Two Weeks to the Election Day Finish Line -- Sunday Political Brunch October 21, 2018


CHARLESTON, W.Va. – As of Sunday, there are 16 days until Election Day. A lot can happen in two weeks, and nothing is certain at this point. We keep hearing Democrats claim a “blue wave” and Republicans predicting a “red wave.” Nothing is guaranteed. Much can change at the eleventh hour. Let’s “brunch” on that this week.

“My Advice” – I have probably mentioned from time to time here that in the years I wasn’t working as a journalist, I helped run two political campaigns. Here is some of my last-minute advice to any candidate. First, forget the polls and always run as if you are six points behind your opponent. Be the underdog; be the come from behind winner. Second, retail politics still matters. People are more likely to consider voting for you if you shake their hand, look them in the eye and say, “I’d be honored to have your vote!” When you are walking precincts and door-knocking in the final days and your feet are screaming in pain, my advice is to press on and walk and knock another hour. Push beyond the fatigue and pain. Grit and passion matters to voters.

“Divided Government Can Be Productive” – Last week in this column, I predicted Republicans would gain seats in the U.S. Senate, but that Democrats would barely take control of the U.S. House. Many people believe that guarantees gridlock, but I strongly disagree. One of the most productive eras in recent U.S. politics was in the 1995 – 1996 political cycle. Democrat Bill Clinton was President, but Republicans controlled both the House and Senate. Here are some of the things they accomplished together: a crime bill, welfare reform legislation, the Telecommunications Act of 1996, and the first balanced federal budget in decades. Not bad!

“Midterm Low Voter Turnout” – Two things we know about midterm elections: the party in the White House usually loses seats in Congress, and voter turnout is traditionally much lower in non-presidential election years. Democrats will be challenged to turn out female voters angry at the confirmation of Justice Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court. The biggest Republican challenge will be to try to sell a list of Congressional accomplishments that critics call thin. The best GOP bragging point may be the tax cut’s impact on the economy, and relative peace overseas.

“Negative, Negative, Negative!” – Speaking of voter turnout, one thing that keeps it low is negative advertising. Here’s how it works. The campaigns and candidates bash each other for months with negative TV ads, basically suggesting the opponent is Satan’s child. Diehard voters in both parties will still turn out, but a lot of tepid voters will just toss up their arms in disgust saying, “Who cares? I’m staying home!” Study after study shows that negative ads suppress voter turnout.

“Turnout is Key” – As mentioned, midterms are not as attractive to voters. In 2016, 61 percent of eligible American voters cast ballots, as did a similar number in 2012. The all-time record was 2008, with 64 percent of registered adult American voters casting ballots. All three were presidential years. But in 2014 – the last midterm election – only 37 percent of Americans voted, the lowest number since World War II. Even 2010 was a low midterm year, with 42 percent of registered voters coming out.

“The Power of Incumbency” – You want to know why you always hear people clamor for term limits? Well it’s because incumbents on the ballot win 96 percent of the time. People may not like Congress as a whole, but they tend to like their individual guy or gal and keep sending them back. Why is this critical in 2016? Well, at least forty incumbent Republican House members chose not to seek reelection this year. By my math, 38 of those incumbents would have won and Republicans would easily hold control of the House. But forty retired, resigned or ran for other office and that’s why you have at least 30 of these races now ranked as “toss-ups” by Real Clear Politics, giving Democrats a shot at control.

“Why All of This Matters?” – By most accounts the margins are very, very close this year and control of the House and Senate hang in the balance. Turnout – especially of each party’s key constituencies – will be crucial and could be the deciding factor. Anyone can vent about President Trump or Rep. Nancy Pelosi, but unless you back that up with a ballot, it falls on deaf ears.

What are your thoughts in the waning days of Campaign 2018? Which way are you leaning? Just click the comment button at

Mark Curtis, Ed.D., is Chief Political Reporter for the five Nexstar Media TV stations serving West Virginia, the five neighboring states and the District of Columbia.

© 2018, Mark Curtis Media, LLC.

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