Political control of the House of Representatives has changed hands only five times since World War II. This has always occurred in the midterm elections and each time the president’s party has lost control.
The worst defeat for the GOP was in 1974 in the wake of the Watergate scandal when one-quarter of the Republican House members were sent packing by the voters in the largest congressional loss ever. The worst loss for the Democrats came in 1946 when President Truman’s unpopularity cost them 55 House seats and 12 in the Senate.
In view of Trump’s continuing incompetence and corruption, winning the House and even possibly the Senate should be easy for the Democrats in 2018, right? Don’t be too sure. Political realities have a way of upsetting “sure things.” Remember Hillary in 2016?
The Democrats’ realistic chances in 2018? To gain control of the House of Representatives they must win 24 seats now held by Republicans while retaining the 194 seats they presently hold. Many of these are in districts taken by Hillary Clinton in 2016. While all 435 House seats are up for grabs, only about 48 are considered competitive, that is, rated a tossup or only slightly leaning toward one party. But things don’t always go according to predictions based on past performances. House Election 2018 should be interesting.
The unpopular Republican preoccupation with his impeachment in 1998 made Bill Clinton the first two-term president in 176 years to gain House seats in the sixth year of his presidency. And in 2006 the voters had become so thoroughly disenchanted with George W. Bush that they gave the Democrats twice as many House seats as they needed for control. But even though Donald Trump’s disapproval rating dipped below 50% in the final week of the 2016 election campaign, he still beat Hillary. While disapproving of Trump, some voters evidently disapproved of Hillary Clinton even more.
Two surveys that are considered good indicators of current voter preferences in the midterm elections slightly favor the Democrats. They are outperforming the GOP in generic ballot polls in which people are asked which party, not which candidates, they would support in the congressional election. And Trump’s overall approval rating is low for a sitting president. Sounds good for the Democrats, but House races have a way of being influenced by local issues and personalities. These could matter considerably this November.
And then there’s the “coattails” factor. There were many traditionally Democratic districts where Trump swept local Republicans along with him in congressional races. But in these districts Trump supporters might not turn out in sufficient numbers this time for Republican House candidates without Trump on the ballot. There’s a lot of “ifs.”
A final point: More than 30 Republican congressmen have decided not to run for reelection in 2018. And some of these are from swing districts that could easily go either way in November.
The Democrats hope to ride a rising wave of liberalism reinforced by anti-Trump sentiments to victory in November. But at this point all I can say is “we shall see.”
George B. Reed Jr., who lives in Rossville, can be reached by email at email@example.com.