Cameron Joseph

Cameron Joseph is Talking Points Memo's senior political correspondent based in Washington, D.C. He covers Capitol Hill, the White House and the permanent campaign. Previous publications include the New York Daily News, Mashable, The Hill and National Journal. He grew up near Chicago and is an irrationally passionate Cubs fan.

Articles by Cameron

After nearly a decade in the wilderness, Democrats are bullish about winning a bevy of governorships in big swing states next week — a result that would not only return them to power in key battlegrounds but give Democrats a much better chance at competing for the House in the next decade.

With the election just over a week away, Democrats are feeling confident about winning governorships in Michigan and Florida. They’re in dogfights in Wisconsin and Ohio. They are almost certain to hold serve in Pennsylvania, and already won a governor’s mansion in Virginia last year. Those six states represent a treasure trove of House seats.

Democrats are in good shape to win a lot of governorships in important states and be able to force through fair lines after the next census,” said John Hagner, a Democratic strategist and redistricting expert who is involved in a number of gubernatorial races this year.

If Democrats win all five governorships up this year that could yield 15 to 20 more winnable seats for House Democrats in the average election year starting in 2022, Hagner said — with another 10 or so seats that could go to Democrats in states like Texas where minority growth could force Republicans to draw new minority-majority seats.

The combination of Democratic governors and reapportionment takes 25 to 30 [House] seats and makes them more winnable,” he said.

Those swing states all had unified GOP control in 2010, allowing Republicans to gerrymander maps that have lopsided congressional delegations over the past decade. Democrats won all five states in at least two out of the past three presidential elections. But Republicans hold 49 of the states’ 75 House seats, nearly two thirds of them, largely because of aggressive gerrymanders.

If Democrats can sweep the governors’ races in those states — a real possibility — that could lead to huge gains and a much more even playing field in the battle for the House after the decennial census and redistricting play out before the 2022 elections.

Democrats are expected to pick up a number of House seats across these states this election, but they’ll be tough holds in a non-wave year for their party.

If the states’ maps are dramatically redrawn by 2022, however, that will change. Rather than having a perennially uphill challenge at winning House control, Democrats will only be looking at a small disadvantage largely driven by the tendency of Democrats to cluster in more densely populated areas and the drawing of minority-majority districts.

Currently, Democrats are projected to need to win the national popular vote for the House by roughly seven points in order to win House control. That’s something it appears they might achieve this year, but is hardly sustainable. If they can win these big governors’ mansions they’re currently expecting or hopeful they can win, however, that could cut that percentage in half.


Florida and Ohio are the biggest political prizes for redistricting purposes.

Florida is traditionally the most closely divided state in the nation. A landslide win statewide there is no more than four points. And yet the state’s delegation is currently 16-11 Republican.

Heading into the campaign’s homestretch, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum (D) has held a steady lead over Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) in public polling. Private polls from both sides have found a much closer race, but with Gillum still in the lead.

If elected, Gillum will force the GOP to draw competitive maps for Congress as well as the statehouse.

In Ohio, former Consumer Financial Protection Bureau head Richard Cordray (D) and state Attorney General Mike DeWine (R) are locked in a pure tossup race, say strategists in both parties. The state’s current delegation has 12 Republicans and just four Democrats, a redistricting Rembrandt crafted by former House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) in 2011. The state recently passed some minor reforms designed to undercut gerrymandering, but they’re largely toothless, so the victor here will determine what the state’s maps look like for the 2022 elections. If Cordray wins and can force compromise or court-drawn maps, that could yield some major Democratic gains — especially since the state is likely to lose at least one House seat, which almost certainly will have to be a Republican at this point.

In Michigan, state Rep. Gretchen Whitmer (D) has a big lead over state Attorney General Bill Schuette (R), and Democrats think they have a chance to flip one state legislative chamber, with the other looking like a remote possibility. The state’s voters are also expected to a pass an anti-gerrymandering ballot initiative, all but guaranteeing the current nine-to-four state delegation will be a thing of the past.

In Wisconsin, state schools superintendent Tony Evers is in a close race with Gov. Scott Walker (R), who is seeking a third term. That race has tightened up over the past two months, but Democrats are slightly more confident than Republicans about their side winning. Democrats are also hopeful about winning at least one chamber of the state legislature, and have a very slim chance of winning unified control of the state between now and 2020. A fair map could turn the current five-to-three GOP edge into a four-to-four split, and a Democratic gerrymander, which is unlikely, could even produce a one-seat Democratic advantage.

