For liberals hoping to see Democrats retake the House will be sadly disappointed next year, as House Republicans look pretty solid going into 2016. In January, Stuart Rothenberg had this to say about the chances Democrats might take back the lower chamber:
…30 seats is a big number. Since 1950, gains that large have occurred six times during midterm elections, when partisan waves often appear, but only twice in presidential years, in 1964 and 1980. And that’s an important reason why the GOP starts as the clear favorite to retain control of the House in 2016.
According to Roll Call, Democrats do have something going for them that will allow them to at least gain some seats. It’s a presidential year, Hillary is still the prohibitive favorite for the Democratic nomination, and that means higher voter turnout.
This means absolutely nothing if Democrats have no one to run in competitive districts, and right now; there’s about a dozen races where they don’t have anyone to challenge the sitting Republican. Case in point, Illinois and New York would be prime pick-up opportunities for Democrats if they could find a sentient being to put on the ballot:
Places where Democrats are finding it challenging to find top recruits include New York’s Syracuse-based 24th District. Freshman GOP Rep. John Katko won here in the 2014 GOP wave, despite President Barack Obama having carried it by a 16-point margin two years earlier. In a presidential year, the district would have a strong Democratic lean. But Democrats have yet to find a nominee to take on Katko.
Recruitment is also proving problematic in Illinois. GOP Reps. Rodney Davis and Mike Bost both hold seats in districts with an even partisan split, making them prime pick-up opportunities. But Democrats still don’t have top-tier recruits in place there.
Additionally, the New York Times’ Nate Cohn noted after the 2014 midterms that given how the House is set up, it’s not inconceivable to have a solid Republican majority there for the next generation. Rob Simms, executive director of the National Republican Campaign Committee, commented that Democrats might have problems recruiting people to run against Republicans in these deep-blue states because they’re already in power in their respective localities.
“Why would you give that up ... to come to D.C. to be in the minority for what could be several cycles,” said Simms. He has a point, and Democrats are exactly strong at the state-level either.
As for the Senate, it’s more shaky for Republicans. It’s possible that they could retain the majority, but Democrats just needs to focus on the states that Obama has won twice, though the odds that Republicans retain control increase if Sen. Pat Toomey can hold on in Pennsylvania. Yet, the executive director for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, Ward Baker, is promising a fight. They’ve already begun spending to defend their majority in the upper chamber:
“I don’t know what they’re going to do over there [at the DSCC],” he says, “but I can promise you this: I hope they are ready for a fight, because we are going to bring it to them.”
This time around, the initial conditions appear ideal for Democrats: defending just two competitive seats (Nevada and Colorado), strong offensive opportunities in six states that Obama won twice and presidential-level voter turnout, which tends to benefit Democrats.
At the same time, as helpful as the map is for Democrats, it’s not as bountiful as the one Republicans profited from last cycle.
Based on 2012 presidential results, the GOP’s advantage was far greater when comparing its top six pickup opportunities in 2014 (Alaska, Arkansas, Louisiana, Montana, South Dakota and West Virginia, all of which Republicans won) with the top six for Democrats next year (Florida, Illinois, New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin). In the last presidential election, Mitt Romney carried the six top GOP targets in 2014 by an average of 19 points, while Obama in 2012 carried the six top Democratic targets in 2016 by an average of just 6 points, with a 17-point victory in his home state of Illinois a notable outlier.
For Republicans, the aim is clear: Keep Democrats from netting more than three seats next year.