WASHINGTON — With less than two months before Election Day, Democrats are the favorites to win control of the U.S. House of Representatives. And, as we wrote on Friday, they have a clear path to take back the U.S. Senate, though they have to run the table (or close to it).
But as we found out in 2016 — or even in a few of the primaries this election cycle — being the favorite doesn’t guarantee victory. So here’s how Republicans could still hang on to Congress in November.
- They disqualify Democratic candidates race by race: On Friday, the Congressional Leadership Fund, the main Republican Super PAC focused on House races, released a polling memo showing that TV ads aimed at Democratic challenger Amy McGrath in KY-6 (like here and here) have lowered McGrath’s fav/unfav numbers from 55 percent/16 percent in June (+39) to 45 percent/34 percent now (+11). (The counterargument: The same CLF memo shows a tight race in this district that Trump won by 16 points in 2016, as did a recent New York Times Upshot/Siena poll.)
- The playing field is (mostly) on GOP turf: While there are more than 20 GOP-held congressional districts that Hillary Clinton won in 2016 — about the same number of net seats Democrats need to pick up to retake the House — the rest of the playing field is on GOP turf. “Republicans have so many safe seats that the Democrats would be expected to gain only 22 seats if they flipped Republican-held districts at a rate equivalent to the waves of 2006 or 2010 (without factoring in the large number of open seats),” the New York Times’ Nate Cohn wrote over the summer. And in the battle for the Senate, only one of the Cook Political Report’s eight toss-up states — Nevada — is a state Clinton won in 2016. (The counterargument: Polling, including our recent NBC/Marist polls of Indiana, Missouri and Tennessee show Democrats are ahead or are running even in these red states.)
- The economy could trump all: Positive attitudes about the economy — the unemployment rate is 3.9 percent, and 201,000 jobs were added in August — could potentially blunt Democratic gains. (The counterargument: The unemployment rate in October 2006, before Dems took back the House and Senate, was 4.4 percent. So the economy isn’t everything in a midterm cycle.)
- The electorate dislikes Nancy Pelosi more than Trump: Pelosi’s fav/unfav in the August NBC/WSJ poll was 20 percent/48 percent (-28), versus 40 percent/50 percent (-10). And asked what would bother them more — a GOP candidate supporting Trump’s policies and a Dem candidate supporting Pelosi’s — 47 percent said the Pelosi-backing candidate versus 45 percent for the Trump-backing candidate. (The counterargument: If Pelosi is the defining figure this midterm season, then how did Conor Lamb win that special election in Pennsylvania earlier this year after all of the anti-Pelosi messaging against him?)
But here are the eight Dem advantages this midterm season
So those are four explanations how the GOP can still come out on top in November. But we can also point to eight advantages that Democrats have this election season – which is why they’re the odds-on favorites:
- History: Midterm elections are typically rough on the party controlling the White House, and the last three midterm cycles (2006, 2010, 2014) have been change elections.
- Trump’s unpopularity: The six times since WWII when a first-term president had a job-approval rating below 50 percent, per Gallup, that president’s party has lost an average of 43.5 House seats. Trump’s current job rating in Gallup? 41 percent.
- The enthusiasm factor: 63 percent of Democratic voters in the August NBC/WSJ poll had a high level of interest in the upcoming midterms, versus 52 percent of GOP voters.
- Geography: Democrats could get close to 20 House pickups from five blue/purple states alone — California, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Virginia.
- The expanded playing field: And it’s just not these five states. The Cook Political Report identifies 66 takeover or competitive GOP-held House seats (three likely Dem, eight lean Dem, 28 toss-up and 27 lean Republican).
- The open GOP House seats: Republicans are defending 42 open or vacant seas — a record since 1930, per David Wasserman. And open seats are historically harder for that party to defend.
- Independents: Most polls show these voters breaking for the Democrats.
- The pox-on-both-their-houses voters: These voters, who were a key swing group in 2016, also have been breaking for the Democrats, per the NBC/WSJ poll.
So eight advantages for the Democrats; four for the Republicans.
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