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Opinion | Prediction: There will be no red wave

Polling seems to indicate that Republicans will score big on Election Day. So why do all other indicators keep saying the opposite?

American election campaign fight as Republican versus Democrat as two boxing gloves with the elephant and donkey symbol stitched fighting for the vote of the United states presidential and government seat.
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There’s a “red wave” coming. That’s the word from election experts – that voters are heading to the polls on Tuesday and will elect mostly Republicans. The GOP will control the House and Senate, and in Alabama it will possibly expand its legislative supermajority and maintain complete control of every statewide office. 

I don’t think so. 

Now, let me be clear. I am not predicting a major swing to Democrats when all is decided (probably sometime next week). But I do expect the Democrats to do much better than current polling projects on the national stage, and I – for the first time in years – expect Democrats in Alabama to actually gain legislative seats. 

That doesn’t mean I believe that the ALGOP supermajority is in jeopardy. It’s not. And I don’t expect any Democrat on the ballot to come within 10 points of a Republican for a statewide office. 

Let’s break this down one step at a time, starting with the national outlook. 

U.S. Senate and U.S. House

There will be no surprise in this state, as Katie Britt and the ALGOP House candidates will easily cruise to wins. The voting base makeup assures it, and it doesn’t matter that Will Boyd and the other Dems are great candidates for working class Alabamians and would bring more jobs and more decency to the state.  

However, I don’t buy the shift to Republicans overall. And I have a reason for that belief. 

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Now, you should keep in mind two things before we get started: 1. I am typically terrible at predictions (ask any college football fan); but also, 2. I am typically very pessimistic about voters and the success of Democrats in any election. 

Do those things cancel each other out? We’ll see. 

Regardless, there are a few reasons for my belief that Dems will perform better than expected. And the first is the Trump factor when it comes to polling. 

Do you remember in 2020 when Dems were predicted to roll Republicans, creating a huge majority in the House and a Manchin-proof majority in the Senate? But then election day rolled around and the results were very mediocre, and everyone was trying to figure out how those polls could be so wrong – again. 

What most experts eventually settled on was that a lot of voters sort of liked Trump’s brash style, and they liked that the economy had generally been pretty good, outside of COVID. But, with Trump saying so many offensive things and it generally being frowned upon to be a Trump supporter, many of those voters were hesitant to tell a pollster that they planned to vote for Trump/Republicans. 

I think the same thing is happening with the abortion issue. 

People have a variety of mixed feelings about it, but one thing most everyone agrees on is that a total ban on abortions isn’t good. Watching 12-year-olds being forced to have rape babies – which is absolutely a thing that is happening in some states – is disgusting and wrong, and the general public doesn’t like it. 

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But when a pollster calls up to ask about abortion, it’s fairly unlikely that many people, especially those who identify as moderate Republicans, independents or moderate Democrats, will provide a straight answer. Either because they’re simply uncomfortable or because the question framing doesn’t hit on their specific feelings about abortions. 

It’s also unlikely that many of those people will identify abortion as the most important issue influencing their vote, even if it very much is. 

But don’t take my word for it, look at the handful of special elections and the Kansas constitutional amendment vote that occurred in the months following the U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade. Democrats outperformed polling by a lot. Abortion outperformed polling by substantial margins. 

I think we’ll see the same thing happen today. 

My question, though, is to what degree. Because Democrats have done an absolutely abhorrent job of keeping the issue front and center, and they’ve instead chosen to play defense against a variety of Republican talking points. Americans typically have short attention spans, and the farther we move from that Roe decision, it’ll be interesting to see if the results are the same. 

However, even without it, I think Dems have another bright spot: Social security/Medicare. 

Why Republicans have chosen in recent weeks to make it known that they’ll gut Social Security and Medicare, I have no idea. But Democrats should thank them. Because the abortion issue had already motivated young people to vote blue, and now older voters are being peeled away, too. 

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Finally, there is some early evidence that I might be at least partially right. Early voting across the country has shown a massive edge to Democrats, particularly in states with the most contested and important races, and Democratic ballots have outpaced even the 2020 election cycle. 

