Marco Rubio predicts a "red wave" of Republican midterm wins — but where's the evidence?

Midterm momentum continues to trend toward Democrats prior to Election Day

By Matthew Rozsa

Staff Writer

Published November 5, 2018 1:16PM (EST)

Marco Rubio   (Jeff Malet,
Marco Rubio (Jeff Malet,

As Americans prepare for Election Day, the latest surveys and studies reveal that Democrats are still in a position of growing strength, despite the curious last-minute spin coming from many Republicans.

"Forget about a blue wave," Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said on Monday. Pointing to Donald Trump's 2016 win in his state, Rubio predicted Republicans will do just as well on Tuesday. "A red wave of votes started coming in. That’s what’s gonna happen again now." White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said something similar on Monday.

But where is the evidence?

As statistician Nate Silver wrote on Fivethirtyeight, a systematic polling error would be necessary for Republicans to hold on to the House of Representatives — or, for that matter, for Democrats to win back the Senate.

As I wrote earlier this week, Democrats almost certainly need a systematic polling error to win the Senate. By that I mean: They need for the polls to be off everywhere, or at least in certain key clusters of states, to win the Senate. A polling error in just one or two races (say, Beto O’Rourke wins in Texas) probably wouldn’t be enough: Democrats are defending too much territory and have too many problems elsewhere on the map just to get lucky.

That conclusion about the Senate ought to be fairly intuitive, I think. Even if you credit Democrats with wins in all the toss-up races, that wouldn’t be enough — it would only get them to 50 seats. What might be more surprising is that the same conclusion holds for Republicans in the House. They need for there to be a systematic polling error too. If the polls are about right overall but Republicans are hoping to getting lucky in the swing districts, it probably won’t happen — the odds are stacked heavily against them.

The Cook Political Report on Monday moved nine House races in Democrats' favor. GOP Reps. Scott Perry of Pennsylvania and Karen Handel of Georgia are now in contests that, though previously labeled as "lean Republican," are officially regarded as toss-ups. The GOP candidates are doing a little better in Florida's 6th and 25th districts, which are labeled as "leaning Republican," but those districts had previously been labeled as "likely Republican," which is a stronger position for a GOP candidate to be in. Even more ominous, Texas's 6th and 10th congressional districts and West Virginia's 2nd congressional district have all moved from "solid Republican" to "likely Republican," while the race for California's 49th congressional district has shifted from "leaning Democrat" to "likely Democrat."

The only movement that has been favorable for President Donald Trump's party has been in Arizona's 1st congressional district, where a Democrat incumbent (Rep. Tom O'Halleran) has moved from a race that is "likely Democrat" to one that is merely "leaning Democrat" against his Republican challenger, Wendy Rogers. As Cook's Dave Wasserman tweeted, Michigan Rep. Fred Upton is now in a race that went from "likely Republican" to "lean Republican," whereas an open seat in Washington's 8th district (where Republican Rep. Dave Reichert is retiring) has moved from "toss up" to "lean Democratic."

But the biggest sign supporting Rubio's point: ballots already casts.

More registered Republicans had already cast an early-vote ballot by Oct. 23 than Democrats in crucial swing states. The other major factor potentially influencing the midterm elections is weather, with violent rainstorms expected to pummel the eastern United States while snowfall hits much of the Midwest on Election Day.

By Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a staff writer at Salon. He received a Master's Degree in History from Rutgers-Newark in 2012 and was awarded a science journalism fellowship from the Metcalf Institute in 2022.

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2018 Midterm Elections Cook Report Marco Rubio