The most skilled cartographer in the world would struggle mightily right now to map out any path for Democrats to take back the House when voters go to the polls in November.
Currently, the most likely outcome appears to be Democrats picking up a single-digit net gain of seats, far from the 25 they need to retrieve the Speaker’s gavel.
“It’s going to be a modest trading session,” GOP pollster Glen Bolger said. “Republicans will pick up some Democratic seats, Democrats will pick up some Republican seats, but even with all the twists and turns, I don’t know that there’s going to be a huge shift.”
But Democrats contend that there remains the potential for a fourth consecutive wave election. “Absolutely the House is in play,” said Robby Mook, executive director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. “We’re going to pick up a large number of seats.”
However, Roll Call’s House race ratings — view our ratings chart and ratings map (PDF) — find that the Democrats’ road to net more than a single-digit gain is a steep incline.
Of the 435 House seats on the ballot, 156 are projected safe for the Democrats, compared with a projection of 195 safe seats for the Republicans. Six Republican-held seats either lean Democratic or are likely Democratic pickups. But four Democratic-held seats either lean Republican or are likely Republican pickups. That would appear to give Democrats a net gain of two.
Include new seats added through redistricting on both sides of the aisle — four Democratic, one Republican — and that probably boosts the Democrats’ net gain to six. (See Roll Call's redistricting scorecard.)
There are 25 seats Roll Call categorizes as Tossup races. Excluding the Member-vs.-Member race in Ohio between Reps. Jim Renacci (R) and Betty Sutton (D) and a new seat in Arizona, there are 10 Democratic and 13 Republican tossups. If each category is split evenly, Democrats net about two seats.
That would lead to a net grand total of eight seats for Democrats — a long way from 25.
Still, given that there are 19 seats that lean Republican, while only 13 that lean Democratic, national Democrats see the potential for their map of real pickup opportunities to expand considerably as Election Day approaches.
Rep. Greg Walden (Ore.), deputy chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, said that as the map stands now, he sees November’s range falling between Democrats netting five seats and Republicans netting five seats.
Mook disagreed with that assessment. “I think they are being a little bit delusional about the strength of their own incumbents and thinking that our incumbents are weak,” he said.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., carries a musket on stage as he speaks during the American Conservative Union's Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Md., on Thursday March 6, 2014.