Midterms

It wasn’t too long ago that the Democrats seemed poised to make gains in next year’s midterm elections. Some even thought it was plausible that Democrats could retake the House, despite the GOP’s enormous structural advantages. But a mere 33 days since the government shutdown ended, the Democratic “wave” has subsided—and it’s unclear what comes next.

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If there’s anything I could get people to understand about the next election, it’s this: Even a 2006 or 2010-esque tsunami might not give Democrats control of the House.That might seem shocking. In 2006, Democrats won 31 seats; Republicans won 63 in 2010. Today, Democrats only need 17 seats—which might not sound like much.But the fact is that Republicans just aren’t exposed. To turn the “tsunami” into an extended metaphor, an unprecedented share of the Republican caucus has evacuated to high ground.

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The shutdown is over, but it lasted more than long enough to inflict significant damage to the Republican brand. A plurality of voters blamed the GOP for the shutdown, poll after poll shows the GOP’s favorability rating near record lows. And as a result, a once unthinkable Democratic takeover of the House is conceivable, even if it remains improbable.

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This evening’s NBC/WSJ survey was absolutely brutal for Republicans. The president’s approval rating is up, more voters blamed Republicans for the shutdown than did in 1995, and the GOP’s favorability slipped to its lowest level in the history of the NBC/WSJ survey. But there was one question where the numbers weren’t catastrophically bad for Republicans. Unfortunately for Democrats, it’s the single most important gauge of how the Republicans might fare in the midterms.

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Democrats are getting excited about retaking the House.

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There’s nothing Democrats can do about gerrymandering, so here’s a radical proposal: Let’s turn our attention to whether Democrats are poised to capitalize on the opportunities that do exist in the House. Because for all the talk about gerrymandering, there are still 17 House Republicans in districts carried by President Obama. And there are another 17 districts that Romney carried by less than 3 points, and still a handful more of even redder districts where weak GOP incumbents won reelection by a narrow margin.

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