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Saturday, October 22, 2016

Sept. 28 (Bloomberg View) — There is a forgotten contest in this year’s U.S. midterm elections. Actually, there are 435 of them: the races for seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.

In most midterms, House elections are the barometer that measures the state of public opinion and offer a possible roadmap to the political landscape. This year, the focus is on control of the Senate and a few big gubernatorial races.

Thanks to shifting population patterns and redistricting, the Republicans start with an advantage. In 2012, Democrats received in excess of a million more votes for House candidates, but Republicans won more seats, 234 to 201. This year, only 10 percent of the districts are in play, and the incumbent-friendly campaign-financing system means that less than 5 percent of challengers will win.

Nevertheless, though they lack the dramatic narrative of the battle for the Senate majority or for the governors’ mansions in Florida or Michigan, the House elections matter, both in terms of the overall outcome and in some interesting particulars.

There are competitive House races from New Hampshire to Iowa to Arizona, but many of the closest ones are in the Democratic strongholds — California, New York and Illinois. The good news for Republicans is that a majority of these are held by Democrats, who are fighting to retain them. A bipartisan redistricting commission in California has successfully created more competitive districts.

As a result, almost no one expects the Democrats to reduce the current Republican majority, and Republican optimists see their party adding as many as 20 seats.

“It will be a victory for Democrats if they hold their losses under five,” says David Wasserman, the House expert for the Cook Political Report.

If the Democrats minimize their House losses and keep the Senate, it may make Republicans a little less confrontational, and give the House minority a shot at taking over in 2016, a presidential year. That is, if the Democrats field stronger candidates in places such as the Philadelphia suburbs or a central Wisconsin district, where state senator Glenn Grothman, the Republican candidate and probable successor of the moderate Representative Tom Petri, is described by Wasserman as “Wisconsin’s answer to Michele Bachmann.”

Conversely, Republicans will be emboldened if the party scores big gains, and it will be harder for Democrats to recruit candidates if a majority seems out of reach.

Even if the overall results aren’t a harbinger, a few individual races may offer clues. One of the most telling will be the expensive contest in the Denver suburbs — which are the battleground to winning Colorado statewide — between incumbent Republican Mike Coffman and an aggressive Democratic challenger, Andrew Romanoff.

And a handful of newcomers will be big-time political players if they win. On the Republican side, there is Barbara Comstock, a conservative activist and top congressional staffer who is running in a northern Virginia district. In upstate New York, there is Elise Sefanik, a former domestic policy advisor in the George W. Bush White House and a favorite of the Karl Rove contingent. A potential Democratic star is Gwen Graham, the daughter of former Florida governor and U.S. senator Bob Graham, who is running in that state’s panhandle.

Congress may be more unpopular than toxic dumpsites but even some of the most controversial candidates may escape a throw-the-bums-out mindset. For example, Republican Representative Michael Grimm, who represents New York’s Staten Island and is under indictment, may win re-election. As could Florida Democrat Joe Garcia, whose 2010 campaign is being investigated by federal prosecutors for voter fraud.

Then there’s Tennessee’s Scott DesJarlais, a physician who won office in 2010 as a social conservative. Court documents in his 2001 divorce proceedings that came to light last year revealed that he supported his wife’s decision to get two abortions before they were married and had sexual relationships with at least two patients, three co-workers and a drug representative . He won a primary this year and is expected to cruise to re-election Nov. 4.

Such candidates recall the insight of Louisiana’s scandal-prone former governor Edwin Edwards, who once said that the only way he would lose an election was if he was “caught in bed with a dead girl or live boy.”

Photo: Diliff via Wikimedia Commons

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  • Dominick Vila

    The fact that we find comfort in knowing that races in states like New York and California are competitive says it all.

    • NYS has never been competitive. Far too many liberals in NY City. Most of NY would like to see NYC separated from the state.

  • Dominick Vila

    Message to the NM Editors: There is something wrong with the article about the ISIS threat. I keep getting a 404 error whenever I try to open that page.

  • howa4x

    A republican takeover will actually benefit the democrats in the long run. groups like women, LGBT, Latinos the young and minorities will all have programs curtailed and rights taken away. It may also get the Democrats to stop acting like republicans and support a liberal agenda. The republican have been on the sidelines and if they get a majority in the senate they will have to pass legislation on a wide range of issues. they will also have to keep all the promises they made to wealthy donors and tea party activists, privatize security,turn Medicare into a voucher program. Voter suppression will be high on the agenda also. expect a full scale war in the Middle east. Expect an assault on women’s reproductive rights. they will anger so many people that no group will sit on the sidelines again and the republicans will assure a Hillary victory and a wipe out in congress

    • TZToronto

      You may be right about what Republicans will try to push through. However, we assume, probably correctly, that none of the ultra-far-right agenda will make it past President Obama’s desk. They can try to put the Social Security system into the hands of Wall Street, they may try to ban abortion and contraception, and they may vote to start a war, but there is zero chance that President Obama will sign any of this garbage. And even if they try to impeach President Obama, they’ll never be able to get the votes in the Senate to convict him. . . . Expect, however, that whenever there’s a Democrat in the White House and a GOP majority in the House, there’s going to be an impeachment of the President.

  • It would be good for people to take this article w/a grain of salt. The trouble is, this is history, true enuff, but the real crisis is a citizenry that can’t recognize vital info from propaganda. We need to talk about the past in the context of a dysfunctional, arbitrary & racist Congress, determined to HARM the American people, all to get back at them for electing a Black man to the Presidency. If we fail to put this in context, if we AGAIN fail to encourage folks we are related to & know, to show up to vote THIS MIDTERM, we are simply creating our own suffering & have nothing to complain about. With a Congress making nearly $200,000 per year & not even having the decency to EARN IT, talking about rejecting jobs bills b/c they will COST TOO MUCH, the choice is clear, that not ONE SINGLE REPUBLICAN should be returned to Congress this election – if only for the reason given here – not to mention the sabotaging of now, 5 CONSECUTIVE years of a Presidential administration, on the basis of profiling & RACE!!!

  • Whatmeworry

    The good news is the Republicans will increase their majority in the House as well as taking over the senate

  • charles king

    If you are not a billionare you have no choice but to VOTE Democract. Why? you say, well, If you want to get your Democracy back, What? other do you have. MONIES and the GOP think they can run the show without the (99%) Democracts that I think wii be their biggest mistake,because of the many Republicans Who? are not wealth enough to go all the way. The Vote is still Supreme and the GOP in Congress and the Senate has NOT committed Their selves to doing a good job. I know I am voting to gain Our Democracy back. Greedy Capitalistic Pigs, Plutocracts (commissioniers Who? think they have the last word, MONIES for our Representers
    Republicans and Democracts Do-nothingiers Who? are taking the tax-payers for a ride, it is up the People to put our country back on the right track and it looks like Obama and his Admin is doing the job so Democracts get to the polls in NOV. and put America back on top. Thank You are the magic words in my book. I Love Ya All. Mr. C. E. KING. P. S. The VOTE is still Supreme so VOTE the do-nothingiers OUT, OUT, OUT… U know they ARE………