Ever since the conclusion of vote-counting in last year’s presidential election, the number seventeen has taken on a special meaning to Democrats.
That’s the number of seats Democrats need to win next year to get back the United States House of Representatives and relegate the Tea Party extremists who control the House Republican caucus to true minority status.
Winning that many seats would be a tall order, but it is not impossible or unfeasible. After all, Democrats won thirty one seats with good candidate recruitment and favorable electoral headwinds just seven years ago.
A new set of polls conducted by Public Policy Polling for MoveOn.org and released this evening finds that if an election were held today, a majority of voters in seventeen districts held by Republicans would vote for a Democratic candidate. Here’s Jim Williams of Public Policy Polling on the findings:
The surveys, commissioned and paid for by MoveOn.org Political Action, show Republican incumbents behind among registered voters in head-to-head contests with generic Democratic challengers in 17 districts. In four other districts, the incumbent Republican falls behind a generic Democratic candidate after respondents are told that the Republican incumbent supported the government shutdown.
In only three districts do Republican incumbents best generic Democratic challengers after voters are told the incumbent supported the government shutdown.
Democrats must pick up 17 seats to win control of the House. These poll results make clear that if the election were held today, such a pickup would be well within reach.
This is big news. Granted, the election is not being held today, and the polls commissioned by MoveOn did not test head to head matchups. But it suggests the Republican Party is in greater danger of losing the House than either its operatives or well known political prognosticators have been willing to admit.
The seventeen districts are mostly slices of the following blue states: California, Colorado, New York, Florida, Iowa, Illinois, Michigan, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virgina, and Wisconsin. There’s also one Kentucky district in the mix.
The specific districts are CA-31, CO-06, FL-02, FL-10, FL-13, IA-03, IA-04, IL-13, KY-06, MI-01, MI-07, MI-11, NY-19, OH-14, PA-07, PA-08, and WI-07.
I’ve been unable to fathom why Democrats have not been aggressively promoting the idea that they could retake the U.S. House in 2014. They certainly need to start doing so now. Democrats do not need Republicans to self-destruct in order to win, as we saw last year, and they should not act as though they do.
Yes, gerrymandering has made the House tougher to contest. Yes, incumbents tend to get reelected. Yes, Republicans will not go down without a fight.
But that doesn’t mean recapturing the House is impossible. It is very possible, but only if Democrats believe it to be. Progressive activists who are sick and tired of Republican obstruction hurting this country have every reason to want to make a big Democratic victory a reality in 2014. Think of all the issues America is unable to make any progress on due to the House being held by Republicans.
The U.S. House has flipped back and forth before. Consider the electoral history of the late 1940s and early 1950s, following the death of President Roosevelt.
In 1946, President Truman’s first midterm election, Democrats were soundly beaten in House elections, after having been in control for more than a decade. In fact, that might even be an understatement: A total of fifty-five seats went to the Republicans, the Democrats’ largest defeat since 1908. It was a without.
Despite losing badly, the Democrats were able to fully reverse the damage in just two years, winning seventy-five seats in 1948 to recapture the House.
They held it in 1950, despite losing twenty-eight seats.
In 1952, control of the House flipped back to the Republicans when Rayburn and his caucus lost a further twenty-two seats. But they took nineteen seats back in the following 1954 midterms, trading places in the House with the Republicans for a third time. After that, they held the majority for forty years.
We live in a different time now, but by studying American political history, we can see that it is not unprecedented for the two major parties to repeatedly trade control of the House several times within the span of a decade.
The Democrats lost the House under Truman and got it back; they lost it again when Eisenhower was elected, but then they got it back.
In 2008, Democrats largely held on to the gains made in 2006 when Obama was elected, but got taken to the woodshed in 2010. They made up some of the lost ground in 2012. Now the question is: Can they finish the job and get the House back in 2014? My answer: Absolutely. But before Democrats can convince voters in key districts across the country to elect Democratic candidates, they need to convince themselves that they can win big in a midterm year.