Oct 23, 2018 - Politics & Policy

Republicans don't act like they're going to keep the House

Illustration of upset Republican silhouettes

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Despite seeing some positive signs in polling and enthusiasm after Brett Kavanaugh's confirmation, Republicans' behavior in the last few weeks shows how nervous they are about keeping control of the House.

Between the lines: The lack of confidence is showing up in where GOP groups aren’t spending money and how the Republican blame game is unfolding between President Trump and GOP operatives — all in anticipation of possibly losing the House.

The best example is the party's conflicting signals over Virginia Rep. Barbara Comstock. The Republican Party's campaign arm, the National Republican Congressional Committee, is still spending to save her. But the main Republican super PAC, the Congressional Leadership Fund, disagrees with that strategy and isn't spending there.

  • A national GOP strategist close to the White House told me Comstock "is dead on arrival" and that money could be spent elsewhere to "possibly win six seats in other districts around the country."
  • Last week, a national GOP operative pointed to how much money Democrats have spent in Nevada's 3rd and 4th districts — both open House seats rated as "lean Democratic" by the Cook Political Report. The next day, the NRCC pulled its $1.2 million ad campaign in support of the GOP candidate in the 4th district.

Trump is already setting the stage for a loss:

  • At a rally last week, he said he's not to blame if Republicans lose the House and claimed to the AP that he'll "handle it very well" if Democrats win and move forward on impeachment and investigations against him.
  • Another Republican operative working closely with a number of congressional races around the country said "the president, him being undisciplined, and his low approval" are to blame if the GOP loses the House.

The math doesn't look totally detrimental for Republicans, who could keep their losses to within the historical average of around 30 seats — but a loss is a loss.

  • Cook Political Report's Dave Wasserman told me: "In my view, Democrats have a 70-75% chance of retaking the House, with the most likely outcome in the 25-35 seat range." Democrats need just 23 to win the House.
  • The GOP source close to the White House said two months ago it looked like Republicans were poised to lose 50-60 House seats. Although things look better for them now, the source said, "Today, I think it’s going to be somewhere between 20 and 35 seats that Republicans will lose."
  • A Republican pollster who's familiar with congressional races around the country texted: "Dems have a net gain of 12 or so in hand. 30-35 additional seats still in play. GOP needs to win vast majority of those, which is certainly possible, just tough to do."

The other side: It's still possible that Republicans could hold onto the House, though it probably wouldn't be by much. The GOP is feeling better about picking up an open seat in Minnesota's 8th district after Democrats pulled some of their spending from this race, and they're seeing similar trends in California, Florida and Nebraska.

  • GOP strategist Michael Steel cites the 2016 election — which Trump was supposed to lose — as a word of caution for assuming GOP fortunes in 2018. “I haven’t seen people inside the beltway as convinced and certain about an electoral outcome since the day before Hillary Clinton won the presidency,” he said.

The bottom line: Republicans haven't totally conceded the House, but their actions suggest they're bracing for a long night on Nov. 6.

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