A Look At The Generic Ballot
With one week to go until election day, Split Ticket is excited to release its second to last House Temperature Check. The previous edition expanded and rearranged the total number of competitive seats in preparation for the gradual elimination of our Tossups, a process that will be finished by November 8th. Republicans hit the 218 seat mark in our ratings weeks ago, and lead Democrats 223 to 195 after this update; 17 races remain to be picked.
The current 538 generic ballot average suggests that the national environment is Republican-leaning, a conclusion that lines up with midterm precedent and supports the expectation that the GOP should amass a respectable House majority next week. But Split Ticket, suspecting that partisan polling is biasing the average toward Republicans, created its own non-partisan aggregation. The metric, found here, shows Democrats leading modestly.
There are a few important caveats that distinguish this aggregate from our predictions, which will likely place final number of Republican House seats in the 230 to 240 seat range. For one, the tracker’s only purpose is to examine the generic ballot without any Republican or Democratic polls; it’s not a model and shouldn’t be construed as one. There is also a possibility that some partisan polls will end up more accurately gauging the midterm result than their public counterparts, a potentiality we discussed while explaining our tool’s methodology.
Republicans could also retake the lead that they enjoyed earlier this month on our tracker if the majority of undecided voters continues to coalesce behind GOP candidates. We ultimately believe that the fundamentals suggest a Republican-leaning national environment that gives the GOP a decent shot at controlling both chambers of Congress come next year. Whether we over or underestimate the actual Republican performance, our generic ballot metric will remain worthwhile for hindsight comparisons.
What Do The NYT-Siena Polls Tell Us – If Anything?
Last week, the New York Times and Siena College released a series of House polls covering four districts: Pennsylvania’s 8th, New Mexico’s 2nd, Kansas’s 3rd, and Nevada’s 1st. While the partnership’s operation was less extensive than it was in 2018, it still provided valuable data that helps us understand the contours of the post-Dobbs electorate. Even though Democrats led in three of the polls, Split Ticket agrees with the Times that too many perfect outcomes would have to occur simultaneously for Democrats to hold the House.
Before offering takeaways on the results, it’s important to note that Split Ticket believes that both (D-KS03) Sharice Davids and (D-PA08) Matt Cartwright are leading right now but considers their 55-41 and 50-44 spreads too wide. In Kansas’s 3rd, the lopsided margin could be a result of oversampling college-educated suburbanites. On the other side of the country in Pennsylvania’s 8th, the sample was Biden +3 even though the district backed Trump by 3 points in 2020.
Despite those minor qualms, the Times-Siena data is incredibly useful evidence of ongoing educational polarization. That’s partly why we favor Republicans in New Mexico’s 2nd and expect a close race in Pennsylvania’s 8th, both districts where a majority of the population does not have any college education. The large Democratic lead in Kansas’s 3rd, on the other hand, predictably suggests that social issues resonate more than economic concerns in more highly-educated, suburban districts. This paradigm partially explains excellent Democratic special election performances in counties like Lancaster, Olmstead, and Ulster.
A final theory that these numbers *could* lend some credence to holds that Dobbs will have a bigger effect on suburban districts in Republican states where abortion rights are not firmly protected. Advocates of this line of reasoning contrast Republican momentum in Oregon and New York, both blue states, against that of the Democrats in Plains states like Kansas, Nebraska, and Oklahoma. On the flip side, polarization and engrained state partisanships could make these assumptions mirages in both directions.
Adjusting The Edge Of The Board
Just like last week, we have a few modifications to the edge of the board in an effort to account for races that could be more competitive than expected. All of these minor shifts benefit Republicans, a reflection that the environment and House dynamics currently seem to favor the GOP, albeit modestly.
Our single SAFE to LIKELY D shift comes in New York’s 25th, a Biden +19.7 district based primarily in Rochester. Despite the seat’s lopsided partisan lean, national Republicans have offered some late help to La’Ron Singletary in his bid against incumbent Democrat Joe Morelle. This race reminds us of those in California’s 26th and Pennsylvania’s 12th, similarly-blue seats which moved to LIKELY D last week thanks to weak Democratic internal polling and outside Republican interest. We believe fundamentals will keep these seats in Democratic hands, but would not be surprised by closer-than-expected outcomes.
