Democrats have dreamed for months about cruising back into power in Congress on the crest of a “blue wave.”
Well, the midterms are finally upon us, and that wave does not appear nearly as sweeping as Democrats would have hoped. The latest numbers suggest the party is polling strong nationally, by may well have to settle for a mixed result in Congress.
Democrats appear to have the upper hand in the national battle for control of the House of Representatives. But the Senate looks like a much harder sell, thanks to one of the most difficult battleground maps in a generation.
Voters heading to the polls Tuesday appear sharply split down lines of gender, race and education — suggesting the outcome may largely depend on which demographics actually turn up at the ballot box.
With the action set to kick off, here’s how the race is shaping up, a day before the vote.
DEMS LEAD NATIONALLY
Democrats lead nationwide by 7 points, according to the final NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll before the election released on Sunday, which gave the Dems 50 percent versus 43 percent for the Republicans.
A CNN poll released Monday looks even better for Democrats, giving the party a 13 point lead, at 55 percent to 42 percent.
Democrats have a roughly 80-90 percent shot at winning the House, according to FiveThirtyEight’s assorted forecast models.
They need to capture 23 seats to win a majority in the House.
…BUT THE GOP HAS THE UPPER HAND IN THE SENATE
Democrats face a dismal election map in the Senate this year, where they’re defending two dozen Senate seats, including 10 in states that Trump won in the 2016 election.
They need to score two additional Senate seats to win the slimmest of majorities.
The Senate landscape looks like “an almost impossible map” for Democrats this year, Stu Rothenberg, a non-partisan political analyst, recently told Reuters.
To buck those odds and flip the Senate, Democrats will likely need to score at least one victory in a deep-red state like Texas, Tennessee or North Dakota.
A NATION DIVIDED
Nationwide, the electorate appears sharply split down lines of gender, race and education.
Women broadly favor Democrats by 62 percent to 35 percent, according to CNN’s final poll before election day, conducted by SSRS. Men are more evenly split, with 49 percent backing their district Republican and 48 percent supporting the Democrat. White men without college degrees are driving support for Republicans, with 65 percent telling the CNN poll they back their local GOP candidate.
Democrats enjoy strong support from black (88 percent) and Latino (66 percent) voters, however, according to that same poll.
Supporters of the two parties also have big disagreements about which issues top their list of concerns. Overall, healthcare, the economy and immigration appear to be on almost everyone’s minds, according to a poll by Gallup.
But majorities of Democrats said climate change (75 percent) and the Russia investigation (66 percent) are important to their vote. Only a minority of Republicans agree with those assessments (27 percent and 19 percent, respectively).
Republicans are particularly amped up about immigration, with 84 percent calling the issue extremely or very important (compared to 74 percent of Democrats).
Trump seems to have gotten the memo and has made stoking fear over “the caravan” of central American migrants that’s winding its way north through Mexico. He’s blasted them as “invaders,” and said that U.S. troops dispatched to the border could open fire at asylum seekers throwing rocks.
Last week, Trump’s team released an ad about an undocumented Mexican immigrant convicted of murdering two sheriff’s deputies in 2014, which falsely claims that Democrats “let him into our country” and “let him stay.” CNN deemed the ad too racist to run, and NBCUniversal, Fox News, and Facebook pulled the ad Monday following an intense backlash.
But while Trump’s incendiary rhetoric may help jumpstart his base, his tone risks alienating suburban voters, some observers have cautioned.
“The divisiveness may play well in some parts of the country but it doesn’t play everywhere,” Republican speaker of the Texas House, Joe Straus, recently told The New York Times. “It’s hard to grow a party when your whole approach is to incite the base.”
Political analysts say Trump’s divisiveness has already accelerated a shift by female voters toward the Democratic party.
“If these trends continue,” political scientist Melissa Deckman of Washington College told Politico in October, “women’s preference for Democrats will be a big contributor to the midterm results.”
Only 38 percent of women approve of Trump’s job performance, according to a recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, nine points below his overall approval rating.
Democrats, for their part, have sought to steer the national debate toward an issue where they have the advantage: healthcare. A recent poll by ABC News/Washington Post found that voters trust Democrats to handle healthcare over Republicans by a 50-36 percent margin — a 16 point gap.
Embattled Democratic Senate candidate Claire McCaskill has rebranded her entire campaign under the slogan: “Your Health Care, Your Vote.”
Cover image: Voters cast their ballots during early voting at the Hamilton County Board of Elections, Sunday, Nov. 4, 2018, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)