Published with permission from AlterNet.
Donald Trump’s turbulent campaign is now prompting Washington insiders to suggest what was once unthinkable: there’s a remote chance Democrats could retake the House.
That was the takeaway from the Washington Post’s Daily Trail page, where, after listing caveats and disclaimers, they took the latest Cook Political Report assessment of 2016 House races and extrapolated what it would take for Democrats to reach the magic number of holding 218 seats after November.
The catalyst in all this is Trump’s continuing tumble in the polls in key presidential battleground states like Florida, which he needs to win but where he is now down by 9 points, according to a new Monmouth University poll. The thinking is that if Trump doesn’t do much better than getting something in the low 40s, percent wise, then down-ballot races—including for Congress—similarly would suffer because a great many voters cast single-party ballots.
Now, before looking at their numbers, it’s essential to remember that Republicans used their gains in the 2010 election—where a major GOP wave broke in Congress and state capitals—to redraw electoral districts to lock in GOP seats after the once-a-decade U.S. Census. That tactic, called gerrymandering, is why Democrats can win the popular vote nationwide when all House races are combined, but cannot retake its political majority.
But the political storm that is the Trump campaign may even be on the threshold of threatening that deliberate partisan sorting, says the Post, quoting a tweet from one GOP-affiliated pollster, Robert Blizzard: “So, if Trump’s <45% in November in a CD, that spells trouble for any GOP’er. Especially if they have failed to define their opponent.”
From there, WaPo’s analysts went to the non-partisan Cook Report’s latest House assessment. Even though the GOP now has the largest majority since World War II, the Democrats still need to gain 30 seats to oust Paul Ryan as speaker. There are 13 races that Cook said are likely or leaning Democratic victories, where Democrats could pick up six seats. These seats where Republican prospects are not looking good are in Florida, Virginia, Iowa, Minnesota and Nevada.
Then there are three open House seats in the “toss-up” department, meaning it’s close and the Democrat could win (in Arizona, Florida and New York). And there 16 seats in the same toss-up department that are held by Republican incumbents or are open. (Four are in New York; the rest are in California, Colorado, Florida, Florida, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Nevada, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Texas, Utah and Wisconsin.)
What’s notable about this list of toss-up races is that most of these are presidential swing states, where there will be tons of advertising and candidate visits. And then there is New York, home to both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump and where both candidates are well known.
Needless to say, the cosmos has to be perfectly aligned for Democrats to emerge with winning almost all of these—to net 30 seats compared to the current Congress. Is that anything more than a pundit fantasy? It’s hard to say, because 2016 has been a political year where the most unexpected things have happened, i.e. Bernie Sanders’ revolutionary Democratic rise and Trump’s hostile Republican Party takeover.
The Post said the Democrats running in some of these too-close-to-call districts are not exactly rock stars and cannot afford setbacks—which always seem to happen in campaigns. They lack campaign cash for more messaging, among the Post’s other disclaimers. But they conclude, “Still, if it’s a wave election for Clinton, it might not matter who the candidate is or how much money they have. Bottom line—and I can’t believe I’m writing this—the House majority is something to keep an eye on.”
Steven Rosenfeld covers national political issues for AlterNet, including America’s retirement crisis, democracy and voting rights, and campaigns and elections. He is the author of “Count My Vote: A Citizen’s Guide to Voting” (AlterNet Books, 2008).