Pennsylvania’s old GOP gerrymander was tossed out by the courts before this election, giving Democrats a huge opportunity to pick up a number of seats in the state this election. The state will likely lose one House seat in reapportionment after 2020, but a compromise map could help Democrats keep their House majority should they win it this month.

Virginia’s GOP gerrymander has also been weakened a bit by the courts, giving Democrats one more House seat last election cycle. And Democrats are hoping to flip three GOP-held seats, two of which are drawn to protect Republicans. But a compromise map could turn the current seven-to-four GOP advantage into a map where each side has four or five safe seats, with a few competitive ones.


The big swing states aren’t the only ones where local elections may have a big impact on Democrats’ ability to win the House next decade, though it’s unclear if Democrats will be willing to be as cutthroat in gerrymanders as their opponents were last decade given how much the party has talked about “fair maps” in recent years.

If Democrats can win the tossup race for Georgia’s governorship and get a court-drawn map they could win one to two more House seats there as well.

Businessman J.B. Pritzker (D) is heavily favored to defeat Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner (R), which would return unified control of Illinois to Democrats. They drew a gerrymander a decade ago that turned out to be ineffectual in spots, but a new gerrymander, should partisans decide to pursue one, could yield a few more seats for their party.

New York Democrats also look likely to win unified control of their state after seeing a bipartisan gerrymander last redistricting cycle, though it’s less clear that Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) would be willing to support an aggressive partisan gerrymander given his past inclination to back moderates and empower Republicans in the state.

Colorado and Minnesota similarly could give Democrats another House seat or two if they win unified control and gerrymander what had been fair-fight maps. Democrats have a better shot at unified control over Colorado than Minnesota by 2022, but both are possibilities.

A win for Democrats in Kansas’ hard-fought gubernatorial race could also let them keep the GOP from drawing a gerrymander that could return the state’s current four-to-zero delegation to its current form (Democrats think they’ll win one or two of the seats this year).

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) is coasting to reelection, so the Democratic gerrymander that’s led to a seven-to-one delegation there is likely to be undone. But a six-to-two Democratic delegation is likely even with a fair map.

The huge 2010 GOP wave election handed Republicans the ability to control these states — and dominate their congressional delegations — for much of the decade. That appears to be about to end.

Democrats across the country have realized this isn’t just a battle for winning races in 2018 but winning races across the country at the legislative and congressional level for the next decade,” said Democratic Governors Association spokesman David Turner. “You’re going to see much more evenhanded representation after a fair map.”

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Sen. Dean Heller’s (R-NV) seat has been at the top of every Democrat’s holiday wishlist for the past two years. But he’s not in a giving mood.

Heller remains very much in the fight against Rep. Jacky Rosen (D-NV) in their high-stakes campaign, Democrats’ best chance of defeating a GOP Senate incumbent and a must-win for the party as they seek to gain and not lose ground in the Senate.

National Democrats have been banking on a win in the state for months to have any hope at shrinking Republicans’ Senate majority. But Nevada continues to behave more like the perennial swing state it is than one being washed over by a huge Democratic wave. And the frenzied pace of early voting across the state indicates just how intense interest is on both sides of the aisle in the race.

Private polling of the race from both Democrats and Republicans shows Heller narrowly trailing Rosen in the contest, and Democrats privately feel more confident than the GOP that they’ll pull off a win. But the state is notoriously tough to poll, leading to a high level of anxiety for both sides in the campaign’s closing weeks.

And booming turnout across Nevada in the first four days of early voting voting suggests the race and a similarly tight gubernatorial campaign will far surpass the lackluster voter turnout of 2014 and even top the huge election boom triggered by then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-NV) 2010 reelection fight.

It’s about three-quarters of a presidential turnout. I’ve never seen that before — ever,” said Jon Ralston, Nevada’s top political reporter.

Turnout in Clark County, home of Las Vegas and more than two-thirds of the state’s population, has been bumping compared to previous midterm elections. Democrats are beginning to build up their firewall there with an intense focus on the city’s large Latino population and the suburban women who hate Trump, a must for any successful Democratic campaign. More Democrats have voted in Washoe County, the state’s traditional bellwether county and the home of Reno. That’s all good news for Democrats.