Two districts are moving from LIKELY to LEANS D, meaning Democrats are still favored to win in each but might do so underwhelmingly. These are Colorado’s 7th and Illinois’s 6th, both Democratic-trending but more Republican down ballot thanks to Jefferson and DuPage counties. Of the two, the GOP’s chances seem better in the Centennial State because Erik Aadland has kept a reasonable pace with Democrat Brittany Pettersen in terms of fundraising.
Picking Some Tossups
Now for the fun part: the first round of elimination for our Tossup board. Today Split Ticket is picking winners in seven such races, of which Republicans are favored to win five. Most of these seats differ from each other in terms of geography and partisanship, but there are some similarities that will be touched on in the individual explanations. Let’s go down the list in order.
CA-27 LEANS R
First up is California’s 27th, a Biden +12.4 seat located in the northern half of Los Angeles County. It is represented by Republican Mike Garcia, an incumbent disadvantaged by this year’s redistricting cycle. The process removed Simi Valley (Ventura County) from the boundaries, increasing its Democratic presidential lean and Hispanic voting population. Initially elected in a special election, Garcia narrowly won a full term in November 2020 by supplementing crossover appeal in L.A. County with Republican margins in Simi Valley.
This cycle, Garcia faces Democrat Christy Smith for the third time in his career. Despite the hostile fundamentals of his district and Smith’s leads in internal polling, Split Ticket believes that a Republican-leaning national environment could give Garcia the boost he needs to win next week. National Democratic behavior seems to support this sentiment, with Republicans badly outspending their counterparts in the 27th.
KS-03 LEANS D
Perhaps brighter for Democrats is Kansas’s 3rd, a Biden +4.5 seat dominated by Johnson County. This rapidly leftward-trending district, based in the well-educated Kansas City suburbs, seems to be a prime hold opportunity for Democrat Sharice Davids despite changes favorable to Republicans made during redistricting.
There are a few reasons to favor the incumbent in her rematch against Amanda Adkins, including a NYT-Siena poll that showed Democrats up 55-41%. While we don’t buy that margin, as mentioned earlier in this piece, the data on the importance of social issues post-Dobbs do indeed push us to pick Davids. What else? Democratic Governor Laura Kelly is arguably a slight favorite in her Tossup gubernatorial race, so a statewide victory could pad congressional margins in this district. Kansas also resoundingly rejected an attempt to restrict abortion rights earlier this year, with particularly-lopsided margins in the 3rd.
NY-19 and NY-22 LEANS R
In two of New York’s upstate swing seats, the 19th and 22nd, we are comfortable naming Republicans slight favorites. Despite being the bluer of the two districts at Biden +7.4, the 22nd seems like the safer bet for the GOP. That seat is mostly based in Onondaga County, home to the city of Syracuse. While Democratic, the county itself is redder down ballot and actually has a Republican county executive. Its propensity for crossover voting impacts congressional races too, as retiring incumbent John Katko proved in last decade’s 24th district.
Available polling suggests that Republican Brandon Williams might be able to carry on the incumbent’s legacy. A September survey from Siena College showed Democrat Francis Conole down 45-40% and a more recent Democratic internal had him leading *only* 45-43%. If most undecided voters do break for the GOP, or Zeldin dominates the upstate in the gubernatorial race, Williams would be favored. Republicans have also surpassed Democrats in this seat in terms of outside spending.
In the 19th, a Biden +4.4 seat, Marc Molinaro seems like the frontrunner against Democrat Josh Riley despite losing an August special election to Pat Ryan in a redder seat. This is one district where both parties have evenly matched each other in the spending battle, so Split Ticket must rely more on district and environmental fundamentals. Though it now includes Tompkins County, home to Ithaca and Cornell University, the 19th is still prone to ticket splitting for mainstream Republicans like other parts of upstate New York. Riley led Molinaro 46-41% in a September Siena poll, but we expect undecided voters to make the difference for the Republicans here just like in the 22nd.
