The United States Census Bureau will release its full results later this year, after a delay of several months due to the pandemic. But even before district lines get redrawn according to census stats — a process that will decidedly favor Republicans because of their nearly 2-1 advantage in state legislative control –many Democratic House members are already looking for new jobs.
Some Democrats will run for higher office. But many more will retire. So far, there have been five Democrats who are not running in 2022 and that number is expected to explode later this year.
The reason for that is the unusually high number of competitive House districts currently held by the Democrats. Blue-state legislative gerrymandering would probably save some of those members. But with the preponderance of competitive races taking shape in red states and with history itself being against Democrats, their chances of keeping the House are dropping like a stone.
History has been a poor predictor in recent elections. There used to be massive swings in House seats after off-year elections. But the drawing of district lines has been digitized to the point that both parties are able to carve out districts down to the block. That means both parties can pretty much guarantee a favorable result in about 90 percent of all House races.
But history is a stubborn thing and we ignore it at our peril.
This doesn’t even take into account the usual advantages that the party that does not control the White House typically has in midterm House elections: Since the end of World War II, the average seat loss by the presidential party in midterms is 27 seats. In those 19 midterm elections, the presidential party has lost seats 17 times. The exceptions were 1998 and 2002, when the president’s party made small gains.
House Democrats are facing twin challenges next year: The overall consequences of reapportionment and redistricting, as well as midterm history. The combination of the two will be difficult for Democrats to overcome. But what if they only had to overcome one of these challenges? What if no district lines were changing? Could Democrats hold the House under the current map?
That’s an excellent question and Sabato’s team examined all 435 House districts and came up with some very bad news for Democrats.
Sabato put 19 Democratic-held seats in the “toss-up” column. In contrast, they put only two Republican seats up for grabs. That doesn’t mean all 19 Democrats in the toss-up column will lose. Republicans still have to recruit decent candidates who are well funded. But with Republicans needing a gain of only five net seats to take control, their prospects look very good indeed.
The Democratic seats held by incumbents in the Toss-up column were all decided by four points or less with just one exception: Rep. Elaine Luria (D, VA-2) won by about half a dozen points in her swingy Hampton Roads seat. However, she has drawn a potentially strong challenger: state Sen. Jen Kiggans (R), who won a competitive state Senate race in 2019. The open FL-13 and OH-13 were mentioned above: Crist won by six points and Ryan won by eight. Several of the incumbents here did not face well-regarded challengers in 2020 but still had close races. Given that most of the members listed here won by roughly two-to-four points in 2020, they can’t afford much slippage, but it has been common in recent years for members of the presidential party to perform worse in a midterm compared to the previous presidential election year.
This is an analysis based on current district lines. With Florida and Texas gaining a seat in the redistricting process, and Republican total control of 30 states to the Democrats’ 18, Democrats are left with hoping Republicans find a way to self-destruct if they’re going to keep the House.