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May 15 Elections: PA Primaries and More Special Elections (Which Already Predict a Likely Democratic Victory in November)

May 15 Elections: PA Primaries and More Special Elections (Which Already Predict a Likely Democratic Victory in November)

Welcome to another week of primary elections, this time in Idaho, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, and Oregon, and featuring a few special elections in The Keystone State and Alabama. Here’s the rundown of what I’m focusing on this evening and what it means for the November midterm elections!


Primary Elections


Pennsylvania

It’s a U.S. House district extravaganza in Pennsylvania tonight, with the important Democratic and/or Republican primaries (out of 23!) happening in the 5th, 7th, 10th, and 14th Congressional districts. These seats stick out after the Pennsylvania Supreme Court redrew the state’s gerrymandered Congressional map, and boosted Democrats hopes by 2-3 seats (beyond the 2 I already predicted are likely to swing from Republicans to Democrats in the fall).

In the 5th Congressional District’s Democratic Primary, ten candidates are running to win the general election nod and face off against Republican Pearl Kim in the fall. This district is former Rep. Pat Meehan’s seat, and has a D+25 partisan lean, indicating that it’s more 25 points more Democratic than the nation as a whole. Suffice to say, whoever wins the Democratic primary in this seat is the very likely favorite heading into the general elections.

In Pennsylvania’s 7th congressional District, a largely suburban D+1 seat north of Philadelphia, Democrats have to choose against Northammpton County DA and conservative politician John Morganelli and a more liberal candidate, likely EMILY’s List-backed Susan Wild. The ideological differences between these candidates connects the PA-07 Democratic primary to a broader conversation we’re having in 2018 about whether Democrats are moving left to try to win elections (note: according to a recent paper, that may not be such a good idea).

In the R+10 PA-10, Democrats are deciding between a few candidates to fight against Incumbent GOP Rep. Scott Perry. Former Capitol Hill and White House staffer Shavonnia Corbin-Johnson enjoys the biggest cash haul in the seat, though it’s ambiguous just who’s ahead in the Democratic primary here.

In PA-14, keep your eyes on the Republican Primary between Sen. Guy Reschenthaler and PA state Rep. Rick Saccone, if for nothing but seeing if Saccone fares better in primary elections than in special contests. If Republican primary voters do allow Saccone to carry their baton, he could face backlash in the general election as part of this new district voted against him in the PA-18 special election in march.

Polls close at 7:00 PM central time.

Nebraska

In Nebraska, I’m watching the contest in the state’s Second Congressional District. Not only could this district be very, very competitive in November, my House forecast model also rates it as the third most important in the nation — measured by how well the contest in any seat correlates to either party winning a majority of seats in the House. Right now, I have the Democrats’ odds of winning the seat at 46%, and the party that wins NE-02 wins the House majority 68% of the time.

This means that the choice of who Democrats pick to run in the seat is a consequential one: choose right, and the seat is likely competitive. Wrong, and the hopes for a blue NE-02 could fade away. The choice on this side of the primary is between the seat’s former Representative Brad Ashford, who has party support and raised more than 550,000 smackaroos. Ashford is going up against nonprofit exec Kara Eastman, who has a little more than 60% of Ashford’s fundraising haul and has carried the flag of the anti-Trump #Resistance throughout the campaign.

Will Democratic voters choose the seasoned candidate with name recognition and a relationship with voters, or will Ashford, too, get swept up by the rip tide of the blue wave?

Polls close at 8:00 PM central time.

Idaho and Oregon

There are gubernatorial primaries in ID and OR tonight, the former of which has become a litmus test on GOP direction in 2018. The GOP gubernatorial primary in Oregon has become a media blitz between State Rep. Knute Buehler, Sam Carpenter, who uses the slogan “Make Oregon Great Again,” and Greg Wooldridge. Though we don’t have good public polling on the race, the conventional wisdom and internal polling suggest Buehler is likely the favorite here. Polls close at 9:00 PM and 10:00 PM central time.


Special Elections


There are three special elections happening in Pennsylvania tonight:

  • PA HD-48 (D-held): R+15
  • PA HD-68 (R-held): R+52
  • PA HD-178 (R-held): R+8

The special election in the 68th state house district is unlikely to be competitive, so I wouldn’t put any of your valuable attention on that race. In Alabama, there are two more special elections tonight, but both are in seats held 50 points by either party and are likely to be snoozers compared to the main event.

Why should you care about these these special elections? Well, as time has told (and I’ve said many times over the past few months), the change in the districts from last cycle to 2018 is informative of the swing toward Democrats/Republicans we’ll see nationwide in November. The two have a very strong 0.87 correlation since 1980:

Swing in Dem. Vote (%)
Cycle Average of
Special Elections
November Vote
1994 -17.2 -12.1
1996 6.8 7.1
1998 -10.5 -1.1
2000 -6.5 0.6
2002 -5.3 -4.3
2004 0.5 2.2
2006 0.3 10.6
2008 7.1 2.6
2010 -14.9 -17.4
2012 2.7 8
2014 -7.3 -6.9
2016 3.8 4.6
2018 13.3 ?

Democrats in 2018 have so far had a very good year in special elections, beating their margin in contested seats in 2016 by 13.3 points on average. This would indicate the biggest wave election since 2010 and the second biggest since the 1990s.

Though the relationship between the average swing in special elections and swing in November vote share is fairly strong, it is not the only tool we have available to predict the national vote in the congressional races in past year. One can also add in the generic ballot polling for a given year — below, I’m using polls in May of the election year — to predict the swing in November Democratic vote share alongside the changing environment indicated by special election polling. The correlation between the two is a very strong 0.95 (out of 1).

Combining the 13.3% swing in state legislative and federal special elections since 2016 with the current Democratic margin in generic ballot polls (Democrats +6), the best prediction of the national environment in November is:

Democrats win by 8.1 percentage points, +/- 5 points.

This is a good start, but it’s actually better to predict Democratic vote share in November with the polling average at that point in past cycles. Using the predicted Democratic margin in generic ballot polls in November 2018, their forecast victory margin in the nationwide popular vote is 9.3%, +/- 3 points. However, since we don’t know for sure what the generic ballot will say in November, this margin of error is actually much wider — about (who guessed it?) 5 points.


Want to read more about tonight’s primaries? I recommend the following:



G. Elliott Morris avatar
About G. Elliott Morris
Elliott is a ("big") data journalist and data scientist who specializes in American politics, public opinion, and predictive analytics. He is a government, history, and computer science student at The University of Texas at Austin and worked previously for the Pew Research Center and Decision Desk HQ.
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