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On the roster: Cold pizza, cold comfort for GOP in midterms – Mountain of a debate set for West Virginia – Jackson fights for reputation, can he save nomination? – Favorable reception at SupCo for travel ban – He urned his release
COLD PIZZA, COLD COMFORT FOR GOP IN MIDTERMS
So which is it? A blue wave or a blue ripple?
We have a few tools at hand in every election cycle to try to forecast what voters are going to do. We certainly pay attention to things like fundraising and retirements, but those are second-order considerations that are themselves shaped by public perceptions of the political climate.
At a certain point they become self-fulfilling because the perceptions of donors and incumbents do end up shaping actual outcomes. That’s why parties fight so hard to try to control the narrative in the political press.
There are three things, however, that matter the most when looking at the political climate, especially in a midterm year: Historical trends, generic ballot polling and performance in special elections.
Historical trends tell us a great deal about a how a given district or state will vote. The way voters behave in 2016 and 2014 give us insights on how they might conduct themselves this year. Past performance help set the boundaries for expected outcomes.
Polls are useful in every cycle, but we are always careful in these biennial contests to treat individual surveys with some care. House races are especially hard to poll given gerrymandered district boundaries and small populations. It’s generally more useful for the House to focus on how people feel about partisan control in a general sense.
As we have explained before, the winning parties in recent wave congressional elections, 2010 and 2006 particularly, have enjoyed lopsided advantages in the generic ballot going into the election.
We also pay close attention to the results of special elections since these act as real-world experiments. Everyone remembers Scott Brown’s stunning 2010 upset in Massachusetts, but we are always sifting through the results of special elections to look for clues about the way voters are responding.
When a Republican won a congressional seat in Hawaii in the spring of 2010 we had a pretty good sense that things were lining up for the Red Team. In 2005, in comparison, Democrats may have lost a trio of special House elections but outperformed expectations by large and consistent amounts, foreshadowing the next year’s blue wave.
What has us puzzled this year, though, is that two of the key indicators – polls and special elections – seem to be at odds.
The Halftime Report average on the generic ballot shows Democrats with a lead of 5 points. Based on precedent, that might be enough to narrowly take control of the House but would certainly be enough to reduce the Republican majority to the point of almost uselessness.
Democrats need 23 seats to take control of the House, but if they get anything like 20 it will be enough to make sure that whoever the next Republican Speaker is has an even more miserable time than his predecessor.
But then we look at results from special elections that show Democrats outperforming by jaw-dropping margins. In Arizona Tuesday, in a hyper-Republican district, former state Sen. Debbie Lesko beat first-time candidate Hiral Tipirneni by just 5 points. A win is better than a loss and certainly Republicans can be relieved that they avoided real catastrophe, but the results must be another warning sign for the party.
In this race, there was no excuse for the poor GOP performance. Their candidate was competent, the demographics of the district stack up enormously in their favor, protracted early voting allowed for easy get-out-the-vote efforts and national attention wasn’t overwhelming.
In special elections since the 2016 vote, Democrats have outperformed the partisan baseline by an average of 17 points and Tipirneni exceeded even that threshold, adding further evidence that the Democratic electorate is fired up and ready to storm the polls. Put in a frame with Rep. Conor Lamb, D-Pa., Gov. Ralph Northam, D-Va. and other Democratic winners, the Arizona race is a strong indication that the Democratic wave is not abating.
So why has Democrats advantage in the generic ballot swung so low compared to prior double-digit leads, once as high as 18 points? If results on the ground are consistent is the polling missing something or are special election results outliers? We should remember that it might be a little of both.
If Democrats everywhere outperform their party’s historical performance by 17 points it would be a bloodbath of biblical proportions for the GOP. A loss of 75 seats or more wouldn’t be out of the question.
But special elections are just that: Special.
It’s possible that there are habitual Republican voters who will turn up this November as they do every two years and pull the lever for the red team. Under this theory, some Republicans aren’t excited enough to go vote in a special one-seat election but will do their partisan duty in November.
Under this scenario special elections and the generic ballot are not contradictory, but just measuring two different things. Call this one the cheap pizza scenario: You’ll eat it if it’s put right in front of you, but you’re not going to go out of your way for it.
Being the Godfathers Pizza of politics doesn’t exactly sound like a compliment, but it would be good news for Republicans. It would mean that the generic ballot is correct and will prove predictive once more attention shifts to the November vote.
