With all the talk about what impact Paul Ryan will have on the presidential race, the $64,000 question Democrats are looking to answer is what will happen with the House and Senate.
I will address the Senate in due time. The House, though, is really difficult to get a read on. At present, Republicans hold a 49 seat advantage. In order to win back control, Democrats would have to net 25 seats. That would give them a 218-217 lead.
What are the odds of that happening? It depends on who you talk to. If you’re a Democratic pollster, Paul Ryan’s presence on the presidential ticket is a wedge issue that can be used effectively against the GOP, especially the Tea Party freshmen (all 87 of them). And then there’s the overall approval rating of Congress. Some polls have it in the single digits. With Republicans holding the majority of seats, that should mean substantial gains for the Dems.
The problem with that logic is two-fold. One, public disapproval of Congress appears to be equally divided between both parties. While that means losses for the GOP, Democratic incumbents are sure to take it on the chin as well. Second, and most importantly, 2012, unlike the last three election cycles, isn’t shaping up as a wave election.
Put simply a wave election is when the majority party basically gets the heave-ho with the minority party emerging virtually unscathed. In ’06 and ’08 Democrats cleaned up at the expense of Republicans; in the 2010 midterms, the tables were turned. From 1986 to 2004, however, there was only one wave election: 1994. Republicans netted 53 seats that year to take control of the House. They also took control of the Senate.
The prevailing logic among many pollsters like Nate Silver is that Democrats will pick up a few seats, but fall short of retaking the House. Most of those gains will come in districts that have historically voted Democrat, but got caught up in the 2010 wave. In New York, Anthony Weiner’s old seat will probably flip back to Democratic control. However, the 23rd and 26th districts, which have historically been Republican and which Democrats won, will also flip back to GOP control in 2012.
If I were a betting man, I’d say that Democrats will net between 10 and 15 seats, enough to send a message, but unfortunately even a one seat majority in the House is enough to wield power. Unlike the Senate, the House doesn’t need to concern itself with filibusters or having super majorities to pass legislation.
Of course anything can happen over the next two and a half months. The House vote on the Ryan budget may come back to bite many Republicans come November. If that’s the case, then prospects for a Democratic surge improve dramatically. We will know more after the Republican convention when Paul Ryan’s impact will be more apparent at the local level.