ABC News/Yahoo! News(WASHINGTON) — With just days to go before midterm elections, President Obama’s former 2012 battleground states director Mitch Stewart says he believes Democrats have a 50-50 shot at holding onto control of the Senate.
“I tend to be an optimist under these circumstances,” Stewart, the co-founder of 270 Strategies consulting group, told ABC News/Yahoo! News. “I know the models that Nate Silver and others have that…lay out a 63 to 64 percent chance that Republicans will get a majority in the Senate. I think the rosiest scenario is you’re looking at a 50-50 proposition.”
While the polls favor Republicans’ odds for victory in Tuesday’s elections, Stewart expressed confidence that the Democrats still have the edge when it comes to field strategy — and are capable of reproducing some of the ground game magic that helped propel Obama to presidential victory in two elections.
For one, Stewart said Democrats have made the necessary investment in field organizers.
“They have this project that they invested I think $40 million to try to get 4,000 field staff, and you’re seeing some of the fruits of that labor right now,” he said.
One of the ways he expects the results of that investment to manifest is an increase in early voting — something the Democrats have made a strategic focus this year.
“In Alaska, for example, you had 82 vote locations in 2012; in 2014 they have over 200,” Stewart said. “It’s small, tactical decisions like that in a close race that can make the difference between winning and losing.”
He said the Iowa Senate race, where Democratic candidate Bruce Braley is facing off against Republican Joni Ernst, is one where the impact of increased early voting may tip the scale of the election.
“If 40 percent of the electorate votes early, and Braley has a 10 point lead, that means that his opponent is going to have to win Election Day probably by 7 points,” he said.
Advanced as the Democrats’ ground game may be, Stewart acknowledged that the party still has a ways to go to overcome the problem of midterm drop-off voters, who tend to vote only in presidential election years.
He pinpointed the non-white electorate as a particularly crucial piece of the puzzle.
“One of the really interesting things of 2008 was [that] 26 percent of the electorate was non-white,” Stewart said. “So a lot of projections then coming after 2010, which was then an older, whiter electorate, was that in 2012 it would be some sort of mix between 2008 and 2010.”
But those projections proved to be wrong. “What we had in 2012 though was 28 percent of the electorate was non-white,” he explained.
And if that trend of a growing non-white electorate continues, as Stewart expects it will, he said the voting population in 2016 could be as high as 31 percent non-white.
“Eventually the midterms will catch up; but at least for the foreseeable future, you are going to have a bipolar electorate between presidential and midterm elections,” Stewart said.
Another liability for Democrats this midterm cycle: a largely unpopular president at the head of the party. Obama has been largely unwelcome on the campaign trail, sticking to only state-wide races in deeply Democratic states.
Stewart, ever-loyal to his former boss, brushed off the Obama liability problem as one any president midway through their second term faces.
“If you look at any presidential 8 years, two four-year terms, [and] you look at that last go-around — whether it was Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush — there’s a challenge,” he said. “I think this is nothing new to sort of what has happened to two four-year term presidents.”
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