Ep. 74. Rachel Bitecofer: Election Night Preview

NICIE PANETTA: Greetings and welcome to our special Election Day 2018 edition of The MidPod. I'm Nicie Panetta with Heather Atwood. Ta-da. This is it! Today's the day we've been working toward for the last year and that so many of you have been working toward too. Did you vote yet? Well if not, make sure you get to the polls today. Here in New England, the frost on the pumpkin and the hay is in the barn literally and figuratively. The hard work of the candidates' campaign staff and volunteers for the 2018 midterms is just about done. We hope you take a moment if not today then in the next little while to look back on the work you've done as an active citizen during the last year and to reflect on what it's meant to you. Whatever happens tonight, I hope you feel more love for this country and more invested in our democracy than ever before. Take pride in your civic engagement and take it forward to 2020 and beyond. Before we get to today's interview, I just wanted to give you a quick roadmap for The MidPod post-election day. We're going to use the next few weeks to break down the results and reflect on this journey: what it's meant to us and to so many of you.

NICIE: Next Tuesday, November 13th, we'll bring you political analyst and data journalist Elliott Morris of The Economist to review the results. In the following weeks we'll talk to Amanda Hunter of the Barbara Lee Foundation about this Year of the Woman. We'll speak with David King of Harvard's Kennedy School on what's next for newly elected members. And we'll bring you some personal reflections and some thoughts about what we'll be doing next. In this episode, we want you to hear from a political scientist we've been tracking on Twitter for some time. Rachel Bitecoffer launched a model to track the House of Representatives last summer, raising eyebrows for its forecast of aggressive gains for Democrats. Her model has proven to be pretty accurate with respect to the districts likeliest to flip. She also has a very strong point of view on how Democrats should run in the future if they're going to win. Finally, she's well-positioned to give us some tips on how to watch the election results come in tonight. Bitecoffer is assistant director of the Wason Center for Public Policy at Christopher Newport University. She told us via Skype how she got into this work.

RACHEL BITECOFFER: My dissertation and area of specialty is campaigns and elections and political behavior. See there's political science forecasting for elections and that actually is the original forecasting area. And then when data journalism and 538, Nate Silver, all of that emerged it picked up a lot of the theories that had been longstanding in political science. And you know those guys were pretty smart. But they don't have like expertise like Ph.D.-level training in theory. And I just felt like there was a lot of things that were getting left out and it could be richer if somebody was to marry like the data journalism approach with better theoretical approach. And that's what I did.

NICIE: Wow that's really interesting. And of the theory which piece is really foundational to you? What piece do you think ordinary Americans should should just be aware of and keep in mind particularly when they're consuming all of this new data journalism?

BITECOFFER: So what makes my approach so different is that I'm really pushing back on a couple of longstanding paradigms about elections in the United States. Probably most importantly that elections are really decided by independence and that we see the electorate kind of seems a little crazy. Or how it keeps sending in Republicans and that it has a giant wave for Democrats and then it's more Republicans I mean thinking about especially between 2008 and 2010 when the economy was collapsing around America and Republicans really thought like that's it we're going to be in the political wilderness for at least a generation because of this. And yet you know just two years after Obama was elected they go on to pick up 63 House seats. And the conventional wisdom is that you know Americans look at you know Obama's centrism which you know center left but it was not radical by any means especially by today's standards. And you know freaked out and they wanted to put a check on him. But that is just wrong I argue, it's actually because Democratic voters got lazy because their guy was in the White House and they stopped participating especially in these off-year elections. And in that that void Republicans were really fired up because their guy was not in office and they felt under threat under the Obama administration. And that's why we saw these huge swings and so therefore now that Donald Trump's our president we're going to see a big swing back and Democrats who have kind of a numbers advantage but they have a disadvantage in terms of participation, but when participation meets that number advantage you can get a pretty big swing and so that's what I'm expecting here in 2018.

NICIE: So is this what you're talking about Rachel when you talk on Twitter where we've met about negative partisanship?