“We’re heading into Election Day with a very close race,” said Brandon Hall, a Nevada Democratic strategist who ran Reid’s 2010 race. “It looks to me like the Dems are off to a good start in the early vote, both in terms of the level of turnout and outpacing the Republican turnout.”

But ballots have been flooding in at near-presidential levels from the heavily conservative but lightly populated rural counties as well, a sign that Republicans are similarly hair-on-fire to vote this cycle. The results suggest that Reid’s vaunted Democratic turnout machine is still churning out votes at a rapid rate — but that Republicans may be catching up with their voter efforts after expending heavily to rebuild a once-broken state party.

The ground game for Republicans is significant. They learned a lot from the amazing job Democrats did in the past,” said Sig Rogich, a GOP power player in the state and the former U.S. Ambassador to Iceland.

The intense interest in the race is especially notable given how pedestrian the two candidates are in most strategists’ eyes. The perennially cautious Heller has spent all election cycle carefully managing his relationship with President Trump, whose numbers are underwater in the state but who is beloved by the GOP base Heller needs to turn out in huge numbers.

Rosen, a first-term congresswoman, was deliberately chosen by party leaders to be the generic Democratic candidate after scandal-plagued Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-NV) cost them a winnable race against him in 2012.

Heller has tried to do everything he can to lose the race, and Rosen hasn’t set the world on fire,” Ralston said. “She’s not very charismatic, she’s kind of boring, but she’s very disciplined and her campaign commercials have generally been good.”

That’s a read many local strategists concur with.

One local Democratic strategist referred to her as “smart” and “competent,” but said that she’d been deliberately selected as the party standard-bearer by Reid, who remains powerful in the state behind the scenes, because of her lack of political baggage.

Democrats wanted this race. There were other bigger personalities out there and the powers that be decided that safe was the way to go here. From the very beginning the calculation was to play it safe and hope there’s a wave that pushes you over,” said the strategist.

One veteran Republican strategist in the state called Heller’s messaging “poor” and described his campaign efforts as lackluster, while worrying that Rosen hadn’t given him enough to attack her on.

“I just keep waiting for Dean to engage and really start fighting back, but he just hasn’t done that,” said the strategist. “And even if he were fighting he doesn’t have much to fight back against. Rosen probably doesn’t even know where the bathrooms in the capitol are yet.”

Heller has sought to make hay out of Rosen’s limited political experience, contrasting his lengthy record in Congress — especially his efforts to help veterans — with the zero bills she’s had signed into law.

He’s also worked hard to tie her to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and California liberals, a traditional bogeyman in the state. And he’s featured popular outgoing Gov. Brian Sandoval (R) in ads to appeal to the state’s swing voters.

Rosen has responded by leaning hard into health care and preexisting condition protections, the message Democrats are campaigning on across the country, while charging Heller sold out the state’s voters after promising to protect their health care by voting to repeal Obamacare.

The race has drawn in huge amounts of cash, with outside groups fueled by billionaire Sheldon Adelson helping Heller keep pace on the airwaves in spite of Rosen’s superior fundraising. The Las Vegas media market has been deluged, and is currently the most expensive in the country.

The contest has also drawn in heavy hitters from both parties. President Barack Obama and former Vice President Joe Biden both stumped for Rosen and Democratic gubernatorial nominee Steve Sisolak in recent days. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) is on his way as well. And Heller had in President Donald Trump last weekend — a remarkable about-face given how critical he was of the president during the 2016 campaign.

The senator at one point said he was “99 percent against” Trump, and didn’t admit until months after the election that he’d voted for him. That triggered a primary challenge from perennial candidate Danny Tarkanian, and an implicit threat from Trump that the senator better get on board or get run over.

Heller got on board, backing Obamacare’s repeal after months of foot-dragging, and has spent the past year cozying up to the president. That helped convince Trump to get Tarkanian to switch to a House race instead, giving Heller a chance at survival.

As he rallied with Trump last weekend, Heller told Trump “everything you touch turns to gold.”

Democrats hope he’s wrong about Trump’s effect in the Silver State. But with the election already underway, few feel confident they know the answer.

