Can Democrats Win Control of the U.S. House in 2018?

By Bill Madway, DJOP

The 2018 midterm elections offer a critical opportunity for the Democratic Party. Although it won’t be easy – due, in large part, to gerrymandering – we have a realistic chance of winning control of the U.S. House. All 435 seats in the House will be up for election. With the GOP currently at 240 seats and the Democratic Party at 194 (one seat is vacant due to the resignation of Utah Republican Jason Chaffetz), we need a net gain of 24 seats to take the House.

One reason for optimism is that the President’s party typically loses House seats in midterm elections. Over the past 18 midterm elections, which dates back to Harry Truman in 1946, the President’s party has lost an average 25.6 seats in the House. So, the gain we need (24) is within this parameter.

Another reason for optimism is the Democratic Party’s current standing in “generic ballot” surveys, that is, in polls that ask people which party they would support in a Congressional election. According to FiveThirtyEight’s most recent findings, Democrats hold a 10-point lead vs. the GOP in the generic match-up. The figure is similar in RealClearPolitics’ most recent calculations; Democrats hold a 9-point lead.

What does this mean? In a recent report, Alan I. Abramowitz of Sabato’s Crystal Ball writes, “…Democrats will need a lead of at least five points on the generic ballot in early September of 2018 in order to gain the 24 seats they need to take control of the House” (emphasis mine). The recent poll results compiled by FiveThirtyEight and RealClearPolitics show that the five-point threshold is well within reach.

Looking specifically at Pennsylvania, our state will play a pivotal role in the battle for control of the House. In a recent column published by PolticsPA, Louis Jacobson, senior correspondent for PolitiFact and a staff writer for the Tampa Bay Times, identified four House incumbents as vulnerable to ouster. All four are Republicans from Southeastern PA – Ryan Costello (PA-6), Pat Meehan (PA-7), Brian Fitzpatrick (PA-8), and Lloyd Smucker (PA-16). All of the Democrats in the House, except Matt Cartwright, who represents the 17th Congressional District (Wilkes-Barre, Scranton and Easton), are considered safe. Cartwright is rated as potentially vulnerable.

Kyle Kondik, Managing Editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball is not as bullish on the Democrats’ chances in these four races. In a July 27 column, he rates all four as “Leans Republican,” but this represents a downgrade from “Likely Republican” for Costello and Meehan. So, if strong Democratic candidates are selected in the 2018 Primary Election, and Trump’s approval ratings continue to fall, all four of these seats could realistically flip. Looking at the incumbent Democrats, Kondik rates Bob Brady (PA-1), Dwight Evans (PA-2), Brendan Boyle (PA-13), and Mike Doyle (PA-14, Pittsburgh) as “safe.” Democrat Matt Cartwright (PA-17) is rated “likely” to win.

What are the implications of these predictions for Democratic voters? While the signs are encouraging, they’re only signs. Action is required to turn them into reality. If you reside in one of the “flippable” district discussed above, get involved in the primary process now as some candidates have already announced their running. Investigate them, and if there is someone you support, volunteer for her/his campaign, make a contribution, etc. Don’t wait until 2018 to bring your resources to bear; beating an incumbent is seldom easy and can’t be done, if people wait until after the Primary Election to get involved.

For PA Democrats who reside in a Congressional district currently represented by a Democrat, you’re in an enviable position. Your Representative in the House is very likely or likely to win re-election in 2018. But you can’t take anything for granted; so making sure your Representative is re-elected is job one. However, you can do more, much more. You can help Democrats running in nearby Congressional districts win by volunteering and providing much-needed funds. And as I said above, don’t wait until 2018 to get involved.

A final word. In response to the question I posted at the outset, yes, the Democratic Party can win control of the U.S. House in the 2018 midterms. What’s more, Pennsylvania, as it has many times in the past – look no further than the 2016 presidential election, for an example – will play a pivotal role in the outcome. And this means all of us have an important role to play. There are several “flippable” seats in PA. As long as each of us does not confine our electioneering efforts to the arbitrary boundaries of our own Congressional district, we will defeat several GOP House incumbents in PA, getting our party closer to the majority in the House.

