Looking at the House

By Jim Ellis

June 27, 2017 — For a brief instant, until Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT-3) resigns later this week, the House has a full compliment of 435 members, which means now is a good time to survey 2018 election cycle prospects.

There has been a great deal of speculation, particularly before the GA-6 special election that Democrats had hoped to win, that Republicans are in danger of losing their majority in the coming regular election. But, what do the numbers actually say?

In looking at the overall picture much depends upon realistic chances that congressional district maps in Pennsylvania and Texas could be changed via redistricting court rulings before the next election. Should this happen in the two states, certain districts currently rated safe or likely to go to one party or the other could be significantly altered. Therefore, this pair of domains with large Republican majorities (Pennsylvania: 13R-5D; Texas: 25R-11D) could become 2018 electoral wild cards.

Since the post-reapportionment maps were finalized after the 2010 census, three states: Florida, North Carolina and Virginia, have been re-drawn. The three new maps combined resulted in Democrats gaining a net of two seats, an increase far below what was projected. Potential exists for further re-drawing in Wisconsin and again in North Carolina, but the US Supreme Court agreeing to hear the former state’s political gerrymandering lawsuit now makes the timing for any court-directed map changes in the two places more difficult to implement for the coming election.

Late-decade redistricting, notwithstanding, Democrats have a difficult road back to the majority. Currently, the number of open seats is low, now that special elections have filled vacancies, with nine Republican seats at risk in incumbent-less elections. Democrats, however, must defend an additional six of their own in this category.

Of the 15 total open seats at this juncture, only three appear to be less than secure for the current incumbent party…and two of those are Democratic. Rep. Tim Walz leaving his southern Minnesota seat to run for governor yields what should be a very tight race to replace him, as does what will be an open Clark County seat in Nevada. Freshman Rep. Jacky Rosen (D-Henderson) is expected to formally announce her challenge to Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV) later this week. The main Republican open vulnerability comes in South Florida, where veteran Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Miami) is retiring.

Today, it appears that Republicans are safe in 171 seats, while an additional 47 are likely to go their way. Eighteen more seats are rated as “lean Republican.” For the Democrats, 170 are safe, 14 are likely, with an additional six in the “lean D” category. This means Republicans would currently have 236 seats that are safe or trending their way, while Democrats have a commensurate 190.

At this writing, just nine seats can be considered toss-ups, and here, Democrats are risking four of the nine. Therefore, if those elections hold true to their current party, the Dems would only net a one-seat gain from this grouping. Such a small number would make converting the Republican majority a very difficult task because they would have to unseat at least 23 incumbents or convert several current strong Republican open seats. Thus, the toss-up category will have to substantially grow if Democrats are to net the 24 seats they need to establish a new majority.

While the average number of seats the party controlling the White House has lost in recent first mid-term elections hovers around the 26 mark, Democrats have a great deal of work to do in order to better position themselves for what could become a volatile 2018 election cycle.

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