Wednesday Aug. 10, 2016

Yes, the House is in Play

All year, we have been skeptical of a return to the majority for US House Democrats, which remains the case. But there is a dim light flickering at the end of the tunnel. The cratering of support for Donald Trump among white college-educated women and, to some extent, men with college degrees, could hamper GOP efforts in a number of districts. National political trends suggest that the 30-seat gain needed to recapture the House is not beyond reach.

Minimizing Democratic Loses

In order for a majority to materialize, the Democrats must minimize their losses to virtually none. Apart from the near certain loss of Florida's 2nd District—due to an otherwise favorable court-ordered redistricting plan—this seems at least possible. The 2006 election provides a blueprint—when the Democrats gained 30 House seats without relinquishing a single one. Nevertheless, a repeat of this performance is unlikely.

Several districts present a challenge to Democrats in 2016. Open seats in Arizona's 1st, Florida's 18th, and New York's 3rd District, have put them in a defensive posture. Additionally, some rural districts may also be trouble spots, including Minnesota's 8th or Nebraska's 2nd District.

Favorable Redistricting Decisions

Assuming Democrats can limit losses to just two seats, they would have to capture at least 32 GOP-held districts. We stated before (link) that the Democrats are virtually guaranteed to capture three Republican-held seats—Florida's 10th and 13th Districts, as well as Virginia's 4th—owing to favorable redistricting-related court decisions.

Redistricting-Related Pickups

Republicans in Majority Democratic Districts

If the advantage holds in those three districts, Democrats will need 29 more to capture the House. Closing the gap begins with the majority-Democratic districts that the Republicans won in the 2014 landslide. Among them are eight Republican freshmen in districts Hillary Clinton will likely carry in November. Each district features elements increasingly favorable to Democrats, such as a mix of suburban and Latino voters, with an assist from presidential-year turnout levels. Converting each of these to the Democratic column leaves the party 21 seats short of a majority.

District Republican Incumbent
FL-26 Carlos Curbelo
IA-01 Rod Blum
IL-10 Robert Dold
ME-02 Bruce Poliquin
NH-01 Frank Guinta
NV-04 Cresent Hardy
NY-24 John Katko
TX-23 Will Hurd

First-Tier Open Seats

As covered in previous posts, Democrats must exploit the open seats vacated by Republican incumbents in marginal districts.

District Retiring Republican
MN-02 John Kline
NV-03 Joe Heck (Running for US Senate)
NY-22 Richard Hanna
PA-08 Mike Fitzpatrick

The best possibilities exist in Minnesota's 2nd (Twin Cities exurbs) and Pennsylvania's 8th (suburban Philadelphia) District, where the district totals for Obama and Romney were the closest in the country in 2012. A third strong open-seat prospect is Nevada's 3rd District, based in Las Vegas and currently held by Republican US Senate candidate Joe Heck. New York's 22nd District also appears to be highly competitive, as retiring Republican Congressman Richard Hanna recently endorsed Hillary Clinton. The endorsement, combined with Clinton's likely success in the district, could deliver the seat. Democratic victories in at least three of these contests, leaving 18 shy of a majority.

Second-Tier Open Seats

The results from more challenging open-seat contests in these Republican-leaning districts will determine how much momentum is carrying Democrats toward a 30-seat gain. This list is more extensive but less promising in terms of prospective victories. These districts are comprised to a larger extent of white working-class voters, with whom Hillary Clinton has had a hard time connecting.

District Retiring Republican
FL-06 Ron DeSantis
IN-09 Todd Young (Running for US Senate)
MI-01 Dan Benishek
NY-19 Chris Gibson
PA-16 Joe Pitts
VA-05 Robert Hurt
WI-08 Reid Ribble

Should one or two districts in this group change hands, there may be enough repudiation of Donald Trump among suburban voters to propel Democrats to within striking distance of a 30-seat gain.

Vulnerable Republican Incumbents

Here is the pivotal list of districts that will make, break, or come tantalizingly close to fulfilling Democratic aspirations.

