Sept 21, 2018 46 days to Nov 06, 2018
Hot Seats

Slate’s guide to the seven midterms races everyone is talking about this week.

Take a breath. Let’s talk about drama that’s not happening within the Senate Judiciary Committee for just a minute. In this week’s Hot Seats, we look at a brewing problem Democrats are facing as well as a seesaw week in everyone’s favorite Texas Senate race. Two indicted congressmen are now actively running for re-election, Scott Walker may not get to be emperor of Wisconsin for life, Trump is mad at one of his sycophants, and, hahaha, ugh, Democrats are blowing the easiest House pickup in the country. And yes, fine, we do mention Brett Kavanaugh once, but only through the lens of Missouri!

Gina Ortiz Jones and Rep. Will Hurd
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Thomas McKinless/CQ Roll Call and Melina Mara/The Washington Post via Getty Images.

Rank 1

Last Week Up from last week #4

1. Texas’ 23rd District

A special-election result is a big, blinking red light for Democrats.

It may have fallen under the national radar in light of other news, but Democrats low-key experienced one of their worst election nights of the year this week. On Tuesday, Republican Pete Flores defeated Democrat Pete Gallego in a special election for the Texas state Senate in a majority-Hispanic district that Democrats had held forever and that Hillary Clinton won by 12 percentage points in 2016. Here’s one of the problems from a national perspective: This Texas state Senate district, which runs along the West Texas border, overlaps almost entirely with Texas’ 23rd Congressional District, where Rep. Will Hurd is one of Democrats’ top targets this cycle but running strong against challenger Gina Ortiz Jones. Democrats are growing concerned that they have a Hispanic-enthusiasm problem nationally, which could hurt their chances in absolutely crucial states like Texas, Florida, Arizona, and California. Watch out for this.

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Rank 2

Last Week Down from last week #1

2. Texas Senate

What is even going on here?

Yup, this one again. Quinnipiac released a survey earlier this week showing Sen. Ted Cruz leading Rep. Beto O’Rourke 54 to 45 percent. Yikes! And what were we just saying about Democrats’ problems with Hispanic voters? O’Rourke was only leading by 9 percentage points among Hispanics in this poll. In other words: O’Rourke is finished. But wait, wait’s this? Another poll, from Reuters/Ipsos/UVA, showing O’Rourke ahead, 47 percent to 45 percent. Now it is Ted Cruz who is finished. In summary: This is a friendly Hot Seats reminder to follow polling averages and not individual polls, and those polling averages, along with the opinion of just about every expert in the country, show that Cruz has a consistent if not comfortable lead. We’ll know it’s comfortable when he stops “joking” about how O’Rourke will ban barbecue.

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Rank 3

Last Week
Unranked

3. Wisconsin Governor

What’s that smell? Is it the torching of Scott Walker’s political career?

During his run in the last presidential election, one of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s most swaggering talking points was that he had won three races in four years: his first-term election, his recall election, and his re-election. He was a winner. But since then, things have trended in a more, uh, losing direction for Walker. He lost the hell out of that presidential primary despite being a strong candidate on paper, and he’s in a hole in his race for a third term as governor. He hasn’t led a poll against his opponent, Democrat Tony Evers, since June. Both the polling average, and the highly respected Marquette Law poll that came out this week, have him down by about 5 percentage points. Walker and his allies have tried to claw back by blaming Evers, the state school superintendent, for every bad thing a teacher in the state has done.

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Rank 4

Last Week
Unranked

4. Florida Governor

Are Trump and DeSantis breaking up?

Ron DeSantis won the Florida Republican gubernatorial primary by running the most pro-Trump campaign in the country, which is really saying something. He made himself indistinguishable from the president, and the president returned the favor by endorsing him. But that was all in the primary! Now DeSantis has to win a general election in a swing state against a promising Democratic challenger, Andrew Gillum. So when the president went on recently about how the 3,000-person Hurricane Maria death toll in Puerto Rico was fake news, DeSantis made clear that he didn’t share the president’s opinion. The president, Politico reported this week, viewed the remark as “profoundly disloyal” after what he had done for DeSantis. But being on Trump’s shit list isn’t DeSantis’ only problem right now: A donor who’s given him $20,000 over the years appears to enjoy the N-word. So, yeah, this is a race people are talking about, and not in a good way for DeSantis.

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Rank 5

Last Week
Unranked

5. Missouri Senate

How the first closely watched red-state Democrat handled Kavanaugh.

There’s a general chattering-class belief that the sexual assault allegation against Brett Kavanaugh gives red-state Senate Democrats in difficult re-election races the cover they need to vote against him. That may be true, but it doesn’t mean that’s what the red-state Democrats will cite as their reason. Consider Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill, the first of the five or six heavily pressured Democrats to announce that she would vote “No” on the nomination after having been silent on the matter for quite some time. In her Wednesday statement, McCaskill cited Kavanaugh’s views on “dark money” and other campaign finance issues as her reasons. Maybe she would have voted no, citing that same issue, in a world where the allegations against Kavanaugh had never come to light. But this seems like a formula that other red-state Democrats could replicate: The allegations make the broader politics surrounding Kavanaugh’s nomination more toxic, freeing up space for Democrats to come out against him by citing the unifying political issue—corporate money in politics is bad, for instance—of their choice.

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Rank 6

Last Week
Unranked

6. New York’s 27th District

Chris Collins is back! Oh God, Chris Collins is back …

Bless the understated shock of Nick Langworthy, the chairman of the Erie County Republican Party, upon hearing from indicted Rep. Chris Collins that he had changed his mind and would, in fact, run for re-election in this Buffalo-area district. “This is something we did not expect to happen,” Langworthy said. Though Collins had considered putting his name on a ballot line for a random local race—what New York requires to remove yourself from the congressional ballot—his counsel decided it would just be easier to stay in the race due to the “protracted and uncertain nature of any legal effort to replace” him. (If only Collins had considered the protracted and uncertain consequences before parlaying inside stock information to his kid.) Democratic candidate Nate McMurray might have been pleased to know that he’ll be running against the indicted guy after all. But Democrats shouldn’t get their hopes up too much. I think it’s safe to say that Collins looked at some polling data before changing his mind to stay in the race.

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Rank 7

Last Week
Unranked

7. Florida’s 27th District

Democrats are blowing a gimme of a pickup.

The absolute easiest seat in the country for Democrats to flip this cycle should be Florida’s 27th District, covering parts of Miami and its suburbs. It’s a D+5 district and the incumbent, longtime moderate Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, is retiring. A free seat. Take it, Dems! Go get ’em! And yet, there are Problems. Democrats nominated Donna Shalala, the academic and former secretary of Health and Human Services. Nice résumé. But she doesn’t speak Spanish, while her opponent, former Spanish-language television host Maria Salazar, sure does. That’s an issue in a Miami district. And Democratic operatives in Florida, Politico reported this week, have been griping about how Shalala’s campaign went from “active mode to sleep mode” in April. If Democrats lose this race, they might as well pack it in as a party. More than they already have.

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