4 Reasons Republicans Are Excited for the Midterms (and 4 Reasons They Aren’t)

Hi. Welcome to On Politics, your guide to the day in national politics. I’m Lisa Lerer, your host.

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A big irony of the final stages of these midterms is that after all of the special elections, domestic and foreign policy crises, and general craziness out of Washington over the past nine months, the fundamentals of this race look pretty much like they did at the beginning of the year.

That’s good news for Republicans, who spent much of the summer worried that they could face a blowout in the House and maybe even the Senate. For the G.O.P., boring is ideal.

Republicans today feel confident about the Senate, a fight that’s largely happening on red-state turf. Democrats are optimistic about the House, but their expectations have tempered a bit from a few months ago, when they thought their party could rack up dozens of victories. Smart strategists seem to be circling around Democrats winning about 30 seats — enough for them to take control, but not a sweeping margin.

Here’s some of what Republicans are excited about right now:

The enthusiasm bump they got from Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings seems to have stuck. The intensity gap between the two parties has narrowed, and Republicans are outpacing Democrats in early voting in most key states, according to data analyzed by NBC News.

The competitive incumbent Senate seats — Arizona, Nevada, Tennessee and Texas — seem tighter than a few weeks ago, according to our own polls. And Republicans feel confident about notching a win in North Dakota.

President Trump’s approval rating is at an all-time high, up to 47 percent, with 49 percent disapproving, according to an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.

Democrats are banking on turnout from independents, younger voters and minority voters — groups that typically don’t show up in big numbers for midterm elections.

Here’s some of what Republicans are worried about right now:

Mitch McConnell. The Senate majority leader’s remarks last week on the need to cut programs like Medicare and Social Security have given red-state Democrats a new line of attack.

The gender gap is more like a chasm, meaning that angry female college graduates could end up being a defining force in this election.

Democrats continue to lead the generic ballot, particularly among likely voters. And new polls in Florida, the first conducted since Hurricane Michael, have them up in the Senate and governor races there.

Generally speaking, midterms can break late, typically against the president’s party.

Of course, there’s one big caveat to all of this: As we all learned in 2016 (a.k.a. the Freddy Krueger of elections, which we can never escape), elections happen within bandwidths of probability. That means that the political conversation everyone — strategists, reporters and candidates — is having right now is about the likelihood a victory will happen. The honest ones among us will acknowledge, in our myriad hot takes, that there’s always a chance that we could all be surprised.

That measure of unpredictability feels particularly important this year because we’ve never seen another midterm race quite like this, at least not in recent history. Normally, midterms are kind of sleepy affairs compared to presidential races. This year, enthusiasm for both parties is simply off the charts. Many of the polls note that voters’ engagement with these midterm elections are higher than anytime since they began polling the question.

So where does all of that leave us, just two weeks or so out from Election Day? Honestly: Expect surprises.

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The governor’s race in Wisconsin remains very close. Monica Davey, who covers the Midwest for The Times as our Chicago bureau chief, sent us this dispatch today:

President Trump is headed to Wisconsin on Wednesday, and that’s seen as a boost to Leah Vukmir, the Republican who is trying to take on Senator Tammy Baldwin but has trailed in polls. The rally is set for an airport hangar in Mosinee, two hours north of Madison, in a section of the state where Mr. Trump is popular.

Gov. Scott Walker, the Republican who’s in a tough fight for a third term, will also be in attendance. And some strategists say the Trump rally will fire up the Republican base in northern Wisconsin and help push Mr. Walker past Tony Evers, the state schools superintendent and Democratic candidate who has come up nearly even with Mr. Walker in polls.

But there are others who wonder whether Mr. Walker might be better off if Mr. Trump stayed home.

Mr. Walker, who has carved out his own clear tax-cutting, union-shrinking identity over eight years, has largely cast the race as a Wisconsin-centric fight, not part of Washington’s political battle. For months, Mr. Walker has been one of the loudest voices warning of the possibility of a blue wave, and just as Trump fans in central and northern Wisconsin may be energized by hearing from the president, there’s a risk for Mr. Walker that Democrats in Milwaukee and Madison, who were appalled and stunned that Wisconsin went for Trump in 2016, will be further riled up by the president’s presence in the state — and motivated to go vote.

In case that wasn’t enough motivation, former President Barack Obama comes to the state on Friday.

Read Monica’s latest story on the race: Democrats Want to Beat Scott Walker. But the Wisconsin Economy Is a Hurdle.

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As the election nears, The Times’s live polling project is talking to voters in some of the closest races. Today, Nate Cohn and the Upshot team highlighted a few polls happening right now:

An update on the “Bigfoot” election in Virginia 5: This is the one where the Republican candidate, Denver Riggleman, has acknowledged an interest in Bigfoot — he is co-author of a book on the subject — but denies he is interested in Bigfoot erotica. The Democrat has a narrow lead in our poll so far. This is generally considered a “lean Republican race,” but as other results have shown, Virginia is a scary state for the G.O.P. right now.

The first respondent in our Illinois 6 poll: an 18- to 29-year-old nonwhite woman who disapproves of the president, wants a Democratic House, would support the Democratic candidate Sean Casten … and says she’s not at all likely to vote.

A caution for Democrats who believe Arizona is turning blue: In our poll showing the Republican Senate candidate Martha McSally with a two-point lead over Kyrsten Sinema, President Trump’s approval rating among respondents in Arizona was a plus-two.

You can see all our polling here.

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The Saudi-led war in Yemen has ground on for more than three years, killing thousands of civilians and creating what the United Nations calls the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. Here is our reporting from the front lines.

Stacey Abrams won the primary in Georgia as an unabashed liberal. But her health care message has now turned to the pragmatic: that Medicaid expansion can help rural people without busting the budget. She is set to debate her opponent, Brian Kemp, tomorrow night.

From Eater, here’s how queso’s cheesy goodness came to be everywhere.

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Early voting begins for Alaska, Arkansas, Idaho, Illinois, Massachusetts, Texas and Washington, D.C.

President Trump is rallying with Senator Ted Cruz in Houston, Tex., at 6:30 p.m. local time.

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At a forum hosted by CNN today, Van Jones interviewed Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, who has taken on an advisory role in the White House. The first question he asked: “How did you get this job?”

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Isabella Grullón Paz and Margaret Kramer contributed to this newsletter.

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