By Shaun Kenney November 2, 2022
HINT: Generic ballots aren’t showing a mere wave.
There’s an old aphorism that goes along the lines “think long, think wrong” when approaching every problem. Or if you will forgive me, a thought rendered in poetic verse:
If you’re happy and you know it, OVERTHINK!
If you’re happy and you know it, OVERTHINK!
If you’re happy and you know it,
Then your mind will surely blow it!
If you’re happy and you know it, OVERTHINK!
Believe it or not, there’s good psychology and philosophy behind this.
Part of the reason we talk about Noam Chomsky is that he is a prime believer in that wet computer behind your skull and its ability to render quick decisions. Namely, that same brain that gives you quick first impressions is actually doing a great deal of work on behalf of your fight-or-flight response.
Or for those with the background, smart company commanders order a frontal assault; very smart company commanders study the terrain, evaluate the enemy against his own force, weighs the pros and cons of a flanking maneuver, and after several hours of indecision and a consultation with his NCOs, finally settles on a frontal assault — QED.
What follows might sound like very smart company commander talk. But in reality, it is super simple back of the envelope math.
How Bad Does the Generic Ballot Need to Be for Republicans to Win: A Tutorial
Take for instance the Youngkin-McAuliffe contest of 2021. Here’s how Youngkin performed, winning by the proverbial skin of his teeth in a “blue state” that was supposed to be a gimmie for McAuliffe:
So what put Youngkin over the top? McAuliffe’s gaffe helped seal a deal, but the box was pried open when President Joe Biden withdrew from Afghanistan and his favorable numbers got trashed faster than Hunter Biden:
Prior to that moment, Biden’s was sitting pretty tall in the saddle at +5 or better in most polls. Yet even with that 15-point freefall, it was only enough to put Youngkin over the top by a scant 2 points. Meaning that if Biden was -8 rather than -10? Youngkin probably would have lost by a fraction of a point.
What was the generic ballot at the time? Middling at best (let’s be generous and call it a tie):
For historical purposes, let’s compare:
2018: D+8.4 (polling D+7.4)
2014: R+5.7 (polling R+2.4)
2010: R+6.8 (polling R+9.8)
Not so sure this is going out on a limb, but we are probably looking at a nationwide generic ballot of R+5.5 to +5.8 right now.
Yet to throw a dash of cold water on this, RCP has Biden’s present favorable/unfavorable at a modest -7 compared to the -10 to -15 of a year ago when Youngkin won by less than 2%. By comparison, Trump’s fav/unfav were slightly south of -10 in the 2018 romp.
So here we are.
The generic ballot is better for Republicans now than what it was a year ago; Biden’s unfavorable numbers are better than they were a year ago. Does that translate into a push? Was the mood to punish greater now in 2022 in the midst of back-to-back 8% inflation than it was in 2021 in the middle of the pandemic recovery?
Let’s lean into the generic ballot at present.
VA:02: Kiggans vs. Luria
Kiggans is going to beat Luria handily.
VA-05: Good vs. Throneberg
Good is going to beat the unpronounceable Democrat handily, though Throneberg will be testing waters to see how well a Democrat might do in the future. Charlottesville isn’t shrinking, after all.
VA-07: Vega vs. Spanberger
This is a Washington-oriented suburban district where Prince William constitutes 1/3 of the votes and the Fredericksburg area (Stafford, FXBG, Spotsy) constitutes another 41.6% of the electorate.
Traditionally, in order to bump off an incumbent one has to achieve two objectives early: (1) give a reason to fire the incumbent and (2) give a reason to hire the challenger. For the incumbent, the task is to define the opposition early so as to force them to overcome (2) before they can define the framework of the debate.
Spanberger initially led with a 46-41 margin against Prince William Supervisor Yesli Vega before unloading with a series of brutal negative attack ads. VA-07 is thought to be a D+1 seat, which means that Vega needs about a 7-point lift in order to knock off a Democratic contender who has had to reintroduce herself to a new district with new lines.
Of course, you want to know how the rest of us can tell Spanberger is in trouble?
No one is releasing their polls.