If that’s the case, it would also provide guidance for the GOP in how to run this year: Keep pushing issues popular with traditional Republicans, such as tax cuts, and wait for their base to get hungry enough to open the lid.
And that’s probably as good a response as anything. Because if the gap between the special elections and generic ballot rectifies itself in favor of the Democrats there won’t be anything for the GOP to do but watch it burn.
THE RULEBOOK: TREATY YO SELF
“There is nothing absurd or impracticable in the idea of a league or alliance between independent nations for certain defined purposes precisely stated in a treaty regulating all the details of time, place, circumstance, and quantity; leaving nothing to future discretion; and depending for its execution on the good faith of the parties.” – Alexander Hamilton, Federalist No. 15
TIME OUT: HEAR THAT TRAIN A’ COMIN’
Writer Ian Crouch shares his family’s YouTube serendipity. New Yorker: “My toddler son has decided that what he cares most about in this world is trains, or, as he calls them, in exclamations that range from joyous to angry to plaintive, ‘choo-choos.’ … It was one of those tiny wins of parenting when a recent search pulled up fifty-odd minutes of rather grainy footage of something called ‘Ridin’ the Rails,’ a documentary from 1974 featuring Johnny Cash telling stories and singing songs about the glory days of the American railroad, complete with historical reenactments and period costumes. The movie opens with Cash, dressed in black, walking toward the camera along a train track, a guitar strapped to his back. I like it when Cash says, ‘You know, there’s nothing that stirs my imagination like the sound of a steam locomotive. That lonesome whistle cuttin’ through the night, and that column of black smoke and steam throwin’ shadows across the land.’ My son likes it when Cash pulls the train’s horn. We both like it when he leans out the window, grinning like a kid, his coal-black mane blowing in the wind as the old locomotive comes up to speed.”
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Trump job performance
Average approval: 40.4 percent
Average disapproval: 54.4 percent
Net Score: -14.6 points
Change from one week ago: down 0.6 points
[Average includes: Gallup: 38% approve – 57% disapprove; NPR/PBS/Marist: 40.4% approve – 54.4% disapprove; ABC News/WaPo: 44% approval – 54% disapprove; NBC News/WSJ: 39% approve – 57% disapprove; Quinnipiac University: 41% approve – 52% disapprove.]
Control of House
Republican average: 41.8 percent
Democratic average: 46.8 percent
Advantage: Democrats plus 5 points
Change from one week ago: no change Democratic advantage
[Average includes: NPR/PBS/Marist: 44% Dems – 39% GOP; ABC News/WaPo: 47% Dems – 43% GOP; NBC News/WSJ: 47% Dems – 40% GOP; Quinnipiac University: 46% Dems – 43% GOP; CNN: 50% Dems – 44% GOP.]
MOUNTAIN OF A DEBATE SET FOR WEST VIRGINIA
Fox News: “Three candidates make up the top tier in West Virginia’s Republican Senate nomination contest, according to a Fox News Poll released Tuesday. Congressman Evan Jenkins garners 25 percent among West Virginia likely GOP Senate primary voters, while the state’s Attorney General Patrick Morriseyreceives 21 percent and businessman Don Blankenship takes third with 16 percent. The edge Jenkins holds over Morrisey is within the poll’s margin of sampling error, and the same is true for Morrisey’s edge over Blankenship. No other candidate gets more than four percent support: Tom Willis (4 percent), Bo Copley (2 percent), and Jack Newbrough (1 percent). The race appears fluid. In addition to the sizable group of undecideds (24 percent), another 41 percent of those currently backing a candidate say they could change their mind before the May 8 primary. Fox News is hosting a West Virginia GOP Senate primary debate Tuesday, May 1 with co-moderators Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum at the Metropolitan Theatre in Morgantown, West Virginia from 6:30-7:30PM/ET.”
Knives out for Blankenship – NYT: “Don Blankenship is running for the United States Senate as a proud West Virginian with Appalachian roots, but his primary residence is a $2.4 million villa with palm trees and an infinity pool near Las Vegas. Mr. Blankenship, a Republican loyalist of President Trump, is running an America First-style campaign and calls himself an ‘American competitionist,’but he admires China’s state-controlled economy and has expressed interest in gaining Chinese citizenship. The former coal mining executive is widely known for spending a year in prison for his role in a mining explosion that claimed 29 lives. Yet he is running as a champion of miners and has bought TV ads that challenge settled facts about his role in the disaster. And even as Mr. Blankenship seeks to join the Republican majority in Washington, a ‘super PAC’ linked to the party establishment is attacking him as a ‘convicted criminal’ and a hypocrite.”
