Dem 49
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GOP 51
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New polls:  
Dem pickups vs. 2012: (None)
GOP pickups vs. 2012: (None)
TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Republican Insiders Expect to Lose the House
      •  Cook Updates House Ratings
      •  Retirements to Watch For
      •  House Resignations and Special Elections
      •  Democrats Have Good Gubernatorial Prospects
      •  White House Spars with WSJ
      •  Shitholegate Continues
      •  Trump Waives Punishment for Banks
      •  Romney's Running

Republican Insiders Expect to Lose the House

Mike Allen is reporting that Republican insiders now think it is likely that the Democrats will retake the House in November and there is no way to stop it. One of them said the loss of the House is already "baked in." It would take a flip of 24 seats for Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) to get the gavel back, and Allen is hearing insider forecasts of 40+ seats flipping.

In politics, a week is a long time and 10 months is forever, but some facts are not likely to change between now and November:

  • Eight GOP chairmen are retiring; they don't generally do that unless they expect to lose their chairmanships
  • The number of Republican retirements so far (29) is high and consistent with previous years the House flipped
  • Democrats outperformed all expectations in special elections and statewide elections in 2017, showing energy
  • Record numbers of Democrats (especially women) are running for office in 2018
  • In the generic House polls, Democrats lead by double digits

One factor that could play a role is special counsel Robert Mueller's report. If he issues it before the midterms and it says or implies that Donald Trump committed a crime, Democrats will be extremely motivated to vote for a Congress that will oppose him. Such a report will also demotivate Republicans. On the other hand, if Mueller says Trump may have behaved badly but he didn't break any laws, Republicans will be motivated and Democrats dismayed.

If Democrats win the House, two things are very likely to happen. First, the newly installed Democratic committee chairs will investigate the administration like never before and will subpoena everything that moves. Second, the chances of Donald Trump being impeached rise to close to 100%, if for no other reason than to cause great pain to Republican senators up in 2020 who will have to vote on whether or not to convict him. If they vote to convict him, they will face an angry Trumpist in a primary. If they vote to acquit, they could lose the general election. (V)

Cook Updates House Ratings

Political guru Charlie Cook has updated his House ratings. Cook has data galore and a very large amount of acquired wisdom, having watched elections for decades, so his views can't be ignored as partisan. He grew up in Louisiana, but he won't say which party he votes for.

At the moment, Cook has four Republican seats in the "Lean Democratic" column, namely AZ-02 (open, was Martha McSally), CA-39 (open, was Ed Royce), CA-49, (open, was Darrell Issa), and FL-27 (open, was Ileana Ros-Lehtinen). No Democratic-held seats are "Lean Republican."

In addition, 15 Republican seats are now tossups. These are CA-25 (Steve Knight), CA-48 (Dana Rohrabacher), CO-06 (Mike Coffman), FL-26 (Carlos Curbelo), IA-01 (Rod Blum), IL-06 (Pete Roskam), MI-11 (open, was Dave Trott), MN-02 (Jason Lewis), NE-02 (Don Bacon), NJ-02 (open, was Frank LoBiondo), NJ-11 (Rodney Frelinghuysen), NY-19 (John Faso), TX-07 (John Culberson), VA-10 (Barbara Comstock), and WA-08 (open, was Dave Reichert). No Democratic seats are tossups. In other words, every Democratic incumbent who is running is favored to be reelected. If the Democrats can pick off all the Republican seats that lean Democratic and a large number of the tossups, they are on their way to being the majority. (V)

Retirements to Watch For

As you can see from the House retirements link to the left of the map above, 29 Republicans have already announced they are leaving the House after this term. It could get worse. There are four categories of seats to keep an eye on, especially the ones listed above as "Lean Democratic" or "Tossup."

  • Northeast suburban districts: Democrats are focusing heavily on affluent moderate suburban Republicans. The special elections and state elections in Virginia, New Jersey, and Alabama last year show that this is a potentially fruitful strategy, which means that House Republicans who represent such districts, such as Leonard Lance (R-NJ) and Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ) will be top targets. If any of them retire, that means they think that their chances of winning are too low to make the effort.

