Recent polls have shown Democrats are losing the Senate. Sure-fire seats such as Wisconsin have suddenly become competitive, Ohio and Florida continue to tilt red and Kelly Ayotte in New Hampshire and Joe Heck in Nevada have established slim edges. Missouri continues to be neck and neck but Democrats are now losing Indiana and North Carolina continues to be just out of reach. The only state Democrats seem to have gained in is Pennsylvania (though the most recent poll found a tied contest).
Trump’s recent gains in the polls can largely be attributed to GOP resurgence down-ballot as well as a renewed GOP focus from endangered incumbents focusing on being a check on Clinton. Democrats had largely hoped to take the Senate this cycle but they were also gunning heavily for the House.
Democrats regaining 30 seats and capturing the House was always a stretch but retaking some Democratic leaning and swing districts was always a possibility. With Trump on the ticket Democratic hopes have risen and fallen. Every time Clinton has commanded a substantial lead they have seen favorable internal polling (like early to mid-October).
But as the race has hit the home-stretch Democrats may be starting to realize they may not only lose the Senate but gain at most a dozen House seats. There are multiple reasons for this and only a few are Democrats faults.
One is recruiting. Early on Democrats failed to recruit strong challengers in suburban/rural districts in Pennsylvania and Ohio. While Democrats believe some of their weaker, late recruits are showing strength at the end the odds are good Democrats will leave these seats on the table beyond 2016.
The biggest Democratic fault was having Clinton be their standardbearer. It is true you could say the same of Republicans and Trump but whereas Republicans have gone to great lengths to distance themselves from Trump, many Democrats have embraced Clinton. As a result, endangered Republicans can run as a check on Clinton.
As I mentioned before, not all the reasons for Democratic struggles are theirs. The strength of many GOP incumbents, outside spending and demographics have hindered their efforts.
GOP incumbent strength has allowed many top-tier seats at the start of the cycle (FL-26, IA-1, IA-3, PA-8, VA-10 etc.) to remain barn-burners. Democrats should be dominating these kinds of districts in liberal Eastern Iowa, suburban Pennsylvania, Democratic heavy Southern Florida and the Virginia suburbs. Instead, at best their candidates are tied with GOP incumbents even with favorable turnout projections built into their internal polls.
Republicans have benefited strongly from outside spending. While many conservative outlets and donors have not donated to Trump they have spent millions supporting Congressional GOP candidates. It has helped many Republicans have built up their war chests in anticipation of tough reelections. Additionally, the money Paul Ryan has raised for his party numbers in the millions. If anything, Ryan is Boehner on steroids for raising money to protect his majority.
Lastly, demographics have actually hindered more than helped Democrats in their quest for seats in the House. Sure, they can play in heavily Hispanic districts in CA and FL and suburban districts in MN, PA and VA. But the Obama leaning, rural and white districts in IA, MN, OH and elsewhere that should be theirs on paper have not followed through.
A couple cases in point. Democrats should be dominating in IA-1. The district gave Obama 56 percent pf the vote in 2012. Rod Blum, is a member of the House Freedom Caucus and has consistently opposed Obama. He has endorsed Trump. Blum should be a goner. But instead, fueled by Trump’s strength in the district he has held his own against his Democratic challenger.
How about NV-4. The district voted for Obama by 10 points in 2012 and is almost a majority-minority Hispanic district. This seat should be blue. But, instead, Democrats despite finding a top recruit have struggled to put it away as polls show Hispanics and blacks unlikely to vote and Republicans core voters, blue-collar whites, geared up to do so.
Democrats counter that their strength among college educated women, particularly white women, will pay dividends in the future. They vote at a higher rate than college educated white men, are more Democratic and only growing as a share of the electorate. That all may be true. But it is scant comfort for Congressional leaders who will be irrelevant for another 2 years of divided government.