BITECOFFER: Yes. So my model is called the negative partisanship model and it's very different than what you'd see from Five Thirty-Eight or the manual handicapping sites like Larry Sabato's Crystal Ball. It's free of all the things that we think of that we need to know for predicting elections because there are no polls in it at all. And what it did was it it looked at the Virginia elections which I was like the only person that saw the blue wave coming in Virginia and the people were pushing back pretty hard on me when I kept talking about it but I said no no no when you look at all these suburban populations, they're going to these these newly activated agitated especially women who are going to show up in droves and they're going to produce this giant wave.

BITECOFFER: So my model is based on that theory that the backlash to Trump, I mean it would be backlash to any Republican but particularly to this president who's so controversial and the threat just comes at you every day if you're in the opposition party under Trump and I said that they would come out in droves and so I look at the characteristics of places in Virginia that saw a big swing particularly in the suburbs around Northern Virginia and just to refresh your listeners memory, in Virginia not only did the Democratic governor candidate win by nine points which was way more than you know the average pundit thought it would be they thought that would be a very close race and in fact right before the election very similar to now they were oh well it's just going to be a toss who knows what's gonna happen and I'm like no no no no it's going to be a [...]. But the House of Delegates flipped 15 seats in a system that is heavily partisan gerrymandered to advantage Republicans. So I isolated the factors that led to a big turnout surge of Democratic constituencies and I applied that to our House districts and identified districts that were going to produce surges under this new theory and that's why on July 1 I said 42 seats in the House for Democrats.

NICIE: And I remember you were publishing that forecast back then and that was at a time when I think most of the as you say sort of bottom up modelers like the Cook Political Report on the Crystal Ball were much more in this kind of 20 to 30 seat idea. And if anything you know certainly forecasting to have come your way. And I'm wondering where's your forecast now.

BITECOFFER: My forecast was built to be applicable on election day. So it's not going to change a lot in this final update that I'm going to be pushing out later in terms of the seat changes. Another thing that sets mine apart though is that I was able back in July to say you know here's a list of 12 districts that are definitely going to flip. Now that list is 25 districts that are definitely going to flip and then I have likely flippers and leaners and then toss up as my top category. So you know not only was it unique in July to say no it's not only that they're going to pick up the majority they're going to pick up many seats to spare. And you're right back then a few quantitative models that were released at that time 'cause 538 wasn't out yet and the manual handicapping sites like Crystal Ball, they were actually unsure if the Dems could pick up the 23 seats they needed for control back in July when I released.

NICIE: Yeah and says this has been a theme throughout the history of our short history of The MidPod this question of persuasion of these swing voters versus turnout of more ideological or committed partisans. So you are definitely in this turnout camp it sounds like.

BITECOFFER: Yes I am. And you know one thing that I should say is that I'm like pretty much the only one in this camp except for apparently Republican strategists because the Republican strategy coming down the stretch really to me indicates that they appreciate this is going to be a battle of the bases situation that they don't need to waste time on persuasion. They need to just make sure Republicans that love Trump show up. Democrats have been less able to articulate that message which I think must just amuse the heck out of Republicans. They probably look at Democrats and think only a Democrat would think I'm not going to make this election that's naturally a referendum on a very unpopular president a referendum on a very unpopular president.

NICIE: Yeah actually let's get into that. Do you think that Democratic candidates are making a mistake by you could almost call it pussyfooting around Trump. I think there's been a fair amount of that.

BITECOFFER: I do and it's a mistake I warned about in July and I said that if they made this mistake they would still win big despite it but that they would be not maximizing the potential of the wave by failing to articulate for a particular constituency that this is a stakes election and that that particular constituency is the Democrats that vote in presidential elections but don't vote in midterm elections because one need only to activate a significant portion of them to win like big-time in a midterm election. Democrats could have really hammered home to those particular voters who keep in mind these are not people that are motivated by issues necessarily if they were deeply committed policy wonk people then they wouldn't be drop off voters they would vote in presidential and off-year elections. So you know the things that you know we think of as motivating Democrats to the polls healthcare or whatever those may not be that necessarily the best way to activate those lazy voters.

