HPI Analysis: Election mystery and an uncertain verdict coming on Nov. 8

Analysis
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INDIANAPOLIS – What do you get when you cross an elephant with RINO? It’s an ancient joke with a contemporary twist, with the answer rhyming with “Hell if I know!” But that seems to be the final homestretch tagline from pundits and operatives.

As journalist Mark McKinnon observed on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” earlier this week, “Things are happening that have never happened before. We’ll just have to await the verdict of the voters.”

Journalist John Heilemann of Showtime’s “The Circus” noted after traveling in state after state, “It feels tight. It’s going to be a wild night.”


Or NBC’s Steve Kornacki told the Washington Post Magazine, “Where a lot of people have confidence, I have doubts. My doubt-to-confidence ratio is extremely high. The present day, where I genuinely don’t know what’s going to happen in November. I could give you five different scenarios right now and we could talk about all the different possibilities. It’s actually getting to the point where I feel like there’s 20 different ways this can go.”

Election mystery and an uncertain verdict coming on Nov. 8

What is clouding this picture?

Start with the traditional first mid-term of a president’s party facing dire straits, then look at President Biden’s approval which was 42.8% in the Real Clear Politics aggregate; while the direction of the country is at 67.4% wrong track.

President Biden’s job approval on the economy stood at 38.9% approve to 58% disapprove in the RCP aggregate. It stood at 33.8%/62% approve/disapprove on inflation; 35.6%/60.2% on immigration, and 38.2%/56.4% on crime. Even on abortion, Biden’s approval was just 38% with 56% disapproving, while on his handling of Russia/Ukraine just 45.3% approved with 50.7% disapproving. With numbers like these, it’s amazing that Democrats are even in the game at all. Yet the U.S. economy grew at a better-than-expected 2.6% GDP, the U.S. is near full employment with a 3.5% jobless rate, and the Dow increased by 14% in September, with those numbers eclipsed by an 8.2% inflation rate.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s June 24 Dobbs decision appeared to even the playing field for Democrats. While there were 334,891 early ballots cast in Indiana as of mid-Wednesday morning, 53% were cast by females. The partisan breakdown was 49% Republican, 40% Democrat, and 11% independent. The twist here is that a significant percentage of Republican women supported Roe and opposed SEA1. Democrat operative Simon Rosenberg notes: “Using TargetEarly (data), at this point in 2018 Republicans had a 400,000 vote national lead. Today Democrats have a 2.4 million vote lead.”

In Indiana, there are a number of partisanized school board races that are expected to gin up suburban turnout. Hyper-partisan school board elections are a new twist, with unknown impacts. A Carmel-based PAC headed by former Indianapolis mayor Bart Peterson has raised $1.6 million from billionaire John Arnold and Netflix CEO Reed Hastings backing charter schools. A number of suburban school board races are based on conservative principles on parental rights and critical race theory. U.S. Sens. Todd Young and Mike Braun have endorsed a Carmel-Clay slate of school board candidates.

The polls are being perceived as unreliable, with Politico observing that a number of partisan Republican polls are impacting aggregate numbers on places like Real Clear Politics and FiveThirtyEight. RCP’s Bill Scher reminds us of what happened during the last mid-term: “In 2018, three Senate candidates overcame small deficits in the RealClearPolitics polling average: Indiana’s Mike Braun (0.7%), Florida’s Rick Scott (2.4%) and Arizona’s Kyrsten Sinema (1%). Polls indicated that all three – two Republicans and one Democrat – were losing a bit of momentum in the final days. (In the case of Indiana, no major media outlet polled the state in the final week.)”

The U.S. Senate is a pure tossup. FiveThirtyEight: “The party that wins two of the three closest states will likely win the Senate majority. Republicans’ two best pick-up opportunities are Nevada and Georgia, however Herschel Walker’s scandals may hurt his chances against Democrat Sen. Raphael Warnock. Meanwhile, Democrats are hoping to pick up a seat in Pennsylvania, but that race has gotten a lot tighter recently. Other Senate races are competitive but have identifiable favorites, with Democrats having an edge in Arizona and New Hampshire while Republicans will likely win in Ohio, North Carolina and Wisconsin.” In the Indiana Senate race, FiveThirtyEight says Republican U.S. Sen. Todd Young has a 98% chance of winning. Rosenberg notes that McConnell’s PAC is still spending in Ohio and North Carolina, as opposed to going on the offensive in Arizona and Nevada.

The U.S. House is trending Republican. The Cook Political Report moved its ratings for 10 more House races in solid-blue New York, New Jersey, Oregon, California and Illinois – in Republicans’ direction. If all of Cook’s “lean,” ‘likely” and “solid” Republican races hold, the GOP would only need to win six of the 35 “toss up” races to take the majority. Democrats would need to win 29 of the 35. FiveThirtyEight gives Republicans an 84% chance of winning the House, saying, “Following the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, there appeared to be a real chance that Democrats could keep control of the House. However, Republicans have regained much of the advantage they had earlier in the summer.”

