Washington Report: What to Watch on Election Night

by Craig Piercy, ACPA Washington Advocate

The 2018 midterm elections are just around the corner, and unless you have been living under a rock, you know the stakes are high. Democrats have a better than 50-50 chance of gaining a majority in the U.S. House, and while control of the Senate still favors the GOP, increasingly competitive races in Republican strongholds like Tennessee and Texas suggest Democrats have a real shot of taking control of Congress.

Clearly, the 2016 election shows the danger of conventional political wisdom. (Yes, I thought Hillary would win) So rather than making predictions, I offer you three races, two in Indiana and one in Kentucky, which will tell us a lot about the direction of election night 2018. Note that both states’ polls close at 6 p.m., an hour before the other Eastern Time zone states.

Indiana Senate:
Sen. Joe Donnelly (D) v. Mike Braun (R)

Trump-endorsed Mike Braun and incumbent Democrat Senator Joe Donnelly are in a close race for Indiana’s senate seat. Donnelly has represented Indiana since his upset win in the 2012 race and is a self-described “centrist Democrat.” Donnelly voted to support Trump’s priorities about 55 percent of the time, and often touts this statistic as proof of his bipartisanship—a move that makes sense in a state that strongly supported Trump in 2016.

Braun, a graduate of Harvard Business School who owns an auto parts distributing company, previously served in the Indiana House of Representatives. Braun has voiced his support for parts of Obamacare, and, despite endorsements from Trump and the National Rifle Association, has branded himself as a moderate. However, lackluster fundraising has left him at a comparative disadvantage going into the final phase of the campaign.

What it means: Donnelly has the edge. If Braun wins, the GOP will likely hold the Senate.

Kentucky – 6th District:
Rep. Andy Barr (R) v. Amy McGrath (D)

Voters in Kentucky’s Sixth Congressional District are deciding whether to re-elect Republican incumbent Congressman Andy Barr or replace him with Democratic newcomer Amy McGrath.

Home to the Bourbon Trail and a wide swath of Kentucky horse country, the district has been reliably Republican. Barr, a lawyer who earned his law degree from the University of Kentucky, has represented this district since 2012 and is a strong supporter of President Trump. He won handily in 2014, amassing a 20-point-margin victory; however recent polls now have this race in a dead heat.

Kentucky bourbon has been a favorite target of foreign retaliatory tariffs, potentially erasing the tax cuts Barr championed in Congress. His opponent Amy McGrath has a compelling personal story as Naval Academy graduate and a former marine fighter pilot who flew 89 combat missions in Afghanistan. Her veteran status is a rarity for House Democrats, and may help her attract non-traditional Democrat voters.

What it means: The best early indicator of House control. A McGrath win strongly suggests a Democratic takeover of the House. A Barr win would be a hopeful sign for the GOP.

Indiana – 2nd District:
Rep. Jackie Walorski (R) v. Mel Hall (D)

In north-central Indiana, Republican incumbent Jackie Walorski will face Democratic political outsider Mel Hall in the race for Indiana’s 2nd Congressional District seat.

Walorski is a known commodity, having represented the district since 2012, and in the Indiana Statehouse before. She is a strong advocate for tax reform, and has been endorsed by the National Rifle Association and Indiana Right to Life, but, like Hall, has expressed her desire to work across party lines.

Hall, a former minister and businessman, is emphasizing his experience in business and the healthcare industry. He has been vocal about his willingness to work with Republicans, and has called for new Democratic House leadership, which has led some to describe him as a Donnelly-style moderate Democrat.

What it means: A Walorski loss would be a strong sign of a Democratic “wave.”

Of course, a lot can happen between now and Election Day. There might be specific developments or scandals that change the competitive nature of any or all of these races. But assuming the fundamentals stay the same, these will be your best “canaries in the coalmine” indicators as election night 2018 gets underway.