House in Flux?

By Jim Ellis

Aug. 22, 2016 — Several analysis articles have appeared in the last few days indicating that the House majority might well be in play for the Democrats. Is this reality, wishful thinking, or just a partisan rhetorical ploy to engage the party base?

To re-cap, the Republicans have their largest House majority since the 1928 election, currently standing at 247-R to 186-D, with two Democratic vacancies. In order for the Democrats to secure even a one-seat majority, they would have to re-elect incumbents and candidates in all 188 of their current districts and then convert 30 Republican positions.

Initially, not all 188 Democratic seats are secure. In fact, at least one is surely coming the GOP’s way. After the court-mandated mid-decade redistricting operation in Florida, the 2nd District became a virtual Republican gimme seat. Freshman Rep. Gwen Graham (D-Tallahassee) choosing not to seek re-election guarantees a Republican victory.

Down the Florida Atlantic coast, the open 18th District is an inviting GOP target. Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-Jupiter) is vacating a lean Republican seat to make a US Senate run, therefore making this a wide open venture for whoever wins the party nomination on Aug. 30. A strong GOP nominee converts this top opportunity.

Nebraska’s 2nd District freshman Brad Ashford (D-Omaha) becomes a major target. A lean Republican district that veteran Rep. Lee Terry (R) lost in 2014 makes re-claiming this seat a top GOP priority. Chances of successfully doing so are realistic in the person of retired Air Force General Don Bacon, who easily won the party primary back in May.

Though a new primary has just been called because a New York federal judge ruled a qualified candidate was denied ballot access in June, Republicans have a legitimate conversion opportunity in retiring Rep. Steve Israel’s (D-Huntington) open seat. This is a district that could elect a Republican though early polling suggests that former Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi (D) has an early lead beyond the margin of polling error over state Sen. Jack Martins (R).

Additionally, Arizona Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick’s (D-Flagstaff) open sprawling 1st District is also a toss-up race. This is another Republican conversion opportunity, though the Democrats have at least an even chance of successfully replacing their current incumbent.

The most vulnerable Republican seats are in redistricting situations or the most swing district in the country: NH-1 (Rep. Frank Guinta-R), which has consistently gone back and forth between the parties since 2006.

The Orlando, Florida district of Rep. Dan Webster (R-FL-10) is sure to go Democratic, as the court’s re-draw eradicated the district’s Republican base. Webster himself has re-located to the neighboring open 11th District and is likely to win there. Rep. David Jolly’s (R-Pinellas County) 13th District is also a prime Democratic post-redistricting target in the person of former Gov. Charlie Crist (D-St. Petersburg).

Virginia Rep. Randy Forbes’ (R-Chesapeake) former 4th District was also redistricted as a Democratic seat. Forbes did not fare well in his venture to a Virginia Beach district, meaning he will not return to the next Congress.

These most obvious Republican and Democratic conversion opportunities come close to neutralizing each other, or allowing the Democrats to maybe net one seat.

Eight Republican seats are in our toss-up category, and even if the Democrats sweep all, which is unlikely, their net position would mean a gain quantity of less than 10 seats. This would still give the Republicans a bigger majority than they enjoyed from 1995 to 2007, and then again from 2011 to 2015.

Needing substantially more, the Democrats would have to convert at least 20 of the 26 incumbents and seats listed in the lean Republican category, another task rated highly unlikely.

Dems believing that Donald Trump losing in a landslide to Hillary Clinton, and thus allowing them to create a wave that will sweep the House majority their way is wishful thinking at this point in time. With the very latest national polls suggesting that Trump is beginning to come back into range – Rasmussen Reports (Aug. 15-16; Clinton, plus 2), Pew Charitable Trusts (Aug. 9-16; Clinton, plus 4), and Reuters/Ipsos (Aug. 13-17; Clinton, plus 4) – the down-ballot wave election that Democratic strategists hope to see appears far from materializing.

Overall, it is most improbable that the Democrats can muster enough of an offensive to regain the House majority. They are simply not seriously challenging in enough Republican seats for such to be a realistic outcome.

Eight Toss-Up Republicans

• FL-26 – Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Miami)
• IL-10 – Rep. Bob Dold (R-Kenilworth)
• IA-1 – Rep. Rod Blum (R-Dubuque)
• MN-2 – Rep. John Kline (R-Burnsville) – Open Seat
• NV-3 – Rep. Joe Heck (R-Henderson) – Open Seat
• NV-4 – Rep. Cresent Hardy (R-Paradise/Central Nevada)
• NY-22 – Rep. Richard Hanna (R-Barneveld) – Open Seat
• TX-23 – Rep. Will Hurd (R-San Antonio)

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