  • Swing districts in California: Californians have a special reason to dislike the Republicans: they raised taxes by reducing the deduction for state and local taxes. Two representatives from formerly deep-red Orange County, Ed Royce and Darrell Issa, have already bailed. If more do, the California Republican caucus in the House, now 14 strong, could be decimated.

  • Senior Republicans: Older Republicans may decide they just don't have the fight in them any more for what promises to be a very difficult year. Rep. Don Young (R-AK) is not so young at 84. Does he really need a bitter election to get another term? What about Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI), who is 64 and had to give up the gavel for the Energy and Commerce Committee due to Republican term limits? Does he want to fight hard to win and then just be another backbencher? Rep. Bruce Poliquin (R-ME) is 64 and is the only House Republican from New England. Does he have another tough campaign left in him?

  • Hillary's districts: Twenty-three Republicans are in districts that Hillary Clinton won. All of them are going to be top targets. They are mostly located in Washington, California, Arizona, Texas, New York, and Pennsylvania. They won with Trump on top of the ticket, but in a Democratic wave year, many of them could be pulled under and some of them may prefer to exit gracefully rather than being kicked out.

Again, nothing is certain, but if we start seeing more retirements in these categories, it is a sign that incumbents don't think they can win, no matter how they explain it. (V)

House Resignations and Special Elections

Some members of Congress aren't waiting for next January to retire, they are going right now. With the expected resignation today of Rep. Pat Tiberi (R-OH), there will probably be five special elections this year to fill vacant seats in the House. Here is a rundown.

District Representative Party PVI Election Reason
AZ-08 Trent Franks Republican R+13 Apr. 24 Sex scandal
MI-13 John Conyers Democratic D+33 Nov. 6 Sex scandal
OH-12 Pat Tiberi Republican R+7 Aug. 7 Will run a business group
OK-01 Jim Bridenstine Republican R+17 ? Leaving to run NASA
PA-18 Tim Murphy Republican R+11 Mar. 13 Sex scandal

The main reasons for leaving appear to be involvement in a sex scandal of one kind or another. That sounds like a good reason to get out right now. Jim Bridenstine will leave if he is confirmed to run NASA, but he is very controversial since he has no background in science or engineering and doesn't believe in climate change. If his confirmation fails, there will be no special election.

One interesting note about the above table (other than noting that sex scandals are bipartisan) is that the special election for John Conyers' seat will be held the same day as the regular election, in November. Huh? It's like this: Gov. Rick Snyder (R-MI) wants to save the taxpayers money by not holding an election in the spring. Clearly a public servant who wants to spend the people's money wisely. He may or may not be aware that the district has a PVI of D+33, so it is a certainty that the new representative would be a Democrat. Furthermore, 56% of the population of the Detroit-based district is black, so holding the election in the spring would just add another black Democrat to the House. Snyder figured there were enough of them already, so who needs one more? Snyder's decision is the reason that many states (but not Michigan) have a law mandating a special election within (typically) 90 days of the vacancy—to prevent a governor from holding a seat the opposing party owns open for a year. (V)

Democrats Have Good Gubernatorial Prospects

The map for gubernatorial elections is rather the opposite of the map for senatorial ones. For Republicans, the Senate map is fantastic, with 26 members of the Democratic caucus and only 8 members of the Republican caucus up for election in 2018. The gubernatorial map reverses that, with 26 Republican-held governors mansions up for grabs and only 10 Democratic-held ones up. Worse yet, half of the Republican governors are term-limited, so these will be open seat elections, many in big states. Here is the map:

Gubernatorial elections

With an extremely unpopular president to run against, victories in statewide elections in New Jersey, Virginia, and Alabama last year, and a massive increase in fundraising, Democrats are optimistic about their chances in many states. As a reminder, here are some of the big ones to watch.

