Is the red wave happening?
Probably not, no, but you wouldn’t need a red wave to hold the Senate or even to add a few seats. All you’d need is solid turnout in red states.
The latest indicators from YouGov point to solid turnout:
Cook moved Senate races in Montana, Nebraska and New Jersey all in favor of Republicans. Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) faces one of the most competitive race this cycle, which was shifted from “lean Democratic” to “toss-up.” Tester is running against state auditor Matt Rosendale (R) in a state where President Trump won by double-digits in 2016.
Jennifer Duffy, a Senate race analyst at Cook Political Report, said Tester initially looked likely to sail to reelection with a comfortable lead in polling and Rosendale facing a crowded primary. Duffy noted that the fight over Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination is energizing the GOP base, though she still gives Tester a slight advantage in the toss-up race.
I’m not sure what Cook is seeing in the New Jersey race — they’ve now moved it from “likely Democratic” to “lean Democratic” — but it should go without saying that losing that one would end any Dem hopes of retaking the Senate. The last poll taken of the state (just a few days ago, after the Kavanaugh/Ford hearing) had Bob Menendez up 11 points, but the last two before that had him ahead by six and two(!) points, respectively. The idea, I suppose, is that Menendez is such a deeply compromised incumbent, with loads of scandal baggage, that it’s not implausible that some Jersey Democrats will take an “anyone but Bob” approach to their vote. Still a longish longshot for Republicans. But it’s in play.
There are reasons for caution about the surge in GOP enthusiasm nationally, though. An obvious one is that someone who says he’ll “definitely vote” today might not say so tomorrow, and vice versa. Republicans are amped to vote at the moment because they’re furious at the Kavanaugh trainwreck and haven’t had anything else on their plate for the better part of a month. If Kavanaugh’s confirmed, though, and suddenly Trump fires Mueller for whatever reason? The “definitely vote” share will shift, and maybe not in the right direction. The great mystery of Kavanaughpalooza is how the winning and losing side end up reacting. Normally it’s the losers of a major political fight who are more amped to vote. Ask some of the dozens of House Democrats who were sent into retirement in 2010 after ramming through ObamaCare.
Another reason for caution is that, despite all the breathless reports lately of surging Republican enthusiasm, the Senate leaderboard at RCP still trends blue:
Out of 13 battleground races, Republicans lead in just four of them. Granted, not all of those states have been polled lately, after the Kavanaugh war went nuclear. The last poll in Montana, for instance, was taken on September 22nd. Maybe Jon Tester’s about to watch his reelection chances go pear-shaped just like Heidi Heitkamp has. Some states have been polled in the last week or so, though — namely, Nevada, Arizona, Florida, and Indiana — and Democrats still lead narrowly in all four. If there’s a big Kavanaugh backlash brewing, the most you can say for it right now is that it appears to have struck North Dakota and … pretty much nowhere else.
The good news, though, is that the Senate map is so favorable to Republicans that even if the RCP leaderboard held and they ended up going 4 for 13, they’d still hold the Senate next year by a 51/49 margin. They could confirm another SCOTUS nominee — barely, assuming the entire party held together. But the good news from 2018 would start to look like bad news come 2020: Because the Senate maps that year and in 2022 are so favorable to Democrats, it’s very likely that Democrats would recapture the Senate and hold it for the balance of a Trump second term if they’re starting with 49 seats. The GOP needs to gain seats this fall to have a shot at holding the chamber past 2020. Not looking great thus far.
One more tidbit from the YouGov data:
There’s been lots of chatter lately about how furious right-wing women are over how Kavanaugh’s been treated. Maybe so, but it’s the other gender that’s pushing the numbers on Republican enthusiasm skyward.