District Republican Incumbent Note
AZ-02 Martha McSally The top of the ticket will have a huge impact here. Rep. McSally won the closest House contest in the nation in 2014. She has since solidified her support level, but Trump could undermine it.
CO-06 Mike Coffman Denver exurbs. Rep. Coffman has refused to endorse Trump. Popular State Rep. Morgan Carroll is a formidable challenger in a rapidly changing Arapahoe County-based district.
FL-07 John Mica Marginal Orlando-based district, where the incumbent, Mica, must face a more Democratic constituency after court-ordered redistricting.
IA-03 David Young Another 2014 winner, who owes his success to a Republican wave, rather than aberrational turnout. Polls show he may lose this year.
KS-03 Kevin Yoder An upscale Kansas City-based district, with a staunchly conservative incumbent in one of the most highly-educated districts in the country.
MN-03 Erik Paulsen Highly-educated Twin Cities suburbs. Trump could lose this district by 15 points.
NJ-05 Scott Garrett Upscale New York City suburbs, sprinkled with emerging exurbs.
NY-01 Lee Zeldin This is a 50 – 50 district in Long Island, where Trump is popular at present. Zeldin is another 2014 freshman, who capitalized on an ethical lapse by the former Democratic incumbent.
UT-04 Mia Love The remarkable unpopularity of Trump may produce a shocker. This district was surprisingly close in 2014.
VA-10 Barbara Comstock Rep. Comstock has refused to endorse Trump, but she may not survive in the upscale Virginia suburbs and exurbs, where Trump may have difficulty winning even 45 percent of the vote.

Majority-Minority Districts

Winning most of the above races—a growing possibility—still leaves Democrats a few seats short. As in the presidential election, minority turnout will be a huge indicator of Democratic success. Should Donald Trump's unpopularity among non-white voters persist, leading to an elevated turnout among this cohort, we could see additional Republican losses in majority-minority districts that are currently under the radar. California will serve as a bellwether, as there are several majority non-white districts where this could play out. Also watch the changing voting behavior of young Cuban-Americans in Florida.

District Republican Incumbent Note
CA-10 Jeff Denham More than 27 percent of the Citizen Voting Age Population (CVAP) is Latino.
CA-21 David Valadao President Obama carried this district in both 2008 (52.5 percent) and 2012 (55.7%), expanding on his vote share.
CA-25 Steve Knight The Hispanic share of the CVAP in the 25th district has grew by 3.5 percent from 2010 to 2014, and has continued to grow.
CA-39 Ed Royce Overall, the non-white share of the CVAP of this district is over 60 percent, with a growing population of Asian Americans.
FL-27 Ileana Ros-Lehtinen The Cuban vote is paramount here.

Other potential Republican districts in play:

District Republican Incumbent Note
CA-49 Darrell Issa Substantial Asian American population and highly educated white voters signal trouble for Issa. A top Democratic recruit, retired Marine Douglas Applegate also looms.
CO-03 Scott Tipton More than 25 percent of the CVAP is non-white voters, including a significant population of Latino voters (18%). Hillary Clinton should be competitive in this district.
MI-07 Tim Walberg Obama carried this district in 2008, and received more than 48 percent in 2012. Gretchen Driskell is a solid candidate with decent fundraising, running against an incumbent that is too conservative for the district.
MI-11 Dave Trott Prototype anti-Trump district. An upscale, highly educated population. Obama carried the district in 2008, and the Democratic House candidate received more than 46 percent in 2012.
NY-02 Peter King DuWayne Gregory is a strong candidate. On paper this district should be competitive, 4,000 more registered Democrats than Republicans and women typically account for 55 percent of the vote.
NY-23 Tom Reed John Plumb is a strong candidate.

Retaking the House remains a difficult task. If any significant reversal of fortune emerges for the Trump campaign, the likelihood of a 12 to 15 seat pickup will return. With less than 100 days until Election Day, the possibility of a Democratic wave is growing.

Update Aug. 12, 2016: We previously listed WA-08 in our list of vulnerable Republican incumbents, but given former Democratic candidate, Tony Ventrilla's decision to cease campaigning, we have removed the district from consideration.