BITECOFFER: What instead should be done with them is to maximize or really make them see oh if I vote for generic Democrat in this generic House race this affects Donald Trump right? And I think you know to some extent it's because the D.C. strategists or the Democratic Party strategists are just so old school and they just they seem like they're incapable of adjusting to the change in the electorate that we've experienced the last 20 years in the polarized era. Some of it is because Democrats will get a focus group done and the focus group will say you know we don't want the election to be about Trump. We want the election to be about other things and I'm sure they believe that that's what they want. But when we look at actual behavior versus the way people think they behave. There's a big gap and that's why negative advertising is so effective in campaigns, people hate negative ads. And if I was to do a poll and asked my voters should I run negative ads they would definitely say no. Right. But we know that negative ads move voters. So that's why the campaigns use them. So I guess like what I would say is Democrats believe voters about how voters think that they behave and they just shy away from from hammering home that message and they think Clinton's focus on Trump in 2016 was the wrong approach. But what they fail to articulate is that Clinton was trying to talk about a hypothetical threat. Right. This is what life would be like if Donald Trump won. And now voters are living in that Trump presidency world where that threat is much more real to him.

NICIE: Well how does the surprise win of Andrew Gillum and the Florida gubernatorial primary on the Democratic side play into your theory?

BITECOFFER: Yeah so that is playing into my theory and I'm a very lucky in that I have two I mean kind of three but really two candidates in competitive elections right now that are running on my strategy which is to be unapologetically liberal, to explain to voters why liberalism economics, socially, culturally is superior to conservatism, to make a positive case for being a Democrat rather than do what the D triple C playbook has been for 20 or 30 years and basically say I'm not like a liberal Democrat because as soon as you're doing that you're cueing to the voter hey there's something wrong with being a liberal Democrat. So Gillum in Florida and Stacey Abrams and Georgia are both running what I call a positive Democratic platform campaign.

BITECOFFER: They are trying to motivate latent voters that already agree on issues but haven't been voting because they didn't feel like it was important to do so rather than wasting their time trying to convince independent voters who election after election show up and split in favor of the Republican candidate. I mean you look at the exit polling data from 2014 and you know there's like nine Democrats running they all ran the same playbook appeal to independents embraced gun rights. You know try to win over these gun voters and when you look at the data all of them lost first off and all of them lost independents. The key group that they structured their campaign around. So you know I'm really excited to see what happens keeping in mind of course especially for Abrams that's an uphill battle in a state that is I think six points advantage for Republicans. And then of course Gillum was the best thing that ever could have happened to Bill Nelson who is the Democratic incumbent senator running for re-election against Rick Scott because he is not a particularly charismatic person and doesn't do retail politics like shaking hands, kissing babies politics well. So having Gillum on the ticket is really helping him.

NICIE: Absolutely. And I guess we'd be remiss if we didn't just touch on the Texas Senate race which has captivated so many. What do you think of O'Rourke's bid?

BITECOFFER: And I'm so glad you did because it allows me to do one more shameless plug for my model that dropped on July 1 and it was pretty well-received. I mean I have to say that Larry Sabato was extremely gracious about it and gave me great comments. But one thing that I did get that was a common theme was that I was crazy to think Texas could be a tossup. And of course Texas is a tossup right. And it really is a product of Beto O'Rourke. He is one of those once in a you know every 20 years-type candidate very similar to Obama. It was something I saw immediately just like I saw with Obama and O'Rourke is really going to give Ted Cruz a fight for his money. Texas is actually you know it's very Republican obviously it hasn't elected a state a statewide Democrat in a long time. More recently they tried to run Wendy Davis for governor and she lost to Greg Abbott the first time he ran. But under my model you know she would have never had a chance because Republicans outnumber Dems and then you have that low like languished Dem turnout in Texas in 2014. But now Democrats are super agitated and excited in Texas so I don't know that Beto O'Rourke could pull out a victory. He does have one thing going in his favor. The governor's race is uncompetitive. So it's not really drawing a lot of attention. And Texas has one of the lowest turnout rates in the country. So if Democrats can show up on maps and really maximize their turnout and Republicans are complacent it is not infeasible that O'Rourke could win. But in terms of him going forward I mean the man raised 36 million dollars in a single quarter the last person that could do that was Barack Obama. And as long as he keeps it close as long as he doesn't fail to meet the expectation that he'll make it competitive, I see a bright future for him, perhaps as a presidential candidate.