In the Indiana secretary of state race, Democrat Destiny Wells has pumped about $520,000 in late TV money with an attack ad against Republican Diego Morales. Wells has spent or reserved $312,000 in ads down the homestretch, on top of last week’s $207,000, according to AdImpact. Morales, meanwhile, has spent or booked $107,000, while the INGOP has spent about $350,000 on an ad featuring Morales and the rest of the statewide ticket. Indiana Democrats see this as its best chance for a statewide pickup in a decade. Republicans believe this is a baseline race, with neither candidate expected to have more than 15% name ID. In his TV ads, Morales never speaks.

In the 1st CD, Republican Jennifer-Ruth Green has raised an impressive amount of money, outraising freshman U.S. Rep. Frank Mrvan $2.89 million to $2.23 million, giving Republicans hope that it can pick off a congressional seat it hasn’t held in a century. Open Secrets reports that almost $12 million in outside PAC money was spent in the 1st, giving it a competitive aura. This includes $6.3 million from the Republican Congressional Leadership Fund and $1.34 million from the DCCC. We’re watching to see if former congressman Pete Visclosky hits the campaign trail over the final days. Visclosky is not on the bill for a 5 p.m. Monday GOTV rally that will include Mrvan, McDermott and the state ticket. Visclosky and the United Steelworkers were instrumental in Mrvan’s 2020 primary win over Hammond Mayor McDermott despite trailing in money by a wide margin. FiveThirtyEight gives Mrvan an 87% chance of winning with a forecast margin of 53.4% to 48.6% for Green.

In General Assembly races, Republicans have a clear financial advantage, out-raising Democrats three to one in late money. House Democrats raised $414,258 in late money, while House GOP raised $788,487. Senate Democrats raised $91,738 in late money, Senate GOP raised $742,861. Yet, much of the late House money is flowing into Republican held or leaning seats. Some $128,000 has flowed into State Rep. Dale DeVon’s HD5, including $91,021 for the incumbent; State Rep. Jake Teshka has received $34,000 in HD7; $265,000 has been injected into HD39 with State Rep. Jerry Torr receiving $116,000; $138,000 has come to the open HD32 with Hamilton County Councilman Fred Glynn receiving $65,795; in HD19, there has been $117,000 in late funds including $102,000 for incumbent Republican Julie Olthoff. Two Democrat seats are also in play with $100,000 spilling into HD36 where Republican Kyle Pierce has seen $83,597 while incumbent Rep. Terri Austin has received $17,000; while in HD89, Democrat State Rep. Mitch Gore has taken in $54,000 compared to $47,000 for Republican Michael-Paul Hart.

In the Indiana Senate, $371,000 of late money has flowed into SD31, including $345,000 for incumbent Republican Sen. Kyle Walker, while Democrat Jocelyn Vare has received $26,000. In SD11, Republican State Sen. Linda Rogers has received $75,000; in the open SD26 Republican Scott Alexander has received $37,000 to $7,000 for Democrat Melanie Wright; while in HD45, newly named Senate Majority Floor Leader Chris Garten has received $78,886 in late funds, compared to $1,000 for Jeffersonville Councilman Nick Marshall. Two Region Democrat seats and one in Hamilton County have also received late funds. In SD1, Republican Lake County Councilman Dan Dernulc has received $52,000, compared to $14,000 for State Sen. Michael Griffin; while SD4 Republican challenger Jeff Larsen has received $31,000 compared to $20,000 for State Sen. Rodney Pol Jr. In SD29, Republican Alex Choi has received $101,000 in late money, including $50,000 from himself, while Sen. J.D. Ford has received $22,638.

Conclusions

In HPI’s 28 years of publishing (beginning with the Republican tsunami year of 1994) this has been the hardest cycle to analyze. National polling is questionable, and there has been virtually no credible polling here in the state. Indiana has essentially become a one-party state, and the fundraising, lack of Democrat challengers to GOP leadership, while eight Senate races and 33 in the House are unopposed, indicate the structural advantage for the ruling party emphatically continues.

This cycle should have been a slam dunk GOP wave, except that the Supreme Court’s Dobbs ruling and the House Jan. 6 committee have fueled Democrat concerns over abortion and the fate of American democracy. If next Wednesday Democrats are celebrating, the reason will find roots in those two issues.

If there is a Republican rout, it will validate James Carville’s 1992 mantra (“it’s the economy, stupid”), and will also solidify Donald Trump’s hold on the party, particularly if his chosen Senate candidates (Oz, Herschel, Masters, Budd) prevail, giving Republicans congressional majorities to harass and impeach the Biden administration.

Lurking out in the mist beyond Nov. 8 is the potential indictment of Trump over his hoarding of top secret documents at Mar-a-Lago, which many fear may set off an unprecedented spate of vitriol and partisan violence. And there still is the specter of nuclear war as the Russian despot Vladimir Putin’s army continues to suffer battleground defeats in Ukraine, setting the stage for a cold European winter and a harbinger to worldwide food and energy shortages.

What will happen on Nov. 8? Hell if I know.

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