October 1, 2018
We're into the last full month before the November 6th midterm elections. Early voting is already underway in some states. The maps below reflect the current consensus ratings of Sabato's Crystal Ball, The Cook Political Report, and Inside Elections. For purposes of these maps, only races rated safe by all three of these forecasters are shown in the darkest shade of red/blue. This gives us the broadest view of the competitive landscape. Note that the discussion below is as of October 1st. However, the map images themselves will update as the consensus evolves.
Democrats need to gain two seats for control. The party has a more plausible path to achieving that than earlier this year, as the GOP-held seats in Texas and Tennessee have become much more competitive than expected. However, it is still an uphill climb, with Democrats defending 26 of the 35 seats up this year. Five of those states (Indiana, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota and West Virginia) were won by Donald Trump by 18 points or more in 2016. Even if Democrats manage to hold all their seats, they still need to win two GOP seats, most likely some combination of Arizona, Nevada, Tennessee and/or Texas. The special election in Mississippi is a longer-shot Democratic opportunity. What's interesting about this race is that it will likely go to a November 27th runoff. Should Election Day end with Democrats holding a 50-49 lead in seats, we won't know who will control the Senate until this runoff is held.
There was an interesting New York Times article this past weekend discussing how President Trump and Senate Republicans are hoping the drawn-out confirmation battle for Judge Kavanaugh will help them hold the Senate. However, there is also recognition in the party that the cost of this will almost certainly be control of the House of Representatives. They seem willing to make that trade-off given the increasing probability that the House will flip regardless. Of the 116 districts not rated safe by all three forecasters, 100 of them are GOP-held*. Of the 63 most competitive races (consensus toss-up or leaning), Republicans currently have 58 of them. That gives Democrats plenty of places to gain the 23 they need to take control. Our new House Election Simulator gives Democrats a 78% chance of taking the House.
* This can be seen more easily in the new Table View. Vacancies are counted with the party that most recently held the seat
Republicans hold 33 of the 50 governorships; this is near a historic high. There are elections in 36 states this year. While there's not a 'battle for control' in the same way as in Congress, these elections are extremely important in the context of how Congress - specifically the House - will take shape in the next decade. That's because governors can have a large role - varies by state - in the redistricting process that takes place after the Census. The governors elected this year will be in place* for that process. Regardless of which way these elections break there will be a new governor in at least 17 of these 36 states. Most of those governors are departing due to term limits. This partially explains the large number of competitive races this year. 19 of the 36 races are seen as highly competitive, with a toss-up or leans consensus rating.
* Except for New Hampshire and Vermont, which have two-year terms. This issue also isn't relevant for states with only one district. In terms of 2018 gubernatorial elections, that includes Alaska, Montana, South Dakota, Wyoming and the aforementioned Vermont.