NICIE: No doubt about it. He's got his best work remains ahead of him as I think is the case for many of the candidates that we have interviewed on The MidPod, some of whom are going to win and some of whom will not prevail. We are talking to Rachel Bitecoffer, who's joining us by Skype. I wanted to ask you about this late-closing dynamic here in in the race. First off I guess I would just say from a sort of a bottom up perspective the thing that we are seeing is that the divide between the suburban and the rural districts where the suburban districts seem to be closing more for Dems and then the more rural districts that feature a lot of barns versus cul-de-sacs were lagging. Now we're starting to see more rural districts maybe becoming competitive and I'm thinking of Colorado three, people started talking about California one, California four. What do you think of this dynamic late in the race? Is this something you're seeing as well?

BITECOFFER: Yeah so the actual like quantitative aspects of my model are focused entirely on demographics and that is why the districts that popped up in my initial "will flip" are all like heavily suburban-metro they tuck in the metro areas. So any rural area that's drawn in such a way as to pick up a significant urban or even suburban population has a good potential to produce a surge. And then especially if that district is situated in a state that doesn't have a big you know well-publicized statewide race because you know we look at the special election results where Democrats did the best were in low turnout contest where Republican voters didn't really have the possibility of a Democrat picking up the state legislative seat that broke for Trump and you know by 20 something or whatever. Right.

NICIE: Right. So California is actually pretty interesting in this context right. Because the governor's race is uncompetitive and the Senate race is uncompetitive.

BITECOFFER: That's exactly right. And when you can catch a sleeping population it can make a big difference. So Kentucky sis is particularly something that pops into mind. I've had Virginia seven which I'm the only person who has said that this is a "will flip" district, recently it's popped on the radar of other people as being a competitive tossup district. But you know that was a couple of months after I first you know put it out there. And the reason is that that district is largely rural just like Pennsylvania 18 in the special election was. But the northern tip of it goes into the suburbs of Richmond. And if there's a big turnout surge of women, suburban college-educated women and keep in mind these aren't women necessarily who have voted Republican before and now are turned off by the GOP although I'm sure if you knock on some doors you may find some of these individuals. What I'm arguing is no it's going to be women who align with the Democratic Party and maybe vote in presidential elections but have not until now voted in a midterm election. And so it's the entrance of those new voters that are Democratic aligning and voting for Democrats that are going to be the difference maker in these House races and indeed even in the Senate and gubernatorial races.

NICIE: Yeah and for listeners who have the time definitely go on YouTube and pull up Abigail Spanberger's the Democratic candidate in that race and she has a great ad featuring her daughters. And it's so deft the way it portrays her as both this like awesome kind of Superwoman former CIA agent and also just like ordinary suburban mom and amazing to think that it could be a flip because of course our listeners may be aware of Virginia 7 is where Dave Brat, Tea Party guy, was able to upset Eric Cantor the powerful minority whip defeated him in a primary from the Right so...excuse me majority leader.

BITECOFFER: He would have been Speaker of the House. Because you know Boehner left not long after that. So you know the statewide race here Virginia Senate race between Tim Kaine and the Republican nominee is not competitive so much so that this year we did not pull a statewide Senate race because the trouncing that the Republican got last year in this gubernatorial race really scared off Republicans from even attempting to unseat Tim Kaine. And the byproduct of that is that the nomination went to this guy named Corey Stewart who is fairly vocal about his support for the Confederacy if you know what I mean. So he's extremely controversial not well-loved even within Republican circles here. So without that Senate race getting all the activity that that Senate race would have generated. I mean Stewart has no money to go on TV. It's very possible that Republican turnout will be low enough in the 7th and Democratic turnout will be high enough that a district like that that doesn't really have necessarily the demographics or the competitiveness that you would look for in my model still might flip. So I do have some of those that I'm going to be watching.

