The evidence keeps piling up that control of the House in the upcoming midterm elections will be decided by suburbanites, such as those in Oakland County, especially college-educated voters.
With 64 house districts nationwide in play heading into November, the unknowns consist mostly of voters in suburban districts who tend to be better off financially and better educated than voters in either rural districts or in inner cities.
These suburbanite voters, especially women, consist of moderates and ticket-splitters, compared to urban and rural voters. They are the last vestige of somewhat undecided voters in this 2018 election.
Of course, the overwhelming political factor remains President Trump, whose approval ratings remain low, and particularly dismal in many of the nation’s suburbs.
Democratic candidates control the inner cities and House districts that have a suburban-urban mix. Republican contenders are favored in rural areas and sparsely populated suburbs, often described as exurbs that extend into farmland.
In Michigan, the two highly competitive districts that have received a flurry of attention from both parties are: the 11th District (a portion of Oakland and western Wayne counties) where an open seat, created by the abrupt retirement of GOP incumbent Rep. David Trott, created a free-for-all. Following a 10-candidate primary, the nominees who emerged, both first-time candidates, were Republican Lena Epstein and Democrat Haley Stevens. The November general election is playing out in a squiggly-lined district that was drawn by the Republicans and may give Epstein an advantage.
In the neighboring 8th District, which stretches from northern Oakland County to Lansing, GOP incumbent Mike Bishop faces a potentially career-ending challenge from Democratic newcomer Elissa Slotkin.
It should be noted that, as national GOP groups reportedly have cut back on their financial support for Bishop, he has launched an outrageous TV ad campaign that claims Slotkin’s agenda would somehow bankrupt the country.
Beyond the desperation tactics, September polls showing Democrats nationwide picking up dozens of House seats have changed in the GOP’s favor in recent days. The highly regarded Cook Political Report still shows 44 Republican-held House seats as “toss-ups or worse” in the midterms. But a shifting landscape might be in the works.
Though one September poll showed the Dems with a whopping 22-point advantage among suburban voters, pollsters are flummoxed about more recent surveys that show divergent results. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh suffered a dramatic drop in public support during the final days of his contentious Senate confirmation process, while subsequent numbers show that the Democratic edge in congressional elections has declined. This is based on generic polls in which likely voters are asked which party they favor in the upcoming congressional elections.
Several polls now show the Dems’ generic advantage down to 4 points in highly contested districts, plus an overall boost for several GOP incumbents such as Bishop. At the same, Stevens, in the adjoining 11th District, has improved her standing.
Missing from all these numbers and political prognostications is the ongoing fact that big stories fade so fast in the era of Trump, Twitter and Facebook. The Kavanaugh confirmation could be old news in a week or two, just as the stunning revelation that up to 3,000 Puerto Ricans died in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria faded fast last month.
Meanwhile, health care coverage remains a constant; the Russian cyberattack investigation will again produce headlines. With the massive federal tax cut mired in lowly approval ratings, the GOP doesn’t seem to have a signature issue. The booming economy has belied the old maxim that “people vote with their pocketbooks.”
So, targeted Republican House candidates have led in 12 recent New York Times/Siena College polls by less than four points.
With the midterms a month away, we now see a thin line between a Democratic wave election and a nail-biter on Election Night, with control of the House to be decided by just a handful of suburban outcomes.