The Nov. 4, 2014 election is in 70(!) days.
With just 10 weeks separating us from our favorite biennial event, let's go through 10 things -- 10 weeks, 10 things....get it? -- that I think we know about the midterm election to come. They're listed in no particular order.
1. President Obama isn't helping his party. Whether it's the perceived disconnect between his needs/wants and those of Democrats on the ballot this fall or his plan to issue an executive order on immigration sometime this fall or his desultory approval ratings, Obama looks like a weight pulling down his party. I've heard countless anecdotes about polling conducted in House races that should be competitive for Democrats where Obama's ratings are in the high to even mid 30s -- making it virtually impossible for a candidate of his party to win. It's hard to imagine anything happening to change that reality since opinion is so locked in on the president.
2. This isn't a wave election. Yet. The last two midterm elections -- 2006 and 2010 -- were waves, elections totally dominated by the national issue environment to the detriment of individual candidates trying to swim against the tide. (Terrible water metaphor alert!) That doesn't look like it's happening just yet. The generic Congressional ballot -- "if the election were held today would you prefer a Republican or Democratic controlled Congress?" -- shows Democrats with a narrow one-point edge, a far cry from the five point (and building) margin that Republicans had at this time in the 2010 election. And, in Senate races, candidates like Mark Pryor (Ark.) and Mark Begich (Alaska) are hanging in races that, if the national environment was worse, would already be lost.
3. The House isn't in play. Not even close. Despite this not looking like the 2010 Republican wave election, Democrats have almost zero hope of winning the 17 seats they need to re-take the House majority. That's the result of a politically damaged president and a national redistricting process controlled by Republicans that shored up many of the even marginally competitive seats around the country. The real goal for Democrats in the House this fall is to keep the seat margin respectable (a single-digit seat loss) so that they can make a real run at the majority in 2016, which, given presidential year turnout, should be a better year for them.
4. Three Democratic Senate seats are already gone. With appointed Sen. John Walsh's (D) decision to drop out of the Montana Senate race amid plagiarism allegations, there are now a trio of Democratic-held open seats that are all but certain Republican pickups in November -- Montana, West Virginia and South Dakota. Of the trio, Democrats have their best candidate in West Virginia but it may also be the state that dislikes Obama (and the national Democratic party) the most. (Republicans also have one of their best candidates in the country in the West Virginia race.)
5. Republicans didn't shoot themselves in the foot with their candidates. Unlike 2010 (Sharron Angle! Christine O'Donnell!) and 2012 (Todd Akin! Richard Mourdock!), Republican primary voters have avoided nominating candidates who simply can't win general elections. Victories by incumbents like Thad Cochran (Miss.), Lamar(!) Alexander (Tenn.) and Pat Roberts (Kans.) kept Democrats from expanding a very limited map for them. And primary wins by challengers like Thom Tillis (N.C.), Dan Sullivan (Alaska) and Joni Ernst (Iowa) put the strongest possible Republican forward. If Republicans don't win the Senate this time around, it won't be because of self-inflicted wounds.
6. North Carolina is the race on which the Senate will pivot. If you assume that Montana, West Virginia and South Dakota are gone for Democrats and that Arkansas and Louisiana are going to be tough, then the majority maker for Republicans looks increasingly like the swing state of North Carolina. (You could also make a case here for Colorado, Iowa or Alaska.) Spending by outside groups suggests they think North Carolina is the pivot; it's the race where the most outside money has been spent to date this cycle.
7. This isn't a vote for Republicans. The worst mistake Republicans can make if they pick up House seats and retake the Senate majority in 70 days time is to assume that those victories somehow solve the demographic and policy problems that ail the party. They don't. If Republicans "win" the 2014 election -- and all historical trends and current data points in that direction -- it is almost exclusively due to unhappiness with Washington/politics/culture and the belief that President Obama is ultimately responsible for it. Every poll shows how bad the Republican brand remains -- a fact that will be unchanged heading into 2016 no matter what happens in 10 weeks.
8. Competence is the watchword of the election. What voters want is less partisanship and more competence. They've soured badly on both parties but the competence issue has hit President Obama particularly hard given that he was elected (and reelected) in no small part due to a belief that he was uniquely up to the job. (People don't necessarily believe that anymore.) Given that premium on competence, Congressional Republicans have to do everything they can this fall -- particularly in the face of Obama's expected executive order on immigration -- to demonstrate a seriousness of purpose and rhetoric that convinces voters they could be reliable stewards of both legislative branches.
9. Scott Walker is in a real race. John Kasich isn't. At the start of the 2014 cycle, both parties were looking anxiously at the reelection races of Walker in Wisconsin and Kasich in Ohio. Both men were (and are) seen as potentially strong candidates for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016 and represent key swing states in the coming presidential election. Walker's race against former Trek executive Mary Burke has turned into a barn burner; Kasich's race against Cuyahoga County executive Ed FitzGerald (the frontrunner for worst candidate of 2014) has fizzled. As a result, Kasich is getting more buzz about the presidential race -- and doing little to knock it down.
10. This election won't solve anything. Like most midterms, the 2014 election is shaping up as a warm-up to a larger battle of ideas (and demographics) in 2016. In fact, the advanced state of the 2016 maneuvering -- especially on the Republican side -- makes clear that what happens this fall is only a precursor to what's coming over the 18 months that follow it. The likeliest outcome of this election -- a widened Republican majority in the House and a narrow Republican majority in the Senate -- ensures an even less productive next two years than the last two. Gridlock and political jockeying for 2016 will be all encompassing.