NICIE: And again maybe even the fifth. I refer our listeners you can go online and look at the picture of former senator Republican Senator John Warner in this extraordinarily dapper outfit which someone on Twitter called Full Middleburg he's in a kind of a tweed jacket with this sort of extravagant silk pocket square endorsing Leslie Cockburn the liberal Democratic nominee in Virginia five against another I guess kind of kooky Republican nominee there.

BITECOFFER: He's been underperforming and she's been overperforming. She has enough money to go you know to reach out to her voters and not the fifth was not even on my radar until about a month and a half ago and I added that on my list as a tossup.

NICIE: And maybe this is a moment to talk about the Year of the Woman. I mean one thing we observed during primary season was the extraordinary outperformance of women candidates in Democratic primaries. I think the average edge was calculated at something like 10 points. And I'm wondering whether you see that edge persisting into the general do you think women candidates will will outperform again? Most of them are women in these House races.

BITECOFFER: Yeah women Democratic candidates have a banner day. I mean we think of '94 as the year of the woman or '92 I think it was. But this year we have more many more women running than we've ever had before. I think the success rate is even at 50 percent and then it'll be more women that won this year than that previous banner year. Though I will say especially to your female listeners it will not do much to improve women's representation in the Congress. We're currently of around 22 percent and it might take us up to 24 percent keeping in mind that means that 75 percent of the Congress is male. So still lots of work to do there even though the ladies clean it up on Tuesday.

NICIE: I want to touch briefly on money in politics. We've seen an extraordinarily successful dash for cash on the Democratic side and in general I think a move towards smaller money donations and I'm just curious based on your model maybe that's not as big of a factor as you would have thought or maybe it is because it shows that more Democrats are investing on a grassroots basis in these candidates.

BITECOFFER: It is a factor in a lot of ways. Number one and most importantly the fact that they're raising so much money and from so many different sources is you know an indication of the sense of viability that people have in these candidates and that matters a lot and when people think you can succeed, it's another way to put like a quantitative measure on the Democratic enthusiasm that's coming from backlash to Trump. So there's that. And number two you don't need necessarily to be able to match your opponent in spending but you need enough money to get your message out to voters. Right. So you know looking at these House races to see how candidates like Leslie Cockburn in the fifth district this race that is like the longest of long shots and like what it looks like on paper raising over a million dollars and it's just that is a real sign that Democrats are going to have a good day on Tuesday.

NICIE: I would like to ask you especially since your model does not depend on polls. What's your advice to folks about consuming these polls?

BITECOFFER: Yeah and I should probably too you know clarify I am a pollster I do polling every year election polling in Virginia primarily and I'm pretty good at what I do. That said there are limitations of polls and a lot of that comes from the way that they're reported and the way that they're understood. For example, we have had a great deal of polls that have come out this cycle and one way it's great because you know House polling used to be so rare that you'd never see a House poll. So it's good to have a lot of polls. But the problem is that with a 500n size or less than I've seen several that are 400, let's say the candidate A has 47 percent and candidate B has 45 or 44 percent. The way that it's treated is oh candidate A is leading candidate B. But because the n size was very low and the weighting was very high to get these House districts to look like the population they're trying to measure, the margin of error on some of these surveys have been five points and so the correct way to interpret that survey would be OK the race in district blank is competitive.

BITECOFFER: It's definitely not going to be a blowout for one candidate or the other. But you can't really say with any certainty who's leading in that scenario unless the lead is outside the margin of error. And so with my own polling I'm always conscious of that. I try very hard to get enough surveys where my margin of error is as low as possible. But even then you when we released our 7th District poll, Abigail Spanberger had a one-point advantage over Dave Brat. But our framing of that is that it's a statistical tie. It could mean that Spanberger's leading Brat but it could mean that Brat is actually leading Spanberger, and it could mean that one of them if all the areas in one direction is actually beating the other one pretty solidly right. You know with your listeners always look at those n sizes and those margin of errors and just try to appreciate a limitation of what that poll can tell you.

NICIE: OK. And then similarly a lot is being made about early voting numbers right now, what would you say about how best to interpret those results some of which are up you know considerably over 2014?

