Considering the events of the past few weeks, Democrats are now buoyed over their improved chances of wresting the House majority away from the Republicans next year. Most of the early election cycle analysis has been about the Republicans’ chances in the Senate, but the Democrat’s offensive in district elections certainly deserves further attention.
First, a series of MoveOn.org government shutdown polls in Republican-held congressional districts, 61 to be exact, showed most of those particular GOP incumbents to be already trailing a generic Democrat candidate.
Second, the death of Rep. Bill Young (R-FL-13) opens one of 16 seats that in 2012 voted both for President Obama and a Republican congressman. The special election format could further aid the Democrats in their quest to win this seat.
Third, the surprise retirement announcement from sophomore Rep. Tim Griffin (R-AR-2) puts a “Lean Republican” seat into play that had previously elected a Democrat in every term since 1982, consecutively, until the current incumbent won in 2010.
Fourth, the Democratic Party leaders report that their House candidate recruitment has substantially improved.
Though the cumulative effect of these recent events has, at least for the short term, improved the Democrat’s prospects, substantial hurdles remain to be overcome if they are to gain the net 17 seats needed to claim a one-seat majority.
The Dems’ top impediment is the small number of open seats (20), which feature only four currently competitive Republican incumbent-less seats. Therefore, the number of realistic conversion opportunities is modest. In the last cycle, by comparison, the number of open seats was a huge 62.
Second, the Democrats must defend at least 18 of their own seats where Republicans themselves have strong, or relatively strong, conversion opportunities. Realistically, the Dems will have to sweep this category to have any real chance of regaining chamber control.
In addressing the MoveOn polls, as previously written in earlier reports, we find that the data is skewed. Purposefully, the MoveOn leaders went into the field at a time when they could paint Republicans with a particularly negative brush regarding the government shutdown, and through the use of push questions and pitting the incumbents against only a generic party label, were able to produce their desired results. Therefore, this recent multi-district polling project should be discounted because their methodology produced distorted results.
There is no question the Democrats may be able to convert the Young seat in Florida. Should former state CFO and gubernatorial nominee Alex Sink (D) run, as she seems inclined to do, the party will be in the driver’s seat for the opportunity to bring this western peninsula Tampa Bay district into their column. But, with Arkansas trending more and more Republican over the past few elections, converting the open Griffin seat is more difficult than meets the long-term historical eye.
Currently, on our full PRIsm House ratings, five Democratic seats are already in the “Toss-up” column: AZ-2 [Barber]; CA-52 [Peters]; FL-26 [Garcia]; NC-7 [McIntyre]; and UT-4 [Matheson], meaning the GOP successfully converting even one or two of these seats – something that today appears likely – could conceivably pave the way to holding their majority. Additionally, the 18 “Lean Democrat” seats are not secure, especially for several incumbents facing re-matches with tough 2012 opponents.
With the presumed emergence of Sink in Florida, Omaha City Council President Peter Festersen now agreeing to challenge Rep. Lee Terry (R-NE-2) after originally saying he would not, and retired Navy Commander Suzanne Patrick opposing Rep. Scott Rigell (R-VA-2) the Democrats are clearly making strides toward expanding the electoral playing field, but they will have to improve to a far greater degree if they hope to again become the House majority party.