Election 2018: Predicting Midterm Outcomes Proves Challenging for Pundit

Oct 30, 2018

With one week to go until Election Day, many races are too close to call.

Predicting what voters might do this midterm is part of the job for an Ohioan now based in Washington who is managing editor for the weekly political newsletter Sabato’s Crystal Ball produced by the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics.

Kyle Kondik is also communications director for the Center.  

Kondik thinks Republicans will win by smaller margins in areas where they're used to landslide victories. He says that's because the midterm is a reflection on the White House. He suspects dissatisfaction with the party in power could even lead to some losses in those races.  

Democrat Ken Harbaugh has mounted a real challenge to unseat incumbent Republican Bob Gibbs in the heavily Republican 7th Ohio congressional district.
Credit M.L. SCHULTZE

Could OH-7 flip to Democrat?
"I think if you’re looking for kind of a deep sleeper for a House race, Ohio 7 is an interesting one," Kondik says. The district covers a largely rural area of northeast and central Ohio. It includes Canton and stretches from near Lake Erie south to Coshocton. Kondik notes that "the district is drawn to elect a Republican." But he's impressed that Democrat Ken Harbaugh is aggressively pushing Republican incumbent Bob Gibbs.

"I’d much rather be Gibbs than Harbaugh given how Republican the district is. But it’s also a real race, and I don’t think it has been in that district the past couple of cycles."

The story is similar in the heavily Republican Ohio 14th district, where Republican Dave Joyce is seeking a fourth term.

Democrat Betsy Rader faces an uphill battle in the Republican drawn 14th Ohio congressional district against incumbent Dave Joyce, a former Geauga County prosecutor.
Credit BETSY RADER FOR CONGRESS

"He is facing a credible challenge from Betsy Rader, a Democrat. I think Joyce has a leg up there," Kondik says. But he notes, "[the district] also has a significant suburban component, and the suburbs seem to be the heart of this anti-Trump sentiment, so one wonders if that could lead to an upset in that race." 

Kondik believes Joyce will prevail. If any of Ohio's 12 Republican-held U.S. House districts flip, he thinks it will be the 12th, north of Columbus or the first, near Cincinnati. 

Who Will Control the U.S. House?
Kondik believes Democrats are in a better position right now to take control of the U.S. House of Representatives. One indicator is which races are attracting third party money. 

"What the trend has been in recent days is Republican outside groups are having to spend money in districts that looked like they were more favorable to Republicans," Kondik says. "So the battleground of competitive seats seems to be expanding." 

While the House is in play, the Senate is solidly red. Kondik thinks Republicans could add to the 51 seats they currently hold in the chamber. He says Democrats never really had a chance to take the Senate, which is why he's resisted utilizing the term "Blue Wave" to describe this midterm. 

"In really big wave years y'know 1994, 2006, 2010 not only did the House flip party control in all three years, but also the party on the right side of the wave netted at least six senate seats, and at least six governorships across the country," he says. 

Ten Tossups in Gubernatorial Contests
Kondik's Crystal Ball newsletter will make predictions in all of the governor's races before Election Day. But right now it lists ten of those races as tossups, including the race in Ohio. Kondik has some familiarity with Democratic candidate Richard Cordray, for whom he worked when Cordray was Ohio attorney general. 

"My sense is that some of the internal private polling is very, very close," Kondik says. He notes the other races for statewide executive offices are also very tight. But Democrats could get a boost from one candidate.

Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown has a comfortable lead in his campaign to retain his seat.
Credit M.L. SCHULTZE / WKSU

"Senator Sherrod Brown seems poised to lead the ticket on the Democratic side. He’s pretty significantly favored at this point," Kondik notes.  

Sabato's Crystal Ball comes out every Thursday. It is described as an authoritative, nonpartisan newsletter on American campaigns and elections. You can sign up to receive the newsletter here.