Turkeys in November?

At this time, no one can confidently predict the outcome of the midterm elections. Not while President Donald Trump is the daily newsmaker-in-chief.

What we can say with confidence is what will happen to coal in November if Republicans lose control of Congress – for the same reason we’re confident what will happen to turkeys on Thanksgiving. But let’s save that prospect for later and begin with today’s conventional wisdom: in November Republicans will probably lose control of the House but hang on to the Senate.

This is a reasonable assumption for several reasons. First, the party of a sitting president almost always loses House seats in a midterm election, thanks to buyers’ remorse. Second, polls tell us Democrats are closing the so-called “enthusiasm gap”.  Those who stayed home rather than vote for Hillary Clinton in 2016 are reportedly energized by their visceral contempt for Trump. Like Dr. Frankenstein’s comatose monster with the electrodes switched on, Democrats will spring alive and vote for anyone with a pulse who promises to stop the president. This time, we’re told, the Democratic base will show up.

Finally, Democrats don’t need an historic effort to hand Nancy Pelosi the Speaker’s gavel. They enter the fall with 199 of the 218 seats they need for a House majority, and election observers count 34 races too close to call.

Democrats have a steeper hill to climb in the Senate, where they must defend 26 seats to only nine for Republicans, who hold a narrow 51 to 49 majority.  Worse for Democrats, 10 of these senators are running for re-election in states the president carried. A handful of the most vulnerable among them are from coal states: Senators McCaskill (MO), Heitkamp (ND), Donnelly (IN), Tester (MT) and Manchin (WV). Wily Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (KY) may force a vote to confirm Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanagh just before the election, daring his Red State Democratic colleagues to oppose the president’s pick.

Senate Democrats could easily gain seats in Nevada and Arizona. But for now at least, expecting them to hold all 26 seats in play and gain two is considered mission impossible.

There is a counter-narrative to a big Democratic win. Much to the distress of Congressional Democrats, jobs are plentiful and Americans are earning more money. This may be enough to persuade many blue collar voters to stay home on election day. Meanwhile, party leaders are holding a weak hand. In this economy, relying on revulsion towards Trump to motivate voters may be asking them to bite the hand that feeds.

There is one certainty, however. Only one group – for obviously different reasons – rivals coal executives in hoping Republicans block a Democratic sweep and keep the Trump administration on track. “When he won the election, we were drinking champagne and thinking how he’ll change everything,” said Valery Garbuzov, director of the Russian Institute for U.S. and Canadian Studies.