I was driving along a country road in Monmouth County the other day when I came upon a farm stand.
I pulled over to pick up some produce and got to talking with the lady who ran the stand. The subject turned to politics. It turned out she was a big Donald Trump supporter.
I told her I was going to cover a rally for Rich Pezzullo, a Republican running for Congress against the incumbent, Frank Pallone. Pezzullo had little chance against a Democrat who's been winning the district since 1988, I told her.
"Well, no one expected Trump to win either," she replied.
Actually, one guy did. That's Bergen County pollster Raghavan Mayur.
Mayur's firm TechnoMetrica conducts the Investor's Business Daily Poll. It was rated by noted pollster Nate Silver as the "most accurate" poll of the three presidential elections prior to 2016.
But a lot of people questioned its accuracy in 2016 when the poll showed Trump with a narrow lead over Clinton going into Election Day. By the following morning, Mayur had gone four for four.
When I spoke to him just before the election, Mayur accurately described the populist wave that put Trump over the top.
"You've got to keep in mind the intensity of Democrats is not as high as what Trump has," he told me.
That held for 2016. But what will happen in 2018?
I called Mayur to get his view on how the Congressional elections will turn out this year. It's tough to predict, he said, because this isn't one race. It's 435 individual House races and 35 individual Senate races.
Traditionally, the party holding the White House loses an average of 30 House and four Senate seats in a midterm.
That makes this an uphill battle for the Republicans, but "This is going to be a good fight," Mayur said.
"The Democrats probably come with a slight advantage as the opposition party," he said. "But in this circumstance what we have is a great economy like we have not seen before."
Mayur said his most recent poll, which was completed Aug. 2, shows a number of economic indicators that could work in the Republicans' favor.
The poll showed a jump in the number of voters who believe the country is headed in the right direction to 50.1 percent, the highest level since 2005.
The poll's Quality of Life Index rose 7 percent for the month to 64.2, which is the highest level in the polls' history, beating the previous high of 63.1 set back in 2004.
"Despite the trade wars and other stuff, economically we are in a golden time for the country," Mayur said. "That hardly gets any attention."
Of course, a key reason it doesn't get attention is that the president has a habit of Tweeting about non-economic issues, such as whether NFL players should be suspended for taking a knee during the national anthem.
That keeps the attention off the good economy and on social issues that energize the Democratic base. But it also energizes the Republican base, said Mayur, because voters tend to resent highly-paid athletes injecting politics into sports.
Another big question is how Trump's stance on trade will affect the vote. Traditionally, Republicans have favored free trade, but "Trump has his own flavor on all these things," Mayur said. "He says 'I'm for free trade as long as it is fair trade,' and the general population at large likes that."
The Democrats still haven't come to terms with the way in which such positions help Trump score with blue-collar voters, he said.
"One thing about Trump is that he cuts across party lines," he said. "It's a new phenomenon the Democrats are facing. Historically they could rely on the union vote but this is a kind of a new dynamic."
Mayur said the biggest factor is likely to be whether Trump commits himself to a busy schedule of those rallies to which he can attract 30,000 or so voters at a clip. He's already scheduled a few.
It may be too early to predict how this will turn out, but there's one thing that I will predict: This promises to be a real nail-biter, at least on the House side. The Senate is likely to stay Republican, but if the Democrats get that traditional 30-seat swing they will control the House.
However, if they pick up 24 seats or fewer, the GOP retains control.
Who will win? Maybe I'll go back and ask the lady who runs the farm stand.
Her guess is as good as anybody's.
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