Larry Sabato's University of Virginia crew at Sabato's Crystal Ball moves 17 House races towards the Democratic side this week, including two local competitive GOP seats into the Toss-Up column: Steve Chabot in OH-1 (Cincinnati) and Andy Barr in KY-6 (Lexington/Frankfort), and that's enough for predictions that the Democrats will retake the House this fall.
So what’s changed? Why do we now tilt the House to the Democrats?
Well, part of the reason is simply this: In actuality, not much has changed throughout the cycle. That, in and of itself, is a problem for Republicans.
Election Day is getting closer, and the president’s approval rating is still largely stuck in the low 40s, a big red warning sign that has bedeviled the party of similarly-situated presidents in past midterms. The Housegeneric ballot, which has generally been at around a Democratic lead of between six to eight points, is at the higher end of that range right now. But more importantly for the House battle, for most of this election cycle the generic ballot has shown a consistent Democratic lead that suggests a very competitive battle for the majority. A high number of open seats — the highest number of any postwar election save 1992 — give Democrats many more targets than the GOP (Republicans are defending 41 seats without an incumbent, while Democrats are defending only 22).
Special elections at the state and federal level, sometimes a helpful gauge of what is to come in the midterm, have generally shown Democrats improving on Hillary Clinton’s district-level performance, often drastically. Democrats seem very likely to improve on Clinton’s margin once again in a special election in OH-12 on Aug. 7, the last House special before the midterm, although by how much is a question (an update on OH-12, a race we now call a Toss-up, is included at the bottom of this article).
There are also the specifics of this particular election. The second-quarter (April through June) House fundraising reports came out last week, and the results are alarming for Republicans. It’s not that GOP fundraising, in total, was bad: Many vulnerable incumbents had very solid quarters. Rather, it’s that Democratic fundraising was extraordinary, with dozens of Democratic candidates turning in blockbuster quarters and outraising their GOP opponents. Money isn’t everything, but one expects incumbents to have a clear financial edge on their opponents, and it’s not clear that some current GOP members will have even that with several months of buckraking to go before the Nov. 6 election.
Put it all together, and the Democrats now look like soft favorites to win a House majority with a little more than 100 days to go. The usual caveats apply: There is time for things to change, and the Democrats capturing the majority is not a slam dunk. We recently were discussing the House map with a source who recited reams of positive indicators and data for Democrats. After hearing those, we suggested that, based on what this person was saying, the Democrats should win the House with seats to spare. The source then said it will come down to just a few seats either way. By the way, such a close outcome — a House where the majority party has 220-225 seats or even less (218 is the number required for a bare majority) — remains a distinct possibility, and the presence of so many competitive House seats in California, where the vote count takes weeks to finalize, could delay the final House outcome.
I could have told this six months ago, but they have a point that nothing has gotten any better for the GOP at all. Dems looked like better than even odds to retake the House back in January, and they still look like they will now, the issue is we're in late July instead of late January, and the GOP is running out of time.
As far as those local races go, they are solid toss-ups now in places the GOP has to win, and that means they are in real trouble, especially Steve Chabot.
The sheer weight of the Democratic fundraising advantage is a factor in some of these moves. For instance, Reps. Steve Chabot (R, OH-1) and Mike Bishop (R, MI-8) hold districts that Trump won by about a half-dozen points apiece. They have had relatively easy elections over the past couple of cycles (Chabot has been in the House since 1995, with an interruption in service from 2009-2011, while Bishop was first elected in 2014), but they face two seemingly high-quality Democratic challengers, Hamilton County Clerk of Courts Aftab Pureval (D) and Elissa Slotkin (D), an Obama-era Defense Department official. Pureval raised more than double what Chabot raised last quarter and is approaching the long-time incumbent’s cash-on-hand total, while Slotkin has been crushing Bishop in fundraising so badly that she holds a $2.2 million to $1.7 million cash on hand advantage, an unusual edge for a challenger to hold on an incumbent. Both districts have above-average college graduation rates, often a predictor of Trump skepticism that could have down-ballot repercussions.
Andy Barr is also in dire straits.
Two other Toss-ups come in Appalachia. In the Lexington-based district held by Rep. Andy Barr (R, KY-6), former Marine fighter pilot Amy McGrath (D) turned heads by upsetting Lexington Mayor Jim Gray (D) in a May primary. McGrath’s victory prompted us to hesitate moving this historically competitive district to Toss-up — Gray was more of a proven commodity — but Democrats argue McGrath is leading and Republicans concede this will be a hard race. Across the border in West Virginia, state Sen. Richard Ojeda (D) has become something of a folk hero in Coal Country and is locked in a close race with state Del. Carol Miller (R) in an open seat contest for WV-3.
McGrath and Pureval can win, as can several other Dems in November. Let's keep that in mind and close out the final 100 days strong.