When pundits, prognosticators, and analysts predict that Republicans will win an additional six to twelve seats in the U.S. House of Representatives this year . . . the pulses of most political junkies fail to quicken.
Republicans currently hold 233 seats in the 435-seat House. What’s the big deal if next year House Speaker John Boehner leads a majority of 240 Republicans or 250 Republicans?
The midterm House elections might not have the high stakes and inherent drama of the fight for control of the U.S. Senate or the year’s big gubernatorial elections. But if Republicans want to be a governing party, controlling the House and protecting their incumbents are a prerequisite, and adding to that majority is a sign of good health for the GOP. If Republicans are going to make the blue states competitive, competing for the winnable races in places such as Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and New York is a good intermediate step.
Strangely, the National Republican Congressional Committee is likely to be solidly outspent by its Democratic counterpart — $117 million for the NRCC to $130 million for the DCCC as of late October. But money may be less decisive in House races than in other contests. Back in 2010, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee outspent its Republican counterparts $122 million to $95 million — and lost 63 seats.
DCCC chairman Steve Israel didn’t have much choice this week when he lowered expectations, calling the election environment “tough and unpredictable” and “admittedly difficult.”
With no one really expecting Democrats to come even close to retaking the House, most liberal groups have put their resources into the Senate and gubernatorial races. Considering the distracted liberal groups, the traditionally more-Republican midterm electorate, President Obama’s low approval rating, and the angry mood of voters, the stars are aligning for a near-ideal situation for House Republican candidates. Perhaps the 2014 midterms are best seen as a measurement of just how high the ceiling is for Republicans in the House of Representatives.
Yes, Republicans appear likely to lose a handful of seats they currently hold. California’s 31st congressional district, which includes San Bernardino, is the most heavily Democratic district currently represented by a Republican, incumbent Gary Miller, and Miller is not seeking reelection. Republican Paul Chabot is a veteran solid candidate, but he’s getting outspent in a district that would be a heavy lift for any first-time Republican candidate.
In Florida’s second congressional district, Representative Steve Southerland should have enjoyed an easy reelection bid. But a controversy over an all-male fundraising event combined with the presence of a solid Democratic challenger have national media writing his political obituary. Southerland is working to tie opponent Gwen Graham (daughter of former Florida senator Bob Graham) to Nancy Pelosi and other Washington Democrats, to nationalize the race in this district in the Florida Panhandle that rates a R+6 on the Cook Partisan Voting Index.
In Nebraska’s second congressional district, eight-term incumbent Republican Lee Terry survived a close primary to find himself in a tough fight against Democrat Brad Ashford. Terry won his R+4 district, which includes Omaha, by just 4,000 votes in 2012, about 1.5 percent. Terry didn’t help himself by refusing to give up his congressional paycheck during the government shutdown.
For better or worse, one incumbent Republican widely expected to be a goner appears to be hanging on. In New York’s eleventh district, Representative Michael Grimm, indicted on 20 counts of filing false tax returns, mail fraud, wire fraud, and other charges, led by four points in a September poll. Either the district’s voters doubt the charges against Grimm, they’re used to allegations of impropriety by lawmakers, or they’re not entirely opposed to Grimm’s stated policy of throwing reporters he doesn’t like off a U.S. Capitol balcony.
That’s the bad news for Republicans. The good news is that these risks are offset by a handful of near-automatic pickups.
Don’t put too much stock in that poll that showed Republican Mia Love narrowly trailing Democrat Doug Owens in Utah’s fourth district: “Chris Karpowitz, co-director of the BYU center, calculated the poll’s fourth-district results as having a margin of error of about plus or minus 6.4 percent and should be viewed only as showing the race is close.” It’s an extremely Republican district, R+14 in the Cook index.
The open-seat race in North Carolina’s seventh district is another one that’s probably an almost-automatic GOP pickup. The current representative, Democrat Mike McIntyre, is retiring, after surviving close races in 2010 and 2012. Republican David Rouzer is the strong favorite in this R+12 district.
In West Virginia’s third district, which is R+14, incumbent Democrat Nick Rahall managed to hang on despite being a top GOP target the past two cycles. Only one poll has been done in the fall, showing Republican Evan Jenkins ahead by six points. Rahall survived the GOP wave of 2010 and Romney’s big win at the top of the ticket in 2012, so no one should count him out, but as we’ve seen in the past two cycles, Blue Dog and rural Democrats are an increasingly rare breed. Put Rahall in the “endangered, but not yet a definite goner” pile.
