The last two weeks of news have not proven to be kind to House Democrats political future. It didn’t look that way to start. Earlier last week, the Census Bureau released revised population figures likely to be used (once finalized) for states to redistrict. While Republicans come out ahead with TX gaining two seats and FL a seat, a number of of other GOP leaning seats like AZ stayed pat. NE states such as NY, CA, and IL lost seats but that was expected and will likely hurt the GOP more. All in all, the revised figures, if the final number, probably cut into the GOP’s baseline redistricting gains by a seat or two.
What little optimism was gained from these figures has utterly dissipated however. As I have written prior, the TX – 6 special election was a utter disaster for the party in power. It was not just that Democrats were locked out of the recount but in a district Joe Biden lost by a mere three points last year and their Congressional candidate lost by nine points, the total percentage of the vote breakdown was a whopping +25R. A twenty two point swing from the Presidential vote or even a more modest 16 point swing at the Congressional level is absolutely damning.
Democrats downplayed the results as a fluke but then came two more hammer blows. The first was Representative Tim Ryan announcing he was pursuing an uphill battle for Senate in Ohio last week. Ryan’s ancestrally blue district still votes Democratic but has been turning pinker and was likely to be split in redistricting when the state lost a seat. Ryan was conceivably the only candidate who stood a shot in a new district encompassing part of the old.
Then came Representative Cheri Bustos announcing her retirement. Her district, IL – 17, while not a red seat, opens up swing territory and against an underfunded opponent she only won by four points last year. Trump carried the district both times. Illinois is a losing a seat in reapportionment and Busto’s retirement means Democrats might have to choose between turning her district bluer or eliminating a mid-state Republican seat.
There are likely other hammers soon to drop among House Democrats who seek higher office. In Pennsylvania, Rep. Conor Lamb, who first joined Congress by winning a district Trump had previously carried by 20 points, is telling donors he is likely to run for Senate. Others from competitive regions weighing statewide bids include Reps. Chrissy Houlahan (D-Pa.) and Stephanie Murphy (D-Fla.), who represent two states where Republicans control both chambers of the state legislature. Murphy, who has long had higher ambitions in Florida, is considered unlikely to run for the House next cycle.
Let’s also not forget Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick in AZ – 1 and Vicente Gonzalez in TX – 13 are stepping down at the end of next year. As a result, both seats which were competitive last year, are arguably competitive and at best financial dumps of money to keep in the party’s column. Even Charlie Crist’s announcement he will make another run as a Democrat for Governor opens up his light blue district for a competitive race(and that is before the GOP even starts to draw new maps).
Most concerning for the party is the apparent lack of energy and momentum carrying over from last year. The vote change in TX – 6 was concerning, but the fact a Democratic coalition in a diversifying district, predicated on winning over suburban whites and low – income minorities, did not show up without a lot of goading without Trump on the ballot is terrifying for the party.
Worse, as mentioned in a prior article on the TX – 6 results, the results come at a time when President Biden is likely at the zenith of his agenda’s popularity. Rescue Act money is flowing, checks are going out, employment is bouncing back and GDP growth hit 6.2 percent in the first quarter of 2021 per unrevised DOL statistics. Yet, the result is a 25 point drubbing in a low turnout pink district the party was competitive in a mere six months ago.
Add in the united front the Democratic Caucus has presented, including swing seat members such as Cindy Axne of Iowa, Cheri Bustos of Illinois, Matt Cartwright of Pennsylvania, Jared Golden of Maine, Andy Kim of New Jersey, Ron Kind of Wisconsin and Elissa Slotkin of Michigan, all sitting ins seats Trump carried, would face tough reelections in the best environment. Instead, they are likely facing down a political arena where Democrats are lethargic after beating the white whale and the GOP is ready to go to war. Unlike moderates in other cycles, these members cannot run away from an agenda devoted to elections, campaign finance and ethics measure known as HR 1 and a background check bill for gun purchases, LGBTQ and women’s rights bills and a bill to grant legal status to unauthorized immigrants brought to the country as children. It is a GOP hit list even before the debt is added in.
It might not yet be time to start panicking but I would definitely be worried by now.