With redistricting wrapping up nationwide, candidate recruitment nearly done and fundraising for the fall already going gangbusters, the fight for the House majority can now be seen with some degree of clarity. And the picture is a dire one for Democrats.
On Wednesday, two nonpartisan political handicappers issued new House race ratings, moving a slew of seats into more vulnerable categories for Democrats.
“President Biden’s approval rating remains stuck at 42 percent, and if anything the political environment has deteriorated for Democrats since January as inflation concerns have soared and Build Back Better has stalled,” wrote David Wasserman, the House editor for the Cook Political Report with Amy Walter. “That means no Democrat in a single-digit Biden (or Trump-won) district is secure, and even some seats Biden carried by double-digit margins in 2020 could come into play this fall, giving the GOP surprising ‘reach’ opportunities.”
To back up that analysis, Wasserman moved eight Democratic-held seats into more a competitive territory – including two seats held by Nevada Democrats (Reps. Susie Lee and Steven Horsford) and Virginia’s Abigail Spanberger into its “toss up” category.
The Cook Political Report now has 27 Democratic-held seats in its “toss up” category or worse, as compared to just 12 similarly rated seats for Republicans. (Wasserman adds that once redistricting processes conclude in New Hampshire and Florida, those numbers are likely to get worse for Democrats.)
The story is the same at the University of Virginia Center for Politics’ “Crystal Ball,” which shifted race ratings for 11 seats on Wednesday – all in favor of Republicans. Those moves include moving four GOP-held seats from “likely Republican” to “safe Republican,” as well as moving seven Democratic-held seats into more electoral jeopardy.
“Our main question about the House continues to be not whether Republicans will flip the House — although we would not completely shut the door on Democrats’ retaining control if the political environment improves markedly — but rather how big the Republicans’ eventual majority will be,” wrote UVA’s Kyle Kondik.
These changes come amid a political environment that looks bad – and may be getting worse – for Democrats. As Wasserman pointed out, Biden’s approval ratings are hovering around the low 40s – or worse. Inflation is at a 40-year high. Gas prices remain elevated – although they have come down from highs reached late last month. And as I wrote here, Biden is facing a revolt from his own party on his administration’s decision to rescind Title 42, a public health measure that has allowed border patrol agents to turn away migrants seeking asylum in the United States.
The new ratings also land in a historical context that looks equally bad for Democrats. As Nathan Gonzales, who runs the nonpartisan Inside Elections tipsheet, has noted, the president’s party has lost an average of 30 House seats in midterm elections over the last 100 years.
Those numbers – as documented by Gallup – are even more daunting when the president is unpopular. As of 2018, the average seat loss for the president’s party when his approval rating is below 50% was 37 seats. (Presidents with job approval over 50% saw their party lose an average of 14 seats in the midterm elections.)
There are 202 days left before Election Day 2022. Which is, in theory, enough time for Democrats to change the trajectory of the political environment. But it’s hard to see how they would go about doing that. And right now, things look pretty bleak.