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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Does GOP Turmoil Give Dems Edge in Battle for House Control?

Yes, it’s too early to make informed predictions about which party will have control of the House of Representatives after the 2012 elections. And much depends of the quality of individual candidates, many of whom are not yet selected. But knowing where Dems stand in polls and redistricting can be useful in formulating strategy.
Toward that end, Kyle Kondik, a political analyst at the U.Va. Center for Politics, has an interesting post, “Channeling Truman? The Race for the House” up at Larry J. Sabato’s Crystal Ball. Kondik weighs current redistricting snapshots and polls, and has this to say about Dem House prospects:

Democrats are focusing on the 61 districts that Obama carried in 2008 that are now represented by Republicans in the House (again, this is under old maps); other than two in Texas and one each in Nebraska and Kansas, all of these Obama/Republican districts are in states Obama carried. Generally, these seats are clustered around Chicago and across the Upper Midwest; between Philadelphia and Rochester; and across Florida and Southern California. Geographically, these are the places where Democrats need to make their move.

But he warns that “History is not in the Democrats’ favor: In 16 post-World War II presidential elections, the party of the winning presidential party has picked up an average of only about 13 House seats,” the grand exception being 1948, when Dems picked up “an eye-popping 76 House seats, thus reclaiming the House”.
Can it happen again? Kondik says

Democrats need less than a third — 24 — of the seats Truman’s Democrats won in 1948 to recapture the House, but it is still a very tall task.
…Can they do it? Paul Ryan’s budget plan, which would effectively change Medicare into a voucher system, gives Democrats a potentially potent weapon, especially among seniors, who are the most committed voters. And an economic recovery, combined with a weak GOP presidential candidate, could sweep Obama back into office with, if not Truman-like coattails, enough strength to move the House back into the Democratic column. Such a combination of sunny factors for the Democrats is an unlikely forecast, but in this era of wild weather, it is at least possible.

Kondik believes that Republicans are on track for a very small net gain in House seats as a result of redistricting, but warns that could be offset by Democratic redistricting success in Illinois and California. Another wild card that may help Dems, says Kondik, is Democratic control of the DOJ, which will hopefully challenge the GOP’s dilution of Black voting strength in redistricting. Kondik concludes,

So at this very early stage, the Crystal Ball would place a decent-sized bet on the Republicans to retain the lower chamber of Congress. Yet out of an abundance of caution — instilled by history’s sometimes erratic, fickle gyrations — we are not yet ready to write off Democratic chances in the House completely. There are too many land mines on the long and winding road to November 2012 for both parties to be absolutely sure of anything 481 days before America votes.

It remains unclear whether the theatrics of Republican House members in recent weeks will hurt their party in the 2012 House elections. Of course, economic recovery over the next 15 months remains the pivotal factor for Democrats. But it’s clear Dems can also benefit by vigorous enforcement of the Voting Rights Act with respect to redistricting, calling the GOP out on their proposals to weaken Medicare and Social Security and highlighting the Republicans’ failure to come up with any job-creating proposals other than tax cuts.

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