“It’s more World War I, they’re both entrenched and moving incrementally, fighting over a small area in the middle,” said the Nevada Democrat. “It’s trench warfare.”

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The gubernatorial war is where Democrats have the most opportunities in the 2018 midterms — and could be the most underreported story of the campaign cycle. I ran down what the battle for the House and Senate, both on GOP-leaning maps, are looking like here. The battle for governorships is being waged in much more purple territory, with many more pickup chances.

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Happy two weeks from the election! We’re in the home stretch of the campaign. The last few weeks have seen a notable uptick in GOP enthusiasm that’s made the Senate map much tougher for Democrats, and limited their margin for error as they seek a House majority.

There are a ton of margin-of-error races right now across the map, giving either party a real chance at a very big election night with even a minor change in the national mood in the next two weeks (or a minor shift in the electorate from what pollsters are expecting).

If Democrats retake the House and pick up a number of governorships while fighting to a draw in the Senate, that still should be considered a major wave election given the major structural disadvantages they’re dealing with in both the Senate and House maps.

But the combination of the Brett Kavanaugh hearings, President Trump and the GOP’s hard turn into polarizing culture war messaging, a slight uptick in Trump’s approval rating and the normal phenomena of voters coming home to the party they normally back has complicated Democrats’ hopes for a midterm bonanza.

Here’s a quick rundown of where we stand with 14 days until the big night. For the governor’s races, where Democrats have the most pickup opportunities, Prime subscribers can click here.


Strategists in both parties agree that Democrats still have the edge in the fight for the lower chamber, though Republicans feel less dead in the water than they did last month. As the campaign has become increasingly polarized and driven by base politics, some of the redder districts Democrats have been targeting look increasingly out of reach — but they’re seeing some new opportunities in suburban districts the GOP felt good about just weeks ago.

This trend has made Democrats’ hopes to take out underwhelming GOP incumbents in some districts Trump comfortably won significantly harder, and likely has limited the upper bound of a wave election — though it hasn’t dramatically changed the likelihood of the House flipping.

For much of the summer, Democrats appeared to have a strong chance to defeat Reps. Andy Barr (R-KY), Steve Chabot (R-OH) and Mike Bost (R-IL), and hold onto a GOP-leaning open seat in Minnesota’s Iron Range. All four now appear to be likely to go Republican. Rep. Rod Blum (R-IA), left for dead a few weeks ago, has seen an uptick in his numbers that’s brought spending back in from both sides, though he’s still more likely than not to lose.

But Republicans’ position in suburban territory that Trump lost or barely won has continued to erode. Reps. Mike Coffman (R-CO), Kevin Yoder (R-KS), Erik Paulsen (R-MN),  Keith Rothfus (R-PA) and Barbara Comstock (R-VA) all look like dead men (and woman) running, and Democrats are feeling very bullish about defeating Reps. Peter Roskam (R-IL) and Jason Lewis (R-MN) as well. Those seats combined with eight open House seats in suburban territory that are leaning Democrats’ way get them to roughly 15 of the 23 seats they need to net for House control.

And a number of other House seats, most in more suburban territory, that appeared tougher nuts to crack over the summer and early fall are looking better for Democrats.

Reps. Jeff Denham (R-CA), Steve Knight (R-CA), Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), Mimi Walters (R-CA), Carlos Curbelo (R-FL), Mike Bishop (R-MI), Bruce Poliquin (R-ME), Leonard Lance (R-NJ), John Faso (R-NY), Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), John Culberson (R-TX), Pete Sessions (R-TX), Mia Love (R-UT), Scott Taylor (R-VA) and Dave Brat (R-VA) have all been tied or slightly behind in recent public and private polling. Democrats think they have the edge in winning a trio of open GOP-held seats in Kansas, Washington and Michigan, and think they’ll grind out a win in the Democratic-leaning districts of retiring Reps. Ed Royce (R-CA) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) in spite of candidate issues those places.

Almost all of these races are margin-of-error contests, according to strategists in both parties, and Republicans think at least half these Republicans have even or better chances of coming back. But Democrats feel bullish about almost all these contests. And some, like Curbelo, Fitzpatrick, and Walters, are incumbents Republicans felt much more confident about just weeks ago.

