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In Fight for the House, the Trajectory Is Clear

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call
Rep. Bobby Schilling is one of several Illinois Republicans facing stiff challenges in November.

House races often don’t start getting attention until after Labor Day. But with the presidential contest sucking the air out of the political environment and defining the electoral landscape, House candidates may find they have an even harder time than usual defining themselves and their opponents.

That means the existing trajectory of the fight for the House may be harder and harder to change as Labor Day approaches, creating a growing problem for House Democrats who continue to insist that the House is “in play.”

Democratic strategists need a dramatic shift in the House playing field if they are going to have any chance of netting the 25 seats they need to regain a majority in the House of Representatives. And that outcome looks increasingly remote.

Right now, the outlook for the House is anywhere from a small GOP gain to a modest Democratic gain in the single digits — not close to what Democrats hoped for as the cycle began.

A detailed, race-by-race evaluation of the House suggests that Republicans already have 201 safe seats, with 11 more rated by my newsletter as “Republican Favored,” a barely competitive category. An additional 14 seats are rated as “Lean Republican.”

If Republicans lose every race my newsletter currently rates as “Toss-up/Tilt Republican,” “Toss-up” or “Toss-up/Tilt Democrat,” they would still win 226 seats in the House — eight more than needed for a majority.

Of course, Republicans won’t lose all of those races. They may well win a majority of them.

While redistricting turned out to be close to a wash for the two parties, the combination of Democratic retirements in conservative districts — including those held by Reps. Dan Boren (Okla.), Joe Donnelly (Ind.), Mike Ross (Ark.) and Heath Shuler (N.C.) — and vulnerable Democrats made weaker by redistricting — e.g., Reps. Larry Kissell (N.C.), Mike McIntyre (N.C.), John Barrow (Ga.) and Jim Matheson (Utah) — means the party starts in a deeper hole than its current 193 seat total (sitting Members plus vacancies held by Democrats before the seats became vacant) indicates.

In addition, fewer than expected opportunities in California and Pennsylvania have limited Democratic prospects.

California’s new 21st district was initially expected to see a very competitive race. But instead, weak recruiting has made Republican state Assemblyman David Valadao a heavy favorite. In the state’s 31st district, two Republicans, Rep. Gary Miller and state Sen. Bob Dutton, made the runoff in a district that should favor a Democrat slightly. And in the 26th district, a strong Republican candidate, state Sen. Tony Strickland, may win a seat that initially appeared to give Democrats a slight edge.

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