October 31, 2018



I've been repeatedly told over the years that I should stick to political analysis and not prognostication. That's good advice. Readers remember when I'm wrong, not right.

Having said that, here are my 2018 election predictions.

NATIONAL ENVIRONMENT: Inevitable discontent with the sitting president and his party normally results in voter retaliation in the mid-term elections. Elections in 1938, 1946, 1958, 1966, 1974, 1982, 1994, 2006, 2010 and 2014 produced a marked backlash against the president's party. The reasons are multitudinous: Second-term fatigue, presidential ineptitude or scandal, and especially economic sluggishness rank atop the list.

Yet there have been exceptions, as in 1934, 1954, 1962, 1998 and 2002. President John Kennedy's handling of the Cuban missile crisis boosted Democrats in 1962, voter backlash against President Clinton's impeachment boosted Democrats in 1998, and President Bush's handling of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks boosted Republicans in 2002. The party-in-power suffered minimal losses.

And then there is Donald Trump, a totally polarizing president. Unlike prior presidents, Trump's governing style is to satisfy half of the people all of the time, and the other half none of the time. The economy is robust, unemployment is at 3.9 percent, GNP growth is at 4.1 percent, jobs are being created, and the stock market is still around 25000. New tariffs have not crippled the agriculture sector, and domestic fossil fuel production is at record levels. Trump's in-your-face persona has thus far not really precipitated any national or international catastrophes, despite a barrage of "What the hell is he doing?" outrage from the left. The president has carved out a comfort zone, a Trump Nation, and his Tweets and policy decisions are no longer regarded as off-the-wall or outrageous. They're just normal. Latest polls show Trump's "favorables" rising, getting close to 50 percent, up from 39 percent 6 months ago, and his "unfavorables" hovering around 50 percent. The latest NBC/WSJ poll had Trump at 47 to 49 percent. Those are not bad numbers.

But he has enraged the political left. "We will win the (U.S.) House in 2018 and the presidency and (U.S.) Senate in 2020," said one public sector union operative, who predicted a 50-seat Democratic House gain.

Maybe not. That operative concedes that rural America "has gone red," meaning Republican, in an overwhelming way, but that the suburbs "are going blue," meaning Democratic. "I have no doubt that he (Trump) will lose" in 2020. The battle of 2018 is all about the president. The anti-Trumpsters will vote Democratic and the pro-Trumpsters will vote Republican. The outcome will set the tone for 2020.

ILLINOIS: Never has a political campaign - or, for that matter, a governorship - been bungled so badly. Governor Bruce Rauner (R) has not been a "failure," as Democrats allege. Rauner ran a masterful 2014 campaign to "Shake Up Springfield," and he did exactly what he promised, which was to temporarily halt Illinois' inexorable march toward fiscal calamity. That will resume when J.B. Pritzker (D) becomes governor, as he surely will.

Rauner checkmated Mike Madigan; Rauner checkmated spending by not budgeting; Rauner checkmated an income tax hike for 2 years. He should be trumpeting that as his signal accomplishment: I beat Madigan. I wasn't the speaker's patsy. I shook up Springfield.

Instead, despite having more than $80 million to spend - which is dwarfed by Pritzker's self-funding of more than $150 million - Rauner has run a defensive campaign, lamely asserting that things will get worse if he is not governor. He should fire his high-paid consultants. He should have been all over the media, proclaiming his SUCCESS: That he did his job well, that he stymied Madigan. Instead, he has let Pritzker define him as a "failure," and voters are buying into that drivel. Warning that Pritzker and Madigan will do worse does not inspire voters. And his latest political ad that shows a hypothetical "marriage" between Pritzker and Madigan and the priest saying "I now pronounce Illinois (a vulgar way to say 'screwed')" is not helping.

Rauner won by 1,823,627-1,681,343 in 2014, a margin of 142,284 votes, beating a flawed Democratic incumbent. On Nov. 6, with two other candidates drawing a combined 5 to 6 percent, Rauner will be trounced, not coming close to 40 percent, and losing by 700,000 votes. Latest polls show Rauner down 49-27 and 46-30 percent.

IN THE ATTORNEY GENERAL RACE, Republican Erika Harold is blasting Kwame Raoul (D) as a Madigan appendage, claiming that Madigan, with a Democratic AG, will "control" Illinois. She forgets that Madigan's daughter has been AG for 16 years. In the 2002 contest, Lisa Madigan beat Joe Birkett (R) 1,762,949-1,848,003, getting 50.4 percent. Harold is spending heavily, and she will run ahead of Rauner's vote, but she won't top Birkett's percentage. Raoul wins, and will then set his sights on Dick Durbin's (D) U.S. Senate seat, either in 2020 or 2026.

