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Where’s the betting value?

There are four months until the next set of US elections. And midterms – normally – are not kind to the incumbent party. And that’s in normal times: this time around, you have an unpopular President lacking his predecessor’s hard core of support, and an unprecedented cost of living increase.

The House is near certain to fall to the Republicans. But the Senate could be different.

There are four crucial races, three are Democrat defences, and one Republican: Arizona, Georgia, Nevada and Pennsylvania. Two are Democratic held from 2020, another has a Democratic Senator dating back to 2016, while the last is an open Republican defence. All were won by the Democrats at the Presidential level. In a normal midterm year, you would probably expect three of the four to go Republican.

But this isn’t a normal year.

Arizona

Mark Kelly always seemed a strong candidate in a competitive seat. He’s moderate and affable, without being abrasive (hello Krystyn!), and – of course – he’s married to former Representative Gabby Giffords, who was shot and severely injured a decade ago.

The Republican candidate is… unknown. It’s a wide open primary, with the biggest bloc being Undecided (around 40% of poll respondents). Leading the race is Blake Masters, who worked for Peter Thiel as head of his foundation, and while undoubtedly smart, seems to lack the normal range of human emotions and facial expressions.

But Arizona is also a historically Red state, and will (I suspect) swing back hard in 2022. Although Kelly is polling in the high 40s in hypothetical match-ups, I would make the Republicans narrow favourites.

Georgia

Warnock, Georgia’s Democratic candidate, has always been upstaged by his younger colleague, Jon Ossoff. Winning by only the narrowest of margins in the (special) run-off, against one of the worst candidates of the 2020 elections cycle, Kelly Loeffler, I thought he would struggle in 2022.

Yet Warnock has been handed a second slice of luck in his opponent Herschel Walker. While he won his primary with ease, he is not the perfect candidate. There are allegations of wife beating, and revelations of multiple children with multiple women (who aren’t his wife). Which wouldn’t be so bad if he hadn’t spent so much time railing against absentee fathers in the African American community.

Polling backs this up. Quinnipiac, in a poll released last week, gives Warnock a ten point lead (54 to 44). Polls can change, but right now, Warnock has to be favourite to hold onto Georgia.

Nevada

Nevada has voted Democratic in each of the last four Presidential cycles, and its class three Senator (up this year) has been Democratic back to at least 1986.

And yet Nevada looks to have one of the most competitive Senate races this year. Polls give Catherine Cortez Masto the narrowest of leads over Adam Laxalt.

Partly this will be because Nevada (with its tourism driven economy) was particularly vulnerable to Covid. Partly because the Republican Party has made some decent headway with Hispanics. But mostly it’s because this is a race Cortez Masto won by just two percentage points in 2016. And, frankly, she is far from the most visible Democrat in Washington, while Laxalt – whatever you may think of his policies – is a master of self promotion.

The momentum, until recently, has been with Laxalt, and in a normal year he would be favourite to take the State.

But there is one thing that might yet derail Laxalt: abortion. He has constantly railed against the legality of abortion in Nevada. Yet Nevada is one of the most consistently pro-legal abortion States in the US. Back in 1990, they even held a referendum affirming support for its legality to 24 weeks, which was won by a near two-to-one margin, and polls since continue to show overwhelming support for legalised abortion.

Laxalt would be wise to leave abortion alone, and to concentrate on gas prices and Biden. If he cannot (and it appears he cannot), he’s giving Cortez Masto an unexpected boost. Incumbency and abortion work in Cortez Masto’s favour – I’d make her a narrow favourite to hold on.

Pennsylvania

Goodness knows what the Republicans were thinking. Dr Oz seems like a nice enough chap: a pleasant teledoctor of no particularly firm political beliefs. He is, however, still a Turkish citizen. Perhaps worse, he lives in New Jersey and can point to nothing he has done for the State. And in an unusually anti-abortion State, he’s been historically but publicly pro-choice.

Against Oz is former Lt Governor John Fetterman, who is cut from the same blue collar mould as Sherrod Brown.

Polls have consistently had Fetterman leading by about six points. It’s hard not to make him the (very narrow) favourite.

Let Me Toss Something Else into the Mix

There’s one other Senate seat which has the potential to be interesting: Utah. This year, there is no Democratic candidate. Instead, it is a head-to-head between pro-Trump Senator Mike Lee, and very Conservative but not actually standing for the Republicans, Evan McMullin.

PBers will remember Evan as the best performing non-Trump, non-Clinton candidate from 2016, when he got 21.5% of the vote in Utah. And Mike Lee is not a popular incumbent. His favourability – even among Republicans – is just 57%. Across the electorate as a whole, it’s 42%. There may be candidates with worse favourability ratings (like Ron Johnson), but not many.

Will Democrats turn out to elect a conservative, just because he’s not Mike Lee? And will Republicans (even the ones who don’t like Trump or Lee) be prepared to vote Independent, or is that a bridge too far?

Polls suggest Lee leads – but (excluding the Republican leaning, 300 person poll from WPS) show him with around 41 to 35-37 for McMullin. That’s an awful lot of undecideds.

I don’t know of any odds on this race (Betfair hasn’t bothered creating a market). And I do know that McMullin would – nine times out of ten – vote with the Republicans in the Senate. (Certainly, he’d support McConnell for Speaker.) But be aware that McMullin adds an extra grain of difficulty in the race to 51 for the Republicans.

And…

Put these together, and we get a very tight race. I started this piece thinking the money should be on the Republicans to regain the Senate… but the more I looked the harder the path became.

In 2018, the Republicans lost the House (badly), but picked up two Senate seats. I don’t see the Democrats gaining two, net (although it is possible). But right now, it looks like they pick up Pennsylvania, and I’d make them odds on to hold at least two of Arizona, Georgia, and Nevada.

Add in the chance of a McMullin upset in Utah, and selling a Republican majority on Betfair at 1.6 looks like excellent value.

Robert Smithson

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