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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

How Dems Could Retake the House

Until recently, most experienced political observers agreed that Democrats winning back a majority in the House of Representatives on November 8th would be a long shot, even considering Trump’s abysmal poll numbers. At Vox, however, political reporter Jeff Stein reports that some commentators now see a path that could give Dems majority control:

Geoffrey Skelley, who closely tracks congressional races at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, suggests there’s a crude shorthand for evaluating the battle for the House: Look to see if Clinton can beat Trump by 6 points or more in the presidential race. If that happens, Skelley projects 50 seats would be in play.

..By most projections, Democrats look more likely to get closer to 15 or 20 seats, not the 30 they’d need. Many states have gerrymandered safe Republican seats that would require an extraordinary landslide to do the trick. In 2012, for instance, Democratic House candidates won 1.7 million more votes than their Republican foes — and still ended up with 33 fewer members of the House. This is why even many Democrats believe taking the House is unlikely.

But unlikely doesn’t mean impossible. Here’s the math behind how Democrats’ long-shot dream might just become a reality.

Get a district to vote for your party’s presidential nominee and your party will also probably win its House seat.

That’s not an ironclad rule, but it’s a pretty good indicator — in 2012, only 6 percent of districts that voted for Barack Obama voted a Republican into the House.

This is the key to understanding why Skelley thinks a 6-point Clinton win could put the House in play. That kind of national victory would likely mean 50 House districts currently controlled by Republicans would vote for Clinton — therefore suggesting they have a good shot of also going blue at the House level.

Of course, a Clinton win in these 50 districts wouldn’t guarantee House Democrats will pick up all of those seats. (Many are held by powerful or longstanding Republican incumbents who are well-funded and enjoy good reputations at home.) But it does mean that Democrats could lose 40 percent of the House races in districts won by Clinton and still take back control of the House.

And here’s the interesting thing: The polling suggests this is not only a possibility but exactly what’s projected to happen. Averages of all the major polling firms compiled by both RealClearPolitics and the Huffington Post currently put Clinton’s lead right around the 6-point mark.

Stein argues that a 4-point Clinton victory probably wouldn’t do it. That would replicate Obama’s last margin of victory, which only netted 28 seats, two short of what Dems would need to reclaim the Speaker’s gavel this year. A 5-point margin favoring Clinton might do it, according to Skelley’s calculations, but a 6-point lead should give Dems realistic reason to hope for a House majority.

Stein also cites Sam Wang’s calculation that, with just two exceptions since 1946, Democrats have always won back the House when they’ve won the “two-party vote” (voting that excludes third parties). “If the election were held today,” says Wang, “House Democratic candidates would win the popular vote by 5 to 8 percent..Judging from the last few cycles, that level of public opinion appears to be right on the edge of being enough to give Democrats control of the House.”

Before Dems get too optimistic, Stein notes that the Cook Political Report projects that “the party is only on track to nab an additional 16 seats and argues that only 33 seats are vulnerable at this time. Further, adds Stein, Alan Abramowitz’s calculations indicate Dems have about a 15 percent chance of retaking the House majority.

So we have a fairly wide range of informed opinions based on data among some of the smartest political observers about the possibilities for winning back a Democratic majority of the House this year. That’s a lot better than what we were looking at a year ago.

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