How bad could things get for House Dems?

Gingrich election 1994
Republican Representative of Georgia and Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich, announces on the Capitol steps the "Contract with America." In the background is Rep. Dick Army of Texas, Haley Barbor, Dennis Hastert, and John Bonior. This was the beginning of the so-called Republican revolution. (Photo by Erik Freeland/Corbis via Getty Images)

May 2, 2022

This week: The Briefing, Vol. X, Issue 18

  • A 70-seat gain? Gingrich thinks it will happen
  • Why it could actually happen
  • Will Trump’s pick win in Ohio?


House picture: Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich predicted Sunday that Republicans could gain as many as 70 House seats in this fall’s election. Republicans currently have 209 seats, and there are four vacancies that Republicans are very likely to win. (There is also a fifth where they will be competitive.) This means that if they were actually to gain 70 seats, they could reach 284, which is just six shy of a two-thirds House majority. 

Could that happen? One place to look for answers is history. In June 1994, Republicans led in generic ballot polling by about six points, according to Gallup. That advantage shrank to zero by election day, but Republicans still picked up 54 seats in the midterm that year. Their gains were fueled by angry public reactions to the Clinton administration’s apparent radicalism (although it seems quaint by today’s standards). Another factor was the aggressive effort by the George H.W. Bush administration’s Justice Department to fight for states to create heavily Democratic majority-minority congressional districts under the Voting Rights Act. These districts had the side effect of opening up more Republican seats overall starting in 1992. It should be noted, however, that Republicans started that election cycle with only 176 seats.

For the next 12 years, Republicans maintained relatively stable majorities. They never exceeded 230 out of 435 seats in any general election between 1994 and 2004. 

That changed when Republicans regained their House majority in 2010. The congressional generic ballot question was essentially tied between the parties in early May. But starting July 4, Republicans began steadily building a lead that reached nine points by election day. In that midterm, the GOP picked up 63 House seats, in spite of a Democratic advantage in redistricting. Then again, Republicans were bouncing back from a 16-year low of 178 seats. 

So, can 70 be done? Don’t rule it out. The all-time high number of House seats won by Republicans in a general election is 302, from 1921. The next-highest was 270, from 1929. The third-highest was 247 — in 2015. 

With such a partisan breakdown, Republicans (with a little bit of Democratic support) might even be capable of passing certain constitutional amendments — a Balanced Budget Amendment, for example — through the House, although probably not through the Senate.

Of course, a 70-seat gain in the House sounds rather astounding. But it is not as ridiculous as you might think, for three main reasons.

First, Joe Biden is as incredibly unpopular right now. Even on his best issue — Ukraine — he is underwater. And it’s only going to get worse. At the moment, Biden’s net approval rating is double-digit negative in almost every poll, ranging as high as negative 15 points. In Gallup, he currently stands 7 points in his approval rating below where Barack Obama stood at this point of his presidency — and again, Obama’s party lost 63 seats in the 2010 election. 

Things are going to get worse for Biden because it was announced last week that the economy shrank in the first quarter of this year. The likely official announcement of a full-blown recession (two quarters of GDP contraction) will almost certainly hit in late July. This will be timed just right to heighten public anger over the Biden administration just as the unofficial campaign season begins. (Speaking of which, Democrats’ call for a tax hike just before the announcement that the economy was shrinking last week was particularly tone-deaf — but then, so is almost everything they do these days.)

Second, the redistricting process has produced a situation in which a huge wave could bring Republicans gains that are unprecedented in recent history. Thanks to a strong Florida map and late Court victories against Democrats in Maryland and New York, Republicans came out just a couple of seats ahead of where they were last decade. But that’s not the most important factor here. Gerrymandering, it must be said, is far overrated as a means of locking in a majority. In fact, in an effort to maximize seats, Democrats (either through legislatures or judges) stretched themselves out too far in many of the states where they had control of the process. Republicans also acted wisely in most states by refraining from such a strategy. As a result, many Democratic-leaning seats are too competitive for their own good, especially in such states as Michigan, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina. These seats could easily go Republican if the electoral winds blow strongly enough. 

Take, for example, Indiana’s first district, a blue collar seat long held by Democrats. Although Republicans could have done more, they left it D+7, knowing not only that it might well go Republican in a Red Wave year, but that its changing demographics will probably favor the GOP over the course of a decade. There are similar situations in at least four districts in Michigan. In Pennsylvania, Republicans are losing a safe seat, but there are now two swing seats they will probably gain. In New Mexico, Democrats tried to run the table, but they may have weakened all three of the state’s House seats too much — Republicans could take them all in a sufficiently strong year, and they will be competitive in at least two of them every year. The same is possibly also true in two Connecticut districts that Republicans have not held in 16 years. In South Texas, in contrast, Republicans left intact three Hispanic districts with nominally high Democratic margins. Some or all of them could switch to Republican this year because of Democrats’ ideological shift to the far left.

Speaking of the Hispanic (and to a lesser degree black) shift toward Republicans, the cultural backlash to certain Democratic pet issues — political correctness, global warming scaremongering, transgenderism, anti-police and soft-on-crime policies, etc. — is only now beginning to pick up steam. To give an idea of just how far things have gone, San Franciscans are probably about to throw out another prominent left-wing officeholder next month in a recall election. And that’s San Francisco, mind you. It’s only a footnote, but the potential unleashing of social media in this environment, thanks to Twitter’s purchase by Elon Musk and the need for others to compete, could help shift popular opinion even more strongly on such issues. There is a sense that some people took advantage of COVID to act while people’s guard was down and shift the conversation way beyond what was reasonable. 

The 2022 election could serve as a political correction of a Democratic Party that has gone so far leftward that it is unrecognizable even from what it looked like in 2008.

Governor 2022

Ohio: Mike DeWine should win renomination by double digits over a conseravative opposition that is divided almost evenly between former Rep. Jim Renacci and farmer Joe Blystone. Although his COVID policies aroused considerable conservative anger, his image has weathered the storm sufficiently for him to be renominated. 

Democrats will choose in a competitive contest between former Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley and former Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley.

Senate 2022

Ohio: with Donald Trump’s late endorsement, J.D. Vance is surging into the lead just in time for tomorrow’s race. The most likely outcome is that he triumphs over former Treasurer Josh Mandel, whose strong name recognition as a perennial statewide candidate is the only thing keeping it close. 

However, don’t count those chickens just yet. One late poll points to a possible upset. The anti-Trump Republican candidate, state Sen. Matt Dolan, has suddenly surged into a very close third in one late poll. This is in part because he has poured more than $10 million into his own campaign. The main reason Dolan has a chance, however, is that four extremely pro-Trump candidates are crowding the wide Trump lane, leaving the possibility that the anti-Trump candidate can squeeze through with as little as one-third of the vote. Vance is still the favorite, however.

Tim Ryan is the prohibitive favorite for the Democratic nomination.

House 2022

Indiana-1: The Republican nomination in this slightly Democratic seat is probably more valuable this year than it has been in decades. Accordingly, it is quite a contest this time. Black conservative and Air Force veteran Jennifer Ruth-Green is taking on Navy vet and LaPorte Mayor Blair Milo for the chance to run against Rep. Frank Mrvan. This is Indiana’s ugliest Rust Belt district, but it’s just the sort of place where a candidate (or a surrogate) like Donald Trump can be most effective.