Oct 26, 2018 11 days to Nov 06, 2018
The Hot Seats

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

Eleven more days. And yet, so much uncertainty! After weeks of discussing polling swings and debating the existence of a “Kavanaugh bump,” polling margins have begun to harden, and it’s time for candidates to start making their closing arguments and grind out another point or two. Much of the most interesting action is happening in gubernatorial races, which aren’t always dictated by national trends. Though Democrats have a strong chance in Florida and are hopeful for an upset in Georgia, they’re having to work to defend a seat in Oregon. On to the seats!

Andrew Gillum and Ron DeSantis.
Andrew Gillum and Ron DeSantis.
Photo illustration by Lisa Larson-Walker. Photos by Chris O’Meara—Pool/Getty Images and Joe Raedle/Getty Images.

Rank 1

Last Week Up from last week #5

1. Florida Governor

There’s no such thing as a free Hamilton ticket.

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum has been having so much fun in his race against Trump clone Ron DeSantis. He’s creating viral debate moments and leading in the polls, and the enthusiasm around his candidacy could help drag some other Florida Democrats across the finish line with him. Life is good—except for this whole FBI probe into the Tallahassee government, which bubbled up again this week over a disputed story of how Gillum got his hands on a free Hamilton ticket in 2016. In retrospect, Gillum should’ve recognized that the only way that “free Hamilton ticket,” as a concept, makes sense is if it’s a trick played by federal authorities. But isn’t this also just the usual city hall stuff playing out daily across the country? We’ll soon find out just how much it matters.

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Rank 2

Last Week
Unranked

2. Georgia Governor

The most polarizing race in the country looks headed to a runoff.

The Georgia gubernatorial race between Democrat Stacey Abrams, the first black woman to win a major party’s gubernatorial nomination, and Republican Brian Kemp, arguably the whitest person in the country, has become the central battleground in the country’s voting-rights wars. Kemp, Georgia’s secretary of state, has admitted privately to his campaign’s “concern” if “everybody uses and exercises their right to vote.” The specific concerns over turnout—and the dirty tricks played to blunt it—demonstrate just how close this race is. An NBC News poll this week found the candidates in an effective tie. But the most important number in the poll may be 4 percent: the share of the electorate that the libertarian candidate, Ted Metz, is earning. Metz’s small share of support would be enough to prevent any candidate from getting 50 percent on Election Day, sending the race into a runoff on Dec. 4. And no, Kemp would not recuse himself as administrator of the runoff, either.

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Rank 3

Last Week Down from last week #1

3. Texas Senate

Early voting has begun. Early voting turnout is enormous.

President Trump finally visited Texas to campaign with his dear longtime chum Sen. Ted Cruz—yes, friends call friends’ wives ugly and say their dads killed JFK!—in the most-watched race in the country. The day of his visit was no accident. It was the first day of early voting in Texas, and both sides were eager to put up strong showings. Rather than humiliate ourselves by trying to determine who will win based on a few days of early voting, we’ll instead just gawk at the absurdity of these early vote totals, which were nearing presidential-level numbers. Consider Harris County, which includes Houston. Over the first two days, 181,916 voters cast early ballots in the county. That’s much closer to the 2016 turnout through day two—205,390—than it is the 2014 midterm turnout through day two—83,347. This is happening across the state (and across the country), and both party bases seem pretty well mobilized.

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Rank 4

Last Week
Unranked

4. Florida’s 15th District

An unpleasant surprise for Republicans.

Yet another race in Florida has turned into a test for Republicans late in the game. Florida’s 15th district, which spreads from the Tampa Bay area inland, is an open seat vacated by retiring GOP Rep. Dennis Ross. With a partisan ranking of R+6, it’s just on the border of competitive and noncompetitive. And this one is, indeed, competitive. Democratic candidate Kristen Carlson, a former general counsel for the state’s Department of Citrus (Florida!), is giving GOP state Rep. Ross Spano a serious run for it. Two quality surveys released last week showed Carlson and Spano tied, and Carlson—like most Democrats this cycle—will have much more money to spend down the stretch. House Republicans already have plenty of terrain on which to spend. They don’t need any new areas of concern popping up.

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Rank 5

Last Week Down from last week #4

5. Missouri Senate

Apparently Democrats don’t like their own candidate calling Democrats “crazy.”

Crafty Missouri Democrat Claire McCaskill has been running a radio ad in mid-Missouri, targeted at more conservative voters, in which two extremely fictional men have a conversation that no real humans in Missouri or anywhere have ever or would ever have. After the two complain about how her opponent, state Attorney General Josh Hawley, “has been caught hanging at the gym and out buying wine during work hours,” they discuss how they like McCaskill, in part, because “she’s not one of those crazy Democrats.” Word of the ad has spread back to the Democratic base in Missouri’s cities, and some people have questions. Several leading black Democrats representing areas in and around St. Louis, such as Ferguson, would like to know if McCaskill considers African Americans to be among the “crazy Democrats.” State Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal had some particularly harsh words for the senator: “All Claire wants is to win by any means necessary, and if that means stomping on the people who are her base, she’ll do it.”

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Rank 6

Last Week
Unranked

6. Oregon Governor

The incumbent Democrat is working hard to save her seat. In Oregon. In a pro-Democratic cycle.

Though Democrats are poised to take back some of the critical governor’s mansions they lost in 2010, they’re having an unusually difficult time protecting their incumbent in Oregon, a comfortably blue state. Gov. Kate Brown, who took the seat in 2015 after her predecessor resigned, is running for her first full term against Republican state legislator Knute Buehler. The latter is running an unorthodox Republican campaign: Trumpy on immigration—he’s called for revoking Oregon’s “sanctuary state” status—while supportive of abortion and same-sex marriage rights. He’s also hammered Brown for failing to address the state’s homelessness issue and its unfunded pension liabilities. The state hasn’t had a Republican governor since the 1980s, but the Real Clear Politics polling average now has Buehler within 4 points of Brown. The Cook Political Report has moved the race to “toss-up” status. It doesn’t hurt Buehler that megabillionaire Nike co-founder Phil Knight is essentially bankrolling his campaign.

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Rank 7

Last Week
Unranked

7. Minnesota’s 8th District

Democrats are finding their ceiling.

Democrats thought they might have a problem when Democratic Rep. Rick Nolan announced his retirement in this R+4 district covering the rural northeastern part of Minnesota. And so they do: In the most recent New York Times/Siena poll, Republican Pete Stauber led Democrat Joe Radinovich by 15 percentage points—the same margin by which Donald Trump won the district in 2016. (It had previously gone for Obama.) This is an example of how Democratic gains could hit a hard ceiling if the electorate polarizes along the lines of the 2016 election: Democrats will swing the suburbs their way, but those rural districts that flipped red under Trump will settle into their redness. The good news for Democrats is that there are enough sitting-duck Republicans in suburban districts to take back the majority in the House. It just might not be the most comfortably padded majority.

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