Democrats’ dreams of rebound turn into a nightmare entering final two-week sprint to Election Day

The summer euphoria for House Democrats thinking they had the momentum to defend their slim majority has given way to a new reality: They are walking into an Election Day buzzsaw.

In the eyes of political handicappers, it is a foregone conclusion Republicans will win control of the House. The only thing left to sort out is how big the GOP’s governing majority will be for the remainder of President Biden’s third and fourth years in office.

“It looks like Democrats had a good summer, and Republicans may have a good fall,” said J. Miles Coleman of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, which is predicting Republicans pick up at least 15 to 20 seats.

The latest ratings from the Cook Political Report shine a bright light on the scope of House Democrats’ challenge in this election cycle.

In the 31 races ranked as “toss-up,” Democrats are defending 21 of those seats. Making matters worse: five more of the Democrat-held seats “lean Republican” and 4 are considered “likely Republican.”

Republicans, on the other hand, are defending just 2 seats rated “lean Democrat.”

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The latest breakdown from Inside Elections, another non-partisan campaign tracker, shows 19 “toss-up” seats — 13 of which are held by Democrats, and shows Republicans are poised to capture at least 5 other Democrat-held seats.

Mr. Coleman said Virginia is shaping up to be a barometer for how bad things turn out for Democrats.

The state features three Democrats in different tiers of political trouble.

Rep. Elaine Luria in the Republican-leaning 2nd Congressional District is the most likely to fall; followed by Reps. Abigail Spanberger in the Democrat-leaning 7th Congressional District; and Jennifer Wexton in the Democrat-strong 10th Congressional District.

If all three go down, the GOP could see other domino-like victories play out across the country, and their dreams of a red wave could come true.

The GOP is bullish about its prospects.

“Republicans have the candidates, the message, and the resources we need to take back the House,” said Michael McAdams, spokesperson for the National Republican Congressional Committee, the campaign arm for House Republicans. “The American people are fed up with Democrats’ record of rising prices, soaring crime, and a border crisis that gets worse by the day.”

At the same time, Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the campaign arm for House Democrats, is pooh-poohing the doomsday predictions.

“I know there is a bunch of people who are going to be writing our obituary over the next few days — get out and vote,” Mr. Maloney said in a recent interview. “Where we have shown up, where we have cared about what is happening to our country we’ve won: in upstate New York, in Alaska for goodness sake, in Kansas.

“Don’t tell me this can’t get done,” the New York Democrat said. “So much is at stake.”

The House will go through a dramatic facelift if the GOP reclaims the majority this year — just four years after Democrats took over the chamber in the midterm election under President Trump.

For starters, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarty, California Republican, is the frontrunner to become the next speaker, and Rep. Jim Jordan, the Ohio GOP firebrand, is expected to become chairman of the Judiciary Committee when the new Congress convenes in January.

He has vowed to take on what he sees as an over-politicized Justice Department and FBI, and he recently told The Washington Times that Homeland Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas “deserves” to be impeached over his lax oversight of the southern border.

In other words, Mr. Biden will not get the kid glove treatment from GOP-led House committees.  

Democrats were more optimistic about their electoral prospects a couple of months ago. They were buoyed over the summer by the uptick in Mr. Biden’s approval rating, a downtick in gas prices, and a spike in activist energy following the Supreme Court overturning of Roe V. Wade’s nationwide abortion rights. Democrats at the time saw a path to defending their majority.

Rep. Pat Ryan’s special election victory in upstate New York and the defeat of an abortion referendum in Kansas added to the sense of hope.

But Mr. Biden’s approval rating, which never got above the waterline, has since dipped, weighed down by stubborn economic challenges and overall voter frustration with inflation and rising costs.

Republicans also have expanded their lead over Democrats on the generic ballot question, which tracks how voters respond when pollsters ask whether they plan to vote for an unnamed Democrat or an unnamed Republican in their congressional district. 

The Real Clear Politics average of generical ballot polls finds Republicans with a 3-point edge over Democrats.

Democrats led Republicans on the generic ballot question by more than 7 points at this point in the 2018 midterm election cycle and went on to net 41 seats. Four years earlier, Republicans netted 13 seats after leading the generic ballot by 3-points at this moment in the cycle.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, nonetheless, has been projecting confidence, telling PunchBowl News that her belief that her Democrats would defend their majority dates back to the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on U.S. Capitol.

When asked about the comparisons that some have made to 2010 when she maintained Democrats would win before the GOP netted 63 seats, Ms. Pelosi said, “I don’t know what you mean by that. … Nobody’s told me that.”

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