Election Eve Update: House Republicans on Edge of Good, Great Election Night

November 3, 2014 · 12:37 PM EST

The only question in the House is the size of the Republican gains. Our range continues to be a gain of 5-12 seats for the GOP, but it’s possible that the party exceeds that.

GOP strategists are trying to tamp down expectations by saying that gains in the teens would require winning Obama districts in Hawaii, New York, and elsewhere, and holding down the party’s own losses to a seat or two. But those are all very real possibilities. One veteran Democratic strategist expects Republicans to get back the eight seats they lost in 2012 and win a bunch more.

If Republicans exceed the top end of our expected range it will likely be for a couple of key reasons. There are more than a handful of Democratic incumbents in competitive and tight races coming into Tuesday. There is only one Democratic incumbent, Illinois Rep. Bill Enyart, who we believe is a true underdog on Election Day. But if the undecided voters break significantly against those vulnerable Democratic incumbents and a disproportionate number of them lose, then larger GOP gains are likely.

It’s also possible that Democratic polling was too optimistic and Republican polling was too pessimistic (for fear of being “wrong” again) and that those Democratic incumbents were much longer-shots than what they appeared. The data has led us to our ratings but that data could be slightly off.

Arkansas' 2nd District. Democrats are holding onto a sliver of hope that Patrick Henry Hays (D) will take over this GOP open seat against French Hill (R), but admit that their candidate may have peaked too soon. The U.S. Senate seat certainly seems to have slipped out of reach for Democrats at the top of the ticket and the House seat might be doing the same.

California’s 52nd District. A second former campaign aide came forward with allegations of sexual harassment against GOP candidate Carl DeMaio. The first round of headlines didn’t budge his toss-up race with Rep. Scott Peters (D). We’ll see if the most recent stories will be enough to push the race toward the congressman. Leave as Pure Toss-Up.

Georgia's 12th District. It looks like Rep. John Barrow (D) is going to survive once again. While Republicans believe challenger Rick Allen is well within striking distance, Democrats are increasingly confident in the race. They believe they have driven up Allen’s negatives and still have some room to grow with African-American voters. We continue to have the race as Lean Democratic. If Barrow loses, it will be because there is larger, national movement in favor of all Republican candidates.

Michigan’s 6th District. Democrat Paul Clements isn’t strong enough to defeat Rep. Fred Upton (R) on his own, but Mayday PAC’s $1.5 million against the congressman makes this race worth keeping an eye on. The Clements campaign released a survey which showed Upton’s lead down to 47 percent to 43 percent. But in the same survey, the congressman’s favorable rating was over 50 percent while Clements was virtually unknown. Keep as Safe Republican.

Nebraska’s 2nd District. Last week, we moved Rep. Lee Terry from our Pure Toss-Up category to Toss-Up/Tilt Democratic with the expectation that he was more likely than not to lose to Democrat Brad Ashford. But there are some signs that he could squeak out a victory.

The congressman has an entirely new team in charge of his ground game, which has been a weakness in past races. And there is some unity and focus on Terry’s race from a state Republican Party that doesn’t have to worry about any other races. The U.S. Senate race was over as soon as Ben Sasse won the primary. According one local source, the minimum wage initiative has not proven to be a Democratic booster because there isn’t a lot of opposition to it. The initiative is expected to pass but there isn’t a drawn out battle over it energizing its proponents.

One thing is clear, if Terry wins, it won’t be because voters are suddenly in love with him. Republicans appear to have abandoned the recovery effort of the congressman’s favorability ratings a few weeks ago and planned to win by driving up Ashford’s negatives. That’s why we finally saw the Nikko Jenkins ad, which had been expected in local circles for quite some time.

We still believe that Terry is a narrow underdog but it wouldn’t be surprising if he squeaks out a victory. Then the speculation will begin about who will challenge him in the 2016 GOP primary or if he runs for re-election at all.

New York’s 1st District. Republicans have tried and failed to oust Democratic Rep. Tim Bishop in this eastern Long Island district, but there is more and more reason to believe that the congressman won’t escape this time. GOP challenger Lee Zeldin trailed early, as all Republican challengers do here, but he has closed quickly. Still a Pure Toss-up but increasingly looking like a real headache for Democrats.

Utah’s 4th District. Once Rep. Jim Matheson (D) retired, it was widely assumed that Mia Love would have little trouble taking over the seat for Republicans considering that she almost knocked off the incumbent in 2012. But there is some evidence that this race is closer than many people expected. We still expect Love to win and be the first black, Republican woman elected to Congress, but don’t be surprised on Election Night if it is not a blowout.