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MIDTERM MADNESS | WHAT TO WATCH TONIGHT - Midterm election cartoon

"Florida Man and Florida Woman are crushing this voting thing like it was a Natty Light can run over by a monster truck." - @jbwalker1

The biggest variable going into tonight may actually be the polling data itself. There are a range of factors to consider, including “a volatile electorate, a dearth of polling in key races, regional differences, an unprecedented spike in early voting, questions about demographics, and whether first time or irregular voters will show up at the polls.” Pollsters missed badly in 2016, and some Republicans are starting to make the argument that it’s very likely the polling will be wrong again.

Nate Silver, who is not a pollster, has been among the most accurate election prognosticators in recent years. On Sunday he offered the following while appearing on ABC’s “This Week”: “No one should be surprised if [Democrats] only win 19 seats and no one should be surprised if they win 51 seats. Those are both extremely possible, based on how accurate polls are in the real world.”

THE LATEST:

One of the principal unknowns going into any election is how many people will actually vote. The answer so far this year is that they are turning out in record numbers. In the House primaries, we saw 37 million voters show up at the polls, a 56% increase from 2014’s primaries. It was reported this morning that more than 36.4 million Americans have cast early ballots, eclipsing the 2014 early total of 28.3 million nationally and surpassing the 2014 early votes in at least 28 states. Some states are approaching their early turnout from the 2016 presidential election. In Texas, where early voting was described as “off the charts,” 4.9 million in-person or mail-in ballots have been cast.  This translates to 39.9% of registered voters, compared to 2 million early votes, or 18.8% of registered voters, in 2014. Youth turnout rates in the midterm early vote are up by 125% compared to 2014, according to Catalist, a voter database servicing  progressive organizations — “an eye-popping and historically high figure, say strategists on both the left and the right.”

As we mentioned in our note yesterday, of the nine special elections that occurred for Republican-held seats since the 2016 election, Republicans won eight. According to an NPR study, Trump carried all but two of these districts by 20+ points in 2016, but in those nine races, the average special election shift was 10 points toward the Democrats. If you applied that margin to all 435 congressional districts — using the 2016 presidential margins as a partisan baseline — Democrats would have a net pickup of 63 seats in 2018.

As a record number of voters continue to make their way to the polls, here’s what we’ll be watching once the first polling stations close on the East Coast:

VA-10 | Comstock (R) v. Wexton (D) – Comstock is the most vulnerable Republican incumbent on the map.  If Wexton doesn’t pull this one off in the Virginia suburbs of Washington DC where Clinton won by double digits, it’s a bad sign for Democrat’s chances for taking back the House. There a few other Virginia races to watch for early trends including:

VA-7 | Brat (R) v. Spanberger (D) – Brat is the incumbent in a +10 Republican district (formerly held by Majority Leader Eric Cantor) in the suburbs of Richmond. Should Spanberger turn this seat blue, Democrats are likely to have a very good night.

NJ-3 |  MacArthur (R) v. Kim (D) – A toss-up race in another seat held by Republicans that came onto the radar over the past few weeks with an influx of cash for the Democrats.  Another bad sign for Republicans if they can’t hold this one.

KY-6 | Barr (R) v. McGrath (D) – Aaaah, the political analysts’ favorite bellwether race.  Barr and challenger McGrath have been neck-in-neck for months in a district Trump won by 15 points.  Polls over the weekend have them tied.  Another very good sign for Democrats if McGrath can pick this one off.  Polls close in Kentucky at 6pm.

FL-27 | Shalala (D) v. Salazar (R) – Former Obama HHS Secretary Shalala has struggled to hold serve in this southern Florida district Clinton won by 19 points in 2016.  Salazar has been running ahead or even with Shalala.  A good pick up for Republicans if Salazar wins.

PA-1 | Fitzpatrick (R) v. Wallace (D) – We’ve been focused on Pennsylvania for months with redistricting in force and the opportunity for Democrats to pick up four or five seats with the new map in place.  Incumbent Fitzpatrick has positioned himself as a moderate in a key Philly suburb and has maintained a slight lead over challenger Wallace given Trump’s disapproval rating is ~54% in this district.  The suburbs of Philadelphia are key to the Democrats chances of a takeover.

Many more races to list here  (Iowa and Wisconsin come to mind), but watch for early signs in Virginia, Pennsylvania and New Jersey for trends that could signal how the rest of the night could go. Polls close in Georgia, Indiana, South Carolina and Virginia at 7pm. The next wave of numbers will begin coming in after 7:30 p.m. from North Carolina, Ohio and West Virginia. And a chunk of data will come after 8 p.m. and 9 p.m. when states such as Texas, New York, Michigan and Pennsylvania begin reporting. The 11 p.m. batch of states includes California followed by Alaska, where polls close when most (not all) of us will be fast asleep.

But wait... It may not be over tonight.  Yes, you heard that right.  There are seven very close races in California where approximately half of all voters in the Golden State choose to vote-by-mail.  Those ballots have to be postmarked by or on  Election day allowing for three days to arrive in election offices. Even though Republicans are heavily favored, there could be a runoff for a Senate seat in Mississippi – and that would be held on November 27.  Louisiana has a multitude of candidates running for each of the six House seats (no primaries) – that runoff would be held on December 8.  And, in the highly publicized race for Governor in Georgia where a third-party Libertarian candidate is in the mix - if no candidate reaches 50% -  a runoff will be held on December 10.

We miscalculated the number of days until Election Day 2020 (November 3) yesterday as a keen political observer pointed out to us.  We added two years (730 days).  Wishful thinking perhaps after this season's madness. There are actually only 727 days left…