On the eve of the DNC, House Democrats publicly remain bullish that they can gain the 24 seats they need to retake the House next year. Practically however, Democratic leadership remains aware of the substantial hurdles they have yet to clear in their quest.
Democrats in the South alone are likely to lose a House seat in Oklahoma and Georgia this year. In North Carolina the butcher’s bill could be anywhere between 2-4 House seats. Democrats are set to gain two new seats in TX and likely win 2-4 seats in Florida. But Republicans will counter with better than even odds of stealing a Democratic district in Arkansas, and gaining a new seat in SC and two in Texas. Republicans also eliminated a metro St. Louis based Democratic district.
Elsewhere across the country Democrats lost a House seat in Michigan redistricting, might lose a seat in Ohio, lost a seat in New Jersey, have slightly better than 50-50 odds of winning a new WA state district, are set to gain 1-3 seat in Arizona and might win 1-3 seats in California. However the GOP is likely to win one to two new seats in California, off-setting losses in the state, and will likely fight to a draw in redistricting the Northeast.
Of course there are at least two dozen more competitive races across the country that could swing either way. Both of New Hampshire’s GOP controlled Congressional Districts could swing this cycle. In Minnesota and Michigan the GOP will have to fight hard to hold seats gained in 2010, even after redistricting made them safer. But don’t just take my word for it. Take somebody else’s. Somebody who is far more accomplished and experienced in predicting such things.
Writing for Roll Call, political analyst Stuart Rothenburg wrote on July 19th, “Right now, the outlook for the House is anywhere from a small GOP gain to a modest Democratic gain in the single digits — not close to what Democrats hoped for as the cycle began.” Using what Roll Call has as of today, Republicans have 194 safe seats, 15 that are likely Republican and 20 that lean Republican. Democrats have 156 safe seats, 11 seats Likely Democratic and 12 leans Democrat. The last 27 seats are rated as toss-ups with 17 being controlled by the GOP and 10 by Democrats.
Let’s do some simple math here. If we give the GOP only safe seats and likely seats they still retain a narrow majority of 219 seats. In other words if Democrats win every toss-up, Democratic and Republican leaning district they still cannot regain the majority. And the odds of them pulling off such a feat are no good.
Not only is the math against the Democrats but so is the political wind. Democrats regained the House in 06 and built on their majority in 08 with strong headwinds at their backs. In 2010 they lost the House due to the tidal wave force of anti-Democratic sentiment that crested in November. This year, with a Presidential election and the battle for Senate control being heavily watched the battle for the House is being overshadowed. The closeness of the Presidential race seems all but to ensure that Democrats will get few if any coat-tails from Obama’s campaign. In fact, House and Senate candidates have received little help from the White House, whether financial or strategic.
The political environment remains neutral for Congressional candidates running across the country. They must be the ones to swing their races and in many cases even their candidacy or personal attributes are unlikely to swing certain races. For most Democrats, the best they can say is they are on the “offense” in the House. It seems however the GOP is fine to play defense and let Democrats nibble at the edges of their substantial majority.
Democrats face yet another challenge in their bid for the House. Not only is the math tough for Democrats but so is the route they must take to regain the majority. To win the majority Democrats would have to hold all their marginal seats in the South (OK, GA, and FL) and gain close to 5-10 seats in the region, which has increasingly become inhospitable to their kind. To put this in perspective before 1994 Democrats dominated the South. After the GOP Revolution that year they lost well over a dozen seats. In 2006 and 2008, when Democrats routed the GOP they failed to gain more than 5 new seats in the South (including VA and NC) in each election. In 2010 they lost 19 seats in the region.
Democrats will continue to claim up to election day that they still have a chance to retake the House. But mathematically, politically and route-wise the path to the majority for Democrats face significant hurdles. I is unlikely they will even come close to crossing them by the time November remains.
House Predictions 2012: Democratic Gain 5-8 seats