Democratic Takeover of the House Is Still a Long Shot

Democrats will need Republicans to continue self-destructing, among other things, to return to the majority in 2014.

Rep. Tim Griffin, R-AR, listens to Rep. Austin Scott, R-GA, during a news conference in front of the Capitol July 28, 2011 to show their supports to Speaker Boehner's debt-limit plan. Rep,. Martha Roby, R-AL, and Bobby Schilling, R-IL, attend the event.  
National Journal
Charlie Cook
Add to Briefcase
Charlie Cook
Oct. 21, 2013, 5:33 p.m.

Those who already are say­ing that the House of Rep­res­ent­at­ives is now “in play” are get­ting a little ahead of their skis — for­get­ting a few key factors. At the same time, however, it’s no longer fair to say that there is vir­tu­ally zero or at most a min­im­al chance that Re­pub­lic­ans will lose their ma­jor­ity. Re­cent ac­tions and be­ha­vi­or dur­ing the shut­down make that an equally risky ar­gu­ment to make. While it is still not likely, a dis­cus­sion of what spe­cific­ally would have to hap­pen to make a Demo­crat­ic ma­jor­ity a real­ity is in or­der.

Why isn’t the Re­pub­lic­an House ma­jor­ity already in im­me­di­ate danger? First, the elec­tion is more than a year away, and all events, no mat­ter how cata­clys­mic they may seem at the time, have shelf lives. Even the 9/11 tragedy, which had a pro­found im­pact on the course of Amer­ic­an polit­ics for years to come, even­tu­ally re­ceded as a driv­ing force. Like the shot in Jur­as­sic Park of the rear­view-mir­ror dis­play ad­vising that ob­jects “may be closer than they ap­pear,” polit­ic­al events may seem to have more of a last­ing im­pact than they even­tu­ally have.

Second, the num­bers aren’t quite there yet for Demo­crats to have a sol­id shot at the 17-seat net gain ne­ces­sary for a ma­jor­ity. Demo­crats have 10 seats of their own that are tee­ter­ing on the brink, in­clud­ing sev­er­al in dis­tricts that both John Mc­Cain and Mitt Rom­ney car­ried in the last two pres­id­en­tial elec­tions. To grab those 17 seats, Demo­crats would, in ef­fect, have to hold onto every one of their 201 seats, in­clud­ing 10 seats cur­rently rated as toss-ups by The Cook Polit­ic­al Re­port, as well as 14 more that are rated as lean­ing Demo­crat­ic — which we con­sider to be in the com­pet­it­ive-race cat­egory.

In ad­di­tion to hold­ing on to every one of their seats, Demo­crats must win the three seats cur­rently held by Re­pub­lic­ans that are rated as either toss-ups or lean­ing Demo­crat­ic, then go on to win 14 out of the 16 GOP seats rated as lean­ing Re­pub­lic­an, which now in­cludes the open seat in Arkan­sas’ 2nd Dis­trict, where second-term Rep. Tim Griffin an­nounced his re­tire­ment Monday morn­ing. Tak­ing a look at the field, it would al­most seem that Demo­crats need to com­pletely run the table of com­pet­it­ive seats to wrestle away the GOP ma­jor­ity. Win­ning 41 out of the 44 com­pet­it­ive seats is a pretty tall or­der.

What would need to hap­pen in or­der for Demo­crats to have a pretty good chance of win­ning a ma­jor­ity? First, the self-de­struct­ive be­ha­vi­or by Re­pub­lic­ans over the last two months would need to con­tin­ue well in­to next year. If there are, or come close to be­ing, sev­er­al more gov­ern­ment shut­downs, or the gov­ern­ment de­faults on its debts or comes per­il­ously close, that would re­in­force the cur­rent and grow­ing neg­at­ive im­pres­sions that people have of the Re­pub­lic­an Party and the Re­pub­lic­an Con­gress, and may help bring about a loss of their ma­jor­ity. One of the top Demo­crats in the House told us privately months ago, “Demo­crats can’t take the House but Re­pub­lic­ans can lose it.” Well said. Even if Demo­crats do everything right, they still might not be able to win the House, un­less Re­pub­lic­ans con­tin­ue to hurt them­selves. We have already seen this hap­pen to a cer­tain ex­tent in re­cent weeks. Pub­lic at­ti­tudes start off in what you could call a li­quid form, then they be­gin to jell and even­tu­ally start to harden, fi­nally be­com­ing rock sol­id. Much more of this opin­ion-so­lid­i­fic­a­tion as a res­ult of re­peated, badly re­ceived be­ha­vi­or, and Re­pub­lic­ans could go a long way in seal­ing their own fate.

