Elections

Democrats look to slim down Republican House majority

As Nov. 8 approaches, the nation’s attention is fixed on the controversial, and some would say apocalyptic, presidential election. On the rare occasions that people can tear their eyes from the dumpster fire of a presidential election they usually focus on the competitive race for the Senate, where the Democrats have a shot at taking back the majority. In the midst of all the chaos, it’s easy to forget that the entire House of Representatives is also up for re-election.

To be fair though, this oversight is understandable. Republicans have a relatively safe majority in the House. The current balance is 247 Republican seats to the Democrats’ 188. Considering that, according to FiveThirtyEight, in the last election cycle two years ago all but 16 of those 247 Republicans won their seats by at least 10 percentage points, giving Democrats a hard uphill battle if they want to reach the 218 seats needed for a majority. Back in 2010, when the last round of redistricting took place, Republicans gerrymandered the heck out of Congressional districts across the country, guaranteeing themselves a comfortable position for the next few elections. Redistricting won’t occur till 2020, so their majority seems pretty safe this year.

Even if Democrats don’t manage to pull off a miracle and take back the majority, they could dramatically change the landscape of the House. 270 To Win currently predicts that Democrats will win 194 seats, with Republicans getting 225 seats and 16 races still too close to call. Meanwhile, the Cook Political Report rates 22 Republican seats as toss ups, likely to turn Democrat, or leaning Democrat, as opposed to only four Democrat seats in danger of flipping.

Of particular interest to Democrats are the races in California’s 49th and Florida’s 7th. The 49th and the 7th both feature high level Republicans suddenly caught in the reelection races of their lives.

Republican Rep. John Mica of Florida’s 7th had a good thing going until last year when Florida’s Supreme Court struck down the congressional district lines drawn by the Republican-led state legislature for unconstitutional gerrymandering. Now he’s facing a district much younger and more Democratic than he is used to. A Democratic win in the 7th could be a harbinger of good things to come on election night.

The 49th features House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa. Taking out a committee chairman would be a big win for Democrats, and taking out Issa, who has been one of President Obama’s most ardent critics (he once called Obama one of the most corrupt presidents in history) would definitely be satisfying. Issa has won his seat by double digits for the last eight elections, but has suffered from the “Trump effect.” While Issa supports Trump, most Californians don’t. This race highlights the ways Trump has changed the political landscape even down ballot, putting previously safe districts up for grabs.
Of course, it’s not all bad news for Republicans. The GOP has a chance to pick up a seat in Nebraska’s 2nd district, where freshman Rep. Brad Ashford is facing off against Republican Don Bacon. The 2nd is about as purple as it gets, with Obama taking the district in 2008 but Romney carrying it in 2012 according to the [Cook Political Report’s Partisan Voting Index(http://cookpolitical.com/file/2013-04-47.pdf). A Republican win here would help shore up the Republican majority against losses in other districts. Still, Ashford is a moderate Democrat with a history of working across the aisle in a district that is leaning towards Clinton on the presidential level, so it’s a hard fight.

All in all, things are looking good for Democrats. Putting a dent in the Republican majority would force Republicans to reach across the aisle more, particularly considering how fractured the Republican Party is these days. If a fragment of their party refuses to support a bill, Republican leadership will no longer be able to push it through anyway and will have to bend to some Democrat requests to get bipartisan support.

So, what does this all mean for people voting in Pittsburgh? To be honest, not much on the House level. Pittsburgh is in Pennsylvania’s 14th district and is represented by Mike Doyle, a Democrat running for his 12th term in Congress. He is running against Lenny McAllister. McAllister ran in the Republican primary for Illinois’ 2nd congressional district in 2013 but lost and has now shifted his sights and his residence to Pennsylvania. This race is rated as safely Democrat by almost every major poll. Still, it’s worth keeping an eye on how House races play out across the country since legislation is all about compromise, and it matters who our representatives are compromising with.