Bill Madway is part of the leadership team of Democratic Jewish Outreach PA. He has 25+ years practicing and teaching marketing communications and market research. For questions or comments about the commentary above or other topics, contact him at 610-527-9502 or wmmadway@gmail.com. You can follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/thtleader.

 

Update on Redistricting Cases With Potential Pennsylvania Impact

The issue of partisan gerrymandering was on the docket during the first week in October, both in the U.S. Supreme Court and in courts in Pennsylvania. Partisan gerrymandering is the practice of intentionally drawing voting district lines in a way that benefits a particular political party. Here is a court-by-court update on the status of these gerrymandering cases.

In the U.S. Supreme Court

https://pixabay.com/en/supreme-court-building-usa-546279/

U.S. Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court heard oral argument in the Wisconsin redistricting case, Gill v. Whitford. Early news reports of the argument suggest the expected: the four liberal justices see the injustice of a gerrymander that denies people of the “wrong” party a meaningful right to vote. The four conservative justices may be willing to stay with the existing system, under which courts do not interfere with redistricting on the grounds that it is a “political” matter. Justice Kennedy, who is potentially the key swing vote, appeared to take the arguments by the plaintiffs seriously. Judgment in the case will take a while, likely emerging sometime during the present term, which lasts until the end of June 2018.   –Ken Myers
 

In the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania

The day before the Supreme Court heard oral argument in the Wisconsin case, another partisan gerrymandering case was filed in federal District Court in Philadelphia by five Pennsylvania citizens. Taking a different approach from the Wisconsin case, the Pennsylvania plaintiffs in Agre v. Wolf argue that the the partisan nature of Pennsylvania’s 2011 congressional district map violates the Elections Clause of the U.S. Constitution. They claim that even the attempt or intent to gerrymander is unconstitutional under this clause and that the court should require Pennsylvania to come up with a process of redistricting that has effective guarantees against partisan overreach.

As Raymond Solomon, one of the plaintiffs in the case, explained:

We’re not just looking for a new map, but a new process. California, Arizona, New Jersey and other states have shown that there can be neutral and fair processes that do not rig the outcomes in advance. We feel the U.S. House is the People’s House, and deciding who goes to the People’s House belongs to the people and not the politicians.

 

In the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania

At the state level, a hearing was held before Senior Judge Dan Pellegrini of the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania in a partisan gerrymandering case brought by petitioners the League of Women Voters and individual voters from across the commonwealth. At issue in the hearing was whether this case should be delayed until the U.S. Supreme Court delivers its ruling in the Wisconsin case, as claimed by lawyers for the Pennsylvania General Assembly and its leaders.

The petitioners argue that a delay is not warranted because their case is based on the state constitution, not the federal one, and therefore, would not be governed by the Supreme Court’s ruling. They also emphasize that time is critical to prevent yet another election where the voices of Democratic voters are effectively silenced because their voting districts were drawn to secure Republican victories.

Judge Pellegrini said that even if he allows this case to proceed without waiting for the Supreme court’s ruling in the Wisconsin case, the judicial process will not be completed before the 2018 midterm elections. He did mention the option of a King’s Bench petition, which can potentially fast-track a case to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

When can we expect Judge Pellegrini to rule on whether he will delay the case or permit it to proceed in Commonwealth Court? David Gersch, one of the attorneys for the petitioners, believes the judge will issue his order within a few weeks.

 

Fundraiser for Daylin Leach

As you are well aware, the 2018 elections are critical. The Democrats must take back the House. One way to do that is to help elect State Sen. Daylin Leach to Congress in Pennsylvania’s 7th District. Because of gerrymandering, there are only a few flippable districts — and we must help the candidates running for office in those districts. Even if you don’t live in PA 7, your help is needed. So join us in supporting Daylin Leach on September 10 from 4-6 pm.

RSVP and make your contribution online here. To mail your contribution, download the response form, and mail it, along with your check, to Daylin for Congress, P.O, Box 631, Wayne, PA 19087.

Questions? Contact Vanessa.