Five Reasons Republicans Can Hold the House

Five Reasons Republicans Can Hold the House
AP Photo/J. David Ake
Five Reasons Republicans Can Hold the House
AP Photo/J. David Ake
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Despite conventional wisdom, there is a path for Republicans to hold their majority in the House. Democrats need a net pickup of 23 seats to gain control of the chamber and most election watchers are predicting that will happen. Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight is giving Democrats an 84.3 percent chance of taking over. The Cook Political Report thinks the Democrats have a 70-75 percent chance of becoming the majority.  Adding to the pack is Nathan Gonzales’s Inside Elections, which is predicting a Democratic gain of 25-35 seats in the House, with even more possible.

What could go wrong?

For starters, these are the same prognosticators who were shocked that Hillary Clinton didn’t win the presidency in 2016. As White House aide Kellyanne Conway said, “Let’s not forget the same geniuses that predicted a huge romp by that woman who lost in 2016 are the same people predicting a huge win by the Democrats this time.” Perhaps a tad chastened, some election watchers are giving themselves a bit more wiggle room this time. Larry Sabato’s "Crystal Ball" reported last week that although Democrats were favored to win the House, they’ve solidified the pickup of only 19 seats so far -- leaving them four short of the number needed to claim the majority.

Here are five reasons the GOP could upset expectations:

-- The president’s job approval rating acts as a coattail effect and is a strong predictor for the outcome of midterm elections, especially in the House. The reigning theory goes that the higher Trump’s approval rating, the better Republican congressional candidates will do. When the president approval was hovering around 40 percent, the conventional wisdom about a Democratic “blue wave” started to congeal. Then a funny thing happened: His numbers began ticking up. Not a lot, but maybe enough to make a difference.

According to the RealClearPolitics poll average, the president’s approval rating today is just a shade above 44 percent. That doesn’t necessarily bode well for Republicans when one looks at how the president’s party has done in previous midterms, but Trump may be sui generis. His personal approval rating on Election Day 2016 was only 32 percent – compared to a 53 percent disapproval rating.  In other words, the gap between his approval to disapproval has narrowed. This is not exactly an apples to apples comparison, but in some tracking polls, such as Rasmussen and YouGov, his approval rating has crossed the crucial 45 percent mark where the coattail effect starts to have a significant down-ballot impact.

-- The scope of the Trump movement continues to elude Democrats, the media, and “Never Trump” Republicans. There are some signs that it’s as strong, or stronger, than it was during the 2016 presidential election. Trump’s rallies continue be standing room only and now routinely have “overflow spaces” to accommodate extra people. It’s routine for presidents to fill hotel ballrooms with 1,000 donors, but it’s more impressive to fill arenas with 10,000 people day after day. These campaign-style events give the president a chance to dominate local media markets for a few days and circumvent the national media’s constant negative coverage. He’s expected to have at least eight more rallies before Election Day, which could energize the Republican base in key races.

-- In swing districts, the party that carries independent voters usually wins the election. In 2016, Trump won independents, 46 percent to 42 percent. In the battleground states he won – and he won almost all of them -- Trump overwhelmingly carried independent voters in Michigan (+16), Wisconsin (+13), Pennsylvania (+7) and North Carolina (+16). After the bruising Brett Kavanaugh confirmation battle, some polls are showing movement with independent men breaking in the GOP’s direction.

-- On Oct. 26 – just 11 days before Election Day – the Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Economic Analysis will announce the third-quarter gross domestic product estimates. Many economists predict it will be above 4 percent for the second consecutive quarter. Expect the president to take a victory lap if the news is positive, one that might help GOP congressional candidates in tight races.

Republicans are running on a “results vs. resistance” slogan and nothing helps GOP candidates more than the thriving economy. Savvy Democrats know that the party credited with improving the economy is usually rewarded at the ballot box. For that reason, Democratic candidates are touting the “Obama recovery”; however, numerous polls show voters credit the growing economy to the party currently controlling the White House and Congress.

-- Ultimately, midterms are usually low-turnout affairs in which the outcome depends on which party’s base is more energized to show up. There’s no question that the Democrats’ base is revved up. But the strong economy, the backlash to the Kavanaugh hearings, and the underestimated strength of the Trump movement may effectively counter the Resist movement. It’s also plausible that the GOP message of results will resonate with independent voters and “Reagan Democrats” in crucial swing districts. With a little more than two weeks to go before the election, despite the pundits’ skepticism there’s still a path for the GOP to hold the House.

This story has been updated to more accurately reflect the assessment of Larry Sabato’s “Crystal Ball.”

Adele Malpass is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. She was formerly chairwoman of the Manhattan Republican Party and money politics reporter for CNBC.

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