Let’s start with predictions, based on available data and my own intuition: 

  • Democrats will net forty (or so) congressional seats and reclaim the House. In North Carolina, congressional districts 2 and 9 will flip, sending Linda Coleman and Dan McReady to Congress, while Ted Budd will hold District 13. 
  • Republicans will hold the Senate with a 51–49 majority. North Dakota (blue to red) and Arizona (red to blue) will flip. 
  • Anita Earls will be elected to the N.C. Supreme Court with 46 percent of the vote; incumbent Republican Barbara Jackson will place second with 36 percent, and “Republican” challenger Chris Anglin will siphon off just enough GOP votes to give Earls the win—which, let’s face it, was the entire point. 
  • Democrats will break the GOP supermajorities in both chambers, netting eight seats in the House and six in the Senate.
  • In the House, Dems easily win districts 61, 8, and 25—thanks to the special master’s redrawing of gerrymanders—as well as 35, 36, and 37 in Wake County and 98 and 105 in Mecklenburg; roughly half a dozen other GOP-held districts are in striking distance, so if things break decisively Democrats’ way, a dozen-seat gain—which would give the GOP a 63–57 advantage—isn’t out of the question. (A blue tsunami could put a few more seats up for grabs, imperiling the Republican majority, but this strikes me as wishful thinking.) 
  • In the Senate, Dems will flip districts 15, 41, 19, 9, 27, and 17. (Mack Paul will fall just a hair short in 18.) The Republicans will have a 29–21 majority next year. 
  • The amendments dealing with hunting and fishing, victims’ rights, and the state income tax will pass with more than 60 percent of the vote. The voter ID amendment will pass with 55 percent (and soon be struck down by a federal judge). The judicial appointments and elections board amendments will fail. 
  • Democrats will continue to dominate the Wake County Board of Commissioners, with the incumbents and the two Democrats who defeated incumbents in the primary winning easily. Don Mial, Shaun Pollenz, Jim Martin, and Lindsay Mahaffey will win their respective races. All three bond referenda will pass with more than 55 percent of the vote. Lorrin Freeman will remain district attorney. Republican sheriff Donnie Harrison and clerk of court Jennifer Knox will lose their re-election bids. 

Feel free tomorrow to tell me how spectacularly wrong I am, either in the comments or on Twitter (@jeffreybillman). 

By way of context, I spent most of this election cycle relatively bearish on Democrats’ chances. Trump’s approval rating is in the low forties, sure, but the economy is doing well and we’re not at war, which, in normal circumstances, would be enough for Republicans to forestall a wipeout, even though the party in power typically loses seats during a midterm. Add to that the fact that Democratic voters have tended not to turn out during midterms, while Republican voters always do, and the wall of gerrymanders and a rough Senate map the Dems are facing, and the blue wave has seemed like anything but a foregone conclusion. So I assumed Democrats nationally would pick up a healthy number of congressional seats—though maybe not the twenty-three they need to reclaim the House—and that N.C. Dems would likely break the supermajority in the legislature, though they wouldn’t come particularly close to claiming an outright majority, and on Wednesday morning, we’d wake up to all manner punditry about how Democrats blew it. 

That could happen, of course. But over the last week, my skepticism about the Dems’ chances has waned, based on the massive early-voting turnout, indications that young people are actually showing up, and an almost nine-point generic ballot advantage for Democrats—not to mention hints that late deciders are breaking Democrats’ way, just as late deciders broke toward Trump two years ago. 

Democrats gained by more than 3 pts in our final polls over our initial ones, and this individual-level analysis indicates that’s not merely because of identifiable changes in the composition of the sample, like more Dems https://t.co/zv2PSu8neT

— Nate Cohn (@Nate_Cohn) November 5, 2018

If all of that is correct, it should be enough to overcome Republican gerrymanders and produce sizable Democratic gains in Congress. Gerrymanders, after all, aren’t designed to give the majority party blowout wins. What you want instead is seven- or eight-point victories spread out across the maximum number of districts, while your opponents win fewer districts by fifteen or twenty (or fifty) points. 

YouTube video

So a nine-point advantage would tip several normally safe seats—for example, George Holding’s seat in North Carolina. There are a bunch of seats all over the country sitting right at that threshold—solid-enough R that they could withstand a D surge but not a huge blue wave. The same holds true in the General Assembly: Democrats could narrowly win a bunch of seats that Republicans could count on in a normal year. 

With that in mind, here are five keys to look for tonight—early indicators that a blue wave is actually materializing. 

  • Florida: Most Sunshine State polls close by 7:00 p.m., but it usually takes the Dem-heavy Broward and Miami-Dade Counties a long time to report their tallies. If the Senate or governor’s race is called for Bill Nelson or Andrew Gillum by, say, ten, a first-rate ass-kicking is underway. 
  • The governor’s race in Georgia: As in Florida, if the election is neck-and-neck or called for Stacey Abrams, that means the polling is generally correct or even that Democrats are overperforming. 
  • The suburbs of Charlotte and Raleigh: We might not have answers for a couple of hours after the polls close at 7:30 p.m., but if these congressional races (2, 9, 13) either go blue or are neck and neck by the time you go to bed, it’s an indication (in 9 and 13) that white suburban women have turned on Trump’s GOP and that (in 2) people of color are turning out in numbers Democrats need. 
  • Wake, Durham, and Mecklenburg turnout: If it’s as big as I anticipate, that’s good news for Anita Earls and bad news for some of the constitutional amendments. Durham is as reliably Democratic as it gets. Wake and Meck are catching up, and a wave of new voters is likely to make those counties even bluer. 
  • Youth and minority turnout: Exit polls are terrible and shouldn’t be trusted, as 2016 taught us. But if you see signs that millennials are coming out in droves, or that there’s high turnout in African American and Hispanic precincts, that’s a good indication that we’ll get a Dem-friendly electorate. 

If a wave does materialize, expect surprises: Congressional and legislative races that weren’t supposed to be in play will be. If it doesn’t—if Democrats come up short of taking the House and lose a few Senate seats, both of which are very possible—expect the rest of the week to be dominated by Trump chest-pounding and Democratic self-flagellation.  

One reply on “Election Night: Here’s What I’m Looking For”

  1. I think the Dems flip NC House 57 too, largely because of the special master’s districts. The Republican in 57 was drafted pretty late in the game due to Rep Blust’s retirement and Ashton Clemmons is running a strong ground game.

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