Perhaps. But with the number of Democratic districts in play, a strong anti-Washington sentiment that isn’t likely to substantially favor either party and some GOP gains in 2010 solidified by decennial redistricting, it’s tough to see the Democrats’ prospects for taking back the House as anything but a long shot.
Democrats are quite likely to make gains and perhaps put themselves in a good position to flip the chamber in 2014. But the setbacks the party has faced this cycle have been significant, including in California, Florida and New York — all states where it hoped to rack up meaningful gains.
In California, GOP recruitment successes and Democratic missteps have lowered expectations for gains, once considered as high as a half-dozen seats. Democrats lost a potential pickup opportunity in the 31st district when two Republicans advanced in the June “jungle” primary, and there is little hope the party can hold the open 21st district after a series of recruitment missteps. In Florida, a court challenge to the GOP-led redistricting fell flat, leaving Democrats with a likely gain of only one to three seats, less than the six they had hoped for. And in New York, a federal judge drew a map that makes for a lot of competitive races that a Democratic gerrymander would have left comfortably in the party’s column.
Democrats also suffered some bad breaks in the South. A new seat in South Carolina fell out of play when the only Democrat with a real shot was arrested. Three seats in Arkansas — those of retiring Rep. Mike Ross (D) and freshman GOP Reps. Rick Crawford and Tim Griffin — all appeared to be potentially competitive earlier in the cycle. Now, it looks as if a Republican will represent all of them come January.
Referring to Griffin’s 2nd district, which is anchored by Little Rock, influential Democratic pollster John Anzalone said it represented “huge missed opportunities” for his party. “The South is just not the place where you’re going to make a lot of gains this cycle,” he said.
“The South, when you lose seats like you did in 2010, it takes many, many more cycles for that to regenerate back to Democratic opportunity,” Anzalone continued. “The pendulum just swings a hell of a lot slower down there, like it’s going through the humidity.”
Of course there will be some significant Democratic victories in November, due in no small part to favorable redistricting in certain states. The DCCC is poised to do quite well in Illinois, where GOP Members such as Reps. Joe Walsh and Robert Dold are probably not coming back to Washington, D.C. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R-Md.) is almost certainly headed for a defeat as well.
But a snapshot of the House landscape right now shows that Democrats are poised for only modest gains.
Top Democrats believe that could change. And there are, indeed, known unknowns that could boost Democrats.
“As late as it is, it’s still early,” Mook said. “A lot of it is going to depend on big-picture factors: the president, the national environment, all those things.”