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It’s Time to Take Democrats’ Possibilities within the House Seriously


There have been greater than a couple of Democrats who were a little bit miffed about my Friday newsletter on gerrymandering, which argued that Democrats aren’t at a very significant structural drawback within the race for the House.

I understand why Democrats don’t love reading that the obstacles they face — especially unjust ones — aren’t so bad. But underneath what some might read as a dismissal of the seriousness of gerrymandering is a kernel of fine news for Democratic readers: Republican control of the House will not be a foregone conclusion.

No, I’m not saying Democrats are favored. The likeliest scenario continues to be that Republicans will find the five seats they should take control. And nobody must be surprised if Republicans flip loads greater than that — especially with early signs that the political winds could also be beginning to shift in ways which may yield some Republican gains in key races (more on this tomorrow).

But the concept Democrats can hold the House will not be as ridiculous, implausible or far-fetched because it seemed before the Dobbs ruling overturned Roe v. Wade. It’s an actual possibility — not some abstraction within the sense that anything can occur.

The truth is, not much would want to occur in any respect.

If the polls are “right” and Election Day were today, the fight for the House can be very close. It could be a district-by-district battle for control, one during which the race might come all the way down to the strengths and weaknesses of individual candidates and campaigns. With a couple of lucky breaks, Democrats could come out ahead.

With the primaries over, each parties are shifting their focus to the final election on Nov. 8.

Those are two huge “ifs,” in fact. But with five weeks to go until the election, those “ifs” aren’t exactly a very good enough reason to justify writing off the race for the House.

How could this be? It’s more straightforward than you would possibly think. Democrats hold a narrow lead on the generic congressional ballot, a poll query asking whether voters would favor Democrats or Republicans for Congress. If Republicans don’t have a sturdy structural advantage, as I wrote last Friday, then why wouldn’t the Democrats at the very least be competitive within the race for Congress? On paper, the Democratic drawback is fairly comparable to their drawback within the Senate — which most everyone agrees Democrats have an honest probability to carry this cycle.

In fact, the explanation we expect Democrats might overcome their obstacles within the Senate is because we have now dozens of polls in critical Senate races. Due to those polls, we all know Democrats lead in Pennsylvania and Arizona, which we may need assumed were tossups otherwise. In contrast, we have now no idea whether Democrats are leading in equivalent races for the House: There are almost no nonpartisan House polls in any respect, and so they’re opened up across many more races.

But when Democrats can do what they look like doing within the Senate, there’s no reason to assume they couldn’t already be doing something similar within the House. If we had as many House polls as we do within the Senate, perhaps Democrats would look like ahead within the race for the House as well.

On this point, it’s value pausing on the choice by House Republicans to drag adds in Ohio’s Ninth District. This district voted for former President Donald J. Trump by three percentage points in 2020; it was redrawn to defeat the longtime Democratic incumbent, Marcy Kaptur. But Republicans nominated J.R. Majewski, a stop-the-steal candidate who misrepresented his military service for good measure. The Republicans canceled nearly $1 million in scheduled advertisements.

Mr. Majewski might win ultimately, but this is precisely the kind of story we see playing out within the Senate — weak Republican candidates failing to capitalize on their underlying benefits, with well-funded Democratic incumbents positioned to pounce. The district is now characterised as “lean Democratic” by the Cook Political Report.

I asked my friend Dave Wasserman, House editor of the Cook Political Report, whether he thought Democrats would seem to steer within the race for the House today if there have been robust polling averages in every district, as there are within the Senate. He said they’d, with Democrats leading the polls “in possibly 220 to 225 seats,” greater than the 218 needed for a majority.

The fragmentary nonpartisan House polling we do have is intriguing. These polls don’t say much about any particular district (except for Alaska’s At-Large, one other race where the Republicans could also be forfeiting what little stays of their structural advantage). But on average, Democrats are running a net 3.9 points behind President Biden — a number that’s essentially consistent with a tied national vote (Mr. Biden won by 4.5 points in 2020) — across the 29 districts where there have been polls since Aug. 1.

Ultimately, most analysts — including me and Mr. Wasserman — still think Republicans are favored to win the House. On this national environment, it could be no surprise if the polls trended toward the Republicans over the subsequent few weeks. In the event that they don’t, we’ll be nervous that the polls are about to be off yet again. That’s not simply because the polls have underestimated Republicans in recent cycles, but additionally since the long history of out-party success in midterm elections weighs heavily on our pondering.

But until or unless the polls shift more clearly within the G.O.P.’s favor, there’s no reason to dismiss the prospect of a Democratic House. Not anymore.

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