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What We Learned From Elections This Week


Americans are going to the polls. There were primary elections this week in Michigan and Missouri, a special election in Ohio. More primaries today in Hawaii and next week in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Vermont. Perry Bacon Jr. has an eye on all these races and another eye on the midterms - now less than three months away. Perry, a senior writer for FiveThirtyEight and joins us in our studios. Perry, thanks so much for being with us.

PERRY BACON JR.: Thanks for having me, Scott.

SIMON: And use both eyes to take a look at me now, OK? So we talk about these elections. Still no decision, really, in Ohio. The Republican, Troy Balderson, is just eight-tenths of a percentage point ahead of the Democrat, Danny O'Connor. But this has to be counted as at least a, forgive me, spiritual and strategic victory for the Democrats, doesn't it?

BACON: Sure. I mean, this was a heavily Republican district. And for the Democrats to get this close. And it sort of falls in line with the rest of the special elections we've had over the last year and a half, which is that pretty high Democratic overperformance which tells you if Democrats keep performing at this level, they're likely to win, you know, far more than the seats they need to take control back of the House.

SIMON: What about the idea, though, that a special election is just that, a special election, and it doesn't necessarily project anything a few months ahead?

BACON: You know, what I would say is the cumulation of data we have - from the fact that it's a president in a midterm which means his party almost always loses seats, to Trump's low approval rating overall, to the high turnout among Democrats we've seen in every race - you know, Alabama, Virginia - I think that that's how the information overall suggests we're likely to see a very strong Democratic performance in the House. And the question will be if you look at how districts are drawn, my guess is Democrats going to win, you know, the popular vote for the House by six, seven percent. It doesn't - it's not clear how many seats that translates into, but there's going to be a Democratic year, I would suggest.

SIMON: How do you see the electoral map? What ought we have to take a look at nationally?

BACON: So when you talk about the House, I'll start there, is you're looking at a lot of seats in areas like - there's 23 seats, for example, where Donald Trump lost to Hillary Clinton in that district. So those would be like suburban Virginia is a place where the few districts like that. In California there's some. In New York outside New York City. So those are the places where you would expect definitely some democratic gains. But there are seats all over the country in the zone - there's probably 40, 50 seats we're talking about around the country. But I think those three areas that I name - suburban Virginia, New York outside of New York City and California - are places where usually are not, you know, swing areas but for the House races, they are swing areas. Maybe Houston is another area, too, where I'll be watching to see how many seats Democrats gain there.

SIMON: Let me ask you about some of the fissures. In the Ohio race, for example, some Democrats pointed their finger at the Green Party candidate who said we should have got those votes. Are they right?

BACON: I don't think so. I think people who vote for the Green Party or vote for third parties generally are not - are expressing some level of dissatisfaction with the Democrats or the Republicans for that matter.

SIMON: And what about this open warfare now between President Trump and the Koch brothers? The Koch brothers have been major contributors to many Republican campaigns. It seems like this is a dispute that is being opened just when they need that pipeline the most.

BACON: I'm a little skeptical about much fissure, to be honest with you. It's like, you know, when the Koch's say they don't like Trump but they're going to support the Republican Party and they still are interested in the Republican party's goals.

SIMON: But they said they're going to support some Democrats, too. And on the issue of trade, for example,...

BACON: We'll see how many Democrat - I mean, they've been heavily involved in 2014, 2016. Remember, in 2016 they didn't like Trump himself that much either. They liked the candidates who were running on the Republican banner, who are pretty much aligned with their agenda. So I think in 2018 they'll be supportive of, like, down-ballot Senate and House candidates. And that's where the - ultimately, like, you know, we talk about Trump leading the Republican Party but in some ways, the Republican Party has pushed Trump on a lot of issues maybe outside of trade but on like the tax cut or the health care bill. That's a Koch agenda that's really being executed by Mitch McConnell. And I think that'll continue.

SIMON: Perry Bacon Jr. of FiveThirtyEight, thanks so much for dropping by. Thanks for being with us.

BACON: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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