Who’s Up For A New Democratic House Majority?

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While it’s nowhere near time to call it a probability, the dismal performance of the Trump campaign – rumors today suggest the GOP may be getting ready to jettison Trump, possibly as early as Labor Day – has data geeks like me all aflutter with the increasing possibility that we may be seeing a wave election that would swamp the Republican House majority.

Chris Cillizza – at his best when he sticks to the data and doesn’t engage in the worst kind of Both Sides Do It bullshit – has a very good piece today on just how possible such an outcome might be.

Much of the professional political class within the Republican Party has resigned itself to the likelihood that Donald Trump will lose the presidential race to Hillary Clinton. The operative question now for this group is whether a Trump loss could cost Republicans their majorities in Congress.

For a very long time, the idea of the House being in play was treated as a Democratic pipe dream. After all, Republicans control 247 seats — their highest watermark since 1928. And because Republicans controlled lots and lots of the congressional redistricting processes after the 2010 Census, the country’s congressional seats tend to be solidly aligned behind one party or the other. The number of truly competitive districts in the country is, maybe, two dozen.

But, as Trump’s numbers — nationally and in key swing states — continue to tank, a creeping fear has taken root within the Republican establishment that maybe, just maybe, a landslide loss at the top of the ticket could cost the party not only the upper chamber of Congress but the lower one, too.

Much discussion ensues about how closely tied presidential and House votes are, and the conclusion that Trump is creating about a 4-5 point drag on GOP House candidates. Anything more of a Trump defeat than that – we’re well beyond that range now – and a whole bunch of House seats are in mortal danger.

How many? Enough – to win back the House and to motivate Democrats to work for the biggest, baddest blowout win we can imagine.

The Cook Political Report lists 45 Republican seats and 11 Democratic ones as potentially competitive in November. Let’s focus in on those 45 Republican seats.

Of the 45, 40 remain largely intact from the 2011 national redistricting process. (Florida engaged in a mid-decade redraw.) For those 40 seats, we can overlay the Cook Report’s Partisan Voting Index (PVI) in an attempt to compare apples to apples. (The PVI ranks every district against every other district based on presidential performance.) Of the 40 GOP-held districts, 36 have a PVI of R+5 or lower, meaning that they are five points (or less) more Republican at the presidential level than all of the other districts in the country.

If Republicans lost all 36 of those seats with a PVI of R +5 or lower — and Democrats held all 11 of their contested seats — Democrats have the House majority. By six seats. Twenty-seven of those 40 seats have a PVI of R+3 or lower. Win those 27 and Democrats need to pick up only three seats among the slightly more Republican-friendly districts to win the majority.

I still don’t think a Democratic House majority is the likely outcome on Nov. 8. Republicans have to rely on the fact that so many of the congressional line redraws created districts where people are Republicans and are going to vote Republican — even if Trump is leading the ticket.

But if you trust Blizzard’s calculations — and I do — it suggests that if the bottom drops out on Trump, which appears to be happening as I type, there are a good number of Republican-held House districts that could suddenly collapse with him.

All of which means that if Republicans think they have hit rock bottom, they may need to wait only a few months to find an even lower floor.

Those 27 R+3 seats? They need a Trump bounce – a major bounce – just to become competitive again. Nate Silver is looking most recently at a high/medium/low range of Clinton win margins at 16/12/8. All of them are considered more probable right now than a Trump win. Democrats would only need a handful of R+3-5 seats to gain control, and if history is any guide they’ll get a lot more than that.

Happy Wednesday. Not there yet, but our best weapon right now is the GOP candidate.


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