  • Illinois: Unpopular billionaire Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) will probably lose to billionaire J.B. Pritzker (D)
  • New Mexico: Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) is the favorite to replace term-limited Gov. Susana Martinez (R)
  • Maine: A dozen Democrats want to replace hugely unpopular Gov. Paul LePage (R)
  • Connecticut: Unpopular Gov. Daniel Malloy (D) is quitting and this is the GOP's best shot at flipping a governor
  • Nevada: Gov. Brian Sandoval (R) is very popular but term-limited and the state is becoming relatively blue
  • Florida: Gov. Rick Scott (R) is term-limited and this will be a free-for-all on both sides
  • Alaska: Gov. Bill Walker (I) is running for reelection; both parties will probably target the independent
  • Michigan: Gov. Rick Snyder (R) is term-limited and bitter primaries are expected in both parties
  • Ohio: Richard Cordray is the leading Democrat and may face AG Mike DeWine (R) for this open seat
  • Maryland: Gov. Larry Hogan (R) has kept his distance from Trump but that might not be enough in this blue state

In the states that also have a hotly contested Senate election, including Arizona, Nevada, Florida, and Ohio, turnout is sure to be high, which historically has helped the Democrats.

The governors' races will have a meaningful impact on the Congressional elections this year, since—like presidents—governors can have coattails, too. If a Democratic gubernatorial candidate gets people out to the polls, that means votes for Democratic members of Congress, too. This effect will be particularly important in California, where the jungle primary system means that the final showdown for the governor's mansion could very well be between two members of the blue team.

At the same time, the races will have huge impact on national politics in the next decade. With the exception of Vermont and New Hampshire, all the governors are elected for 4-year terms, meaning they will be in office when the 2020 census is taken and new congressional and state legislative districts are drawn. A Democratic governor in a state with a Republican legislature will veto any attempts to gerrymander the districts, forcing a compromise with little to no gerrymandering. A Republican governor in a Democratic state will have the same power. So the balance of power in the House from 2023 to 2031 very much depends on this year's gubernatorial elections. (V & Z)

White House Spars with WSJ

Normally, the conservative-leaning, Rupert Murdoch-owned Wall Street Journal and Donald Trump are pretty simpatico. Not this weekend, however, thanks to the newspaper's publication of this quotation from an interview with the President:

I have a great relationship with him [China President Xi Jinping], as you know I have a great relationship with Prime Minister Abe of Japan and I probably have a very good relationship with Kim Jong Un of North Korea.

The quote got a great deal of attention, of course, because of the portion about Kim. If Trump actually thinks he has a good relationship with the North Korean leader, that would be prima facie evidence that he is seriously delusional.

Delusional or not, Team Trump (or, at least, some member of Team Trump) realized that the quote is not a good look for the President. So, the White House went into damage control mode, and announced that the President had been misquoted. They claim that he said "I'd probably have," rather than "I probably have," which would mean he is making a prediction about the future and not a statement about the present. This spin was backed up by a flurry of tweets from various administration members about fake news, accompanied by "proof" in the form of audio of the interview. For example:

The remarkable thing—beyond the fact that the White House's version of the quote makes no sense—is that their "evidence" is not ambiguous. It sounds exactly like he said "I probably have." It takes real chutzpah to claim that it's crystal clear in the other direction, and that any disagreement must be a deliberate misquote (from a conservative newspaper, no less). Perhaps next they will advise us that everyone knows that 2 + 2 = 5. (Z)

Shitholegate Continues

It's been four days since Donald Trump did or did not slur Haiti and the nations of Africa as "shitholes" (Hint: He did.). Two GOP senators leapt to the President's defense on the Sunday talk shows, with Tom Cotton (AR) saying, "I did not hear derogatory comments about individuals or persons" and David Perdue declaring that Trump never uttered the word and that reports he did so are a "gross misrepresentation." Trump defended himself again, and also insisted "I am not a racist." In fact, he also told reporters that, "I am the least racist person you have ever interviewed."

None of this is remotely believable, for a number of reasons:

  1. It took the White House 24 hours to decide Trump did not say "shithole," it took Perdue four days to reach the same conclusion. If the President never said it, why the delay? That should have been evident from the outset.