BITECOFFER: At the macro level the early vote can tell us something right it can tell us that enthusiasm is much higher on both sides than it was in 2014 and that the enthusiasm advantage is larger for Democrats than it is for Republicans. And that is a second piece of evidence or a third piece of evidence that says yeah Democrats have a advantage in this cycle due to being the opposition party and negative partisanship right. But when you get down and start crunching numbers like who's up and who's down the early vote is actually not all that predictive of winner. And I know 538 has a great piece on that if you want to google it and check it out. And they did a podcast I think just released about it too because it's been a topic of great interest. And there are just better ways to predict and polls with all the error factored in are better predictors of outcome than early vote.

NICIE: OK. We want to move on to some key races to watch so for our listeners who are listening to this on Election Day. We're going to give you your cheat sheet for monitoring results as they come in tonight. But first I just wanted to ask you real quickly if you have any thoughts on the Senate.

BITECOFFER: Yes so the Senate map is tough for Democrats. It is just one of the worst maps that they could have possibly faced given that this was a potential for them with a wave. Right. And when you look at the states that they're defending West Virginia, where Trump won by 40 points, the state partisan advantage score for West Virginia that I constructed is like 24 points. And Manchin is in the lead there but only because West Virginia like Maryland and Massachusetts has a long history of having opposition party voters vote for the other person based on the person. Right. And that does not happen a lot when we look at modern elections Republicans are voting for Republicans even when they're under indictment. And Democrats are voting for Democrats even if they're Bob Menendez right. The Republicans are a little worse at that to be frank. So you can see that play out every day in the fact that Donald Trump has so many scandals and so many things but yet you know always is that 40 percent or more in his approval ratings. So partisanship is the main thing to consider in the modern polarized atmosphere that we're in. So with Heitkamp Heidi Heitkamp in North Dakota, that's a tough race because it was about nine points advantaged for Republicans in 2012 when she first won the seat. And now that advantage is 14 points. So the state has become more Republican since she first ran and her best move was to vote against Kavanaugh because that kept the base voters in North Dakota excited to vote.

NICIE: We did an interview with Senator Heitkamp but we also just last Friday Reid released our North Dakota Senate profile. That's our last profile. And part of the reason we scrambled and went to North Dakota instead of Minnesota sorry Minnesota we love you too was because we wanted to test that very question of what it would feel like on the ground for her in the aftermath of that decision. I mean she was drawing literally packed rooms everywhere we went.

BITECOFFER: And you could see her fund-raising took off. I mean and if she had done the opposite. Oh my. You know. And so like the Democratic strategist probably told her oh you've got to vote in favor of this guy you're going to isolate all these independents. Somebody got through to her like look you know look at these electoral returns for the last 10 years. It's not going to happen. They're not going to break in your favor. And if you don't say no to Kavanaugh if you don't take a principled stand here, you're going to lose all that enthusiasm. And for Manchin he's going to have that problem now. He depressed people that were volunteering for him for sure, but he actually did have Republicans and Independents supporting him that he could have isolated. Heitkamp didn't have them to lose. You know what I mean. And so when you're playing in a football game and you're down 20 points and it's the fourth quarter, you don't play conservative. You got to go. You know you got to play a tough aggressive offense. And that's what she she's done. So that's the best thing she could have done. And if she loses it will be in spite of that decision not because of it.

NICIE: And it's possible Manchin could benefit from the lower layers of the ticket in West Virginia where there's a tremendous enthusiasm particularly in the third district but even in the first and second where there are some some pretty great women candidates. We are talking to Rachel Bitecoffer who's joining us by Skype. So net net on the Senate?

BITECOFFER: So when I put out my final forecast you know what the Senate I'm going to say here's seven races they could go either way. This is the way I think that they'll go. But it's really hard to say. I think the Dems will pick up Arizona and Nevada. I think Beto O'Rourke will get within 5 in Texas but probably won't win it. I think you know Heitkamp and Bredesen are both facing electorates that are just heavily heavily Republican in Bredesen's case, what a major factor in my model is is a percent of the population that's college-educated because that's where your college-educated women surge is going to come for him and I and I should be clear about that women surging in terms of white women it is college-educated women. Non college-educated white women are heavily Republican and they support Trump by a big margin. So if you don't have like a good college educated population to draw out of, if you don't have a fair amount of racial diversity then you're in a pickle. But you know keep in mind the Blue Wave has defined the Senate map because if it wasn't for the fact that Donald Trump was president let's say instead Hillary Clinton was president then not only would the Dems lose North Dakota, Montana, Texas, Nevada, so on and so forth, they would actually be competing the races that we'd be watching with bated breath would be Ohio and Pennsylvania and Minnesota and Wisconsin. So that's where you see the blue wave in the Senate map.

