House Democrats Wait for Weight of Trump

by Nathan L. Gonzales August 19, 2016 · 2:57 PM EDT

You won’t hear Democratic strategists utter the “m” word but, deep-down inside, some of them believe the House majority is still within reach.

Right now, there aren’t enough districts in play for Democrats to win the majority and the polling in many of the competitive districts isn’t great for Democratic candidates, but Democrats are relying on political science. It’s not a faith in an academic exercise, but in political gravity. 

Now that the conventions are complete, candidates, committees, and interest groups on both sides of the aisle are polling in districts all over the country to get a baseline for the general election sprint. 

Beyond the first tier of takeover opportunities, Democrats’ task gets considerably more difficult. With a little more than two months to go before Election Day, Democratic challengers are often unknown and underfunded and trailing Republican incumbents by double-digits, before the advertising campaigns begin. 

But in many of those districts, Hillary Clinton is trouncing Donald Trump, often by double-digits. And Democrats simply don’t believe that the GOP candidates are strong enough to avoid being dragged down by their presidential nominee. In other words, political gravity, via Trump, will pull them down to reality. 

Though part of that scenario assumes Trump is a typical GOP presidential nominee. Right now, voters regard Trump as an “island,” according to one Democratic strategist, and they don’t automatically hold other Republicans responsible for his actions. Democrats will spend two months trying to change that dynamic.

GOP strategists are encouraged by the polling. In the face of months of bad news about Trump, most of their incumbents are still standing. They’re also confident in past ticket-splitting, including the 17 Republicans who won in districts President Barack Obama carried simultaneously in 2012. 

But just five of those Republicans were forced to win districts where Obama received over 52 percent of the vote. For example, Minnesota Republican Erik Paulsen won the 3rd District with 58 percent against an inferior opponent while Obama carried the district 50-49 percent. 

This fall, GOP incumbents could face more difficult races as Trump struggles to reach Mitt Romney’s totals in competitive seats. Trump could lose Paulsen’s district by 15 points or more and the congressman faces a more credible challenger.

Democrats are most likely to gain between 10-15 seats and fall short of the 30 they need for a majority. But there is still time for a wave to develop to put the GOP majority in jeopardy. Trump is falling behind in the presidential race and starting to drag down some key Senate contests. The House will likely be a lagging indicator of the cycle. But it’s unclear whether Trump’s performance will come close enough to House Republicans’, in enough time, to give Democrats both chambers of Congress.