Pressure Point Races

By Jim Ellis

Oct. 26, 2016 — It is widely believed that Republicans will keep the House majority in the Nov. 8 election, though Democrats will gain seats. Determining the party division change level is a point of conjecture, however.

Most believe Democrats will gain between 12-15 seats. More optimistic party strategists think they could top 20 districts. Taking the majority would require a net of more than 30 seats, because it also appears a small number of seats are poised to convert to the Republicans.

The Donald Trump presidential scenario continues to unfold, and while some polls actually show him creeping closer on the national popular vote track (Tied – IBD/TIPP, Oct. 18-23, 815 likely US voters; Trump +2 – Rasmussen Reports, Oct. 19-23, 1,500 likely US voters), the all-important state numbers continue to project Hillary Clinton leading in the critical states of Florida and Nevada, while the North Carolina numbers bounce about. Understanding that Trump needs all of the aforementioned states – not to mention each of the 23 normally Republican states, and he has trouble at least in Utah and Arizona – his victory prospects continue to dim daily.

The question looming over the down-ballot races is whether Republican turnout will be demoralized to the point of allowing Democrats to form a wave even though they are following an unpopular Hillary Clinton at the top of the ticket.

Some of what we can term as “pressure point” races report recent polling data that give us a glimpse into present trends.

In northern Virginia’s 10th District, freshman Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-McLean) is attempting to hold her marginal district that has become more Democratic since it was originally drawn in 2011. Her opponent, real estate developer LuAnn Bennett (D), the former wife of ex-Rep. Jim Moran (D-VA-8), released a survey from the new Democratic polling firm, Expedition Strategies. They find Bennett now taking a small lead over Rep. Comstock, 46-42 percent.

In this situation, as we have seen in other places, too, the Republican incumbent has disavowed Trump, but such action has created negative ramifications within the GOP base. While the Expedition poll finds 61 percent of Democrats and 60 percent of Independents saying that Comstock is turning away from Trump only to save her own re-election, 48 percent of sampled Republicans also agree with such a sentiment.

Another poll surfaced against a key Republican incumbent in a similar campaign to that of Comstock’s, though the Florida incumbent has remained silent about Trump. Rep. John Mica’s (R-Winter Park) seat is much more Democratic as a result of the mid-decade court-ordered redistricting. His opponent, college professor Stephanie Murphy (D), released a collaborative poll from Lester & Associates and the Global Strategy Group (Oct. 13-15; 400 likely FL-7 voters) that finds the challenger now topping the veteran congressman, 48-45 percent, largely benefiting from a 54-36 percent split among Independents.

Both Comstock and Mica had million dollar cash-on-hand advantages according to the Sept. 30 financial disclosure reports, and both parties are spending large amounts of money in each district to support their candidate’s prospects.

Should these incumbents fall, the Democratic gain will push closer to 20 seats rather than 15. Counterbalancing these numbers, however, are two other districts where new polls are reporting Republican conversion opportunity chances.

Just southeast of the Mica campaign, Rep. Patrick Murphy’s (D-Jupiter) open 18th District seat appears to be trending toward GOP candidate Brian Mast. An earlier McLaughlin & Associates poll taken for the Mast campaign (Oct. 11-13; 400 likely FL-18 voters) finds the disabled Afghanistan war veteran leading Democratic businessman Randy Perkins, who has made disparaging comments about Mast’s military service, by a 47-40 percent clip.

In northeastern Minnesota, a Survey USA media poll (Oct. 16-19; 595 likely MN-8 voters) sees GOP challenger Stewart Mills now taking a 45-41 percent lead over Rep. Rick Nolan (D-Crosby/Duluth) in a Democratic mining district that Trump is projected to carry. Nolan defeated Mills by a slight 48-47 percent margin in 2014. Though the presidential turnout model should give the Democrats a boost, the energy extraction issues in this Iron Range region are clearly playing to Trump’s benefit, and Mills is taking advantage.

Pressure point races such as these, as well as others around the country, will largely determine how the House breaks during the campaign’s final two weeks.

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