If Vega and Spanberger are at present tied? Watch out folks. Spanberger et al. have spent millions in a DC market trying to stem the tide and it hasn’t moved the needle much at all. Which might be all Spanberger needs if she is playing defense, but never a good sign if Vega is making serious inroads with suburban women.
Should Republican intensity remain high, expect Vega to get a narrow but hard-fought win thanks to the national climate.
Whether Republicans will be able to hold onto VA-07 in 2024 remains on Biden’s unfavorable numbers remaining in the basement. YetVega would have all of the advantages of incumbency, which should provide the edge that Spanberger at present — and it should be admitted — is leveling masterfully well. Any other campaign team would have folded early.
VA-10: Cao vs. Wexton
Here is where I am going to go out on a limb.
Hung Cao will defeat Jennifer Wexton in VA-10.
More accurately, if Vega wins in VA-07 then Cao should win by a similar margin in VA-10, where Loudoun County represents over half the district and has been the epicenter of the CRT and gender ideology fights in Northern Virginia. Pile onto this ruckus the admissions scandal hanging over Thomas Jefferson High School and Republicans have a real opportunity in VA-10.
My reason for this prediction is pretty simple.
If the generic ballot really is R+5.5, then even if Biden is only seven points underwater versus 15 points, Wexton never really defined Cao early. Meanwhile, Cao has an impressive resume with stellar credentials (the reason to hire) running against Nancy Pelosi’s bestie (the reason to fire).
Downside? This is a district where Youngkin lost 50.5 to 48.9, compared to VA-07 where the numbers were 47.1 to 52.0 in favor of Youngkin — a three-point spread.
If Cao was really down by just 2 points in early October? Call it a gut instinct, but Cao is one hell of a candidate with a clearly motivated electorate who is being put in the best possible condition to carry the race.
You know what else tells me that Cao is not just within striking distance but potentially leading? Once again, no one is releasing their polls. Which means the trajectory of both the Vega and Cao races are benefiting Republicans while Democrats simply don’t need the reminders.
So How Big Is This Red Wave?
Republicans should be looking at anywhere from 30-35 seats in the US House while picking up two seats in the US Senate — 52-48.
That’s not 1994 big. But it will be big enough. If you don’t believe me, believe the famous-for-being-right-once prognosticators at 538:
The real numbers will be among minority communities — particularly black and Hispanic families — who will need few reminders as to why progressive Democratic policies are failing their families. Forget CRT and transgenderism for just a moment; the “defund the police” movement has had its impact, and it isn’t good.
The more interesting question is whether or not the red wave will be big enough to clear out VA-10 and VA-07 respectively. If it does, Republicans could be looking at another historic midterm.
The answer to this question might be the difference between 2021 and 2022. If in your gut you are seeing the same energy and momentum? Things might be pretty darned good. If it is the same? That might be enough. If less, it goes to show you how the vapor barrier between blue state and red state Virginia can be pretty rigid in today’s modern political environment.
At present, there doesn’t seem much energy from Virginia Republicans to change the trajectory of their campaigns, which in a close environment is a very good sign.
Yet let’s see if the previous formula still holds:
Last poll + seat environment + WH favorability change + Generic ballot = election result.
Last poll Wexton+2 + Youngkin -1.6 (2021) + Biden -3 (delta between this year and last) + R+5.8 = Cao down by 0.8%
Last poll Spanberger-6 +Youngkin +4.9 + Biden -3 + R+5.8 = Vega up by 1.7%
Last poll Kiggans TIED + Youngkin +11 + Biden -3 + R+5.8 = Kiggans by 13.8%
Now obviously, I am sure there are some very smart people who are going to point at any potential 13-point win by Kiggans and say that’s crazy talk.
. . . and yet Youngkin carried the district by 11 points.
Back of the envelope math from a guy who called 2016 for Trump early, I suppose. And yes, it really does swing on Biden’s (un)popularity vs. the generic ballot, but things are looking very good from here.
Shaun Kenney is the editor of The Republican Standard, former chairman of the Board of Supervisors for Fluvanna County, and a former executive director of the Republican Party of Virginia.