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Less than eight weeks ahead of the midterms, House Democrats are riding high and feeling the wind at their backs.
Heading into a weeklong Yom Kippur recess, the party has an enormous lead in the generic poll, President TrumpDonald TrumpMcAuliffe takes tougher stance on Democrats in Washington Democrats troll Trump over Virginia governor's race Tom Glavine, Ric Flair, Doug Flutie to join Trump for Herschel Walker event MORE’s approval rating is ticking downward, and Republicans are scrambling to protect dozens of vulnerable seats in order to fend off a blue wave in November.
The confluence of factors has jolted the Democrats with a fresh burst of confidence, and they are growing increasingly confident that the House is theirs for the taking after eight years in the minority.
“The mood is: we wish the elections were Tuesday,” said Rep. Dan KildeeDaniel (Dan) Timothy KildeeFormer Rep. Dale Kildee dies at 92 EPA closer to unveiling plan for tackling 'forever chemicals' Sanders, Manchin, Sinema fight proxy war in the House MORE (D-Mich.). “The Republicans are in political quicksand, and the more they struggle the harder it is for them.
“Getting out of town is probably a good thing for them.”
Democrats need to pick up 23 seats to capture the Speaker’s gavel — a seemingly heavy lift — but they have history on their side.
The party controlling the White House has lost seats in 36 of the 39 midterm cycles going back to the Civil War. The average loss, according to the analysts at Sabato’s Crystal Ball, an election handicapper at the University of Virginia, is a whopping 33 seats.
Democrats, though, see signals well outside of civics textbooks that are fueling the optimistic sense that they’ll control the chamber next year for the first time since they were clobbered at the polls in 2010.
The most recent generic poll, a gauge of how voters feel about the parties without naming individual candidates, found the Democrats with a 14 point advantage — an enormous gap predicting the House would likely flip.
“There’s clear energy and momentum on our side,” Rep. Ben Ray Lujan (N.M.), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), told reporters Thursday.
Democrats also have a fundraising advantage heading into the final stretch.
At the end of the second quarter, the DCCC had out-raised its GOP counterpart by almost $43 million.
The figure reflects a remarkable show of support for Democratic newcomers challenging Republican incumbents: by mid-summer, more than 50 Democratic challengers had out-raised the sitting Republicans they’re hoping to oust.
“It feels like no other election cycle — very different from just two years ago,” said Rep. Cheri BustosCheryl (Cheri) Lea BustosIllinois Democrats propose new 'maximized' congressional map Overnight Energy & Environment — Presented by the American Petroleum Institute — A warning shot on Biden's .5T plan The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden continues to grapple with Afghanistan chaos MORE (D-Ill.), one of the three leaders of the Democrats’ messaging arm.
Bustos said she raised a total of $2.1 million during her first election to Congress in 2012. This year, she said, some Democratic candidates are raising that much in a quarter.
“I feel great. We’ve got great candidates, the best candidates I’ve ever seen in my political lifetime,” Bustos said. “You can feel the enthusiasm in every district where we go.”
Republicans are quick to dismiss the notion that a Democratic wave is in the making.
They’re touting the booming economy as a product of their making — and a reason voters will keep them in the majority.
They’re also trumpeting the message that Democrats — particularly their leader, Rep. Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiDemocrats step up pressure on Biden on student loan forgiveness Climate activists target Manchin Democrats face growing storm over IRS reporting provision MORE (D-Calif.) — are simply too liberal to appeal to voters in the purple districts in play.
That attack has taken off since June, when Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a self labeled Democratic Socialist, defeated Democratic Caucus Chairman Joseph Crowley (D) in a shocking primary contest in New York.
Ocasio-Cortez ran on a populist platform in the mold of Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersPressure grows for breakthrough in Biden agenda talks Sanders, Manchin escalate fight over .5T spending bill Sanders blames media for Americans not knowing details of Biden spending plan MORE (I-Vt.), which included vows to eliminate the office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement and fight for a Medicare-for-all-style health care system.
“Democrats nominated the most progressive group of candidates we’ve ever seen in battleground districts,” Jesse Hunt, spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, said Friday in an email.
“Mainstream voters have no appetite for Nancy Pelosi regaining control of the House to pass a progressive agenda centered around abolishing ICE and single-payer health care.”
The attacks on Pelosi are hardly new, but they’ve been escalated this year as Republicans have sought to link virtually every Democratic candidate to the veteran leader — a San Francisco liberal and a household name loathed by many conservative voters.
The strategy has clear limitations: Rep. Conor Lamb (D-Pa.) shrugged off such attacks to win a deeply conservative district in a special election in March. And Pelosi on Friday brushed aside the notion that the strategy will be effective.
“I’m OK with it,” she said
Unavoidably, President Trump will play an outsized role in the midterms. And if recent polls are any indication, Democrats have another reason to be feeling bullish.
One much-watched gauge is the RealClearPolitics polling average, which has seen Trump’s approval rating fall more than 2 points in recent weeks, while his disapproval numbers have increased by almost the same amount. One new poll, from CNN, put his approval rating at 36 percent.
Perhaps the surest sign of the Democrats’ increasing confidence is this: no longer are they talking about what they might do if they win the House; they’re talking about what they will do.
House Minority Whip Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerHoyer signals House vote on bill to 'remove' debt limit threat Feehery: Build back bipartisan Bottom line MORE (D-Md.) this week delivered a major policy speech laying out specific policy proposals the Democrats would prioritize in the majority next year.
Meanwhile Pelosi, in a letter to her troops earlier this month, revealed that the senior Democrats on all the committees are already drafting legislation to get a jump on 2019. The heading of the letter sent a clear message: “Be Ready!”
“As we approach the end of this Congress, we must Be Ready for the prospect that we will be in the Majority in January,” the letter reads.
Despite the surge of optimism, Democrats say they’re also well aware that, in electoral politics, nothing is a slam dunk.
There are still more than seven weeks to go before Election Day, and the pace of the news cycle all but ensures the political landscape will shift over that span. With that in mind, Democrats have a singular goal ahead of November: Just win the House.
“If this environment remains, this is obviously a favorable environment for us,” Kildee said. “But we can’t assume it will.”