The reason? Redistricting -- or more precisely, gerrymandering.
In the memo -- titled "How a Strategy of Targeting State Legislative Races in 2010 Led to a Republican U.S. House Majority in 2013" -- RSLC boasts that it "raised more than $30 million in 2009-2010, and invested $18 million after Labor Day 2010 alone" to ensure statehouse victories in states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin.
"The rationale was straightforward," reads the memo. "Controlling the redistricting process in these states would have the greatest impact on determining how both state legislative and congressional district boundaries would be drawn. Drawing new district lines in states with the most redistricting activity presented the opportunity to solidify conservative policymaking at the state level and maintain a Republican stronghold in the U.S. House of Representatives for the next decade."
The plan worked: even as they took a beating in the races for Senate and the White House, House Republicans ended up with a 33-seat majority, thanks to friendly district maps drawn by their own state colleagues. As the RSLC memo admits, "Democratic candidates for the U.S. House won 1.1 million more votes than their Republican opponents."
Republicans who redrew the maps lopped off the Democratic parts of the states into ideologically concentrated blue districts and tipped the balance in most districts in their favor. The results were remarkable. In Pennsylvania, for instance, which President Obama carried by 5 points, Republicans won 13 of 18 House seats. In Ohio, which Obama won by 2 points, House GOP candidates won by a 12-4 margin.
Experts note that Republicans' task was made easier by the fact that Democratic votes are often concentrated in urban and minority areas. But the RSLC's premise that redistricting played a key role in the extent of their 2012 House victories is hardly in doubt.
"Republicans did indeed retain control of the House in 2012 because of artful partisan redistricting, a direct result of their well-timed 2010 midterm win," Larry Sabato, an election expert who runs the "Crystal Ball" forecast, told TPM. "So the RSLC memo is accurate as far as it goes. It's unquestioned that carefully executed partisan redistricting was a major factor in the GOP retention of the House in what turned out to be a tough year for the party politically."
And the GOP's timely 2010 victories will likely be enough for them to hold the House again in 2014, according to early data, if not longer.