Poll shows Heller and Rosen in a tight race for Nevada Senate seat – The Nevada Independent: “Sen. Dean Heller is in a dead heat with Democratic challenger Rep. Jacky Rosen in one of the most closely watched U.S. Senate races in the country, according to a new poll released today by The Nevada Independent. The poll, conducted by The Mellman Group in mid-April, found that 39.7 percent of voters favor Heller in the U.S. Senate race compared to 39.3 percent who favor Rosen, a first-term congresswoman currently representing Nevada’s 3rd District, with 21 percent undecided. Heller, the only Republican senator up for re-election in a state won by Hillary Clinton in 2016, is considered a key target by Democrats in their attempt to win back control of the Senate. The survey also found that a majority of Nevadans have negative opinions about President Donald Trump…”
Bredesen leads Blackburn in Tennessee – Tennessean: “Another poll on the U.S. Senate race between former Gov. Phil Bredesen and U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn has the Nashville Democrat with a narrow lead, according to a survey released Wednesday. The survey, commissioned and released by Mason-Dixon Polling and Strategy, found 46 percent of respondents supported Bredesen, while 43 percent favored Blackburn, a Brentwood Republican. Eleven percent of respondents remained undecided on the race. Bredesen’s narrow lead falls within the poll’s margin of error, which was plus or minus 4 percentage points. The poll, conducted April 17-19, surveyed 625 registered Tennessee voters using cell phones and land lines. Although the Mason-Dixon survey is the latest to show Bredesen with a lead over Blackburn, the congressman’s performance in East Tennessee provided her a bright spot.”
Chafee may mount primary challenge against Whitehouse – Providence Journal: “Lincoln Chafee wants to return to the U.S. Senate, he said Wednesday, and hopes to capitalize on the Bernie Sanders movement to oust Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse in a Democratic primary. Chafee, who until roughly a week ago was mulling a run for governor, on Wednesday morning told the Journal he had turned his sights on Congress after speaking with Rhode Island Sanders supporters upset that Whitehouse had backed Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential primary. … Chafee, the former governor who did not seek re-election in 2014, first announced his interest in a Senate run on WPRO radio this morning. He told the Journal he is 90-percent sure he will run for Senate.”
Pence postpones Missouri trip amid ongoing scandal for Greitens – St. Louis Post-Dispatch: “Vice President Mike Pence’s office says it canceled a Missouri rally and fundraiser next month because of a scheduling conflict — and not out of concern that the trip would too closely coincide with the felony trial of Gov. Eric Greitens, with whom Pence has had some close political ties. Pence won’t attend a previously announced public rally in Springfield, Mo., scheduled for May 9, nor a fundraiser that night for U.S. Senate candidate Josh Hawley, the White House said Tuesday. A White House spokeswoman said the Springfield event was never confirmed, but that the vice president plans to come to Missouri in the weeks following that date. She said the Hawley fundraiser also will happen at that later date.”
JACKSON FIGHTS FOR REPUTATION, CAN HE SAVE NOMINATION?
AP: “His nomination in peril, Veterans Affairs nominee Ronny Jackson fought to convince lawmakers of his leadership abilities as more details of accusations against him emerged, ranging from repeated drunkenness to a toxic work environment as he served as a top White House doctor. … A watchdog report requested in 2012 and reviewed by The Associated Press found that Jackson and a rival physician exhibited ‘unprofessional behaviors’ as they engaged in a power struggle over the White House medical unit. The six-page report by the Navy’s Medical Inspector General found a lack of trust in the leadership and low morale among staff members, who described the working environment as ‘being caught between parents going through a bitter divorce.’ ‘There is a severe and pervasive lack of trust in the leadership that has deteriorated to the point that staff walk on ‘eggshells,’’ the assessment found. The inspector general report reviewed by The AP included no references to improper prescribing of drugs or the use of alcohol, separate allegations revealed by a Senate committee.”
Mulvaney’s Kinsley gaffe: Donors get better treatment in Congress – WaPo: “Mick Mulvaney, interim head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, on Tuesday told banking executives that as a South Carolina congressman he always met with constituents, but never out-of-town lobbyists unless they gave him campaign money — part of an exhortation to the bankers to push their agenda on Capitol Hill. ‘We had a hierarchy in my office, in Congress,’ said Mulvaney, who was a leading conservative in Congress until Trump tapped him as his budget director (a role he also continues to serve in). ‘If you were a lobbyist who never gave us money, I didn’t talk to you. If you were a lobbyist who gave us money, I might talk to you.’ But, he said, the priority was given to local constituents. ‘If you came from back home and sat in my lobby, I talk to you without exception, regardless of the financial contributions,’ Mulvaney said at the American Bankers Association, according to a transcript by the CFPB.”
