Where The Battle For Congress Stands Two Weeks From Election Day

Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call Group

Happy two weeks from the election! We’re in the home stretch of the campaign. The last few weeks have seen a notable uptick in GOP enthusiasm that’s made the Senate map much tougher for Democrats, and limited their margin for error as they seek a House majority.

There are a ton of margin-of-error races right now across the map, giving either party a real chance at a very big election night with even a minor change in the national mood in the next two weeks (or a minor shift in the electorate from what pollsters are expecting).

If Democrats retake the House and pick up a number of governorships while fighting to a draw in the Senate, that still should be considered a major wave election given the major structural disadvantages they’re dealing with in both the Senate and House maps.

But the combination of the Brett Kavanaugh hearings, President Trump and the GOP’s hard turn into polarizing culture war messaging, a slight uptick in Trump’s approval rating and the normal phenomena of voters coming home to the party they normally back has complicated Democrats’ hopes for a midterm bonanza.

Here’s a quick rundown of where we stand with 14 days until the big night. For the governor’s races, where Democrats have the most pickup opportunities, Prime subscribers can click here.

BATTLE FOR THE HOUSE

Strategists in both parties agree that Democrats still have the edge in the fight for the lower chamber, though Republicans feel less dead in the water than they did last month. As the campaign has become increasingly polarized and driven by base politics, some of the redder districts Democrats have been targeting look increasingly out of reach — but they’re seeing some new opportunities in suburban districts the GOP felt good about just weeks ago.

This trend has made Democrats’ hopes to take out underwhelming GOP incumbents in some districts Trump comfortably won significantly harder, and likely has limited the upper bound of a wave election — though it hasn’t dramatically changed the likelihood of the House flipping.

For much of the summer, Democrats appeared to have a strong chance to defeat Reps. Andy Barr (R-KY), Steve Chabot (R-OH) and Mike Bost (R-IL), and hold onto a GOP-leaning open seat in Minnesota’s Iron Range. All four now appear to be likely to go Republican. Rep. Rod Blum (R-IA), left for dead a few weeks ago, has seen an uptick in his numbers that’s brought spending back in from both sides, though he’s still more likely than not to lose.

But Republicans’ position in suburban territory that Trump lost or barely won has continued to erode. Reps. Mike Coffman (R-CO), Kevin Yoder (R-KS), Erik Paulsen (R-MN),  Keith Rothfus (R-PA) and Barbara Comstock (R-VA) all look like dead men (and woman) running, and Democrats are feeling very bullish about defeating Reps. Peter Roskam (R-IL) and Jason Lewis (R-MN) as well. Those seats combined with eight open House seats in suburban territory that are leaning Democrats’ way get them to roughly 15 of the 23 seats they need to net for House control.

And a number of other House seats, most in more suburban territory, that appeared tougher nuts to crack over the summer and early fall are looking better for Democrats.

Reps. Jeff Denham (R-CA), Steve Knight (R-CA), Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), Mimi Walters (R-CA), Carlos Curbelo (R-FL), Mike Bishop (R-MI), Bruce Poliquin (R-ME), Leonard Lance (R-NJ), John Faso (R-NY), Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), John Culberson (R-TX), Pete Sessions (R-TX), Mia Love (R-UT), Scott Taylor (R-VA) and Dave Brat (R-VA) have all been tied or slightly behind in recent public and private polling. Democrats think they have the edge in winning a trio of open GOP-held seats in Kansas, Washington and Michigan, and think they’ll grind out a win in the Democratic-leaning districts of retiring Reps. Ed Royce (R-CA) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) in spite of candidate issues those places.

Almost all of these races are margin-of-error contests, according to strategists in both parties, and Republicans think at least half these Republicans have even or better chances of coming back. But Democrats feel bullish about almost all these contests. And some, like Curbelo, Fitzpatrick, and Walters, are incumbents Republicans felt much more confident about just weeks ago.

If Democrats win most of these seats, they’re close to the majority. And there are more than a dozen other races where they think they’re trailing within the margin of error and hope to pick off a few, including Reps. David Young (R-IA), Tom MacArthur (R-NJ), John Katko (R-NY), Claudia Tenney (R-NY) and Scott Perry (R-PA) and open seats in central Florida and southern New Mexico.

Most strategists on both sides think the range of Democratic pickups is between 20 and 40 seats — a range that could lead to Democratic heartbreak as Republicans maintain their House majority on election night, or a Democratic romp across the map. Most races tend to break the same way on election night, so even minor changes in the national mood or overall polling could swing this dramatically.

BATTLE FOR THE SENATE

While Democrats continue to feel good about the House, Republicans are increasingly bullish about the upper chamber, as an increasingly polarized environment and growing GOP base enthusiasm has made voters in red states where the Senate fight is being conducted start behaving a bit more like one would expect in a normal campaign year.

While the general range of outcomes from the beginning of the cycle has been anywhere from Democrats netting the three seats for the Senate majority to Republicans picking up four seats, the upper bound of that result for Democrats looks less likely than it did a few weeks ago, and Republicans are increasingly bullish about winning at least one or two seats.

Strategists in both parties agree that Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) is all but cooked. Republicans are also increasingly gleeful about — and Democrats are increasingly worried about — Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO). Strategists on both sides think she narrowly trails Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley (R), and while Democrats think she still has time to turn things around and think she’s bounced back some from weaker standing post-Kavanaugh, Republicans think the race may be all but done. Generally, if an incumbent trails narrowly at this point in the campaign it’s hard to come back, especially if that incumbent’s party is the minority in their state.

Democrats still think they’re going to pick up a pair of seats out west, though they’re feeling less confident about those races than they did a month ago. Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV) hasn’t gone away, and while strategists think public polls showing him opening up a lead aren’t right, both sides still see a path to victory there. Rep. Martha McSally (R-AZ) has landed some tough blows on Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) in recent weeks as well, getting the Republican back in the game after a tough GOP primary. Public polls have shown a tightening race there as well, though Democrats feel better than Republicans on the whole about winning the race.

Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-IN) has also seen his race tighten up in the last month, and strategists in both parties think his contest against businessman Mike Braun (R) might be the closest in the country right now. Both parties express cautious optimism there.

In Florida, Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) has led Gov. Rick Scott (R) in most recent public polling. Strategists on both sides think this is much closer than public polls suggest and is going to come down to the wire, but Democrats have felt more confident about the race for weeks now.

Tennessee is still competitive as well, but Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) appears to have the edge over former Gov. Phil Bredesen (D). She’s led in more recent public polls and strategists in both parties think she’s likely to hang on to win. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) has led Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-TX) by four to seven points in most recent public and private polls, likely putting that race out of reach for Democrats. And strategists say Sen. Jon Tester’s (D-MT) race has tightened as well in the last month, though most agree he still has an edge.

If Democrats win in Arizona and Nevada, Republicans pick up seats in North Dakota and Missouri and Democrats hold onto the rest of their seats, that leaves the GOP with the same 51-49 margin it currently holds. That could grow to a three-seat pickup and 54 seats if things break the GOP’s way in Indiana, Florida and Montana. If Democrats can hang onto those three seats as well as Indiana and Missouri and pull off an upset in Tennessee or a bigger upset in Texas, they could manage the barest of majorities — but that’s looking much less likely than it did in September.

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