While Election Day is two weeks off, a number of states are already conducting early voting and absentee balloting, as more evidence surfaced Monday of the keen interest in the 2018 mid-term elections.
What do we know two weeks out?
1. President Trump remains the Election Wild Card. While the President has certainly reined in his Twitter habit, no one else on the political scene right now can command the attention that President Trump is able to gain on a moment's notice. With Republicans trying all they can to save their majorities in the House and Senate, can this President find an issue - or issues - to help focus the GOP and their voters? Remember - he won an election in 2016 that few said he would win. He won a nomination in 2016 that few said he could win. Why can't he carry the GOP to victory in 2018? The President has three more rallies this week in Wisconsin, North Carolina and Illinois.
2. Experts see an edge for Democrats in the House. The political know-it-alls in Washington, D.C. don't agree on everything, but the conventional wisdom right now is that Democrats have a much better chance at capturing control of the House than Republicans do in holding on to power. While there was certainly a polling boost for the GOP after the explosive confirmation process for Justice Brett Kavanaugh, that seems to have receded a little for Republicans on the House side, leaving a playing field that many feel is still tilted in favor of the Democrats, with Republicans a long shot to keep the House.
3. Those same experts see a GOP edge in the Senate. Republicans believe - and political experts concur - that the GOP is much firmer ground in the race for control of the U.S. Senate. Part of it is because the battlefield is much more favorable for Republicans this year. But there are definitely some close races which could break either way - for, or against the GOP. Florida is perfect example. Tennessee is another. Let's just put it this way - if the Democrats are winning the seat of Sen. Ted Cruz in Texas, then it's going to be a very big night for them in the Senate. Right now, that doesn't seem to be where things are headed.
4. A growing gender and education gap in the polls. Whether it's a statewide Senate race, or a local House race, one thing is obvious from the polling data of recent months - men are much more likely to support President Trump and the GOP candidate, while women skew to the Democrats by a large amount. There's also an obvious difference when it comes to whether voters have a college degree, as those with more education are more likely to back the Democrats. It's these more highly education women voters that Democrats hope can win them a series of more suburban House districts.
5. What will the 2018 electorate look like? This is an important question as you try to figure out what's going to happen on Election Day. In 2010, white men turned out at the polls in larger numbers, spurring the big Tea Party revolt that knocked Democrats from power in the House. In 2014, the electorate was slightly different, but still better for the GOP, as they won more seats in the House and took charge of the Senate. So far, the 2018 electorate is not looking like 2010 or 2014 in terms of its composition. That has many experts thinking there is an edge in there for Democrats.
6. TV ads offer some hints about the state of some races. On opposite ends the country, two Republican members of the House who are facing strong challenges are running very pointed ads. Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-NJ) - more of a moderate GOP lawmaker - said his Democratic opponent promoted a 'convicted cop killer and domestic terrorist.' In the San Diego area, indicted Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) - a Trump loyalist - says his opponent, Democrat Ammar Campa-Najjar has 'family ties to terrorism,' and that he is 'working to infiltrate Congress.' Will those type of ads help save GOP seats in November?
7. As the two parties make last minute TV decisions. One of the more entertaining things to watch at this point in the election cycle is which party is giving up on certain candidates, and which party is suddenly pouring money into a specific race, either because they are playing defense, or maybe going on offense. This is what's known as "triage" for candidates, as national parties abandon certain lawmakers, figuring that they are a lost cause. One piece of news that came Monday is that the GOP is now advertising on behalf of Rep. Karen Handel (R-GA) in the Atlanta suburbs on both cable and broadcast TV. That money wouldn't be spent by Republicans if they felt like the seat was a lock. It's one of many late decisions the two parties have to make on election resources.
8. What kind of hints from early voting data? About the only thing sure to prompt a more partisan food fight than poll numbers is how people are interpreting early voting numbers. But the evidence seems to be clear from around the country, that people are very engaged for this mid-term election, and in some areas, the early vote numbers are approaching - or even surpassing - what usually happens in a Presidential election year, which has larger turnout than a mid-term, like 2018. Who does that benefit? I'll let others duke it out on that - but the numbers do seem to show that there are a lot of votes being cast early this year. Does it predict anything? Stay tuned.