FAVORABLE RECEPTION AT SUPCO FOR TRAVEL BAN
Fox News: “The Trump administration enjoyed a favorable reception Wednesday from the Supreme Court’s conservative majority in the first significant legal test of this president’s policies and power, as the justices reviewed the high-stakes challenge to the so-called travel ban. At issue is whether the third and latest version of President Trump’s travel restrictions, affecting visitors from five majority Muslim nations, discriminate on the basis of nationality and religion, in the government’s issuance of immigrant visas. … Despite some speculation over Trump appointee Neil Gorsuch – given a recent ruling in which he sided with liberal colleagues on an immigration case – the conservative jurist seemed to offer indirect support Wednesday as he called into question a federal judge’s prior attempt to suspend the travel ban nationwide.”
Judge sets 90-day deadline for Trump on DREAMers – Fox News: “A George W. Bush-appointed federal judge on Tuesday ruled that President Trump’s decision to rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA, ‘was unlawful and must be set aside.’ U.S. District Judge John D. Bates in Washington became the third judge to rule against the White House’s plans to end the program. Judges William Alsup and Nicholas Garaufis, both Clinton appointees, had each issued injunctions earlier this year preventing the administration from terminating DACA based on its stated rationale that the Obama-era program was an illegal executive overreach. Bates’ decision does not hold that the Trump administration lacks the authority to rescind DACA.”
Congressional Black Caucus looks for an enhanced role in post-Pelosi world – Politico
Chait: ‘Democrats Are Rushing Into a Job Guarantee. It Could Be a Huge Mistake’ – NY Magazine
Abbot schedules special election to replace Farenthold for June 30 – Texas Tribune
Lt. Gen. Paul Nakasone was unanimously confirmed to NSA, Cyber Command – Politico
AUDIBLE: MISDIRECTION PLAY
“The problem we have is, we have a president who will use that as fodder to do his mission that I don’t feel is in the best interests of America. It’s divisive and it’s horrible.” – New England Patriots owner Bob Kraft in a leaked recording of a meeting among NFL owners and players discussing President Trump’s campaign against players kneeling during the National Anthem to protest police brutality. Kraft has been a visible, ardent supporter of Trump.
FROM THE BLEACHERS
“Chris, I saw your response on not using the Rasmussen polls but am not convinced. I know everyone believes their own organization’s polls are the best, but you sidestepped the fact that the Rasmussen Poll was a more accurate forecast of the 2016 election outcome than the Fox or other major network polls. Why were they right & you guys wrong in the last Presidential election polling? Please explain- – or simply eat a little crow & add Rasmussen into your polling summaries.” – Glenn Fuller, Laurel, Md.
[Ed. note: There was an octopus named Paul at an aquarium in Oberhausen, Germany who had a knack for picking the winners of big soccer games. His keepers would present him with two boxes containing food, identical in every way except for the national flag of the World Cup competitors on the outside. Whichever box Paul chose to eat from first was declared his choice in the upcoming match. He chose correctly for four of six matches in 2008 and became something of a celebrity in 2010 when he chose correctly in 11 of 13 contests. Unfortunately for German soccer fans, the average lifespan for Paul’s species is only about three years. RIP Paul. This is not to say that Rasmussen Reports is an octopus, but it is to say that methodology matters. We exclude many, many polls from our average, including Rasmussen, which is consistently championed by President Trump and his supporters. We understand why MAGA Nation loves Rasmussen since the survey routinely shows more favorable results for the president and other Republicans, just as some polls consistently show advantages for Democrats. We don’t include online polls like YouGov or Zogby or Ipsos or GFK or Survey Monkey or anybody else who’s working online. Many of those polls tend to consistently show bias toward Democrats. Neither do we include pollsters like Rasmussen, who are by law not able to call people on their cellphones. That includes firms like Public Policy Polling, We Ask America and others in addition to Rasmussen. You are right when you say that Rasmussen finished pretty close to the final national popular vote in 2016 showing Hillary Clinton winning by two points, but most polls, including the one that Fox News conducted, were fairly close to the mark showing her leading in the low single digits. I would encourage you to think differently about polling. The reason we do an average is to get a snapshot of certain trend lines, but no single poll should be taken as gospel, regardless of whether you like or dislike its findings. While we devote considerable time to analyzing poll results, our emphasis is more on how races are run and how voters are responding. Polls are only one of many tools for assessing those things.]
