FINAL STATE OF PLAY: Democrats On The Verge Of Flipping The House

UNITED STATES - SEPTEMBER 14: Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., attend a news conference on the Child Care for Working Families Act, which focuses on affordable early learning and care on September 14, 2017.(Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Tom Williams/CQPHO

The long-discussed blue wave may be about to wash ashore.

With Election Day just hours away, strategists in both parties think the House is highly likely to flip, with Republicans privately admitting that their chances of holding the majority look even slimmer now than a few weeks ago.

The killing of 11 Jewish worshippers by an alleged anti-Semitic white nationalist in Pittsburgh and the mail bombs sent to prominent Democrats and CNN allegedly by a radicalized Trump supporter dominated headlines and undercut any momentum the GOP had in many races, something President Trump himself has groused about. While his closing message of anti-immigrant fear-mongering may have helped in some Senate races, it’s at best a double-edged sword in the House, where suburban races predominate.

Strategists say that the few polls they conducted in the final days of the race in swing territory mirrored national public polling showing Trump’s disapproval rating climbing an average of three or four points in the race’s closing stretch, a bad sign for his party.

This last week hasn’t been helpful,” said one GOP strategist involved in House races.

Some caveats: There are an unusually high number of races that public and private polls still find within the margin of error. Booming early voting across the country makes it difficult to predict exactly how election night is going to go. As 2016 showed, last-minute breaking news and small shifts in the electorate can cause unpredictable results.

But Republicans are pessimistic, and Democrats are bullish.

“They have at least 16 seats in the bag,” said one Republican involved in a number of House races. “We’re going to somehow win two-thirds or three-quarters of the tossups? No. I don’t think anyone thinks we’re going to hold the House that I’ve talked to. In the best case scenario we still lose the House by a little bit. The worst case is a lot of seats.”

Most campaigns also don’t poll the final week of the race because it doesn’t give them time to react to new information, leaving everyone flying a bit blind. Sky-high turnout from both parties also could limit the chances of a Democratic wave turning into a tsunami by taking off the map some GOP-leaning districts that could only be won if Republicans don’t turn out.

Here’s where things seem to stand in the House with Election Day nearly upon us.

Battle For The House

Most Republican strategists see the House as a lost cause, with Democratic gains breaking 40 seats at least as likely as the GOP finding a way to hold onto the lower chamber by the barest of margins. The most optimistic Republican strategist TPM talked to said Democrats would net at least 26 seats if everything goes right for the GOP, still enough for the chamber to flip. Some Democrats predicted that the number could climb north of 40 seats. Democrats and Republicans mostly put the likely number of Democratic pickups at about 35 seats.

Strategists in both parties think Democrats are almost certain to win, and the bigger question is what their governing margin looks like.

Republicans are only feeling good about picking up two seats: a newly drawn district in southwestern Pennsylvania and a GOP-leaning district in Minnesota’s Iron Range. An open Democrat-held seat in southern Minnesota appears to be a tossup.

If Democrats lose all three of those races and no others, they need to win 26 seats to seize a majority. Operatives from both parties working on House races think they’re almost two thirds of the way there already.

Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-VA) is vulnerable in her suburban DC district.

Republican strategists admit that the following congressmen are likely goners: Reps. Mike Coffman (R-CO), Rod Blum (R-IA), Kevin Yoder (R-KS), Jason Lewis (R-MN), Erik Paulsen (R-MN), Keith Rothfus (R-PA) and Barbara Comstock (R-VA). National GOP strategists also privately admit likely defeat in districts currently held by exiting Reps. Martha McSally (R-AZ), Darrel Issa (R-CA), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Frank LoBiondo (R-NJ), Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ), Dave Trott (R-MI), and  Pennsylvania’s newly redrawn fifth, sixth and seventh districts.

If Democrats sweep those 16 races, they’d be just 10 seats short of a majority.

Then come the 10 competitive races where Democrats feel a bit more confident than Republicans. That list includes races featuring Reps. Mimi Walters (R-CA), Peter Roskam (R-IL), David Young (R-IA), Bruce Poliquin (R-ME), Leonard Lance (R-NJ), John Faso (R-NY), Claudia Tenney (R-NY) and Mia Love (R-UT), as well as Kansas’ 2nd district and Washington’s 8th.

Most of those races are within the margin of error in public and private polling. A few may still break against the Democrats, and if it turns out that polls are a bit too optimistic for Democrats plenty could survive. But winning most of these would get Democrats almost to the majority, with plenty of opportunities in close races that could put them over the top.

There are 16 races that strategists either agree are pure tossups or both sides think their side has the edge. Those districts are represented by Reps. Jeff Denham (R-CA), Steve Knight (R-CA), Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), Carlos Curbelo (R-FL), Randy Hultgren (R-IL), Andy Barr (R-KY), Ted Budd (R-NC), Tom MacArthur (R-NJ), Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), John Culberson (R-TX), Pete Sessions (R-TX), Scott Taylor (R-VA) and Dave Brat (R-VA), as well as Florida’s 15th district, North Carolina’s 9th and New Mexico’s 2nd.

And there are plenty of others that Republicans feel more confident about than Democrats — but could go either way.

That list includes but isn’t limited to Reps. Don Young (R-AK), French Hill (R-AR), Duncan Hunter (R-CA), Karen Handel (R-GA), Rodney Davis (R-IL), George Holding (R-NC), Troy Balderson (R-OH), Dan Donovan (R-NY), John Katko (R-NY), Scott Perry (R-PA), Will Hurd (R-TX) and Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-WA), as well as Virginia’s 2nd district and West Virginia’s 3rd.

UNITED STATES - SEPTEMBER 07: Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, attends a rally with Angel Families on the East Front of the Capitol, to highlight crimes committed by illegal immigrants in the U.S., on September 7, 2018. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
In a Democrat tsunami, Rep. Steve King (R-IA) could be vulnerable.

Other races could surprise as well, including liberal bêtes noires like Reps. Steve King (R-IA) and Chris Collins (R-NY) and GOP power players like Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI).

Democratic candidates have blown the barn doors open in fundraising, with dozens hauling in more money than their incumbent GOP opponents for their races. That’s forced GOP groups to scramble to put out fires in some districts once viewed as only marginally competitive. GOP outside groups have jumped in with last-minute spending to shore up members like Young, Beutler, Balderson and Katko, to just name a few.

The map is much wider than this list includes, and a minor shift in the national mood or missed expectations of the electorate could swing this entire map a dozen or more seats in one direction or the other. But right now, it looks like the low end of likely results would give Democrats just barely enough seats for the majority — and the high end could push Democrats well above 40 seats and hand them a governable House majority.

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