There were more than a few Democrats who were a little miffed at my Friday bulletin on election rigging, which argued that Democrats aren’t at a terribly significant structural disadvantage in the House race.
I understand why Democrats don’t like to read that the obstacles they face, especially the unfair ones, aren’t that bad. But beneath what some might read as a dismissal of the seriousness of election rigging lies a kernel of good news for Democratic readers: Republican control of the House is not a foregone conclusion.
No, I’m not saying that the Democrats are favored. The most likely scenario remains that Republicans find the five seats they need to take control. And no one should be surprised if Republicans flip much more than that, especially with early signs that the political winds may be beginning to shift in ways that could deliver some GOP gains in key races (more on that tomorrow).
But the idea that Democrats can keep the House is not as ridiculous, far-fetched or far-fetched as it seemed before the Dobbs ruling overturned Roe v. Calf. It is a real possibility, not an abstraction in the sense that anything can happen.
In fact, it wouldn’t have to happen much at all.
If the polls are “correct” and Election Day were today, the race for the House would be very close. It would be a district-by-district battle for control, one in which the race could come down to the strengths and weaknesses of individual candidates and campaigns. With a few lucky breaks, the Democrats might pull through.
The State of the 2022 Midterms
With the primaries over, both parties are shifting their focus to the November 8 general election.
Those are two big “ifs”, of course. But with the election five weeks away, those “ifs” aren’t exactly a good reason to justify canceling the House race.
How could this be? It’s simpler than you think. Democrats keep a narrow lead on the generic congressional ballot, a poll question asking whether voters would prefer Democrats or Republicans for Congress. If the Republicans don’t have a solid structural advantage, as I wrote last Friday, why wouldn’t the Democrats at least be competitive in the race for Congress? On paper, the Democratic handicap is fairly comparable to their Senate handicap, in which most agree Democrats have a decent chance of sustaining this cycle.
Of course, the reason we think Democrats could overcome their hurdles in the Senate is because we have dozens of polls in critical Senate races. Thanks to those polls, we know that Democrats are leading in Pennsylvania and Arizona, which we would have otherwise assumed were no good. In contrast, we have no idea if Democrats are leading equivalent House races: There are almost no nonpartisan House polls and they are spread out over many more races.
But if Democrats can do what they appear to be doing in the Senate, there’s no reason to assume they couldn’t already be doing something similar in the House. If we had as many polls in the House as we have in the Senate, perhaps the Democrats would also appear to be ahead in the House race.
At this point, it’s worth pausing on House Republicans’ decision to pull ads in Ohio’s 9th district. This district voted for former President Donald J. Trump by three percentage points in 2020; he was redrawn to defeat longtime Democratic incumbent Marcy Kaptur. But the Republicans nominated JR Majewski, a staunch candidate who distorted his military service for good measure. the Republicans cancelled nearly $1 million in scheduled ads.
Majewski may win in the end, but this is exactly the kind of story we see in the Senate: weak Republican candidates failing to capitalize on their underlying advantages, with well-funded Democratic incumbents positioned to attack. the district is now characterized as “lean Democrat” by Cook’s political report.
I asked my friend david wasserman, House editor of the Cook Political Report, if he thought Democrats would appear to lead the House race today if there were strong polling averages in all districts, as there are in the Senate. He said they would, with Democrats leading in the polls “by maybe 220 to 225 seats,” more than the 218 needed for a majority.
The nonpartisan fragmentary polls we have are intriguing. These polls don’t say much about any particular district (with the exception of Alaska’s At-Large, another race Republicans may be in). lose what little remains of its structural advantage). But, on average, Democrats are a net 3.9 points behind President Biden, a number that is essentially consistent with a tied national vote (Mr. Biden won by 4.5 points in 2020), in the 29 districts where they run. they have held polls since August 1. .
In the end, most analysts, including myself and Mr. Wasserman, still think the Republicans are the favorites to win the House. In this national environment, it would not be a surprise if the polls trended in favor of the Republicans in the coming weeks. If they don’t, we’ll be nervous that the polls are about to close again. That’s not just because polls have underestimated Republicans in recent cycles, but also because outside parties’ long history of success in midterms weighs heavily on our thinking.
But until the polls shift more clearly in favor of the Republican Party, or unless they do, there is no reason to rule out the prospect of a Democratic House. Not anymore.