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Why the House Results Matter

Why the House Results Matter

By Adam O'Neal - November 5, 2014

Republicans added at least 12 seats to their House majority Tuesday. If they win just a few of the 17 remaining undecided races, they’ll hold a greater advantage in the lower chamber than at any time since 1932.

The GOP’s success exceeded most predictions; even the most bullish prognosticators estimated that the party would pick up a maximum of a dozen seats. And these gains are significant for several reasons. Here are three:

The House Republican Majority Seems Set Beyond the Next Two Years

It’s tempting for Democrats searching for a silver lining to dismiss GOP gains in the House as a minor fluctuation that won’t shape the final two years of Barack Obama’s presidency. And while it’s true that the Republicans’ takeover of the Senate will change Capitol Hill much more significantly, their padded House majority could come in handy in the coming election cycles.

Structural advantages, from geography to gerrymandering, already make Republicans the consistent favorites to hold the House for the rest of this decade. But any future Democratic wave, similar to what Republicans experienced in 2010, could threaten GOP House dominance. Tuesday’s results now give Republicans a bigger cushion to absorb such gains.

Taming Conservative Opposition

“We are humbled by the responsibility the American people have placed with us, but this is not a time for celebration,” House Speaker John Boehner said in a statement. “It’s time for government to start getting results and implementing solutions to the challenges facing our country, starting with our still-struggling economy.”

President Obama will talk Wednesday about his party’s losses, with most of the speculation being that he will strike a tone of compromise, at least rhetorically, while pledging -- as he has in the past -- to work with Republicans who are interested in meeting him halfway.

Already, a split has begun to emerge among congressional Republicans about what to do with their enhanced bargaining power. Should they compromise with Obama to pass legislation on such issues as immigration and tax policy in order to advance their agenda partway, while also proving they know how to govern and thus positioning themselves for the 2016 elections? Or should they dig in even deeper, continuing to block the president’s agenda, denying him any victories in the final two years of his tenure -- or even try to roll back previous administration gains, notably the Affordable Care Act?

If Republican leadership opts to work with the president, conservative lawmakers will almost certainly defect on some major votes. The expanded House majority, however, gives Boehner -- who has in the past experienced difficulty corralling his caucus -- room to maneuver. With a stronger House majority, he won’t have to rely heavily on Democratic votes for legislation acceptable to congressional Republicans and Obama. The silver lining in Tuesday night’s results is that Boehner might have more control over his members.

More and Better Surrogates

Republicans leaders have acknowledged that to win national elections they must improve their party’s standing with minority, female, and young voters. Shifting their rhetoric and offering policy initiatives that are popular with those voters is one component of that outreach. But another is having effective messengers who are not all aging white males. Several promising party advocates were elected to the House on Tuesday, new faces who can potentially pitch the GOP’s brand and ideology to broader audiences.

Elise Stefanik, who won handily in New York’s 21st Congressional District, is one example. When she takes the oath of office in January, Stefanik will become the youngest congresswoman in U.S. history. “We need new, fresh candidates,” the 30-year-old Republican said before her win. “We need candidates who are able to reach out to young voters, women voters. I don't look like a normal congressional candidate.”

In San Diego, 40-year-old candidate Carl DeMaio is narrowly leading in his race in California’s 52nd District. DeMaio would be only current openly gay member among House Republicans.
Mia Love, a 38-year-old Haitian-American -- and a Mormon -- won Utah’s 4th District. Love gave a well-received speech at the 2012 Republican National Convention, and GOP leaders couldn’t wait to have her speaking more. Their hopes were delayed for two years, but now they will get their wish.

Love will be joined in the 114th Congress by former CIA agent Will Hurd, an African-American Republican who narrowly won Texas’ heavily Hispanic southernmost congressional district. Hurd prevailed over Pete Gallego, a moderate Democrat with bipartisan impulses and considered a rising star in Texas politics. But Hurd doesn’t march lock-step with his party, either.

He has championed a “multifaceted” overhaul of the nation’s approach to border security, and speaks with temperance about immigration policy. “I think that if you graduated from an American high school and get accepted into an American university,” he said, “or if you want to go into the military, there should be a way for you to gain legal residency.”

He sounds like a Dreamer.

Adam O'Neal is a political reporter for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at aoneal@realclearpolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter @RealClearAdam.

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