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Election Update: Republicans Aren’t Too Vulnerable In Florida, Arizona And Oklahoma … Yet

Welcome to our Election Update for Thursday, Aug. 30!

According to the latest “Classic” version of FiveThirtyEight’s House forecast, Democrats have a 5 in 7 chance of taking control of the chamber; their average gain is 33 seats. That’s exactly where it was when we last checked in on the forecast one week ago. Indeed, the probability that Democrats will win the House according to our Classic forecast has remained extraordinarily steady since the start of this month.1 That’s in line with other big-picture indicators, like President Trump’s approval rating and the generic congressional ballot, which have been remarkably … boring … all summer long. It’s a good reminder that even as the news rages on around you, the overall political picture has been firm as a rock.

In fact, the news this week with the biggest impact on November’s elections probably didn’t come out of the White House; it came out of election offices in Arizona, Florida and Oklahoma, where primary2 voters chose their nominees. So we figured we’d check in on what our model sees happening in those states.

At first glance, the forecast doesn’t see those states as a big part of Democrats’ midterm map, at least in the average outcome. The Classic version of our model forecasts only two Democratic flips in those three states: Arizona’s 2nd District and Florida’s 27th District. (By contrast, the model envisions two Democratic flips in Iowa, three in New Jersey and four in Pennsylvania.3) And we consider both districts kind of “gimmes” for Democrats. Florida’s 27th District has a FiveThirtyEight partisan lean of D+10,4 making it the most Democratic district currently represented by a Republican. Since the Democratic candidate, Donna Shalala, won’t even face an incumbent (Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is retiring), we give her a 39 in 40 chance to win the seat.

And in Arizona’s 2nd District (another open seat, this one with a partisan lean of R+1), Democrats nominated a strong candidate in Ann Kirkpatrick, who represented the even redder Arizona 1st District for three terms earlier this century. And Democrats have a track record of winning the 2nd District (and its pre-redistricting predecessor, the 8th District), which was represented by Democrats Gabby Giffords and Ron Barber before Republican Martha McSally won it in 2014. So it shouldn’t be a heavy lift in such a Democrat-friendly environment as 2018’s. Our forecast gives Kirkpatrick a 9 in 10 chance to flip the seat.

But the model does hint at the possibility that Democrats could make a lot more gains, both generally and in these states specifically. To win the House, Democrats need only capture all the seats where they’re at least moderate favorites, plus some of the ones where it’s close to 50-50. But our forecast has a long “tail,” which means that the model envisions plenty of scenarios in which the midterms result in an extreme outcome — say, a Democratic gain of 60 seats or more. If that happens, our forecast suggests that many of those gains could come in Arizonan, Floridian and Oklahoman districts with little Democratic pedigree. There are eight districts in the three states that the Classic version of our model rates as “lean R” or “likely R” in the average outcome, which means they’d be the first to become toss-ups or Democrat-favored in the event of a Democratic best-case scenario. They include:

  • Florida’s 25th District, a Hialeah-based district with an R+9 partisan lean that has been represented by Republican Mario Diaz-Balart for eight terms. Our forecast gives Democrat Mary Barzee Flores a 1 in 4 chance of defeating him.
  • Florida’s 15th District, based in the I-4 corridor between Orlando and Tampa. It’s an R+13 district, but Republican incumbent Dennis Ross is retiring, and Democratic candidate Kristen Carlson has raised almost double the individual contributions that Republican Ross Spano has. Carlson likewise has a 1 in 4 chance of winning.
  • Oklahoma’s 5th District, another R+13 district, this one held by Republican Steve Russell. The Oklahoma City area hasn’t elected a Democrat to Congress since 1992, but Democrat Kendra Horn has raised $494,000 in individual contributions to Russell’s $268,000. Horn has a 2 in 9 chance of winning.
  • Arizona’s 8th District, which has a partisan lean of R+26 but which Republican Rep. Debbie Lesko initially won just 52 percent to 48 percent in a special election this April. This West Valley-based district has zero Democratic DNA: Republicans have a 17-point voter-registration advantage, Democrats last won a congressional race here in 1980 and the area is known as the base of controversial former Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s support. Yet Democrat Hiral Tipirneni, who was also the Democratic nominee in the special election, has a 1 in 7 chance of winning.

Because of the unpredictability of 435 separate elections all happening at the same time (House races are correlated, but not nearly as much as states are in a presidential election, for example), Democrats could get unlucky in some toss-up races but still win the House by picking off a few of these types of seats — in Arizona, Florida, Oklahoma and other states. And if Democrats win all of these seats on Nov. 6? It’s going to be a very good night for them nationally.

Footnotes

  1. We launched the forecast on Aug. 16, but we also “back-casted” what the model would have said for each day since the start of August. To be clear, though, we don’t consider those back-filled numbers a genuine forecast because they were calculated after the fact.

  2. Technically, in Oklahoma, it was a primary runoff.

  3. Aided by redistricting.

  4. The average difference between how a state or district votes and how the country votes overall. In our new and improved partisan lean formula, 2016 presidential election results are weighted 50 percent, 2012 presidential election results are weighted 25 percent and results from elections for the state legislature are weighted 25 percent.

Nathaniel Rakich is FiveThirtyEight’s elections analyst.

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