A Good Democratic Year Is Building

by Stuart Rothenberg January 29, 2006 · 8:21 PM EST

With a little over nine months to go until Election Day, Democrats are headed for gains in the United States House of Representatives. The only question is exactly how big those gains will be.

Democrats need a net gain of fifteen seats to get to the magic number of 218 seats and control of the chamber. That would make Representative Nancy Pelosi Speaker, install Democrats as chairs of House committees, and fundamentally change the political environment on Capitol Hill and nationally for President George W. Bush’s final two years.

I recently raised my projections of likely Democratic gains to five to eight seats based on the continued deepening of the Abramoff scandal and continued voter sentiment for change. While it is still difficult to “count” eight certain Democratic House takeovers, the combination of macropolitical factors and credible Democratic opportunities add up to likely Democratic gains in the mid-single digits.

But, like the Federal Reserve, which often signals future interest rate shifts by noting that it has a “bias” to higher or lower rates, I like to indicate whether my projected range is likely to move one way or the other. And my current view is that projections of Democratic gains are more likely to grow than to shrink.

While Republicans could benefit from improved news from Iraq, perceived progress in the war on terror, an ethics/reform agenda, or future circumstances that no one can now anticipate, I think it far more likely that the political landscape, which currently tilts to the Democrats, could tilt even more toward Democratic House candidates later this year.

While a 15-seat Democratic gain remains difficult, I no longer think it impossible. Yes, Republicans do have a structural advantage in the House, and Democrats don’t have as many top tier challengers at DCCC chairman Rahm Emanuel would have you believe he does. But the electorate’s mood allows for Democratic prospects to improve further over the next nine months. Stay tuned.