potential to be somewhat transformational for their brand, they need to win three of these four races. That would suggest that they’ve gotten back into the game in these states. (Republicans, after all, haven’t had statewide success in Colorado in a decade!) But Democratic wins in three of these four states would signal that Republicans still have issues here. If they can’t win Colorado, North Carolina, etc. in THIS midterm environment with the GOOD candidates they have, then they have A LOT of work to do come 2016. But there is another thing to keep in mind about 2016: Six-Year Itch elections often foreshadow the next presidential contest. The Dem gains in 1958 foretold JFK’s narrow presidential win two years later; the 1974 midterms (after Watergate) helped predict 1976; and the Democrats’ big victory in 2006 foreshadowed 2008. Even the surprising Dem gains in 1998 said something about the essentially tied 2000 presidential race. The one big exception here is 1986-1988, when Democrats picked up several Senate seats in Reagan’s Six-Year Itch midterm, but George H.W. Bush won the White House two years later. Democrats are comforting themselves this morning by the fact that Hillary seems so strong for ’16. But history tells us these Six-Year Itch elections may be more important than Democrats will have you believe.
Democrats’ feast or famine in the Obama Era
There has been so much attention on President Obama’s role in this midterm cycle with his low 42% approval rate — and deservedly so. The political science shows that midterms say a lot about perceptions of the man in the Oval Office. But here’s a bigger point about Obama and his role in this election: He’s either been a feast for Democrats (in presidential years when his name is on the ballot), or he’s been a famine (in midterm years when his name isn’t on the ballot but it’s in plenty of Democratic ads). Consider these numbers:
• 2008: Democrats WON the White House, picked up eight Senate seats and 21 House seats.
• 2010: Democrats LOST 63 House seats and six Senate seats
• 2012: Democrats WON the White House, picked up two Senate seats and eight House seats
• 2014: Democrats are expected to lose between 5-10 Senate seats and double-digit House seats
National Journal’s Ron Brownstein has a good explanation why there’s been this feast or famine for Democrats in the Obama Era: young voters. “The modern Democratic coalition is a boom-and-bust coalition that depends heavily on minorities and young people who turn out much less regularly in midterm than presidential elections,” he writes. “Older voters, who are trending steadily toward the GOP, vote much more reliably. Beyond any short-term factors, this is creating a structural disadvantage for Democrats in off-year elections.” Indeed, voters 18-29 made up 12% of the electorate in 2010 (but 19% in 2012), while seniors were at 21% in 2010 (but 16% in 2012).
Data Killed the Political Star
On this Election Day, don’t miss David Brooks’ column about how politicians have become worse due to all the data out there. “Over the past decade or so, political campaigns have become more scientific. Campaign consultants use sophisticated data to micro-target specific demographic slices. Consultants select their ad buys more precisely because they know which political niche is watching which TV show. Campaigns trial test messages that push psychological buttons… As politics has gotten more scientific, the campaigns have gotten worse, especially for the candidates who over-rely on these techniques.” We have no idea if Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO) will win or lose in Colorado. But if loses, many are going to question why his campaign seemed to be all about female turnout (all of those abortion/contraception ads!) and not why he was the best candidate to represent Colorado.
Some of the FIRSTS we’re likely to see
Later today, we’ll publish a story on all of the other storylines to watch today. But here is a preview of some of the FIRSTS we could see tonight:
• Iowa’s first woman to Congress (Republican Joni Ernst and/or Democrat Staci Appel)
• West Virginia’s first female senator (Republican Shelley Moore Capito or Democrat Natalie Tennant)
• South Carolina’s first ELECTED African-American senator (Republican Tim Scott)
• Congress’ first black female Republican ever (Utah’s Mia Love)
• Congress’ first “American Idol” finalist — well, not so fast. Clay Aiken, once again, is likely to be the runner-up in his North Carolina congressional race.
The final ad-spending numbers
Lastly, here are the final general-election ad-spending numbers in the Top 10 Senate races, per the Republican ad-buying firm Smart Media Group. With just one exception (North Carolina), Republicans outspent the Democrats in these races.
GOP: $15.7 million
Dem: $13 million
Total: $28.7 million
GOP: $22.9 million
Dem: $17.2 million
Total: $40.1 million
GOP: $35.7 million
Dem: $27.4 million
Total: $63.1 million
GOP: $14.3 million
Dem: $13.5 million
Total: $27.8 million
GOP: $30 million
Dem: $28.1 million
Total: $58.1 million
GOP: $9.1 million
Dem/Indie: $8.3 million
Total: $17.4 million
GOP: $25.3 million
Dem: $16.7 million
Total: $42.0 million
GOP: $23.4 million
Dem: $21.2 million
Total: $44.6 million
GOP: $14 million
Dem: $12.3 million
Total: $26.3 million
Dem: $40.6 million
GOP: $39.9 million
Total: $80.5 million
Total Republican spending: $230.4 million
Total Democratic spending: $198.4 million
Total spending combined: $428.8 million