One week to go: Could election be any closer?

Dino Rossi against Patty Murray is a toss-up, but Democrats appear likely to hold Senate control both in D.C. and Olympia.

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Sen. Patty Murray

Dino Rossi against Patty Murray is a toss-up, but Democrats appear likely to hold Senate control both in D.C. and Olympia.

One week to go. Where do we stand and what should we watch for this last week?

At the national level the Republicans are poised to win the U.S. House.  The generic ballot polling shows a huge, unprecedented 8 percent advantage for the GOP. 

Republicans need a net gain of 40 seats to take the majority.  Real Clear Politics compiles all the polling data across the country and is projecting a gain of 61 seats for the GOP.  Virtually every national analyst including Charlie Cook and Nate Silver agree that the House is likely to flip.

Things are much less certain regarding the Senate. Republicans could gain anywhere from three to 11 seats in the upper chamber, as there are currently eight toss-up races that are too close to call.

Odds are the Democrats hold onto a one- or two-seat majority.

One of those toss-up Senate races is right here in Washington state.  As has been discussed repeatedly, the polls in this race have been wildly inconsistent as different pollsters make different assumptions about likely voters.  A look at the recent PPP poll (and PPP is a firm that polls for Democrats) shows where I think this race really stands.  PPP found a likely voter sample with a 3 percent advantage for Democrats, and Murray leading Rossi 49 percent to 47 percent. 

Given the margin of error, that is a dead heat.  Other polling I have seen, again done by a Democratic firm, shows no Democratic advantage among likely voters.  Turnout will likely decide this race and it is too close to call with one week to go.

On the House side, we have three recent SurveyUSA polls in our three competitive House races.  In the race for the open seat in the 3rd Congressional District CD, Republican Jaime Herrera leads Democrat Denny Heck by 11 percent; in the 8th CD, Rep. Dave Reichert leads Democrat Susan DelBene by 7 percent, and in the 2nd CD, Rep. Rick Larsen leads Republican John Koster 50 percent to 47 percent.

In all three races, I think SurveyUSA is including too many Democrats in their likely voter model.  In the 2nd they see a 6 percent advantage for Democrats, in the 8th the gap is 3 percent in favor of the Ds, and even in the Republican-leaning 3rd they see a 1 percent Democratic advantage.  If you assume that the statewide Democrat advantage is less than 5 percent, then it just doesn’t seem credible that these three districts — which don’t include Seattle, Tacoma, or downtown Spokane —would still lean slightly to the Ds.

Bottom line:  Herrera and Reichert will win comfortably, and the Larsen-Koster race is too close to call.

And by the way, keep your eyes on the 9th CD.  We don’t have any recent polling there, but if the Republican wave gets big enough, this race between Rep. Adam Smith and Republican Dick Muri could be close.

Turning  to the state legislature, Republicans will make big gains, but will they take majorities?

Five races, all in the Puget Sound suburban crescent will decide Senate control.  The GOP will have to win them all to take a 25-24 majority.  Those races are: Steve Hobbs (D) v Dave Schmidt (R), 44th District (Bothell); Randy Gordon (D) v Steve Litzow (R) , 41st (Bellevue, Mercer Island);  Tracy Eide (D) v Tony Moore (R) 30th (Federal Way);  Eric Oemig (D) v Andy Hill (R) 45th (Redmond/Woodinville); and Rodney Tom (D) v Gregg Bennett (R), 48th (Bellevue).

On the House side, coming out of the primary Republicans had 41 seats in the “safe” or “likely” category.  Democrats could count 44 seats safe or likely.  This leaves 13 seats that will likely decide the majority, with Republicans needing to win nine of 13 to secure a 50-48 majority.  Those 13 Democratic seats are: two open seats in the 1st Legislative District (Shoreline); Dawn Morrell, 25th (Puyallup, Sumner); Larry Seaquist, 26th (Kitsap, Pierce counties) Kelli Linville, 42nd (Whatcom County) Hans Dunshee, 44th (South Snohomish County); Kathy Haigh and Fred Finn, 35th (Shelton).  Troy Kelly and Tami Green in the 28th (Lakewood); Marcie Maxwell in the 41st (Mercer Island/Bellevue);  Roger Goodman in the 45th  (Redmond); and  the open Democratic seat in the 24th district (Port Angeles).

My best guess is the Ds hold onto the state Senate by a seat or two, but the House is too close to call.  Republicans will likely win somewhere between 46 and 52 seats.  It will all depend on the national tide.

And that brings us to what to watch for this final week.  Quite often, there is a shift right at the end of an election that decides the issue.   In 1980, the Republican team of Ronald Reagan, Slade Gorton, and John Spellman were behind, until the final round of polling showed them pulling ahead.

In 1998, Republicans appeared headed toward a good election, until the public’s adverse reaction to impeachment caused a surge for the Democrats.  In 2004, there was a final weekend surge toward Dino Rossi; in 2008 there was a final weekend surge towards Christine Gregoire.

Most of us have made up our minds.  Many of us have already voted.  But the late deciders often decide elections, and quite often they break predominantly towards one party.  We will have to watch polls all across the country closely this week to see if there is a late surge either way.


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About the Authors & Contributors

Chris Vance

Chris Vance

Chris Vance, a former Republican party chairman, is a senior fellow at the Niskanen Center.