Three Reasons Democrats Are Unlikely to Retake the House

Image: Nancy Pelosi Holds Weekly Press Conference

WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 06: U.S. House Minority Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) speaks during her weekly news conference February 6, 2014 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Pelosi discussed Democratic agenda with members of the media at the news conference. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images) Alex Wong / Getty Images

Three reasons why Democrats are unlikely to win back the House… 1) The political environment, 2) history, and 3) the map… After speaking to House Dems in Maryland, Obama heads to California travels to California to address the drought there… Watching the UAW unionization campaign in Tennessee… And Romney to appear on “Meet the Press.”


Three reasons why Democrats are unlikely to win back the House: When President Obama addresses House Democrats at their retreat in Cambridge, MD at 10:40 am ET, he can credibly tell them several things. One, enrollment in the health-care law is getting better (3.3 million have signed up as of Feb. 1). Two, Republicans remain divided (see this week’s debt-ceiling vote). And three, the midterm environment for Democrats looks better than it did back in December (there’s no where to go but up after the disastrous health-care rollout). But here’s what Obama can’t credibly tell Democratic members today -- that they’re going to win back the House in November. Yes, Dem leaders are putting on a brave face. "We are going to win back the House, and we are well positioned to do so," House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer told reporters earlier this week. Yes, they have the fundraising edge over Republicans. And, yes, they need to win a net of 17 seats, which seems small by comparison to the 63 House Republicans won back in 2010. But the political environment, history, and the map are all working against Democrats in their effort to win back the House.

  • The political environment: As political observers will tell you, Democrats need a significant lead on the “generic” congressional ballot -- in the double digits -- to make major gains in the House. According to our NBC/WSJ poll, Dems held a 15-point advantage (among registered voters) right before they won the House in 2006; they had a 12-point edge (among likely voters) before they picked up an additional 20 seats in 2008; yet they held just a 2-point advantage (among likelies) when they picked up eight seats in 2012. So where do things stand now? According to our most recent NBC/WSJ poll, Dems have a 2-point advantage among registered voters. Back during the government shutdown, that edge had jumped to 8 points -- but still below double digits.
  • History: Political scientist Alan Abramowitz makes this important point: “[N]o party holding the White House has gained anywhere near 17 seats in a midterm election in the past century.” Yes, the party controlling the White House has sometimes gained seats (see 1934, 1998, and 2002), but all of those gains were in the single digits. Double-digit gains have NEVER happened, let alone a pickup of 17 seats, for the party in the White House
  • The map: Fact is, the playing field for Democrats is relatively small. There are 17 House Republicans who represent congressional seats Obama won in 2012 -- so Democrats would need to win ALL of them to win back control of Congress, or a mixture of them and seats that Mitt Romney narrowly carried. Yes, Dems have pick-up opportunities in some open seats (CA-31, FL-13, IA-3, VA-10). And there are Republican incumbents who will have to play defense (Michael Grimm in NY, Jeff Denham in CA, Scott Rigell in VA). But Democrats have almost no margin of error. And we haven’t even mentioned the pick-up opportunities Republicans have, which exist thanks mostly to retirements in Utah and North Carolina.

Dealing with the drought in California: After Obama addresses House Democrats in Maryland, he then heads to California, where he holds a 6:15 pm ET roundtable discussion with folks affected by the drought there. The Obama administration knows that extreme weather on the West Coast (think of the possible wildfires this summer) could be a major issue throughout the year and one that will dominate the federal government’s time and resources. That’s why they’re trying to send a message that they’re on top of this (or on top of it as much as they can be). Later in the evening, Obama travels to Palm Springs, CA, where he’ll meet with King Abdullah II of Jordan.

Obama’s personal diplomacy: There hasn’t been a lot of attention paid to this weekend’s summit between Obama and King Abdullah. But make no mistake, this is an important relationship that hasn’t been as solid as it could or should be. Perhaps the Jordanian king wishes this American president called more, sought out his advice more -- the two don’t have the close relationship that previous presidents and Jordanian monarchs have had. Of course, with Obama, this isn’t a new story when it comes to some of America’s more traditional Middle Eastern allies. The White House will say that we in the press are overblowing things a bit or that some diplomats feed this stereotype. Regardless, the president is making a more concerted effort to improve his personal relationships overseas, it starts this weekend in California with King Abdullah; it’ll continue in March when he heads to Saudi Arabia. Obviously, at the top of the agenda this weekend is Syria. No country has had been impacted more negatively with the crisis in Syria than Jordan; it’s turned into a major refugee crisis for that tiny country.

Watching that UAW unionization campaign in Tennessee: Today is the final day of the unionization campaign at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, TN, and it has become a hot political issues. Reuters: “If the vote, which ends on Friday evening, favors the UAW, it would galvanize a union that has lost 75 percent of its members since 1979. Both union and anti-union forces spent much of the week promoting their views through newspaper ads, websites and billboards.” One of the anti-union forces is Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), who said that if the unionization effort is voted down, then Volkswagen will announce a new investment in the plant -- while the company has said there is no link. Here’s what’s particularly interesting about this story: Volkswagen isn’t fighting the unionization campaign, in some ways they have even encouraged it, but Republicans and conservatives are against it. And let’s be clear why Republicans are being so aggressive: They fear a new political player in the South -- the United Auto Workers. Because if the UAW succeeds in Tennessee, then it could have a domino effect in the southern auto plant states (think MS, AL and SC). And do remember, these foreign car companies are used to dealing with unions and in Germany, in particular, actually have a good working relationship with labor. They don’t fear it the way some Republicans fear labor. Then again, those auto CEOs aren’t worried about their U.S. political power.

On “Meet” this Sunday: NBC’s David Gregory will interview 2012 GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney on “Meet the Press” this Sunday.