Is It All About the House?

TPM Reader JL pipes up …

Doubtless you and I agree on the big policy question hanging over this election cycle: Is there any hope of breaking GOP intransgence? If the answer is no, then yeah, we want Obama to win, but more out of fear than out of hope. We’ll all be better off, but happy and optimistic? Not so much.

I know there was some discussion of this on TPM a few weeks back, triggered by hopeful (but perhaps hopelessly naïve) comments from Obama and a retort from Nancy Pelosi. The problem with that discussion was this: the dynamic going forward depends totally on precisely what happens November 6th, not just on who the next President is. Of course the operating assumption, and looking like a damned good one right now, is that Obama wins and does so with a reasonably comfortable EV margin. Further it looks like the Dems hold onto the Senate, if only by a seat or two. (And this is especially true if Obama wins, since a four-seat pickup in the Senate looks like quite a hill for the GOP to climb given recent polling.)

So far so good. But what about the House? Consider two scenarios. Scenario 1–the Dems pick up fewer than five seats. Scenario 2–the Dems pick up 18 to 20 seats. World of difference in my opinion. In scenario 1, it’s pretty much status quo. The house tea partiers feel vindicated–“Hey, even with a jerk like Romney at the top of the ticket, we only lost a few seats! F you, Obama!” Compromise would not be impossible, but it would be pretty unlikely.

Now suppose the Dems pick up 18 to 20 seats. First off, that pick up would be seen as a fairly significant rebuke to the GOP and no amount of spinning would change that. Second, Boehner would have only a 10 to 15 vote margin to work with. Any time seven or eight GOPers peeled off and voted with a united Democratic party, Boehner would lose. So Boehner would be getting pressure on two fronts: first, from the purveyors of conventional wisdom who would say that the voters have demanded the GOP give ground, and second from those House GOPers who recognize that compromise is essential to help the country. How many of those are there? A couple dozen? Certainly not fifty or sixty, but I’m pretty sure there are enough to create a very realistic threat that seven or eight of them will make common cause with the Democrats to break the gridlock. Especially given that Obama and the Dems would probably be prepared to do a deal that would be give the GOP a lot of what they want for the small price of telling Grover Norquist to pound sand.

If you’re with me so far, then it becomes really, really important to know whether were looking at a five seat pickup or worse, or whether an 18 to 20 seat pickup (or better) is possible or even likely. And here’s the thing. I’m inclined to think an 18 to 20 seat pickup or better is a reasonable bet. I base this on (a) the generic congressional ballot (GCB), and (b) Democracy Corps’ battleground polls. The GCB looks like about plus two for the Dems right now. On average over the last four cycles, the popular vote has come in about two points worse (for the Dems) than the mid-September average in the GCB. So that suggests the popular vote will be about even (most likely case). And research I’ve done in the past (and I think correlations Nate Silver has discussed in the past would show the same thing) suggests that would translate into about a 20-seat pickup for the Dems. If you read the last Democracy Corps memo on their battleground poll of the 54 most competitive districts, the bottom line seems to be about the same, but of course using totally different data. And that was before the conventions. But if the trend continues, the question may no longer be whether Republicans can win the Senate — but how vulnerable they are to losing the House. Finally there is this tidbit (teaser?) from Nate Silver at the very end of yesterday’s post on the Senate: “But if the trend continues, the question may no longer be whether Republicans can win the Senate — but how vulnerable they are to losing the House.”

To sum it up, I think the question of where the battle for the House stands is the underreported story of the last month. Get on it!

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