Dem leaders increasingly bullish about retaking House

Dem leaders increasingly bullish about retaking House
© Greg Nash

Democratic leaders are increasingly confident that they’ll win back the House in 2018.

At a roundtable meeting with reporters in his Capitol Hill office on Wednesday, Rep. Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerThe nearly 60 Dems who voted for impeachment House rejects Democrat's resolution to impeach Trump Pelosi, Hoyer: Now is not the time to consider impeachment MORE (Md.), the second-ranking House Democrat, put the odds of Democrats winning a majority in 2018 at 60 percent.

But Hoyer, the top Democratic vote-wrangler in the House, talks like he thinks a majority is much more certain than that. 

Hoyer cited a litany of statistics, including fundraising, polling, recruiting and President Trump’s historically low approval ratings as reasons for why the Democrats are in position to flip the 24 seats they need to claim a majority in the House for the first time since 2010.

“Here’s your headline — 'Democrats take House in 2018,' ” Hoyer said.

“Almost everybody now believes the House is in fact in play, and I think we’re going to win the House back in 2018,” he continued. “There’s strong momentum, a lot of grass-roots energy.”

Democrats have targeted 91 Republican-held districts they believe are in play. Hoyer cited fundraising as a leading indicator of Democratic strength.

In the third quarter, 45 Democratic challengers outraised the Republican incumbents and 144 House Democratic candidates have already raised more than $100,000 dollars. Last cycle, only 41 Democrats had surpassed the $100,000 mark at this point.

Furthermore, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) has hauled in nearly $9 million more than their counterparts at the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) so far this year.

Hoyer acknowledged that conservative outside groups routinely rake in millions more for Republican candidates.

“But the fact we’re outraising the NRCC is a significant indication our people are energized,” he said.

Democrats will be helped by a slew of Republican retirements.

So far, 25 Republicans have said they will not seek reelection to their current House seats. Many of those seats are safely Republican, but open seats are far more vulnerable to upsets and several of the retirements come in competitive or even blue districts.

And Democrats are emboldened by their coast-to-coast victories in governor’s races and at statehouses across the country last week.

The party won the biggest prize of the day, the Virginia governor’s race. Democrats also reclaimed the governor’s mansion in New Jersey.

But it’s the downballot victories that have Democrats optimistic about their 2018 prospects.

Democrats essentially pulled even in the Virginia statehouse after Republicans entered Election Day with a two-to-one advantage.

Hoyer noted that Democrats defeated a supermajority in the Georgia statehouse and won contested mayoral races in Charlotte, N.C., St. Petersburg, Fla., and Manchester, N.H., all of which were previously held by Republicans.

In Westchester County, N.Y., Democrats were outspent three-to-one but knocked off the two-term Republican incumbent in the race for county executive. In Maine, a referendum to expand Medicaid passed by a 60 percent majority over the objections of the Republican governor in the state.

According to the RealClearPolitics average, Democrats have a nearly 11-point lead in the generic ballot.

When Democrats stormed into power in 2006 during former President George W. Bush’s second term, they had only a 7-point generic ballot lead. 

“The environment around the country, Virginia was reflective of it, it’s not an anomaly,” Hoyer said.

Still, there are challenges for Democrats as they seek to capitalize on what they believe to be strong political tailwinds.

Earlier this year, a nasty intraparty fight broke out over whether candidates should face a litmus test on key issues like abortion.

DCCC chairman Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) said there should not be a litmus test, sparking furious blowback from pro-abortion rights groups that argued that the party should not be supporting candidates that break on fundamentally liberal positions.

Hoyer is siding with Luján, arguing that the party should not exclude candidates based on one issue.

“I’m not a litmus test guy,” Hoyer said. 

“We want to defend a woman’s right to choose, but that doesn’t mean it’s a litmus test,” he added. “We have a lot of very, very good pro-life Democrats. We don’t whip that issue, you have to make that decision with your conscience.”

And Democrats are still working to ensure they don’t repeat mistakes from 2016.

At the top of that list is developing a message that appeals to working class voters and does not focus exclusively on opposing Trump.

On Wednesday, six Democrats unveiled articles of impeachment against Trump — a move that is opposed by Democratic leaders like Hoyer and House Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiMcConnell names Senate GOP tax conferees Abortion-rights group endorses Nadler in race to replace Conyers on Judiciary Trump rips Dems a day ahead of key White House meeting MORE (D-Calif.).

"There are a large number of Democrats that believe this president ought to be impeached, we have just made a judgment that the facts aren’t there to pursue that,” Hoyer said.

Hoyer is confident Trump will benefit Democrats in 2018, noting the president’s historically low approval rating at this point in his first term. But he said Trump cannot be the sole object of fascination for Democrats.

“I’m going out and listening to middle America with other members. … [People] don’t like Trump, they think Trump is not doing the right thing, they think he’s not responsible and does not reflect our values,” Hoyer said. “But what they really want to hear is what we’re going to do to make their lives and the lives of their families better. … That's what this election will be about.”