NH-01 LEANS D
The other district where Democratic fortunes look bright is New Hampshire’s 1st, a Biden +6 seat held by two-term Congressman Chris Pappas. Most forecasters wrote this seat off for Republicans after “establishment” pick Matt Mowers lost the GOP primary to Karoline Leavitt. We considered those moves premature and too beholden to subjective interpretations of candidate quality. Subsequent polling seemed to prove our reasoning well-founded, showing Leavitt within striking distance as national Republicans outspent Democrats.
Ultimately, however, we feel that the fundamentals of the 1st district favor Pappas. The seat has been trending Democratic for quite some time, with Republican erosion particularly-pronounced in the populated Seacoast towns, which New Hampshire analyst Sam Norwood notes opposed Leavitt in the primary. Newer polling also seems to indicate that Democrats are pulling away enough to make a close victory the most likely scenario.
OH-13 LEANS R
In Ohio’s 13th, a Biden +2.8 district connecting Summit (Akron) and Stark (Canton) counties, Republicans seem well-poised to win one of the Buckeye State’s three Tossup races. A Split Ticket ground source with a finger on the pulse of this seat believes that Republican Madison Gesiotto Gilbert is a modest frontrunner against Democrat Emilia Sykes. There hasn’t been any recent public polling of the 13th, but we believe fundamentals do indeed benefit Republicans.
For one, apart from some of the suburbs north of Akron and Canton, the redrawn 13th is actually trending Republican. This is mostly a result of white working class voters gradually abandoning the Democrats during the Trump-era, though the former President also made inroads in both solidly-blue urban centers. If Gesiotto Gilbert uses a favorable environment to claw back portions of the suburban bulwark, she could supplement Trump’s coalition enough to win. National Republicans had outspent the Democrats by over $1 million here as of last week.
OR-05 LEANS R
Oregon’s 5th, at Biden +8.8, is the best Republican congressional opportunity in the Beaver State. As we mentioned in last week’s update, Democratic chances in the state’s three competitive House districts have been made uncertain by a three-way gubernatorial race that remains a Tossup. Should independent Betsy Johnson perform well enough to make a win possible for Republican Christine Drazan, the GOP could enjoy emboldened congressional success across the map.
That’s a best case scenario. Even if Democrat Tina Kotek wins the gubernatorial race, it’s hard for us to see Jamie McLeod-Skinner reliably besting Republican Lori Chavez-DeRemer in the most marginal of Oregon’s competitive House seats. While McLeod-Skinner is almost certainly more electable than incumbent Democrat Kurt Schrader, whom she beat in this year’s primary, recent evidence suggests that she is a slight underdog in the House race.
Public polling has shown a very tight contest with lots of undecided voters, but the Republican spending advantage suggests that internal Democratic numbers may be more precarious in the seat than meets the eye. The key for Chavez-DeRemer will be winning voters back into the GOP camp in Clackamas County at a high enough rate to overwhelm the Democratic base in Deschutes County (Bend) which is not expected to swing rightward and could feasibly move in the opposite direction.
Election cycles are so variable that national attention often shifts faster than forecasters like us can keep up with it. This tends to produce late-breaking contests that occasionally become election day surprises. In the House, we have many such races at LEANS D instead of TOSSUP simply because election day is too near to justify expanding the board significantly despite increased Republican investment. Seats that exemplify this category include CA-49, CT-05, OR-06, NV-01, VA-07, and WA-08.
We could see Republicans winning each of these seats individually, especially CT-05, and *may* have to make LEANS D to LEANS R shifts based on exigent circumstances. That’s not the most likely scenario by any means, as we still favor Democrats in each seat, but expect one or more of these districts to fall into the GOP column if the party exceeds expectations and passes the 240 seat mark after the election.