Second, more Re­pub­lic­ans, like Griffin, in com­pet­it­ive dis­tricts would need to re­tire. Griffin is a good ex­ample of this po­ten­tial risk for the GOP. He had very little chance of be­ing up­set, and now Demo­crats have a de­cent shot at pick­ing off a seat that they had held for quite some time be­fore Griffin’s en­trance in­to of­fice in 2010. Demo­crats need a hand­ful more of those risky GOP re­tire­ments to sub­stan­tially in­crease their chances of cap­tur­ing a ma­jor­ity.

Third, Demo­crats need a civil war to break out between the vari­ous fac­tions of the Re­pub­lic­an Party. Any­thing that fo­ments dis­sen­sion with­in the party, chews up funds in hotly con­tested primar­ies, and cre­ates dis­il­lu­sion­ment that can con­trib­ute to lower Re­pub­lic­an turnout next Novem­ber will help Demo­crats. Demo­crats tend to be­ne­fit in pres­id­en­tial years when cer­tain types of voter groups turn out — for ex­ample, young, single wo­men of­ten show up more in those elec­tions — but turnout levels in midterm elec­tions typ­ic­ally plum­met, which nor­mally re­duces the party’s chances. Demo­crats need Re­pub­lic­an turnout to drop in 2014, while sim­ul­tan­eously mo­tiv­at­ing their own base.

Fi­nally, the ad­versity in the GOP needs to en­cour­age qual­ity Demo­crat­ic can­did­ates to ac­tu­ally run. For ex­ample, to the south of Griffin, in Arkan­sas’ 4th Dis­trict, where GOP Rep. Tom Cot­ton is leav­ing to run for the Sen­ate, former Fed­er­al Emer­gency Man­age­ment Agency Dir­ect­or James Lee Witt’s an­nounce­ment that he may run gives Demo­crats a chance to cap­ture an­oth­er seat. Noth­ing at­tracts can­did­ates like ad­versity in the oth­er party; it’s like honey for am­bi­tious would-be can­did­ates who are stand­ing on the side­lines con­tem­plat­ing a run.

None of these scen­ari­os are ter­ribly im­plaus­ible, but they all have to ma­ter­i­al­ize be­fore Demo­crats can be said to have a real shot of con­trolling the House.

What We're Following See More »
THE PLAN ALL ALONG?
Manchin Drops Objections, Clearing Way for Spending Deal
23 hours ago
THE LATEST

"The Senate standstill over a stopgap spending bill appeared headed toward a resolution on Friday night. Senators who were holding up the measure said votes are expected later in the evening. West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin had raised objections to the continuing resolution because it did not include a full year's extension of retired coal miners' health benefits," but Manchin "said he and other coal state Democrats agreed with Senate Democratic leaders during a caucus meeting Thursday that they would not block the continuing resolution, but rather use the shutdown threat as a way to highlight the health care and pension needs of the miners."

Source:
UNCLEAR WHAT CAUSED CHANGE OF HEART
Giuliani Out of Running For State
1 days ago
BREAKING

Donald Trump transition team announced Friday afternoon that top supporter Rudy Giuliani has taken himself out of the running to be in Trump's cabinet, though CNN previously reported that it was Trump who informed the former New York City mayor that he would not be receiving a slot. While the field had seemingly been narrowed last week, it appears to be wide open once again, with ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson the current favorite.

Source:
ALSO VICE-CHAIR OF TRUMP’S TRANSITION TEAM
Trump Taps Rep. McMorris Rodgers for Interior Secretary
1 days ago
BREAKING
SHUTDOWN LOOMING
House Approves Spending Bill
2 days ago
BREAKING

The House has completed it's business for 2016 by passing a spending bill which will keep the government funded through April 28. The final vote tally was 326-96. The bill's standing in the Senate is a bit tenuous at the moment, as a trio of Democratic Senators have pledged to block the bill unless coal miners get a permanent extension on retirement and health benefits. The government runs out of money on Friday night.

HEADS TO OBAMA
Senate Approves Defense Bill
2 days ago
THE LATEST

The Senate passed the National Defense Authorization Act today, sending the $618 billion measure to President Obama. The president vetoed the defense authorization bill a year ago, but both houses could override his disapproval this time around.

Source:
×
×

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.

Login