WASHINGTON – With just one week until the midterms, a series of bellwether races across the country offers mixed clues about the likely outcome of the election.
A USA TODAY Network analysis of 27 key races shows nearly half in the toss-up category, with the rest almost evenly split between leaning toward the Democratic or Republican candidate. Likewise, political experts and handicappers have been stymied in making firm predictions of the national outcome.
Republicans have been buoyed in recent weeks by a surge in enthusiasm after the confirmation hearings for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh and reports of immigrants headed for the southern border. But Democrats have hammered away at their arguments about Republicans hurting access to health care, and they maintain a large edge in fundraising in the most competitive U.S. House races that could help pay for last-minute advertising and get-out-the-vote efforts.
And while it looks increasingly unlikely that Democrats will gain a majority in the Senate, the map of battleground districts for House Republicans continues to spread, boosting the chances of Democrats. They need to net an additional 25 seats to take control for the first time since 2011.
“I’d rather be the Democrats than the Republicans, certainly,” said Kyle Kondik, managing editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball, a political handicapping website at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics.
He’s been watching 72 competitive House seats, 68 of which are or have been most recently held by Republicans. “But I don’t feel like – going seat by seat – that the Democrats have it locked up,” Kondik said. “A lot of the seats we’ve been talking about for the last year, they still seem to be up in the air.”
Nearly nine months ago, the USA TODAY Network identified a list of 25 bellwether races to watch, which has now grown to 27. So many races are in play nationwide that the list could be three times as long – meaning the outcome in any one or several of these races may not, by themselves, indicate a national trend. But taken together, on Election Night, they should point toward a pattern.
And there are a few where incumbents are in such tight races – like those in the Kentucky 6th, Michigan 8th, New York 19th and Pennsylvania 1st – that they merit special attention as the results come in.