Add it all up and I think it ends with Democrats maintaining control of both the House and Senate. 

Hagan v. Rigsby, House District 25

I don’t care what happens in this race, Mallory Hagan has outworked and out-hustled Phillip Rigsby. She’s more likable, more knowledgeable and a much, much better candidate. I mean, it’s not even close. 

But you don’t win elections in Alabama on merit. You win it on party affiliation (which is something y’all really outghta think about), and in that regard, Rigsby has a huge edge. 

Madison County’s demographics are shifting. Unless you broke down the 2020 election results by county, you probably don’t realize just how significant that shift has been. 

But I don’t think it’s enough in this particular district to push the better candidate to a win. 

Rigsby will win, but not by much. 

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Lands v. Cole, House District 10

Marilyn Lands is also a very, very good candidate. She’s knowledgeable, reasonable and well liked by people on both sides of the aisle. She even has the backing of several longtime Republicans. 

Cole, in the meantime, might not be able to take office even if he wins. I’ve never seen a more clear cut case of a candidate living outside of the district for which he’s running. 

Cole, like Rigsby, will be relying on the straight ticket GOP vote to push him over the edge. 

In District 10, it won’t be enough. 

A seat long held by Republicans will go to the Democrats and Marilyn Lands. 

Lewis v. Butler, Senate District 2

If you want a good understanding of the massive demographics shift in the Madison/Limestone area, consider that earlier this year, in a push poll of registered voters paid for by the campaign of longtime Republican Sen. Tom Butler – a man who was responsible for legislation banning sex toys and nude dancing at one – made it clear that he was not against abortion in all cases. The pollster said Butler wanted “reasonable exceptions” to any ban. 

That’s an Alabama Republican explaining publicly to likely voters that he supports abortion options, at least in some cases. And that’s why Butler has a fight on his hands for the first time in two decades. 

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Well, that plus the fact that Kim Lewis is a community leader and successful businesswoman who has the support of a wide range of voters. And her campaign, which has focused on specific issues affecting the Huntsville area, reflects that. 

Butler’s campaign strategy, in the meantime, has been to call Lewis a “liberal” over and over again and put up billboards with Lewis’ picture next to President Joe Biden’s. 

There’s no question what the better option is here. But I’m just not so sure. 

If Lewis were facing a new candidate, and not a guy who’s held the seat for 20-plus years, I’d pick her. I don’t think Butler, or any other Republican, could hold this seat in two more years, but I think he does this election.  

Ensler v. Meadows, House District 74

Phillip Ensler has been an asset to Montgomery. From serving as a public school teacher to providing pro bono law services to working with Mayor Steven Reed’s office to develop diversity and equality projects, he has dedicated pretty much his entire adult life so far to making Montgomery a better place. 

Charlotte Meadows, over the last several years, has spent much of her professional life doing all she can to tear down public education in Montgomery and around the state, working as a lobbyist and now running one of the worst charter schools in Alabama. 

This race has reflected the two candidates, as Ensler focused on specific Montgomery issues and never attacked Meadows, and she ran nothing but attack ads, most of them filled with thinly veiled racism and vague references to Ensler’s religion. 

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Ensler should win this race, and he will. 

Figures v. Riehm, Senate District 33

Vivian Figures has been a true stateswoman during her quarter-century serving in the Alabama Senate. She’s highly regarded by her colleagues on both sides of the aisle and often provides a much needed voice of sanity during debates on controversial legislation. She also has been one of the state’s most popular state senators throughout the years. 

The odd inclusion of Spanish Fort – a predominantly white suburb in Baldwin County – into Figures’ district in Mobile, however, has thrown some doubt into Figures’ re-election campaign. And through that small crack, a crackpot has wandered. 

Pete Riehm, an unabashed election denier and peddler of insane rightwing conspiracy theories, is challenging Figures. And because conservative white people in Alabama will vote for anyone with an R beside their name on a ballot, Riehm has a chance. 

But it’s not much of one. District 33 is still 60 percent Democrats and they won’t let Riehm and racism run out a really good state senator.

Josh Moon is an investigative reporter and featured columnist at the Alabama Political Reporter with years of political reporting experience in Alabama. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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