By JIM GERAGHTY
That Less-Discussed GOP House Wave
You haven’t heard as much about the battle for the House of Representatives this cycle for a couple of reasons.
First, a GOP takeover of the House has been almost a foregone conclusion since the results of 2020 became clear — with 213 seats, just five short of a majority, and the president’s party usually losing House seats in a midterm election, Republicans just needed to not trip over their own shoelaces this cycle to win a small majority and make Kevin McCarthy the next speaker of the House.
Right now, Larry Sabato’s “Crystal Ball” — which is more rigorous and data-driven than the name makes it sound — assesses that 218 seats are rated at least “lean Republican.” In other words, for Democrats to keep the majority, they would need to keep every seat rated “lean Democrat” or better, win all of the 22 races rated “toss-up,” and then win at least one of the races leaning Republican.
Second, this is the first House election after a round of redistricting, so in a lot of states, the district lines have moved or at least shifted a bit, and our past sense of what is “normal” for a district is no longer quite so accurate. Redistricting has led to some fascinating incumbent-against-incumbent battles, but Democrats’ fears that redistricting would put them at a severe, decade-long disadvantage didn’t really pan out.
(I also suspect you hear less about House races because the average news viewer doesn’t know where any given district is. If I write, “Pennsylvania,” you probably picture the Liberty Bell, or Terrible Towels, or the Gettysburg battlefield. If I write, “Pennsylvania’s first congressional district,” only locals or House geeks will envision Bucks County.)
Third, there is no getting around the fact that polling numbers help shape narratives and perceptions of any given race, and it’s just more complicated and expensive to conduct polls of House races. Most pollsters use area codes to determine which numbers to call to conduct their poll. Area codes never cross state lines, but they do cross House-district lines, so the pollster must sort through the phone numbers and determine which numbers are in which district. This makes conducting the poll more time-consuming and expensive, and media companies, which often pay for public polls, aren’t as interested in the outcomes of individual House races.
With the Senate 50–50 and only 36 Senate seats up for grabs, the stakes of each individual Senate race are clear. Whether or not we have Chuck Schumer or Mitch McConnell as Senate majority leader could well come down to Pennsylvania or Arizona or Georgia, either on Election Day or in a runoff. Control of the House is unlikely to come down to one race, so if Republicans hear about a particular race taking a bad turn — e.g., the controversy surrounding J. R. Majewski in Ohio’s coastal ninth congressional district — they can shrug and know their hopes for a House majority are only slightly endangered by that bit of bad news.
Because of the issue with area codes, the House races that are easiest to poll are the at-large-district races — places where one congressional district covers the entire state: Alaska, Delaware, North Dakota, Vermont, and Wyoming. Unfortunately, those five states all lean heavily toward one party or another.
Alaska is getting some attention, as it is currently represented by a Democrat, Mary Peltola, and uses that unusual ranked-choice system. Peltola stands out from your average Democratic House candidate — she’s the first Alaska Native woman elected to Congress, and the New York Times described her campaign as “centered on fish, freedom and family” — and for that reason, she’s likely to get more attention than the average Democratic House candidate. She also represents a rare bit of good news for Democrats in what is shaping up to be an overall terrible year for that party.
I was going to write, “No one is bothering to poll Delaware because it’s so deeply Democratic. Lisa Blunt Rochester is considered a shoo-in for reelection,” but it turns out that the University of Delaware conducted a poll last week and found Rochester leading Republican Lee Murphy, 50 percent to 33 percent.
In North Dakota, Democrats aren’t running a candidate, at least on paper; the top challenger to incumbent Republican Kelly Armstrong is independent Cara Lund, but I noticed that the North Dakota Democratic-NPL Party conducted a poll on that race, showing Armstrong up by four percentage points. (The official full name of the North Dakota Democratic Party is the “North Dakota Democratic-Nonpartisan League Party,” formed by a merger of two parties back in 1956.) I would be genuinely surprised if Armstrong’s lead is that small; he won with 69 percent in 2020.
At the beginning of the month, the University of Vermont conducted a poll on that state’s House race; it recorded Democrat Becca Balint in the lead with 57 percent to Republican nominee Liam Madden’s 19 percent and libertarian Ericka Redic’s 9 percent.
In Wyoming, there was interest in Harriet Hageman’s victory over Liz Cheney in the primary, but no one has bothered to conduct a public poll of Hageman’s general-election contest versus Democrat Lynette Grey Bull.
New Hampshire sees more polling of its two House districts than most other states, and for much of the year, the state’s two Democratic House members, Chris Pappas and Annie Kuster, looked relatively safe. But as Michael Graham of the New Hampshire Journal notes, a new survey shows the GOP challengers surging at the right time:
In the First Congressional District, newcomer Karoline Leavitt is in a margin-of-error race with two-term incumbent Chris Pappas, trailing him 48-44 percent. According to sources close to the Leavitt campaign, its internal polling shows she has already caught Pappas and continues to gain momentum.
And in the Second District, the poll found Bob Burns leading longtime Rep. Annie Kuster 44 — 43 percent, with 12 percent undecided.
Here and there, you can see signs of the GOP wave being on the larger side. In Rhode Island, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee released a poll showing a tie in the second district race between Republican Allan Fung and Democrat Seth Magaziner — which would represent an improvement for Magaziner! (I think Alan Fung is going to win, and I would love to see how a focus group would react to his spectacularly thick Rhode Island coastal accent.)
In fact, one of the under-reported stories of the cycle could be the resurrection of the GOP in New England. In addition to the party’s improved chances in New Hampshire and Rhode Island, a recent Emerson College poll of Connecticut’s fifth congressional district found Republican challenger George Logan narrowly besting incumbent Democrat Jahana Hayes, 48 percent to 47 percent.
The New York Times surveyed four swing districts — Kansas’s third district, Pennsylvania’s eighth district, Nevada’s first district, and New Mexico’s geographically massive second district. Only the Kansas district looks out of reach for Republicans; the best GOP pickup opportunities appear to be in Nevada, where Republican Mark Robertson and incumbent Democrat Dina Titus are tied at 47 percent each, and in New Mexico, where incumbent Democrat Gabriel Vasquez leads Republican Yvette Herrell, 48 percent to 47 percent.
All around the country, you can find GOP House challengers hanging around within a few points of their opponents, and Democratic incumbents languishing below 50 percent of the vote. That doesn’t mean the Republican is automatically going to win, but it means they’re in a position where they can win. Like I noted when discussing the cycle’s governor’s races a few days ago, in a year like this, a Republican challenger just needs to avoid last-minute mistakes, make sure their get-out-the-vote operation is a well-oiled machine, and hope the remaining undecideds vote against the incumbent.