What a Democratic Wave in the House Might Look Like
Yesterday I sketched out a plausible scenario for Republicans retaining – though just barely -- the House. Today I will do the reverse: game out a Democratic win in excess of 40 seats. Again, I don’t think this involves any ridiculous outcomes, although I do think it requires a lot of breaks for Democrats. I haven’t given them every competitive seat, as every wave election involves examples of politicians defying the odds: Republican Jim Gerlach of Pennsylvania defied them and held on in 2006 and 2008. Again, this shouldn’t be read as a strict prediction, but rather a glimpse of what it would take to win 40 seats, and how plausible we should find it.
The seats that are baked in: We start with the wins for Democrats that we cited in yesterday’s “Republican hold” scenario -- AZ-02, CA-39, CA-45, CA-49, CO-6, FL-27, IL-06, IA-01, KS-03, MI-08, MI-11, MN-02, MN-03, NJ-02, NJ-07, NJ-11, NM-02, NY-19, PA-05, PA-06, PA-07, UT-04, VA-07, VA-10, WA-08. In today’s scenario, Democrats likewise pick up the Pennsylvania’s 17th Congressional District, though it is still offset by a loss in the redrawn 14th Congressional District. That starts Democrats out with 25 seats.
California – In this scenario, Republicans are mostly wiped out in the Golden State. GOP Rep. Dana Rohrabacher in the 48th District gets a scare as mail-in ballots break heavily toward Harley Rouda, but he manages to pull out the win by fewer than 100 votes. Republicans nevertheless lose two seats on top of those cited in our scenario yesterday: Jeff Denham loses in Northern California and Steve Knight is swamped by suburban turnout in northern Los Angeles County.
Colorado – Republican Scott Tipton gets a scare in western Colorado, but narrowly wins.
Florida – Carlos Curbelo is crushed in South Florida, while Mario Diaz-Balart’s relatively weak opponent surprises him by keeping it close. Democrats begin talk of sweeping the three Hispanic majority districts in South Florida next cycle. Dennis Ross’s open 15th District flips to Democrats. A number of other Florida races are surprisingly close.
Georgia – Gun control activist Lucy McBath (pictured) surprises observers in Georgia’s 6th District, basically by keeping Jon Ossoff’s voters from the 2017 special election and then adding energized African-American voters turning out to support gubernatorial candidate Stacy Abrams. Rob Woodall gets a scare but his district voted for Trump by seven points and Romney by 32, which is too much for Democrats to overcome.
Illinois – GOP Rep. Randy Hultgren gets caught napping in the 14th District, as undecided exurban voters break against him. This district leans Republican, but voters are hoping to send a message to D.C. The downstate districts still retain their newly red hue, albeit barely.
Indiana – Jackie Walorski and Trey Hollingsworth find themselves in surprisingly close races in their districts in northern and southern (respectively) Indiana. This is a phenomenon nationwide, where an influx of cash swells Democrats’ popular vote total disproportionately in districts that haven’t seen an active Democrat in decades, but it isn’t enough to translate into seats. As a result, the Democrats’ national win in the popular vote mimics 2008, but their seats do not.
Iowa – GOP Rep. David Young loses in his Des Moines-based district. In a major surprise, Steve King gets caught napping and is swept out of office in northwestern Iowa.
Kansas – In 2006, the Topeka-based 2nd Congressional District featured perhaps the biggest surprise of the night, when Jim Ryun lost his re-election bid. Paul Davis’s win for the Democrats in this open seat is less surprising. Republicans are worried that Democrats are building a legitimate bench for a potential open Senate seat in 2020.
Kentucky –Republicans knew they were going to lose the House when Rep. Andy Barr’s Lexington-based district was too close to call; the race goes into overtime, with a recount that Barr narrowly loses.
Maine – The 2nd District is trending swiftly away from Democrats, but state Rep. Jared Golden gives them one last huzzah, narrowly unseating Republican Bruce Poliquin
Michigan – In a major surprise, Fred Upton, one of the savviest members of Congress, loses his seat to an upstart challenger who raised millions of dollars.
Minnesota – Republicans lose the two competitive seats in the Minneapolis suburbs, but flip the Duluth-based 8th. They narrowly lose the 1st Congressional District.
Nevada – Perennial GOP candidate Danny Tarkanian comes close to winning a seat here, but falls just short. He immediately gears up for 2020.
New Jersey – Republicans in New Jersey are reduced to a single seat, their worst performance in the Garden State since 1912. Rep. Chris Smith in the 4th District announces that this will be his last term in Congress, and Democrats prepare for the sweep in 2020.
New York – Claudia Tenney narrowly won her district in 2016, despite Donald Trump carrying it by 15 points. Without Trump’s coattails she is unable to hold on. Peter King is upset in NY-02 as the Democrats’ decades-long expansion outward from New York City through the suburbs nears completion.
North Carolina – The Republicans’ map collapses, as George Holding loses in the Raleigh suburbs and Baptist minister Mark Harris is too much for the Charlotte suburbs to stomach. Democrats savor the two-seat pickup.
Ohio – Troy Balderson hasn’t had much time to get his feet under him after narrowly winning the 12th District in a special election this summer, and Ohio State students, having been re-registered in the district after a sustained effort throughout the fall, flood to the polls to vote Democratic. He narrowly loses this one.
Pennsylvania – We thought this might be a GOP killing field after the state Supreme Court redrew the map, and we were correct. The remap does its job, as Brian Fitzpatrick narrowly loses in the northern Philadelphia suburbs and Scott Perry is caught off guard in his newly competitive district in central Pennsylvania.
Texas – A combination of Republican DNA and good incumbents keep the Houston-based 7th and San-Antonio-to-El-Paso 23rd districts in Republican hands, but the Dallas-based 32nd narrowly flips.
Virginia – It is a close race, but voters in the Northern Virginia portion of the 5th District, which stretches from Danville to Fauquier County, swarm to the polls and pull the lever for Democrats for the first time in their lives. Denver Riggleman is just too culturally distant from them and is defeated by filmmaker Leslie Cockburn, who will enjoy a single term in Congress.
Is this optimistic for Democrats? Absolutely. Then again, so is the scenario for Republicans holding the House. But neither scenario completely stretches the bounds of credulity; rather, each involves the parties getting breaks in the final weekend. Personally, I think Democrats will get most of the breaks and end up with gains in the low 30s, but I have a reasonable error margin in either direction.
The major cause of uncertainty for Democrats is that once you get past the 15 or so races that most people agree they will win, you are in some pretty red territory, and indicators like the generic ballot and presidential approval aren’t really consistent with a major push into GOP territory. The Republicans’ major problem is that there are potentially just too many brush fires for them to put out, and some of their incumbents really do seem to have been caught napping (shockingly, for this environment).