NICIE: And all of these races we're not losing any sleep over. All right so key races to watch when when results start coming in after 8:00 o'clock Eastern time. What are the Eastern Time Zone races that you think will be good tells for how the night's going to unfold?

BITECOFFER: I think the few Virginia races are going to be a great tell. Virginia seven, Virginia two, Virginia five, Virginia 10 for me was always a definite flipper and I was really surprised that the Republican incumbent decided to run for re-election.

NICIE: Well and that the Republicans have pumped so much money in, amazing! Five million bucks from the NRCC. Amazing.

BITECOFFER: Oh I know what a waste too, I know, and down a pit you know. You know I think the Virginia races are going to be a good tell. I mean in Pennsylvania I'm expecting them to pick up four, maybe five seats. So if that doesn't happen that would be bad for Democrats.

NICIE: Liesl Hickey who we've interviewed on The MidPod makes a big deal about the Fitzpatrick Wallace race in Pennsylvania.

BITECOFFER: Of the Pennsylvania races let's see I've got like five I think of them in my in my "will flip" category I'm finalizing that category right now so I haven't updated it completely. If North Carolina 9 flips, that's something that most people rate modestly. If my forecast is correct then California is like the cherry on top of the Democratic wave not the deciding factor for control. So as you get to California and they're fighting for control, that means my forecast overshot at least 20 seats or so.

NICIE: How about in the Midwest how about in that central time zone?

BITECOFFER: I think the Dems are going to clean up in the Midwest. We've got some races in Michigan to watch for sure Paul Ryan's seat the first doesn't have the demographic characteristics that produce a strong Democratic vote share in my model but it has a quality challenger somebody who's raised a ton of money. It's not infeasible that it could flip. But you know mostly Michigan and Minnesota in the Midwest.

NICIE: Yeah and I think that's an example for us like Michigan 11 was my kind of bellwether district in that region and now I think we feel pretty comfortable that that will flip.

BITECOFFER: Yeah that's been on my list for "will flip" since day one. But you know what you know it's a tossup tossup tossup "likely D" under the 538 model and "lean D" under Cook so.

NICIE: And how about as we move into the Mountain Time zone, anything you're looking for there?

BITECOFFER: Right now Colorado 3 for me is a likely flip district. And then keep in mind that Colorado 6 will flip. Colorado 3 is a likely flip. It's a solid R by Inside Elections. It's a "lean R" under Sabato. It's "likely R" under Cook, but it has potential to me because of the demographic characteristics of it that it really could be a big surge in turnout. I would be remiss not to mention like the Plains states. The fact that we've got a competitive race in Kansas that we've got a competitive race in Nebraska. So those are important to point out to probably.

NICIE: And then California.

BITECOFFER: OK so California is either going to put a big cherry on top or it will determine control and some of mine the 538 model has come behind. So I have had from day one Cali 10, Cali 25, Cali 45, Cali 48, and Cali 49 on my my "will flip" radar. And to put that into perspective you know I think almost everybody agrees about 48 and 49. There's a little bit less certainty with meaning alder's down in California 45 for others but not for me. I think the real question for me is Cali 25 with Katie Hill, an excellent candidate but somebody that has not convinced at least the other handicappers, a 538 model has that as a "Lean D". But the other manual handicappers all have it is a tossup race and I've had that as well from Day One. So we'll see. And then you know kind of a sleeper district out there. You said the first that for me would be David Nunez's district, Cali 25.

NICIE:] This is a MidPod listener favorite and a MidPod host favorite so tell us what you think.