“Chris, I am baffled at your use of polls which either use no qualifications or just include ‘Registered Voters’. I understand why people do such polls, they’re cheap… and you get what you pay for. If you are really interesting in understanding what is going on out in the real world you must use only use ‘Likely Voters’ or best of all ‘Tracking Polls’ of Likely Voters, they are expensive but they also provide a real picture, if operated by competent organizations. If you have any doubt about my concern, just look at who got the last election correctly…” – Paul Hill, New Bern, N.C.
[Ed. note: The issue about “likely” versus “registered” voters doesn’t really have anything to do with money. There are a lot of cost considerations in the cost of conducting a poll – hiring quality interviewers, obtaining accurate phone lists and having experienced professionals to oversee the process – but time is really the issue. And finding out whether someone is a likely voter or not doesn’t really take much time. The best polls have to ask multiple questions to determine if someone is a likely voter, since we want to know their voting history. The likeliest voters are the ones who participate regularly in elections. But again, asking someone two or three questions during a survey is not that time consuming. The problem with likelihood so early in an election cycle is that today’s likely voter might be an unlikely voter in November and vice versa. The time to start limiting polls is in the weeks immediately before a contest. For example, it was quite appropriate to limit the recent Fox News poll of West Virginia Republican primary voters to those who say they’re likely to participate because the vote is just two weeks away. For now, though, it’s still too soon to start closing the door. Democratic voter intensity is very high right now and a likely voter poll conducted today might unreasonably skew toward the Blue Team. There’s plenty of time and no need to hurry.]
“Dear Mr. Stirewalt, I do not understand your continued reporting every possible negative thing about President Trump. Sure, the main stream media is chocked full of it so it makes easy material but I always felt you rose above that fray. Today reporting how he carelessly is throwing Dr. Ronny Jackson under the bus to rehashing all the trouble with other nominations. I did not see any mention of how Democrats are slow walking any and every possible way in a unified ‘resistance’ I agree that President Trump seems to be a bumbling klutz that continues to step on his own messaging as well as that of his charge but let’s try to talk about the good things that he is doing for our country previously thought unlikely for the past 30 years or so. Record unemployment, particularly with minorities, perhaps the closest we have ever been to a ‘real’ NK deal, tough trade talk appears to be bringing our nemesis countries around to a reasonable compromise, fellow members of NATO seem to be considering paying their ‘fair share’ and we have not only pretty well defeated ISIS but have formed an unlikely coalition of Muslim countries to step it up. Lots of moving parts and pieces but a pretty amazing first 15 months in my humble opinion.” – Jim Burrow, Colleyville, Texas
[Ed. note: All fair points, Mr. Burrow, but I would submit that covering the news is sort of like eating an elephant: You have to do it one bite at a time. However things turn out for Jackson, the mishandling of this nomination has been a master class in administrative nincompoopery. It matters to us because it will have consequences among persuadable voters if they perceive this administration as incompetent. It will also matter to voters how the economy is, how secure they feel, how they perceive Washington to be working overall and a thousand other considerations. By our lights, this week revealed a trend about executive execution worth noting.]
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HE URNED HIS RELEASE
Kennebec [Maine] Journal: “Kevin Raymond Curtis, of Augusta held up an evidence bag Tuesday containing two small, clear plastic bags of a white sandy material. Police had suspected the grainy substance was heroin. It was actually his father. The 48 grams of suspected heroin seized after a car crash Saturday morning in Manchester proved instead to be human remains – specifically, the cremated remains of Robert Clinton Curtis Sr., who died five years ago in Brookville, Florida. ‘This was the first time my father was ever in lockup right here, and it took me forever to get him out of it,’ Curtis said. In fact, it took about 48 hours to have the cremains returned from the Kennebec County Sheriff’s Office after a field test showed the substance was negative for heroin. … The elder Curtis probably would have been pleased with the result; after all, he had worked as an auxiliary officer for the Hallowell Police Department in the late 1950s…”
Chris Stirewalt is the politics editor for Fox News. Brianna McClelland contributed to this report. Want FOX News Halftime Report in your inbox every day? Sign up here.