Democrats are feeling encouraged about their prospects of winning back the House next year despite a string of special election losses.
A turbulent White House has left President Trump’s approval rating at a dismal 40 percent, and Democrats ended the House session watching the ObamaCare repeal effort collapse in the Senate.
“There are a lot of reasons to think that the House will be in play next year,” said Kyle Kondik, managing editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball, an election handicapper at the University of Virginia.
Kondik said the single best gauge for predicting 2018 results may be the House generic ballot, which has the Democrats up between 6 and 14 points, according to recent surveys from various outlets.
“Democrats likely will need something around a double-digit lead to win control,” he said.
“Right now, I’d say the House generic indicates the Democrats would make gains but not win the majority — but of course the election isn’t today.”
Midterm elections for first-term presidents are historically ruinous for the party that controls the White House.
By Sabato’s analysis, the president’s party has shed House seats in 36 of 39 midterms stretching back more than 150 years, with an average loss of 33 seats — well above the 24 pickups the Democrats need to take the chamber next year.
Trump’s ability to defy odds, Kondik said, likely won’t protect the Republicans from the trend.
“The usual historical trends heading into 2018 shouldn’t be ignored,” Kondik said.
Democrats still face unique challenges, including legislative district lines that favor Republicans and the danger that Democratic voters simply will not go to the polls in a non-presidential election year.
They also face divisions over how to attract working-class voters who flocked to Trump, while maintaining progressive values.
Conservative-leaning Blue Dog Democrats have hailed the party’s “Better Deal” campaign message for its focus on the economy. But some are airing concerns that Democratic leaders, in an effort to attract the populist camp embodied by Sens. Bernie SandersBernie SandersWhite House: Window for finalizing sweeping budget package 'closing' Jayapal says tuition-free community college 'probably won't' be in spending plan Progressives see budget deal getting close after Biden meeting MORE (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenDemocrats narrow scope of IRS proposal amid GOP attacks Overnight Health Care — Presented by Carequest — FDA moves to sell hearing aids over-the-counter FDA proposes rule to offer over-the-counter hearing aids MORE (D-Mass.), have overstepped in adopting aggressive proposals to rein in corporate power.
Some liberal members of the Progressive Caucus, meanwhile, fear the Better Deal’s avoidance of social issues — like reproductive rights, immigration reform, the environment and criminal justice reform — may deflate certain liberal constituencies.
“This is not rocket science,” said Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.). “The problem that we’ve had in the past is that we just focused on social issues, right? What we’re going to do now is continue our progressive nature when it comes to social issues and go hardcore when it comes to economic issues.”
Much of the Democrats’ 2006 success hinged on locating candidates who spoke to conservative-leaning voters, even if they veered from the party’s liberal base on certain social issues.
Suggesting they’ll revisit that playbook this cycle, Rep. Ben Ray Luján (N.M.), the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), told The Hill last week that there would be no “litmus test” on abortion during the recruitment process. Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, an Arizona Blue Dog Democrat, said the group is teaming up with the DCCC to field candidates who “reflect the values of their communities.”
“Winning these seats is crucial to the Democrats’ goal to winning back the majority,” said Sinema, who heads up the Blue Dog PAC.
Republicans are battling different problems.
For the first time in a decade, they have control of the entire federal government — they just haven’t been able to bridge their differences, unite their conservative and moderate factions, and pass big pieces of legislation tackling healthcare, tax reform and infrastructure.
“When I talk to folks back home, they understand that we’ve been doing stuff, but they want the big things done,” Rep. Steve Stivers (R-Ohio), chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, told The Hill as he rattled off regulatory and Veterans Affairs reforms successfully passed by Congress.
Front and center on the list of GOP priorities has been the repeal of ObamaCare, an issue the Republicans have vowed to address for seven years only to see their effort collapse last month in the Senate. The House had passed a repeal bill in May, and Democrats have used the vote as a bludgeon against vulnerable Republicans by highlighting the millions of people estimated to lose health insurance under the proposal.
Roughly 80 Republican supporters of the bill hail from districts that backed Trump with 55 percent of the vote or less. And even those vulnerable Republicans who opposed repeal, including Reps. Mike Coffman (Colo.), Barbara Comstock (Va.), Ryan Costello (Pa.) and Leonard Lance (N.J.), will be targeted by association.
“They own this burden. All this uncertainty in the marketplace is owned by the Republicans,” Luján said.
In Miami, two-term Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.), a repeal backer whose Hispanic-heavy district has one of the highest ObamaCare enrollment rates in the nation, just got his first serious Democratic challenger.
Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, an Ecuadorian immigrant who made an unsuccessful bid for the state Senate in 2016, will announce on Wednesday that she’s taking on Curbelo, the son of Cuban exiles. Other Democrats are sure to join the race given that Florida’s 26th is the bluest district currently represented by a Republican.
Curbelo, who has a substantial $1.1 million to fight off a challenge, said he’s not concerned.
“It’s pretty obvious from the last election my community evaluates me based on my own work,” Curbelo told The Hill. “The president lost my district by 16 points — I won by 12 against a fully funded, high-name ID, DCCC candidate.”
Taking a lesson from 2016, Democrats have abandoned their focus on Trump as they seek to engage voters in Republican-held districts. To unveil their Better Deal agenda last week, party leaders stormed into a rural Virginia town outside Washington. The location was deliberate: It is Comstock’s district.