In New York’s 21st district, one of the few districts with a dead-even score in the Cook Partisan Voting Index, Republican Elise Stefanik leads the polls consistently — sometimes by the high single digits, sometimes in double digits.
Moving on to the more competitive races . . .
Both House districts in New Hampshire feature hard-fought, closely contested races with contradictory polls. In the first district, depending on which poll you read, either Democrat incumbent Carol Shea-Porter is ahead by four (WMUR/University of New Hampshire) or former representative Frank Guinta is ahead by six (New England College).
In the second district, incumbent Democrat Annie Kuster is ahead by seven (New England College) or GOP challenger Marlinda Garcia is ahead by five (UMass Amherst/WBZ Poll).
Recent history suggests that Democratic House candidates feast in New Hampshire’s presidential-year elections and endure famine in the midterms: Democratic House candidates won 54 percent of the combined statewide vote in 2008, just 44.5 percent in 2010, and 49.9 percent of the vote in 2012. Each year, both seats flipped.
Right next door in Maine, the Pine Tree State’s second district features a tight open-seat race in which Republican Bruce Poliquin is keeping pace with Democratic state senator Emily Cain. As in the state’s governor’s race, an independent candidate is taking a significant slice; Blaine Richardson is at 8 percent. Of the two House districts in Maine, the second is much more competitive, scoring a D+2 on the Cook Partisan Voting Index.
In Hawaii’s first district, Charles Djou was one of the most unlikely Republican victors of 2010, winning a special House election in May of that year but losing in the November election. The last two polls show Djou tied with state representative Mark Takai.
A new poll offered a curveball in New York’s 24th district, where the race between incumbent Democrat Dan Maffei, who was first elected to Congress in 2008, and former federal prosecutor John Katko was considered a toss-up. A new poll by Syracuse.com/The Post-Standard and Siena College puts Katko ahead of Maffei among likely voters 52 percent to 42 percent.
The NRCC is sending more money to Iowa, where Republicans are narrowly leading in two open-seat races. A Loras College poll sounded the alarm for Democrats in Iowa’s first district, where Republican Rod Blum led by a point over Democrat Pat Murphy; and in Iowa’s third district, where Republican David Young is two points ahead of Democrat Staci Appel. Iowa’s first district is scored D+5, and the third is scored even. David Nir, the political director at the liberal site Daily Kos, summarized: “New Iowa House polls from Loras are very depressing for Dems. . . . Thanks, Bruce Braley.”
In the open-seat race in Massachusetts’s sixth district, the last two polls have put Republican former state senator Richard Tisei narrowly ahead of Democrat Seth Moulton. Moulton beat Representative John Tierney in the district’s primary earlier this year. Tisei ran in 2012 and came within one point of beating Tierney. This is the least-Democratic district in the Massachusetts, at D+4. If elected, Tisei would be the first openly gay and married member of the U.S. House of Representatives.
Illinois’s tenth district, comprising the northern suburbs of Chicago, features a rematch between Democratic representative Brad Schneider and the man he beat for the seat in 2010, Republican Bob Dold. Previously Dold was the Republican representing the most heavily Democratic district in Congress, with the district scoring a D+8. The one poll conducted this fall found Schneider up by two. Late last week, the DCCC ordered an additional $318,000 on Chicago cable in advertising to help Schneider.
Illinois’s twelfth district, represented by Democrat Bill Enyart, scores even on the Cook index. A poll conducted last week put Republican challenger Mike Bost ahead by two points. The DCCC committed an additional $485,000 to help Enyart late last week, as well.
Finally, you don’t often see a white Republican win in a majority-minority district, but that’s a distinct possibility in Nevada’s fourth district, where first-term Democrat Steven Horsford is endangered by a particularly sluggish early-vote effort among Democrats. State assemblyman Cresent Hardy is the GOP candidate hoping to keep the vote close or narrowly ahead in Clark County and build up a lead in the district’s more Republican-leaning rural counties.
— Jim Geraghty writes the Campaign Spot on NRO.