By Jim Ellis
April 26, 2017 — Democrats appear encouraged by their early House special election performance, which has spurred some talk about the party’s possibilities of re-claiming the House majority next year.
While the open special election Democratic candidates are of high quality in California, Georgia, and Montana, the early regular cycle contenders are lacking, finding themselves already embroiled in multi-candidate primaries, or not even in existence.
Of the 10 already announced regular cycle open seats six are in Republican districts. All are either categorized as safe or likely Republican, so the prospects for Democratic gains in this important sector appear non-existent at least within the current configuration.
Turning to the challenger races, Democrats are active on the recruiting front but it appears the party leadership efforts, combined with individuals declaring candidacies of their own accord, are resulting in either feast or famine. In each of 36 districts, for example, against Republican incumbents not even considered especially vulnerable, Democrats already have multiple announced candidates.
In the most competitive districts, it is more desirable to have a consensus challenger in order to conserve resources and lengthen the general election time period. Furthermore, a primary, particularly in today’s politics, can move the probable general election challenger far to the extreme ideological position, which generally weakens the eventual nominee in facing an incumbent of the opposite party.
The most fertile prospective conversion territory is the group of 23 Republican congressional districts that supported Hillary Clinton over President Trump. Within this segment, the Clinton percentage went from a high of 58.6 percent (FL-27: Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen) to a low of 47.2 percent (KS-3: Rep. Kevin Yoder). The average Clinton vote total within these specific 23 GOP districts was 50.5 percent. President Trump’s averaged 44.2 percent. In only four CDs was the Clinton margin 10 points or greater: FL-27 (Ros-Lehtinen: 19.7), the adjacent FL-26 (Rep. Carlos Curbelo: 16.1); CA-21 (Rep. David Valadao: 15.5); and VA-10 (Rep. Barbara Comstock: 10.0).
Within the 23 districts, the Democrats so far are only fielding one candidate in four of the seats: CA-10 (Rep. Jeff Denham), KS-3 (Yoder), MN-3 (Rep. Erik Paulsen), and WA-8 (Rep. Dave Reichert). The current challengers against Paulsen and Reichert do not appear to be first-tier candidates. Businessman Jay Sidie, who held Kansas Rep. Yoder to 51 percent yet still resulted in a ten-point incumbent win, is the lone candidate so far in that race, but Democratic leaders were not particularly happy with his campaign abilities during the last election.
In 14 of the seats, already we see anywhere from two to six announced candidates, meaning the aforementioned primary scenario outlined above will likely occur in each of those campaigns. More troubling for the Democratic brain trust, in five of the CDs, including the two prime targets of FL-26 (Curbelo) and TX-23 (Rep. Will Hurd), there is presently no announced Democratic candidate. Furthermore, no contender has yet come forward in CA-21 (Valadao), CA-39 (Rep. Ed Royce), and NY-24 (Rep. John Katko).
The Democratic leadership either has too few or too many candidates in almost all of their top prospective conversion situations. Even in the seats with a potential consensus challenger, the early outlook is not particularly favorable for them.
Though some national trends could be pointing toward a Democratic rebound, the early internal district-by-district House picture is cloudy at best.