By the time that this posts, there will be one week to go until the end of voting. For a variety of reasons, the national campaign has been even more negative than is normal (although nowhere near the most negative presidential campaign in US history, the campaigns of the 1800s were routinely negative with lots of slanderous accusations). More importantly, the daily release of a new piece of negative information about the presidential candidates have sucked up a lot of the oxygen from state and local races.
While the news media focuses on the national race for president, the reality is that even, for president, there is not a national election. The race for president is actually 51 local races (one in each state and in the District of Columbia). Senate control will be decided by 34 local elections, and control of the House will be decided by 435 local races. It’s impossible for anyone person to know the lay of the land in all of the races (one reason why polling exists), but each of us have some idea of what is happening where we live. Here is what things are looking like in Missouri and Kansas.
In recent elections, Missouri has not been the most favorable turf for Democratic presidential candidates. While President Obama made the contest close in 2008, in the other three most recent elections, Republicans have won by 3-9%. The folks at 538 are projecting the race at a 7% gap in favor of Trump with most polls falling in the 3-12% range. The recent practice of the national candidates to charge for signs makes it hard to tell the support on the ground. (This change is partially understandable given the economics of a national campaign. When needing to travel to multiple states all over the country and advertise in multiple media markets, it is hard to justify budgeting money for signs that could be spent on advertising or more field staff.)
My hunch is that the polls are relatively accurate. This year’s results perhaps being the exception to the rule, the Republicans nationally are a little more moderate than the state Republicans. On the other hand, the Democrats nationally are a little more liberal than the state Democrats. Thus, while Missouri is a classic swing state for state elections, it is a reach state (a state that Democrats will be competitive in only when the national election is not close) for the presidential candidate.
While the presidential race is probably out of reach, the down ballot races are a mixed bag. For Senate, Missouri is one of the few states in which the Republican candidate for Senate is doing worse than Donald Trump. Senator Roy Blunt, of course, is the antithesis of Donald Trump. Blunt’s career in politics goes back to the 1980s and he is well-connected to the Washington lobbying community. His opponent, Secretary of State Jason Kander, is a classic Missouri Democrat in the mode of current Senator Claire McCaskill. His youth, his energetic campaign style, and his war record have put this case right on the bubble. There are not that many polls and the four most recent polls have a split result — one showing Blunt up and two showing Kander up. My hunch is that Kander will win, but any major swing in favor of either party could determine who wins.
The race for Governor is in many ways a mirror of the national presidential race. Democratic Attorney General Chris Koster began the campaign as the presumptive nominee (unlike Secretary Clinton, he did not face any significant primary competition). The Republican side had a crowded field (ultimately four significant candidates) and they nominated a candidate — Eric Greitens — with no political experience. Like Trump, Greitens has refused to disclose his taxes. Like Trump, the charity that Greitens established has a taint of self-dealing. Additionally, despite Missouri having no campaign contribution limits, some of Greitens supporters have laundered donations through some Super PACs, raising questions about who is supporting Greitens. At some points, polls have shown Koster with a significant lead. Other polls have shown a closer race. While — due to not being a close state in the presidential race — Missouri has been generally underpolled, all of the polls have shown Koster in the lead. Democrats should keep the governorship, but it might be a long evening before the result is clear. Republicans are dumping money into this race because “right to work (for nothing)” is a major issue in Missouri right now. If Democrats lose the governorship, the ability of Missouri unions to take part in politics will take a serious hit. Since Republicans do not like a level playing field and free and fair elections, the Missouri governorship would be a major pick-up for the Republican party.
Unfortunately, there are not any significant House races in Missouri. In 2011, the Republicans thoroughly gerrymandered the House district. Of the eight districts, six are solid districts (five Republicans with scores of +12 to +19, and one Democrat with a score of +28). The other two are likely districts (Republican +8 and the Democrat +9). In an off-year, maybe the Republicans could compete in the Fifth District. In a presidential-year, it would take a great candidate and a weak Republican candidate to compete in the Second District (maybe by 2020, the Second could be competitive). The Democratic candidate in the Second lacks the funding necessary to challenge, and the Republican candidate in the Second distanced herself from Trump early. The Second District is the type of suburban district that the Republicans could lose if Trump is the future of the Republican Party, but for now it seems safe.
Down ballot, the races should be close. The Democrats have a solid candidate for Lieutenant Governor — former Congressman Russ Carnahan, son of the late Governor Mel Carnahan and brother of former Secretary of State Robin Carnahan. The Republicans have a solid candidate for Secretary of State, Jay Ashcroft, son of former Governor, Senator, U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft. Name recognition will probably pull these two candidates through. The other two spots — state Attorney General and Treasurer. Missouri has been fortunate to have Democratic Attorney Generals for the past twenty-four years providing competent legal representation for the state. The last time that Republicans controlled that office, the State intervened in several right to die cases including one that went to the U.S. Supreme Court. The current Republican candidate has made his reputation on assisting Hobby Lobby in challenging the birth control mandate and is basically running on a pledge to use the Attorney General’s Office to frustrate whatever the Democratic Party can accomplish nationally.
For the state legislature, geography favors the Republicans. (They also have more unopposed candidates.) Even with a 50-50 split in the statewide vote, the Democrats best hope is to gain enough seats in one of the two houses to be able to sustain a veto by the governor. The most likely results in the State Senate will leave Democrats just short of one-third in the State Senate. There are one or two Republican moderates that will support the Democrats on some issues.
Kansas is pretty much a lost cause at the state level this cycle. Clinton will probably do better than the typical Democrat because Republicans in Kansas are free to vote for a third-party candidate to express their distaste with Trump. Senator Jerry Moran seems to be well ahead in the handful of polls in Kansas. The Tea Party already lost one seat (Kansas First) to a more moderate Republican. It would theoretically be possible to draw lines in Kansas to create one swing district covering Topeka, Lawrence, and Wyandotte County (the most urban of the Kansas City suburbs. Instead, the Republicans have split this area between two districts (the Second and Third) making both lean Republican with the Third (R+6 currently represented by Kevin Yoder) being slightly closer than the Second. In the Third District, the race seems to be close enough that — rather than running positive adds about what Representative Yoder has done — Representative Yoder has been running attack ads about his opponent. My hunch is that this race is still a reach, but, if there is a Democratic surge that takes back control of Congress, the Third might be one of those unexpected wins.
The damage caused by Governor Brownback and any long-term changes in the Republican base that flow from the Trump candidacy might change things in Kansas in future elections. For now, the hope is that enough moderate Republicans won primaries to combine with Democrats in the Kansas legislature to resist any further insanity from Governor Brownback. (This, unfortunately, has been the pattern in Kansas. Conservative Republicans win for a couple of cycles and start to go insane. Moderate Republicans swing to supporting Democrats for a cycle or two to return to normal poilitics. But the Moderate Republicans return to voting Republican after the crisis has passed.)
In short, Missouri and Kansas are unlikely to go for Secretary Clinton unless something comes out in the next week about Trump — or he says something extraordinarily dumb beyond suggesting that the election should be cancelled and he should just be anointed president — that causes his support to collapse. Instead, the Democratic hopes in Kansas and Missouri are to keep the Governor (and some other state offices in Missouri), pick up a handful of legislative seats in both states (but not enough to gain control of either house in either state), pick up Senator in Missouri, and maybe a U.S. House seat in Kansas. All of these down-ballot races are going to be close and may require waiting until 10 or 11 Central time next Tuesday.