Last week, we began to see the backpedaling of prognosticators who had long predicted a Democratic wave in the midterms. This week, we may get the backpedaling of the backpedaling. Both the Washington Post and Politico report that Democrats’ have regained hope for winning a majority in the House, and perhaps a larger one than recently thought.
Politico’s Elena Schneider sees regained momentum for Nancy Pelosi’s team despite the Kavanaugh effect. Schneider chalks that up to a “tidal wave of money”:
The Republican Party base has been electrified by Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings and a campaign blitz from President Donald Trump. But the burst of enthusiasm has not reversed the trajectory of the midterms for the House GOP, which remains on the verge of losing its majority next week.
Some Republicans deep in Trump country have regained ground. But the handful of bright spots have been outweighed by a tidal wave of Democratic spending and voter support in the closing weeks of the midterm election, according to public and private polling, interviews with strategists from both parties and a POLITICO analysis of TV spending figures. In recent days, House Republicans have rushed to fortify a surprise collection of GOP-held districts in a half-dozen states that were never expected to be competitive.
They indicate a Republican Party, swamped by cash-flush Democratic candidates and outside groups, still losing support among women and suburban voters ahead of the midterms and struggling to bring home voters that helped put the GOP in control of the House for most of the last quarter-century.
“Clearly the Kavanaugh confirmation was an inflection point to activate the Republican base, and even pull over some Democratic men,” said Rob Stutzman, a Republican consultant based in California. “But that’s an effect that benefits the Senate and leaves suburban members of Congress stranded. It’s unlikely we won back suburban Orange County voters.”
It’s tough to see where to firmly draw these conclusions in public polling, at least. The RCP average in the generic ballot has been steady for the past month, with the current D+7.6% right in line with Democratic standing all along. Take out an NPR/Marist D+10 one one end and a Rasmussen D+3 on the other, and pretty much every pollster has the race right on that average over the last couple of weeks.
Private polling may be another matter, of course. To gauge that, the Washington Post follows the money — which for Republicans has suddenly begun flowing to presumably safer districts:
On Tuesday, the National Republican Congressional Committee plans to launch an ad campaign in a South Carolina district that Trump carried by 13 percentage points, while House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) intends to campaign for a Kentucky incumbent in a district that went to Trump by 15 points.
The last-minute moves follow decisions by Republican groups to toss political lifelines to House candidates in Georgia, Florida, Virginia and Washington state, all in districts where Trump was victorious. …
Republicans believed the contentious confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh and concerns about the migrant caravan headed toward the U.S.-Mexico border would energize voters in conservative districts. Protests of Kavanaugh fueled their attacks casting Democrats as an angry mob.
But now some worry that the power of those arguments will fade over time, particularly as Trump and his allies face criticism in the wake of the deadly massacre Saturday at a Pittsburgh synagogue and mail bombs sent to prominent Democrats, liberal donors Tom Steyer and George Soros, and CNN. Critics have accused Trump and some backers of fostering an environment for far-right extremism.
In other words, the mob argument might cancel itself out in this equation, fairly or not. Highly engaged voters might get the nuanced differences in the argument over “jobs not mobs,” but turnout models that rely on broad engagement have to include seldom-engaged midterm voters who might just conclude that everyone’s guilty of that and go back to their normal affiliations.
Still, however, a D+7 isn’t indicative of a wave, although it might be enough after more than 30 GOP retirements to get a majority in the House. That’s the biggest risk for Republicans in this cycle, losing the value of incumbency in so many different races. Furthermore, while the overall generic polls show a moderate drift to the Democrats, polling that focuses on the competitive districts have shown dead heats or slight Republican advantages. Enthusiasm in the urban and academic cores for Democrats looks good on paper, but it doesn’t necessarily win the suburban and exurban districts they need to take back the gavel in the House.
The safest bet thus far in midterm prognostication is a narrow majority in the House, more likely to be Democratic than Republican. Either will end up being a headache for the party that gets it, as they will have to expand their reach outside their bases to achieve it. If Republicans hold the Senate, and especially if they expand their control, it’s basically a recipe for the same gridlock we’ve been seeing for much of the last decade — albeit with Donald Trump still able to fill the federal bench and his Cabinet offices unfettered.