There’s a lot of talk in the mainstream media about a wave election this November in which Democrats claim control of the House of Representatives and perhaps even the Senate.
But a closer look at the electoral board and some recent events provide evidence the Democrats continue to face an uphill and unlikely battle to retake control of either chamber.
Democrats point to victories in statewide elections in Virginia, New Jersey, and Alabama as well as in special elections in Wisconsin and Missouri as evidence they have the momentum and resources to gain the net 24 seats that would be required to retake the House.
There’s also the matter of history – the president’s party loses an average of 32 seats in the first midterm election and, since World War II, 36 if the president’s approval rating is below 50 percent.
In addition, 34 House Republicans have announced their retirement, with perhaps more on the way, and several incumbents who plan to seek re-election have been outraised so far by one or more of their Democratic challengers.
But just when things seemed darkest for Republicans, signs of light have begun to emerge. Between the humiliation of Democrats in the government shutdown, the growing popularity of the tax reform package (26 percent approval to 44 percent in less than a month), President Trump’s well-received State of the Union address and continued good news on the economy, voters appear to be taking a second look at the GOP.
The president’s personal approval ratings – mired in the 30s and low-40s in recent months – is now 42 percent in the Real Clear Politics average and 48 percent in the Rasmussen poll, the only daily tracking poll now operating.
A January Quinnipiac poll found that 66 percent of voters believe the economy is “excellent” or “good,” the highest positive rating since the poll first asked the question in 2001.
Democrats held a 15-point advantage in the congressional generic ballot question in early January; now it is down to 6 points in the Real Clear Politics Average and just 2 points in a recent Monmouth University national poll.
Those 34 districts where Republicans are retiring create some headaches – Jim Geraghty at National Review says four likely will be lost and another four are tossups. But Trump won 25 of them by 10 points or more, and by Geraghty’s count, 15 House Democrats also are retiring, and Republicans could have a shot at four of those districts.
Storm clouds remain on the horizon for Republicans. Democratic voters are uncommonly motivated to pull the lever in this midterm election. And although the party itself is destitute, individual candidates are raising tons of cash in districts where they have a chance to win.
If Republicans want to hold the House, they must continue to chip away at that generic ballot question, which means they must continue to tout the benefits of tax reform and deregulation and remind voters of Nancy Pelosi’s comments about how the tax cuts amount to “crumbs” for American workers and how the tax package was to bring “Armageddon” to the country.
Also, Republicans in Congress should remind voters that even if they don’t like everything President Trump does, his policies remain more to their liking than what the Democrats would offer, and his record of success in defeating ISIS, remaking the judiciary, and tax and regulatory reform make the Republican majority worth preserving.
Democrats appear to be sinking into the ruts that cost them in 2016 – excessive emphasis on identity politics, internecine battles over liberal purity, defining themselves almost solely by their hatred of Trump.
All Republicans have to do is help them continue to self-destruct.
Ford O'Connell (@FordOConnell) is a contributor to the Washington Examiner's Beltway Confidential blog. He is an adjunct professor at The George Washington University Graduate School of Political Management, worked on John McCain's 2008 presidential campaign, and authored the book "Hail Mary: The 10-Step Playbook for Republican Recovery."
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