At the beginning of this week, Democrats enjoyed an 8-point lead on the generic ballot for the US House of Representatives. After a week of Donald Trump meltdown, both parties are increasingly convinced that the House of Representatives is in play.
A Democratic takeover of that body, which has been in Republican hands since the Tea Party wave of 2010, is a very tall order for several reasons, chiefly the deeply-gerrymandered red districts that Republican legislatures carved out in 2011. But the possibility appears more realistic all the time, and there is an increasing amount of anecdotal evidence that a Democratic wave is building.
Yesterday Larry Sabato, a recognized dean of political prognostication, officially moved four races to the left.
That brings the overall House tally to 226 Safe/Likely/Leaning Republican seats, 193 Safe/Likely/Leaning Democratic seats, and 16 Toss-ups (14 of which are held by Republicans). The House is currently 247-188 Republican, so if one splits the Toss-ups eight apiece, the House would be 234-201 Republican, giving Democrats a net gain of 13 seats (and matching the makeup of the House following the 2012 election).
That squares with our current projection: a 10-15 seat Democratic gain, which even at the high end would still be just half of the 30 seats the Democrats need to win the House.
If the differential in the generic poll reaches ten percent, however, a Democratic takeover becomes a much more realistic scenario — and as we’ve seen this week, there is no bottom to the party’s nominee.
Predictably, the situation is sparking revolt in party ranks. Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus is reportedly ready to give up on Trump and focus on supporting down-ballot candidates at his expense. According to Politico, more than seventy experienced Republican campaign staffers have sent Priebus an open letter asking him to cut Trump off and shift the party’s strategic priorities — even if it benefits Clinton.
“We believe that Donald Trump’s divisiveness, recklessness, incompetence, and record-breaking unpopularity risk turning this election into a Democratic landslide, and only the immediate shift of all available RNC resources to vulnerable Senate and House races will prevent the GOP from drowning with a Trump-emblazoned anchor around its neck.”
[…] With the party seeing record numbers of ticket-splitting voters in its internal and public polls, the GOP is facing a decision about whether to prioritize outreach to those voters who would never vote for Trump but remain open to supporting its Senate and House candidates. The end result could be the party expending resources to turn out voters who will vote for Hillary Clinton but also back Republican Senate incumbents like Marco Rubio in Florida or Rob Portman in Ohio.
Yet there are a few reasons to think this might be all for naught, and that ditching ‘Loser Donald’ will not save them.
First, Republicans face a difficult electoral dilemma: they will need Trump voters to win, but also have to distance themselves from his candidacy in order to win non-ideological general election voters who definitely won’t vote for Trump.
Second, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan has endorsed Trump, and his constant disavowals of Trump’s words merely serve to cement the association. Voters who mentally connect their distaste for Trump with the larger Republican Party will probably not be winnable in November.
Lastly, the issue might not be Trump as much as Barack Obama, who seems all the more presidential as long as the reality show star continues to offend. House Republicans appear to be declining in popularity as an inverse to his approval numbers rising, which suggests that Obama could potentially swing a lot of House races if he makes a concerted effort.
One data point to support that analysis is Georgia, a red state trending blue where Obama is surprisingly popular right now — and Clinton is actually ahead in the polls. If Democrats can pick up House seats as a result, the Republican Party is in serious trouble.
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