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Can Democrats win back the House?

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Is there any way Democrats can win back the House?

They can, although it probably won't be easy.

How many seats would the Democrats need to win?


That sounds like a lot?

It is. However, Democrats do have some things going for them.

Such as?

For one thing, if history is any indication, the Democrats should win back the House. The president's party typically suffers in off-year elections like the one we'll have in 2018. Recall President Barack Obama's Democrats losing Congress in 2010 or President George W. Bush's Republicans losing Congress in 2006. Or President Bill Clinton's Democrats losing in 1994.

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In fact, as columnist Michael Barone noted in National Review over the summer, the president's party has only won additional seats four times in off-year elections since 1952. The last time that happened is when Republicans picked up seats in the 2002 midterms. However, that was probably the result of the country rallying around President Bush in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. Absent that kind of crisis, and given President Trump's stubbornly low approval ratings, it's hard to imagine the GOP picking up many House seats in 2018.

Should Mr. Trump's approval ratings remain underwater, major Democratic gains are going to seem more and more like a real possibility. "More than any­thing else, midterm elec­tions are ref­er­enda on the in­cum­bent pres­id­ent," the political prognosticator Charlie Cook wrote in May.

If that holds true in this election, which should not be taken for granted due to the uniqueness of this presidency, the GOP may well be in serious trouble given his anemic poll numbers.

However, that doesn't necessarily mean that Democrats can win the House.

Why is that?

The short answer is that it's just really hard to beat incumbents. The old saying is that voters hate Congress but love their congressman. The first half of that sentence is undoubtedly true – a CBS News poll from August found that just about 1-in-5 Americans approve of the job Congress is doing.Still, they're typically reluctant to vote out their own representative. 

Democrats also suffer from a dearth of particularly vulnerable Republicans in 2018. The top Democratic targets will largely be made up of districts with a GOP representative that otherwise tilt Democratic. However, there's only about nine of those districts, the New York Times wrote last month, which is well short of the 24 seats they need to take back the House.

To put that in perspective, Democrats represented 76 Republican-leaning districts when the 2010 election came around, meaning the GOP had dozens of vulnerable incumbents they could target.  

So Republicans will probably keep the House?

We're still more than a year out from the election so it's impossible to know for sure. However, Democrats seem to have the momentum right now, the president is unpopular, and Congress seems unable to do much of anything. That all has Republicans increasingly worried about their grip on the House and Senate.

"If we do nothing, if tax reform crashes and burns, if on Obamacare nothing happens, we could face a bloodbath. I think we have the potential of seeing a Watergate-style blowout," Sen. Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican, said Friday, referencing the historic losses the GOP faced after the Watergate scandal in the 1974 election.

Democrats are also trying to sidestep the lack of typically vulnerable Republican incumbents by expanding the map as much as possible. They're looking to mount serious challenges against congressmen who haven't had a tough race in years, such as New Jersey Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, the moderate scion of America's oldest political dynasty, and California Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, an outspoken fan of Vladimir Putin.

Democrats are hoping that the numerous veterans they have running for Congress this cycle can flip some seats, including in erstwhile Republican country. For instance, some are hoping 30-year-old Afghan War vet Max Rose could take advantage of an ongoing GOP civil war and make a Trump-friendly New York district turn blue. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which is the party organ most responsible for House races, says they are targeting 80 seats in 2018. 

But their incumbents give the GOP an edge right?

Yes, although that edge is not as much as it used to be, as voters tend to be less reluctant to vote out incumbents then they have in the past. But the bigger issue for the GOP right now is that a number of Republican House members have already announced their retirements. 

That means that there will be fewer incumbents the Democrats need to pick off. In competitive districts from Florida to Michigan to Pennsylvania, moderate Republican lawmakers have been heading for the exits. Some of these lawmakers, like Reps. Dave Reichert and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, had been top Democratic targets for years and appeared all but unbeatable in their districts. And if the retirement trend continues, Democrats will have a much easier time flipping the House.

Democrats are bullish on their chances in 2018. Still, have the last election cycle showed us, any thing can happen and it's best to not underestimate Mr. Trump's appeal. 

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