NICIE: Oh yeah. I mean we've always thought it was a longshot but we are extraordinarily impressed by the race that Andrew Janz has run.

BITECOFFER: Yes he has run a fantastic race. And you know Devin Nunes is enemy number one right of the resistance. I mean when you have made yourself a target like that it's a big target just like Paul Ryan would have been a huge target if he had stayed in. And you know people think he quit because he wasn't going to be Speaker but I think he quit because he wasn't going to be Speaker and he wasn't sure he was going win reelection so. Sometimes that can make a big difference in Janz has run a fantastic campaign. The circus did an episode out there and you could really get a sense of how enthusiastic his support network is. I mean that district is more hostile than Virginia's 7th and pretty similar to Virginia 5 and if we're talking about them being competitive, it's not without the realm of possibility that we could see that go.

NICIE: You should know that Andrew Janz also has a very dab hand in the kitchen. And you can hear us hear him make dinner for us in our California 22 race profile which is pretty intense I guess in this in this bucket and I will I will admit that we did visit a number of districts you know we like to cultivate a constructive spirit and we actually hope for better days ahead for the Republican Party because we know we need a strong center-right party long-term. But it is also true that we have focused some of our attention on districts with what I would call outlier Republican incumbents. California 22 being one but I'll I'll throw out two more one is Texas 21, very longshot district that was Lamar Smith and he also retired, and the other is Iowa four the Steve King district where we spent quite a bit of time with J.D. Scholton. Any thoughts on either of those?

BITECOFFER: So Iowa Four I have to say had not been on my radar at all until recently and only because you know the recent tweet by the NRCC guy about the fact that yes I mean he's a blatant has-been a blatant white supremacist for years and sitting in that seat. And you know he thought he had re-election in the bag so he didn't do anything for re-election until very late. So you never know. It's certainly not impossible, it's not likely but it's not impossible. I have put it on my list I'm working on this final update. And I have coded it as "likely Republican" but that doesn't mean "solid Republican" you just never know. But on the 21st that's a different story. It's an open seat. So that's a big factor. And everybody else has it coded as "likely R" which you know really is a pretty good strong likelihood it's going to go Republican. It doesn't have any elements that made the 538 model like it. I just don't think you can use the polling and anything that has one poll especially with an n size of 400 from a Republican polling firm, so I have it listed as a "lean R.".

NICIE: Anything else you want to share by way of a wrap-up and how can our listeners follow you and your work?

BITECOFFER: So as a wrap-up I guess I would say one advantage of my approach that they can read on the Wason Center blog is that it is looking at fundamentals. It's arguing that a lot of the stuff that we've witnessed and gone through the last two months is noise and that the signal was November 9th, 2016 when we know we all expected one outcome and got a very different outcome and not one that is conducive for a lot of Americans. So the Kavanaugh's thing and you know oh it's narrowing it's widening it's narrowing. One of the reasons my forecast made such a spash was that I released it in the mid-summer and at that time period the generic ballot had been on a nearing trend. You know most of the people oh I didn't even think the Dems can take the house and so I was able to come in and be like yeah no that's all noise, got to listen to the signal the signal was negative partisanship. For better or for worse voters only vote when they're afraid. And Democrats are terrified they're not just afraid. So I think they're going to show up.

NICIE: And ultimately I think we all hope for more turnout and that maybe if your thesis gets more broadly accepted that will lead towards more investment in broader participation in democracy of the sort that Tom Steyer and others are making and that would probably be a good thing for democracy right.

BITECOFFER: It sure would because you know voting is literally the least the least you can do for your country. And the irony about all of our problems that we're facing right now is that we actually have the power right now to solve them all. We already have the power we're just not using it. So that's got to change.

NICIE: Active Citizens electing servant leaders. A good place to end this election night preview. Thank you so much Rachel Bitecoffer, we really appreciate your time and insight.

BITECOFFER: It was a pleasure. Thanks.

NICIE: Our thanks to Rachel Bitecoffer of Christopher Newport University who talked to us via Skype. Join us next Tuesday for Elliott Morris. In the meantime, hit us up on Twitter. Thanks for listening and for being active citizens.

Eunice Panetta