  2. The Senators' denials are flimsy. It's possible that Cotton did not hear the remark, but even if that is true, it does nothing to disprove that it was said. Not every member of a group conversation hears every word that is spoken. As to Perdue, he's tacitly acknowledging that something was said, and it's very hard to figure out how that might have been "misrepresented" into something so specific as "shithole." Perdue is unable to provide clarification on this point.

  3. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) was present at the meeting, and has declined to confirm or deny that the word was used. Well, he hasn't confirmed it on the record, at least. He did confirm it to Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC).

  4. Trump, of course, lies like it's going out of style, having managed to pass the 2,000-falsehood mark before his first year in office came to an end. His declaration that he is not racist is meaningless, since very few people think they are racists. Former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard and current white supremacist David Duke doesn't think he's a racist, either. Meanwhile, Trump's assertion that he's the "least racist person" is laughable, and is yet another case of Trump over-selling his argument, which is something he does when he knows he's lying.

Speaking of racists, by the way, the neo-Nazi site Daily Stormer is thrilled by the remark, as are its readers. So, it would seem that the President's mission was accomplished. In the event that the link does not work, incidentally, the story is helpfully filed in the site's "Race War" section. That is the one that comes immediately after the "Jewish Problem" section.

But while Trump's verbiage may have pleased the base, it has enraged his opposition, and triggered protests of various sorts. The one that got all the headlines was the clever individual (artist Robin Bell) who rented a projector and used it to display the word 'shithole' on the facade of Trump International Hotel in Washington. There were also other messages, including "Pay Trump Bribes Here" and 'Emoluments Welcome." Meanwhile, each of Trump's properties has taken an absolute beating on the ratings website Yelp, with thousands of people logging in to give them one-star reviews, and to condemn them as shitholes. To take one example of a newly-written Mar-a-Lago review:

Place is a shithole. Staff tried to grab my pu**y. Only took rubles and every sign started with the word "best". I wasn't allowed to eat alone and had to have a man escort me. American flag bed sheets were made in China.

The club is down to 1.6 stars, on average, which is dismal, and none of the other properties is faring a lot better. If this whole presidency thing was supposed to be good for business, it doesn't seem to be working out that way. (Z)

Trump Waives Punishment for Banks

Maybe we spoke too soon. Donald Trump's properties might be losing business due to his behavior as president, but that's only part of his financial picture. He's also got various branding deals, and other endeavors, and at the same time he's got a complex web of debts and financial obligations.

On the latter point, Trump made an announcement a couple of weeks ago that flew under the radar because it came the day before Christmas. Surely, that timing was just a coincidence. In it, Trump advised that he was waiving Obama-era penalties that had been imposed on five large banks, including Deutsche Bank. Trump just so happens to owe that bank at least $130 million, and probably more like $300 million. He's also got a history of defaulting on his loans with that bank. The fact that he just did them a huge favor is surely just another coincidence. (Z)

Romney's Running

Since Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) announced his retirement, it has been widely assumed that Mitt Romney would run to replace him. However, the former GOP presidential candidate had yet to make it official. Now he has (sort of). According to the New York Times, Romney sent Utah governor Gary Herbert (R) a text message saying that he was in. If that's not a declaration, we don't know what is.

Actually, the more interesting aspect of the Times' story is that there is some question as to whether Romney will basically be a Trump loyalist like Hatch was, so as to maximize his chances of gaining concessions for Utah, or if he will be the Senate's loudest NeverTrumper. It's hard to believe that this is a serious question, because the latter option is the only one that makes sense. First of all, if Romney is elected, it is going to be powered by the votes of a lot of Republicans, Mormons, and Republican Mormons who disdain Trump., Mitt knows that. In part, because he's one of them. Further, he isn't going to put in the 20 years it takes to get real power in the Senate, and he's not going to want to be an impotent backbencher. Whether Romney's goal is to save the GOP as he knows it, or is to position himself for a 2020 run, or both, his needs are best served by being a vocal NeverTrumper. So, that is surely the plan, even if he hasn't texted it to anyone yet. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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