Dreams of ‘Speaker Pelosi’ Return to Majority Shaken as Democratic Advantage on Generic Ballot Slips

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi speaks during her weekly media briefing at the U.S. Capitol, on November 3, 2011 in Washington, DC. Pelosi spoke about job creation and issues concerning the deficit cutting super committee. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
Mark Wilson/Getty

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has been measuring the drapes in the Speaker’s office since Sen. Doug Jones (D-AL) defeated Republican Roy Moore in the December 12 special Senate election in Alabama.

Now, more than nine months before voters go to the polls, the heavily hyped 2018 “Blue Wave” on which the 77-year-old’s dream of Democratic Party restoration rests may have already reached its crest.

In order to take back the majority, Democrats need to win 218 of the 435 seats of the House in the November 2018 midterm elections.

They currently have 193 seats, and are almost certain to keep the seat in Michigan vacated by the resignation of Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), so that means they need to place a Democrat into 24 of the 238 seats that are currently held by a Republican and the three vacant seats with pending special elections from which Republican members recently resigned–Pat Tiberi (R-OH), Trent Franks (R-AZ), and Tim Murphy (R-PA).

The January 19 Real Clear Politics Average of Polls–comprised of polls conducted before the Democrats first shut down the government and then caved to re-open it three days later– gives Democrats a 7.8 point advantage, 46.9 percent to 39.1 percent in the nationwide Generic Congressional Ballot.

Good news for the Democrats perhaps, but that represents a dramatic drop from the 13 point advantage Democrats held over Republicans in the same Real Clear Politics Average less than a month ago on December 22, 49.1 percent to 36.1 percent. Perhaps even more discouraging for Democrats is this: the January 19, 2018 Generic Congressional Ballot numbers are virtually identical to the same numbers from April 2017, nine months earlier in the Trump administration, when the Real Clear Politics Average of Polls gave Democrats a 6.1 percent advantage in the nationwide Generic Congressional Ballot.

But a nationwide poll of which party’s candidate voters in all 435 Congressional Districts prefer is virtually meaningless when it comes to determining which party will have a majority of the House of Representatives when the 116th Congress convenes in Washington in January 2019, for two reasons:

First, as Breitbart News reported last year, is the inherent gerrymandering advantage Republicans have. Due to control of more state legislatures, which created Republican friendly Congressional Districts after the 2010 Census, Democrats would need a 5 point advantage in a Generic Ballot Poll to win an equal number of seats as Republicans.

“The way district lines are currently drawn benefits Republicans by distributing GOP voters more efficiently than Democratic voters. So, all else being equal, we would probably expect Republicans to win more seats than Trump’s approval rating alone indicates,” Harrey Enten wrote at FiveThirtyEight.com last year.

Second, and perhaps even more importantly, is the concentration of Democratic voters that dominate dozens of Congressional districts in heavily blue areas of the country along the coastal counties that stretch from San Diego to Seattle on the west coast and Northern Virginia to Philadelphia, New York, and Boston on the east coast. Democratic candidates typically run up huge victories in these districts, often with anywhere from 60 percent to 85 percent of the vote.

This is the same concentration of vote problem Democrats faced in the 2016 Presidential election. Even though Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by a 48 percent to 46 percent margin over Donald Trump, she was easily defeated in the electoral college vote by a 306 to 232 margin (before seven faithless electors moved it to a final 304 to 227 margin). Clinton swamped Trump by 3.4 million votes in California, winning 61 percent to 33 percent, but that margin gave her the same 54 electoral college votes that a 51 percent to 49 percent margin would have delivered.

As a consequence, “Of the nation’s 435 U.S. House races this November, just 10 percent are likely to be competitive. The preliminary scoreboard at ScottRasmussen.com shows that six races are pure toss-ups, 11 barely tilt in the GOP direction, and three tilt toward the Democrats. Nineteen seats lean Republican, while six lean Democratic. . . Beyond the 45 competitive races, there is little doubt about the outcome of the other 390 races (90% of the total). This includes 203 races that are likely or strongly Republican and 187 that are likely or strongly Democratic. Most districts are designed to heavily favor one party or the other,” noted pollster and political analyst Scott Rasmussen wrote recently at NewsMax. (Note: The Cook Political Report currently says there are 49 competitive races that are either toss ups or lean in the direction of one party.)

Based on that analysis, Democrats will have to win 31 of these 45 competitive races, more than two-thirds, to reach the majority ensuring 218 seats.

“The preliminary scoreboard at ScottRasmussen.com shows that six races are pure toss-ups, 11 barely tilt in the GOP direction, and three tilt toward the Democrats. Nineteen seats lean Republican, while six lean Democratic,” Rasmussen wrote.

Assuming all the leaners/tilts go as they lean or tilt, and the toss-ups are split evenly between the two parties, 33 of these races would be won by Republicans, and only 12 would be won by Democrats, resulting in the subsequent party line up in the 116th Congress  of 236 Republicans, 199 Democrats, a net gain of only five for the Democrats.

