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Markos Moulitsas: House in play in 2014

Even though we are a year away from the midterm elections, and much can and will happen in that time, as of right now, the House is in play. It’s all in the data, and the multitude of polling shows House Republicans scraping the bottom of the barrel. 

Thanks to heavy gerrymandering, the calculation isn’t as simple as “the winner is the party that gets the most votes.” If that were the case, Nancy Pelosi would be wielding the Speaker’s gavel today. After all, Democratic House candidates logged more than 1.3 million more votes than Republicans in 2012. Despite losing the House popular vote, Republicans thwarted genuine democracy by scoring a 34-seat advantage in the chamber. 

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Clearly, Democrats need to significantly outpoll Republicans in order to have a chance at retaking the House. How significantly? A statistical analysis by Daily Kos Elections finds that Democrats would have a 50-50 chance of winning back the House if they were to win the House popular vote by 6 points. They would be virtually guaranteed the majority if they can win it by 9 points. The Cook Political Report pegs the number at 6-7 points via a simple calculation: Dems need to pick up 17 seats next year, and Republicans won that 17th seat by 6.8 points in 2012. Sam Wang at the Princeton Election Consortium thinks that number is just 4-5 points. 

According to The Huffington Post polling aggregate, Democrats lead the generic congressional ballot 46-39 percent, well within estimates of a Democratic pickup. Fox News, ABC/The Washington Post and CNN polling each have that margin at 8 points. In early August, the Democratic advantage in the polling aggregate was less than 1 point. Not only did the government shutdown and debt-ceiling brinkmanship cost the GOP dearly, but subsequent polling isn’t showing any closing of that gap.

Say all you want about the early timing of that polling, but there are genuine real-time benefits to that early edge. 

Democratic recruitment is up, with top-tier scores against House incumbents like Reps. Lee Terry in Nebraska and Frank LoBiondo (who has had two decades of free passes) in New Jersey. 

Furthermore, several Republican incumbents have already headed for the exits. Florida Rep. Bill Young left for health reasons (and passed away soon thereafter), but people are still scratching their heads over Arkansas Rep. Tim Griffin’s retirement after just two terms despite being in a favorable district, and California Rep. John Campbell is quitting a swingy district that President Obama won in 2008. 

If the GOP’s polling woes continue to drive members into retirement and fuel top-tier Democratic recruitment, today’s polling could end up a self-fulfilling prophecy. Just look at Young’s Florida district: not only did Democrats score their best bet for the March 2014 special election, but the GOP’s first- and second-tier choices have already begged off, refusing to engage in a suicide mission with the political winds against them. The seat is being gift-wrapped for Democrats. 

So yes, a lot can happen in the next 12 months, but does anyone really think much of it will benefit the GOP? With Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and his merry band of nihilists running the House, Republicans seem hell-bent on repeating the mistakes of this year, such as agitating for a second government shutdown in January, clinging to the same fringe ideology that gifted Democrats electoral losers like Todd Akin, Richard Mourdock and Ken Cuccinelli.

Moulitsas is the founder and publisher of Daily Kos.

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