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Did the Comey Letter Flip the Senate?



Harry Reid says yes:

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid said Monday FBI Director James Comey was “heavily involved as a partisan” in the weeks leading up to the election and that Comey’s actions handed the presidency to Donald Trump.
The retiring Nevada Democrat said Democrats “would have won the majority in the Senate and would have won the presidency but for Comey.”

“It’s obvious he was a partisan in all this,” Reid told CNN’s Manu Raju in an interview. “There’s information out there. He had it, I’m confident. And he ignored it.”

Is James Comey a partisan hack? Is Phoenix hot in August? Did he throw the election to Trump? The evidence is about as strong as the evidence for such a counterfactual could ever be. And one way you call tell this is that the people on the left who want to yadda-yadda the FBI throwing the election generally don’t try to mount arguments against Comey’s influence but rather argue that it’s simply wrong in principle to discuss any of the many factors that potentially contributed to our current political, constitutional and moral crisis except the neoliberal perfidy of Hillary Clinton.

The Senate, though? That’s a trickier proposition:

Well, I’d say McGinty isn’t quite as clear as Clinton, as she ran a little behind, but still I think it’s very likely she wins without the letter. But like Matt, I get stuck there:

  • North Carolina — Ross lost by 6. Nope.
  • Wisconsin — This one still hurts, and I wish I had a better explanation for it. Feingold lost by nearly 3 1/2 points. It’s possible the letter threw the election, I guess, but that’s definitely at the high end of the possible range, so I would say most likely not. 2 points is a much more plausible estimate. I do think the combination of Comey and Clinton not seriously contesting the state might have done it.
  • Missouri — an interesting case; it actually ended up closer than Wisconsin, and Kander surely had he highest WAR of any Democratic candidate in a remotely close state. But I think it’s even less likely that the Comey letter was decisive here. When you’re running as far ahead of Clinton as Kander was, there’s probably just not much more upside there. I could maybe kinda see the Comey letter causing a 3 1/2 point shift in a heavily contested battleground in which Trump was advertising based on it, but I really doubt it was decisive here.

Nothing else was even close. Before the election, I thought it was much more likely that Comey’s interventions would flip the Senate than the White House. As best as I can determine, the opposite happened — if Comey doesn’t make his final partisan intervention into the election, I think by far the most likely scenario is that Clinton wins, with Republicans retaining 51 seats in the Senate. I don’t have a solution for this down-ballot problem, which affected enough different kinds of candidates to defy simple explanations and easy fixes, but it definitely exists.

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