After three successive cycles of wipe-out elections in the House, party operatives are attempting to anticipate whether November will bring a tidal wave, a swell or simply a small splash.
Today, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel (N.Y.) announced an enormous field of 57 races the party wants to target this year via the Red to Blue program. The long list suggests just how unpredictable House races — and calculating control of the chamber — have become in recent cycles.
Democrats overshot the 25 seats they need to win control of the House with their list, but operatives on both sides believe it’s too early to tell which way the wave will roll or whether it could even crest.
“It’s premature for anybody to say this is or is not going to be a wave election,” said Glen Bolger, a top GOP pollster. “The outlook is cloudy, as the Magic 8 Ball would say.”
“It’s hard to tell how this cycle is going to shape up just yet, but usually you start to get a sense by the summer of where things are going to fall,” added Jon Vogel, the DCCC’s executive director last cycle. “But given the history, there’s no reason to think you couldn’t have another significant swing this cycle.”
Republicans are bullish that they will keep the House, especially given the advantage they had in redistricting this cycle. The GOP controlled the mapmaking in several key states and has effectively used the power of the pen to move formerly competitive seats off the table.
“Democrats will have a hard time hoping for a wave after inflicting massive unemployment in pursuit of a flawed agenda that Americans have already rejected,” National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Paul Lindsay said.
But Israel boasted that the House is in play, even though some Democrats privately confess they don’t think the Speaker’s gavel is within their party’s reach. Fewer than 24 Republicans represent Democratic-leaning seats — a number that dwindles every time a new GOP-drawn Congressional map is passed.
In the past, parties generally haven’t been aware of their electoral fate one year out from the elections, but there have been signs.
By late 2005, Hurricane Katrina and bad news from the war in Iraq portended trouble for the House GOP in the 2006 midterms. The same went for late 2007, when President George W. Bush’s approval ratings were stuck in the low 30s — a foreboding sign for the GOP’s 2008 races.
But 2010 was different. The messy sausage-making behind passing the president’s health care bill put Democrats on defense. But House Republicans lost a key special election for the late Rep. John Murtha’s (D-Pa.) seat in May that quickly depleted morale.