‘Crystal Ball’ favors GOP in race for House

‘Crystal Ball’ favors GOP in race for House
© Victoria Sarno Jordan

A top election handicapper has shifted a handful of House races in favor of the Democrats.

Sabato's Crystal Ball, a project of political analysts at the University of Virginia, is predicting that six House Republicans now face tougher headwinds heading into the homestretch of the Nov. 8 elections. 

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The list includes veteran Reps. Scott GarrettErnest (Scott) Scott GarrettBiz groups take victory lap on Ex-Im Bank Export-Import Bank back to full strength after Senate confirmations Manufacturers support Reed to helm Ex-Im Bank MORE (R-N.J.), Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and John Mica (R-Fla.), as well as Rep. Kevin YoderKevin Wayne YoderK Street giants scoop up coveted ex-lawmakers Kansas Senate race splits wide open without Pompeo Mike Pompeo to speak at Missouri-Kansas Forum amid Senate bid speculation MORE (R), a two-term Kansan, and Republican contenders in open seats in central Virginia and on New York's Long Island.

Republicans remain the heavy favorite to keep control of the House under the projections, despite the fallout from a 2005 video showing GOP presidential candidate Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpThe Hill's Campaign Report: Democratic field begins to shrink ahead of critical stretch To ward off recession, Trump should keep his mouth and smartphone shut Trump: 'Who is our bigger enemy,' Fed chief or Chinese leader? MORE bragging about groping women.

Democrats have hoped that a collapse of support for Trump could put them in striking distance of the 30 House seats they'd need to flip control of the lower chamber. But Kyle Kondik, Crystal Ball's managing editor, says there's little evidence that such a wave election will happen.

“[T]hey remain significantly out of range of that target,” he wrote.

Several factors have made the climb difficult for the Democrats, despite the Republican turmoil surrounding their presidential nominee.

First, the redrawing of district maps following the 2010 Census, while solidifying scores of Democrats in heavily blue districts, leaned heavily in favor of Republicans in terms of pure numbers. Crystal Ball analysts have 228 seats in the “safe,” “likely” or “leaning Republican,” categories, versus 193 for the Democrats.

Second, even in Republican controlled seats where President Obama won handily in 2012 — spots where the Democrats thought they'd race to relatively easy wins — the GOP incumbents remain competitive. Indeed, there's no Republican seat that Democrats have locked up — a dynamic that party strategists readily concede — forcing Democrats to continue spending against vulnerable Republicans like Reps. Rod Blum (Iowa), Cresent Hardy (Nev.), Bob Dold (Ill.), Carlos Curbelo (Fla.), Frank Guinta (N.H.) and David Jolly (Fla.) just weeks ahead of the elections. 

“If there were some massive wave building for Democrats in the House, these races would be off the table by now,” Kondik wrote. 

And third, while Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonThe road not taken: Another FBI failure involving the Clintons surfaces DHS cyber agency to prioritize election security, Chinese threats ABC chose a debate moderator who hates Trump MORE has a commanding lead over Trump in the presidential race, the margin hasn't risen to a level that would predict a 30-seat flip in the House, Kondik says, forecasting a single-digit win for Democratic presidential nominee.

“Even a Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaDemocratic governors fizzle in presidential race Obamas reportedly buying Martha's Vineyard mansion Trump has 62 percent disapproval rating in new AP poll MORE 2008-sized win by Clinton, seven points, probably won’t provide the lift Democrats need to win the House,” he writes. “There just aren’t that many competitive districts that are plausibly winnable by Democrats, and a high percentage of the districts were drawn by Republicans after the 2010 census.”

Still, Crystal Ball analysts emphasize that the ultimate fallout of Trump's latest scandal remains unclear, largely because the results of internal polls being conducted by both parties are not yet in.

“This is an odd time to take a look at the House,” Kondik acknowledged. “We’re in a lull.”

Momentum does appear to have shifted toward the Democrats. 

Garrett, who represents a suburb or New York City, has been dogged by his refusal to pay campaign dues over the GOP’s support for gay candidates. GOP nominee Mitt Romney won the district in 2012, but Clinton “has a very good chance” of taking it this year, Kondik said, deeming the race a “toss-up.”

Issa and Yoder represent similar “highly-educated districts that Mitt Romney easily carried that likely will flip to Clinton,” Kondik said. Sabato analysts have put both races in the “lean Republican” category, down from “likely” last month. 

Recent redistricting in Florida has dinged Mica's chances, where his “power of incumbency is blunted by the fact that he did not represent close to half the district” he's now running to represent. His race is now a toss-up, according to the Sabato analysts. 

In central Virginia, the race to replace outgoing GOP Rep. Robert HurtRobert HurtThe Hill's Morning Report — Presented by the Coalition for Affordable Prescription Drugs — GOP faces ‘green wave’ in final stretch to the midterms Democrat defeats controversial chair of House Wall Street subpanel Republican groups launch final ad blitz in key House battlegrounds MORE has also grown more competitive, according to the report. The contest pits Tom Garrett, a Republican state senator, against Jane Dittmar, a former member of a local county board of supervisors. 

“Dittmar will have to run up the score in the Charlottesville/Albemarle County part of the district (which includes the University of Virginia Center for Politics),” Kondik wrote, “but she has an outside shot in a sleeper race.” Sabato analysts shifted the race from "likely Republican" to "leans" in Garrett's favor.

And in the contest to replace retiring Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.), Democrat Tom Suozzi, a former county executive, “has seemingly taken a clear lead” over his Republican opponent, state Sen. Jack Martins (R). Clinton, Kondik wrote, “appears likely to improve on Obama 2012.” Sabato analysts shifted the race from “leans Democratic” to “likely Democratic.”

“We’ve consistently suggested a Democratic gain in the 10-15 range,” Kondik summarized, “and that’s where we remain as we await more information on whether Trump is truly dragging down House Republicans or not.”