Could Republicans lose the House in 2014?

The districting map favors the GOP, but Republicans worry that dysfunction could jeopardize the party's majority

Will House Speaker John Boehner be forced to give up his mallet?
(Image credit: Zhang Jun/Xinhua Press/Corbis)

The Tea Party wave that swept Republicans into power in state legislatures across the country in 2010 could not have come at a worse time for Democrats. Coinciding with the decennial Census, the GOP's statehouse victories in 2010 enabled Republicans to redraw congressional districts in the party's favor, all but ensuring that Republicans would hold onto their majority in the House of Representatives. And that's exactly what happened in 2012, despite the fact that House Republicans lost the popular vote to their Democratic counterparts by 1.1 million votes.

A recent memo by the Republican State Leadership Committee, obtained by Talking Points Memo, shows just how important the redistricting effort is to the GOP's House majority. "Drawing new district lines in states with the most redistricting activity presented the opportunity to solidify conservative policymaking at the state level and maintain a Republican stronghold in the U.S. House of Representatives for the next decade." [italics added]

Indeed, the numbers in 2012 were so lopsided that it's hard to imagine how Democrats could ever win back the House. In Ohio, 12 House GOP candidates were elected, compared with four Democrats. In Pennsylvania, Republicans won by a 13-5 margin. But both states were carried by President Obama.

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In fact, it's far more likely that Democrats will lose seats in 2014. "Only four Republican incumbents are in seats that tilt toward Democrats — a fraction of the 17 seats Democrats need in order to seize the majority," says Alex Isenstadt at Politico. "There are 15 Democrats representing GOP-leaning districts, so Democrats will need to invest heavily just to maintain their current membership in the House."

However, that hasn't stopped some Republican leaders from worrying about 2014. With a majority of Americans holding the House GOP responsible for the impasse over the fiscal cliff, Republican approval ratings have sunk. The House GOP has also been pilloried by national Republicans — such as Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey — for holding up aid to victims of Hurricane Sandy.

And the House GOP's public image as inflexible and ideologically extreme could worsen as Congress heads into a new round of budget battles, according to Alexandra Jaffe at The Hill:

Even as Republican officials maintain the GOP majority is safe, several lawmakers and longtime activists warn of far-reaching political ramifications if voters perceive Republicans as botching consequential talks on the debt ceiling, sequestration, and a possible government shutdown.

"Majorities are elected to do things, and if they become dysfunctional, the American people will change what the majority is," Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), a House deputy majority whip and a former National Republican Congressional Committee chairman, told The Hill. [The Hill]

The dysfunction was on full display for the votes on the fiscal cliff and Hurricane Sandy, which saw every Democrat in the House join with a minority of Republicans to pass politically popular bills. In fact, many Republicans who voted "no" actually wanted the bills to pass, a contingent that Ashley Parker at The New York Times has dubbed the "Vote No/Hope Yes" caucus:

The Vote No/Hope Yes group is perhaps the purest embodiment of the uneasy relationship between politics and pragmatism in the nation’s capital and a group whose very existence must be understood and dealt with as the Republican Party grapples with its future in the wake of the bruising 2012 elections.

Ron Bonjean, a Republican strategist and once the top spokesman for the former House speaker J. Dennis Hastert, a Republican, described the phenomenon thusly: "These are people who are political realists, they’re political pragmatists who want to see progress made in Washington, but are politically constrained from making compromises because they will be challenged in the primary." [New York Times]

So could Republicans actually lose? According to Jaffe, Democrats have identified 30 districts in which the Republican incumbent won by "only" 10 points or less. In other words, it's still a long, long shot.

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