Democrats Decidedly on Defense in the House

by Nathan L. Gonzales October 10, 2014 · 3:15 PM EDT

The House playing field continues to shift in favor of Republicans as President Barack Obama’s slumping job approval numbers cast a shadow over the landscape and Democrats shift their financial resources from offensive opportunities to defensive positions.

At the beginning of the cycle, David Valadao of California, Rodney Davis of Illinois, and Dan Benishek of Michigan were three of the top House Democratic targets anywhere in the country. Now all three of them are on the fringes of the conversation about competitive races.

California’s 21st District. Democrats are about to fall short of winning this Northern California district for the second straight cycle. Valadao has been consistently strong this year, even though Obama won the district in the last two presidential cycles. Democrat Amanda Renteria’s challenge has never really materialized, even though national Democrats were ecstatic about her successful recruitment. She may well try again in 2016, but 2014 doesn’t look like her year. We’re changing the Rothenberg Political Report rating of the race from Lean Republican to Republican Favored. 

Illinois’ 13th District. Ann Callis was one of the most highly-touted Democratic recruits this cycle, but the challenger never really got untracked, and Democrats failed to put much of a dent into Davis. This is the one seat state Democrats failed to win in 2012 after they redrew the congressional map. The big question is whether Democrats will make this district a priority in two years or decide that the Republican congressman is fundamentally much stronger than they initially assumed. We’re changing the Rothenberg Political Report rating of the race from Lean Republican to Republican Favored. 

Michigan’s 1st District. Benishek nearly lost re-election in 2012 after failing to get his campaign up to speed until shortly before Election Day. But this time, the congressman took this race seriously from the beginning. Democrat Jerry Cannon has run a credible race but his party doesn’t have the money to invest a lot of money into this expansive district. We’re changing the Rothenberg Political Report rating of the race from Toss-Up/Tilt Republican to Republican Favored.

We’re also adding Iowa’s 1st and 2nd Districts to our list from Safe to Lean Democratic. We have been resistant to adding both races because Obama won both districts convincingly in 2008 and 2012, and even though the cycle has improved for Republicans, the GOP hasn’t been marching very far into Democratic territory.

But it looks like the 2nd District race between Republican Marianette Miller-Meeks and Democratic Rep. Dave Loebsack is very serious and the open seat race in the 1st District between Democrat Pat Murphy and Republican Rod Blum is far from over. It doesn’t help the Democratic cause that Senate nominee Bruce Braley appears to be underperforming in his own congressional district.

There are also at least a couple other races where Democrats just don’t have the resources to challenge. We’re changing Rothenberg Political Report/Roll Call rating of Indiana’s 2nd District (Jackie Walorski) and Michigan’s 7th District (Tim Walberg) from Republican Favored to Currently Safe for Republicans. Keep in mind that Walorski has under-performed in the past, but it would be a surprise if she lost.