Susana Mendoza (D), the incumbent comptroller, will win re-election easily, and then will immediately jump into the Chicago mayoral race.

The Democratic majorities in the legislature - 37-22 in the Senate and 67-51 in the House - will change only slightly, with an upset or two. Democrats hold all Chicago districts, and two-thirds of collar county districts, while Republicans hold three-fourths of Downstate districts. That will change only if Pritzker and pals impose some really opprobrious taxes on middle-class voters.

COOK COUNTY BOARD: Republican incumbents Sean Morrison and Tim Schneider both face aggressive Democratic opposition in their suburban districts, but they both will win.

U.S. SENATE: Democrats concede that the Republicans' 51-49 majority is secure, largely because 25 of the 36 seats on the ballot this year are Democratic-held. The latest polling shows a definite Republican pickup in North Dakota, and likely pickups in Missouri and Indiana, with possibilities in Florida, where the governor (R) is in a dead-heat with the incumbent, as well as in New Jersey and Montana. That's a potential plus-6. All six Democrats opposed the Kavanaugh nomination. Polls are showing Ted Cruz (R) and Dean Heller (R) ahead in Texas and Nevada, respectively, with open Republican seats in Tennessee and Arizona rated as toss-ups, with the Republican slightly ahead in Tennessee. To take control, Democrats must win three of those four seats. My prediction: A 53-47 Republican majority. Republicans could get a bonus seat in 2019 if West Virginia's Joe Manchin, who cast a pro-Kavanagh vote - which sealed his 2018 re-election - gets punished by his Democratic peers. He could switch parties.

U.S. HOUSE: The Republicans' 239-196 majority is at real risk. Voters care not about what the 115th Congress has accomplished. It's all about Trump, and those opposed will vote Democratic. Republicans can keep control only if pro-Trumpsters turn out. Democrats need a net gain of 23, and will surely win at least 20.

Results in four Illinois districts - the 6th, 12th, 13th and 14th - are critical to any takeover. Incumbent Peter Roskam's (R) west suburban 6th District, which includes DuPage County, and parts of Cook County (Arlington Heights, Mount Prospect), narrowly went for Hillary Clinton in 2016. The Democrat is Sean Casten. Each will spend close to $4 million, and are heavy on network TV, with Casten's ads tying Roskam to Trump, and Roskam's ads tying Casten to Madigan. Polling over the past half-year has consistently shown Casten up by 1-3 points. With Pritzker demolishing Rauner in the suburbs and collar counties, Casten will win.

The obverse is occurring in the Downstate districts, where the president's popularity is increasing. Randy Hultgren (R) is up 4-5 points in the 14th District, which wraps around Cook County from south to north, and both he and Lauren Underwood (D) have raised close to $2 million, and are spending heavily in the Chicago media market. Mike Bost (R) is up 10-12 points in his East Saint Louis/far Downstate district. And Rodney Davis (R) is up 4-5 points against a Democratic woman in his Champaign-Springfield-Decatur district. To insure a takeover, Democrats need one of these Downstate seats.

Elsewhere, Democrats have solid pickup opportunities in suburban districts in California (4), Pennsylvania (3), New York (2), Iowa (2), Minnesota (2), Michigan (2) and Texas (2), and single seats in Kansas, Colorado, Florida, Virginia, Maine, Arizona, Utah and Ohio. My prediction: A Democratic net gain of 21, giving the Republicans a 2-seat majority.

GOVERNORS: There are eight Republican governorships - Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, Nevada, Ohio, South Dakota and Wisconsin - that could flip Democratic, two - Illinois and Michigan - that have already gone, and only two, Oregon and Colorado, which could flip Republican. The most interesting contests are in Florida and Georgia, where black Democrats are very competitive, with polls showing dead-heats. Wisconsin's Scott Walker is trailing slightly in the polls, but the state's vaunted Republican machine brings out the vote, as demonstrated by Trump's 2016 win and Senator Ron Johnson's (R) easy 2016 re-election after trailing most of the campaign. Walker will win, and Republicans will hold Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Nevada and South Dakota, and pick up Oregon.

Democrats have done their utmost to "nationalize" the 2018 election, which means making it all about Trump, as opposed to "localizing" it, which means making it about local issues and local candidates' records. This year has definitely been nationalized, and that means almost every Democrat will be limited to the anti-Trump, anti-Republican "Blue Wave" which just a few months ago was expected to sweep the country.

People who vote early are energized and want their vote to count. Republicans, thus far, are reportedly casting more early votes. My prediction: Nov. 6 will not be the death knell of the Trump presidency.

Send an e-mail to russ@russstewart.com or visit his Web site at www.russstewart.com.