Although the “blue wave” didn’t quite turn out the way some hoped in 2018, Democrats did win 40 seats in the House of Representatives in the midterm elections, more than enough to become the majority. The question now is whether they can keep that momentum going heading into 2020.
While much of the media attention focuses on the 2020 presidential candidates, political insiders know that having a majority in the House is key to passing legislation and getting things done during the first 100 days of a new administration.
With a little more than a year to go before the election, here’s how the odds are shaping up for Democrats.
Republicans on Shaky Ground
Before we look at any individual districts or candidates, it’s important to note that history is on the Democrats’ side. The House hasn’t flipped party control twice in a row since 1952 and hasn’t changed during a Presidential election year since 1954, according to the Cook Political Report.
History also shows us that the party out of power tends to have more retirements, which leaves even more vulnerable Republican seats heading into next November. Republicans holding on in swing districts face an even greater challenge when a new candidate is up against a Democratic incumbent.
In today’s political climate, retirements are not just happening because of age. Several moderate Republicans, including Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan and Rep. Will Hurd of Texas, have announced that they will not seek re-election as Republicans in 2020.
Every retirement makes it more difficult for Republicans to regain the estimated 19-20 seats needed to become the majority in the House. However, that does not necessarily mean two more years of House control are guaranteed for the Democrats.
It’s one thing to win a House seat in a wave or change election, but it’s a different matter entirely to sustain it for the long term. Several Democrats who were elected for the first time in 2018 ran largely on opposition to Donald Trump and now need to prove that they have staying power to hold onto their seats.
Several of these Democrats are in California, where longtime Republican districts in Orange County and the Central Valley turned blue in 2018. First-term representatives Katie Porter, Josh Harder, Harley Rouda, and others will face tough GOP challengers in 2020 and voter bases that still lean conservative.
Other battleground districts tend to fall in the suburbs outside large metropolitan areas like Chicago, Detroit, and Las Vegas. These areas tend to contain a mix of moderate Republicans and Democrats, compared to more solidly Democratic cities and strongly Republican rural areas.
The other factor at play heading into 2020 is the electoral maps themselves.
Efforts are underway around the country to draw maps that distribute voters more evenly across parties and do not fall victim to partisan gerrymandering. How some of these legal battles play out will directly impact how districts are drawn and how competitive they are.
For example, Pennsylvania received a new map for the 2018 election following confirmed allegations of Republican gerrymandering. The state picked up several Democratic seats as a result of the new map, which helped the Democrats win the House.
Wisconsin, North Carolina, Michigan, and other states are currently fighting their own battles against partisan gerrymandering. Earlier this summer, the Supreme Court decided that it would not step in, leaving each state to work out its own resolution.
Right now, the consensus among experts and analysts seems to be that it’s likely — but not certain — that Democrats will maintain control of the House in 2020. However, the news cycle and the politics that come with it can change in the blink of an eye, and anything could happen between now and then.
In order to remain competitive, Democrats will need to focus on sustaining the momentum they created in 2018 without moving too far left to alienate moderate voters in their districts.
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