While last week I was interrupted by the announcement of Paul Ryan as Mitt Romney’s VP nomination, in this blog I will make good on my promise to cover the upcoming races for the House of Representatives, to follow up on my earlier analysis of the likelihood of a Republican majority in the Senate.
However, before I begin I most note that that Republican majority has become less likely with the bizarre statements of Senatorial Candidate and current Representative Todd Akin, who has made the news by insisting that a woman cannot become pregnant in the case of “legitimate rape” in contradiction to all medical knowledge on the subject of pregnancy. Akin still maintains a razor-thin lead in the polls but nothing compared to his original double-digit advantage. Now the GOP faces the choice between continuing to support Akin and thus attracting national controversy, or cutting or lowering support and risking the continued incumbency of Democratic senator Claire McCaskill. In addition the Akin statement gives the party terrible framing for the party platform to be announced at the Convention soon, as its current drafts support an amendment to end abortion without clear exceptions for rape or incest. The party seems prepared to sever Akin from the GOP at large, as Mitt Romney has just today called for Akin to leave the race – possibly to avoid attention to the fact that in 2008 Romney used Dr. Jack Wilke as a campaigning surrogate. Dr. Wilke has frequently agreed with Akin and argued without evidence that rape is less likely to lead to pregnancy.
In the House, the Republican party has little more to be excited about. In the best case scenario the party only keeps an existing strong majority. This is the likely outcome, but is far from certain. In my Senate coverage I established that the incumbent Democrats were less safe because they had last won their terms in a 2006 Democratic sweep. In the House the incumbent Republicans face the same issue from the 2010 Tea Party sweep, as many came from battleground or light blue districts and were only elected on the strength of the Tea Party. In November these candidates will have to keep their riskier districts when polling shows voters about even in terms of the coming congressional races. Another relic of the 2010 Republican sweep is an anti-incumbency frustration which now works against the House Majority, especially since the frustration has gone beyond the rallying point of Obamacare and instead toward the impression that Washington has failed to take legislative action. Now, more Republican candidates for the House will have to answer to that charge than their Democratic opponents. Another issue facing the GOP House Candidates is the ongoing disasters affecting the Romney campaign, where each bad campaigning decision seems to be only escaped by jumping headfirst into a new one while Obama stands to successfully paint a picture of Romney as a man willing to do anything to secure his own financial prosperity. In terms of driving turnout, the Presidential campaign as it is today threatens to hurt Republican candidates far more than it will help.
However, the Republican Party has strong defenses keeping the majority in place. The first is money. The Republican Party and its PACs stand to vastly outspend Democratic opponents, and also have obtained advantages in electoral strategy, firstly through gerrymandering. The Republican wave impacted state legislatures as well as the federal government, and Republican state congressmen altered the newly-won districts to better protect the most vulnerable Republican congressmen. In addition Republicans have the advantage when it comes to voter ID laws being controversially initiated in stats such as Pennsylvania, where around 750,000 citizens lack the ID necessary to vote. While this represents up to 9% of Pennsylvania’s registered voters, more cautious estimates of voter ID laws have set the turnout decrease to about 2 to 4 percent due to voters not being able to obtain the proper IDs. However, it is recognized by most that the turnout decrease will disproportionally be among the poor and racial minorities who are less likely to be informed about the need for identification and less likely to be able to obtain that identification in terms of time and transportation. This means that while both parties lose some voters with voter ID, Republican candidates will lose less and be comparatively better off than polling may suggest.
While I would bet on the Republicans keeping the House, with the aforementioned factors going up against the Republican incumbents and challengers alike there is just enough uncertainty that a major shift such as an economic uptick or foreign policy success could lead to a democratic majority. That would result by the shift both directly helping democratic candidates and by swinging the Presidential campaign toward Obama and thus moving turnout toward the democrats. While the House majority will likely be the least up-in-the-air race in November, by no means should either party feel confident in a continuation of the status quo.