First Read is your briefing from “Meet the Press” and the NBC Political Unit on the day’s most important political stories and why they matter.
President Donald Trump’s supporters cheer as he arrives to speak at a campaign rally in Chattanooga, Tennessee, on Nov. 4, 2018.Evan Vucci / AP
All of the attention on control of Congress, the individual races, and President Donald Trump’s campaign activity has obscured a much bigger story at play in American politics — we’re on the cusp of the House changing hands for a third time in the last 12 years (2006, 2010, 2018?).
Another way to look at it: This could very well be the fourth-straight change midterm election, where at least one chamber of Congress flips (2006, 2010, 2014, 2018?).
We haven’t seen this level of volatility since after World War II, when control of the House changed hands several times in the 1940s and 1950s. And like after World War II and the Great Depression, this country is in the midst of a political realignment that has created this volatility. The contested 2000 presidential election. 9/11. The Iraq War. The Great Recession. Obama. Trump.
We don’t know if Democrats will win control of Congress in tonight’s election, although they’re the strong favorites to regain the House. But we do know how volatile — and divided — our politics have become.
And whichever party wins tonight will have just won a battle and not the war in these politically volatile times.
Who made the better bet: Democrats, with independents? Or the GOP, with the base?
For all of tonight’s central questions (Which party controls Congress? Does Trump get rebuked or rewarded? Just how big is that gender gap?), this might be the most fascinating one of all: What was the better political bet in 2018 — playing to the base or to the middle?
Trump and GOP strategists made it all about that base; just see Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh at last night’s rally with Trump in Missouri. But Democrats — especially in the Senate races in red/purple states like Arizona, Indiana, Missouri, Montana and Tennessee — focused their messages on the middle of the electorate.
Maybe the best example of this base-versus-middle divide is the 50-50 Senate race in Arizona between Democrat Kyrsten Sinema (whose message was aimed at the middle) and Republican Martha McSally (who was playing more to the Trump base in this traditional GOP state).
Be sure to see how independents break in Arizona and nationally. If Democrats are winning them by more than 10 points — our NBC/Marist poll of Arizona had Sinema up more than 20 points among indies — it’s hard to see how they aren’t going to win across the country.
On the other hand, if those independent margins are smaller and if GOP turnout and enthusiasm are through the roof, then that base approach will have been the smarter play
One of the hallmarks of Trump’s two years in office is how he’s focused almost exclusively on his base — the 40 percent to 45 percent of voters who approve of his job — at the expense of the rest of the electorate, including the middle.
Does the middle still exist in American politics? Or is it all about that base? We’ll find out tonight.
Which Democrats have more success: The ones who played to the middle? Or the ones who boldly played to the base?
Here’s a related question on our mind: Which Democrats will have more success — the Dems in red/purple states who played more to the middle like Sinema in Arizona, Claire McCaskill in Missouri and Phil Bredesen in Tennessee?
Or the Dems in red/purple states who made bolder appeals to their base — Stacey Abrams in Georgia, Andrew Gillum in Florida and Beto O’Rourke in Texas?
Race by race, here’s the Democrats’ path to winning back the House
As for the battle for the House, we’re re-upping our road map how Democrats get to the net 23 seats they need to win control of Congress:
The Democratic Defense (6)
First thing’s first: Democrats aren’t playing defense very many places, and they can probably afford to (and expect to) lose a few seats. Here are six they currently hold and are most likely to lose. (In order of final poll closing time — all times ET)
NH-1 (8pm): OPEN — previously held by Carol Shea-Porter (D). Eddie Edwards (R) v. Chris Pappas (D). Seat went 48-46 for Trump.
PA-14 (8pm): OPEN — previously held by Conor Lamb (D) who is running in a new district. Guy Reschenthaler (R) v. Bibiana Boerio (D). Redistricted. New seat estimated to be Trump +29. (Note: Due to redistricting, this is expected to flip)
MN-1 (9pm): OPEN — previously held by Tim Walz (D). Jim Hagedorn (R) v. Dan Feehan (D). Seat went 53-38 for Trump.
MN-8 (9pm): OPEN —previously held by Rick Nolan (D). Pete Stauber (R) v. Joe Radinovich (D). Seat went 54-38 for Trump.
NV-3 (10pm): OPEN — previously held by Jacky Rosen (D). Danny Tarkanian (R) v. Susie Lee (D). Seat went 48-47 for Trump.
NV-4 (10pm): OPEN — previously held by Ruben Kihuen (D). Crescent Hardy (R) v. Steven Horsford (D). 50-45 for Clinton.
The Most Probable Flips (15)
Strategists on both sides of the aisle believe that these races are most likely to flip from Republican to Democratic. Democrats aim to get…
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