If Democrats win most of these seats, they’re close to the majority. And there are more than a dozen other races where they think they’re trailing within the margin of error and hope to pick off a few, including Reps. David Young (R-IA), Tom MacArthur (R-NJ), John Katko (R-NY), Claudia Tenney (R-NY) and Scott Perry (R-PA) and open seats in central Florida and southern New Mexico.

Most strategists on both sides think the range of Democratic pickups is between 20 and 40 seats — a range that could lead to Democratic heartbreak as Republicans maintain their House majority on election night, or a Democratic romp across the map. Most races tend to break the same way on election night, so even minor changes in the national mood or overall polling could swing this dramatically.


While Democrats continue to feel good about the House, Republicans are increasingly bullish about the upper chamber, as an increasingly polarized environment and growing GOP base enthusiasm has made voters in red states where the Senate fight is being conducted start behaving a bit more like one would expect in a normal campaign year.

While the general range of outcomes from the beginning of the cycle has been anywhere from Democrats netting the three seats for the Senate majority to Republicans picking up four seats, the upper bound of that result for Democrats looks less likely than it did a few weeks ago, and Republicans are increasingly bullish about winning at least one or two seats.

Strategists in both parties agree that Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) is all but cooked. Republicans are also increasingly gleeful about — and Democrats are increasingly worried about — Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO). Strategists on both sides think she narrowly trails Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley (R), and while Democrats think she still has time to turn things around and think she’s bounced back some from weaker standing post-Kavanaugh, Republicans think the race may be all but done. Generally, if an incumbent trails narrowly at this point in the campaign it’s hard to come back, especially if that incumbent’s party is the minority in their state.

Democrats still think they’re going to pick up a pair of seats out west, though they’re feeling less confident about those races than they did a month ago. Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV) hasn’t gone away, and while strategists think public polls showing him opening up a lead aren’t right, both sides still see a path to victory there. Rep. Martha McSally (R-AZ) has landed some tough blows on Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) in recent weeks as well, getting the Republican back in the game after a tough GOP primary. Public polls have shown a tightening race there as well, though Democrats feel better than Republicans on the whole about winning the race.

Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-IN) has also seen his race tighten up in the last month, and strategists in both parties think his contest against businessman Mike Braun (R) might be the closest in the country right now. Both parties express cautious optimism there.

In Florida, Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) has led Gov. Rick Scott (R) in most recent public polling. Strategists on both sides think this is much closer than public polls suggest and is going to come down to the wire, but Democrats have felt more confident about the race for weeks now.

Tennessee is still competitive as well, but Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) appears to have the edge over former Gov. Phil Bredesen (D). She’s led in more recent public polls and strategists in both parties think she’s likely to hang on to win. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) has led Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-TX) by four to seven points in most recent public and private polls, likely putting that race out of reach for Democrats. And strategists say Sen. Jon Tester’s (D-MT) race has tightened as well in the last month, though most agree he still has an edge.

If Democrats win in Arizona and Nevada, Republicans pick up seats in North Dakota and Missouri and Democrats hold onto the rest of their seats, that leaves the GOP with the same 51-49 margin it currently holds. That could grow to a three-seat pickup and 54 seats if things break the GOP’s way in Indiana, Florida and Montana. If Democrats can hang onto those three seats as well as Indiana and Missouri and pull off an upset in Tennessee or a bigger upset in Texas, they could manage the barest of majorities — but that’s looking much less likely than it did in September.

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said his party might take another whack at Obamacare if they hold onto their congressional majorities in November’s elections.

“If we had the votes to completely start over, we’d do it. But that depends on what happens in a couple weeks,” he told reporters Wednesday, according to Reuters. “We’re not satisfied with the way Obamacare is working.”

The GOP’s Obamacare repeal efforts failed by just one vote last year. And with a number of red-state targets this fall, there’s a good chance Senate Republicans can grow their majority by a few seats if things break their way in the closing weeks of the election.

The House appears more likely than not to flip to Democrats, but it’s no sure thing. House Republicans will almost certainly have a smaller majority next year if they do hold the chamber, but they’re most likely to lose their more moderate members, meaning it might not be as hard for them to get on the same page with a repeal effort.

It seems highly unlikely this will happen. But as McConnell points out, there’s a chance.

Democrats have campaigned hard on protecting Obamacare this election cycle.

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