By that math, House Minority Leader Pelosi is unlikely to return to her previous position as Speaker.

Democratic party operatives can read the current House race projections offered by Mr. Rasmussen and the Cook Political Report and are well aware that the only way they can win the House of Representatives is to turn each of these 45 competitive House races into localized referenda on President Trump, focusing all their considerable financial and operating capabilities into 10 percent of the country, while ignoring the other 90 percent.

Billionaire Tom Steyer has formed a SuperPAC and said he will spend $30 million to help Democrats win key House races so then can win a majority and begin impeachment proceedings against President Trump.

Former President Barack Obama is also apparently eager to play a role in the midterm elections Democrats hope will be a “Blue Wave,” as Politico recently reported:

But with the midterms approaching, people close to him say he’ll shift into higher gear: campaigning, focusing his endorsements on down ballot candidates, and headlining fundraisers. He’ll activate his 15,000-member campaign alumni association for causes and candidates he supports — including the 40 who are running for office themselves. He’s already strategizing behind the scenes with Democratic National Committee chair Tom Perez and Eric Holder, who’s chairing his redistricting effort.

Republicans are gearing up for battle in those same 45 competitive House races.

Each of these races are unique, and can turn on specific local issues as well as the national referendum.

At ScottRasmussen.com, Rasmussen currently has a baseline prediction of 231 Republicans, 197 Democrats, and 7 toss ups.

With a heavy Democratic turnout, those numbers could change to 222 Republicans, 213 Democrats, Rasmussen says, a net gain of 19 for Democrats.

But with a heavy Republican turnout, those numbers could change to 242 Republicans, 193 Democrats, a net gain of 1 for Republicans.

Only 7 of these 45 competitive races are currently held by Democrats, while 38 are held by Republicans, giving the Democrats a far more targets of opportunity. (Note: 9 of the 49 races classified as competitive by the Cook Political Report are currently held by Democrats, while 40 are held by Republicans.)

Here are those 45 races, as currently classified by Rasmussen:

Lean D: (D – NJ-05, D – MN-08, R- FL-27, D-FL 07,R-CA 49, D-AZ 01)

Tilt D: (R-VA 10, R-CA-39, D-NV-03, R-AZ-02)

Toss up: R-NJ-02, R-WA 08, D-NH-01, R-NE-02, R-MN-02, R-FL-06, R-CO-06

Tilt R: (R-TX-07, R-TX-23, R-NY-19, R-NY-22, D-MN-01, R-MI-11, R-CA-48, R-CA-25, R-CA-10)

LEAN R: (R-NJ-11, R-PA-06, R-MN-03, R-NJ-07, R-GA-06, R-MI-08, R-KS-03, R-PA-15, R-IA-03, R-CA-24, R-CA-07, R-IL-12, R-IL-06, R-PA-07, R-KY-06, R-PA-08, R-ME-02, R-UT-04, R-CA-45)

Rasmussen argues that the 19 “Lean Republican” races–all currently held by Republicans–are the ones to watch as an indication of a potential “wave” election.

“At ScottRasmussen.com, we’ve identified 19 races that currently lean Republican but could be at risk in a wave election. That means the best way to tell if a wave is coming is to follow these 19 races. If the Democrats do well in these campaigns, they will have a very good chance of winning a Congressional majority. On the other hand, if the GOP can solidify its position in these races, there will be no wave and the Republicans will preserve a narrow majority,” Rasmussen wrote at RealClearPolitics.com:

The 19 wave watch districts are California-45 (Mimi Walters), Georgia-6 (Karen Handel), Illinois-6 (Peter Roskam), Illinois-12 (Michael Bost), Iowa-1 (Rodney Blum), Iowa-3 (David Young), Kansas-2 (Open), Kansas-3 (Open), Kentucky-6 (Garland Barr), Maine-2 (Bruce Poliquin), Minnesota-3 (Erik Paulsen), Michigan-8 (Mike Bishop), New Jersey-7 (Leonard Lance), New Jersey-11, (Rodney Frelinghuysen), Pennsylvania-7 (Patrick Meehan), Pennsylvania-8 (Brian Fitzpatrick), Pennsylvania-15 (Open) and Utah-4 (Mia Love).

Geographically, many of these districts should be friendly to Democratic challengers. Hillary Clinton won seven of the 19 districts and came very close in five more. Additionally, 10 of the 19 are from states Clinton won in her presidential bid. Four others are from Pennsylvania, a state that the president carried by less than a percentage point in 2016.

Nine months in the contemporary political environment is a life time, and we are certain to see events unfold that have the potential to completely change the current dynamics.

But as of January 23, it appears that the much-hyped Democratic “Blue Wave” crested a month ago, and Democratic hopes for a re-energizing of that wave–the recent State Senate victory in Wisconsin where turnout was down 73 percent not withstanding–will depend on two things: unforeseen changes in real world events, and flawless execution of a well financed, 45 Congressional District focused political operation.

The Democrats are certainly capable of executing the latter, but the former is, to a large extent, beyond their control.



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