Democrats need to flip 24 House seats this fall to take control of the lower chamber next year. That number seems well within reach. As I explained yesterday, a president’s approval rating is one of the better indicators of how his party will fare in congressional elections—and Donald Trump’s sits about 10 points or more underwater. History suggests that, in a vacuum, that abysmal rating should translate into at least a two-dozen-seat loss for Republicans.
Naturally, then, Democrats have set their sights on taking 101 House seats from Republicans.
Wait, what now? Via NBC News:
At House Democrats’ annual conference Thursday, Rep. Ben Ray Lujan of New Mexico, the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), is expected to tell colleagues the committee is expanding the battleground to include 101 Republicans — the largest in a decade, a Democratic source familiar with the matter told NBC News.
Now, a point of clarification: I checked with the DCCC, the official campaign arm of House Democrats, and they confirmed that their list of battleground targets really does run 101 races long—though three of the 19 open seats on that list are currently held by Democrats. But while that 98 figure doesn’t make for quite as strong of a shock-and-awe more-than-a-hundred PR strategy, in reality, there’s not all that much difference between the two figures. Both can safely be described as a freaking lot.
Consider: On Thursday, the Cook Political Report moved a whopping 21 races in the direction of Democrats. And yet even after that sizable shift, it’s hard to count to 98. Cook currently considers 343 of the 435 House seats either solidly Democrat (175) or solidly Republican (168). And of the remaining 92 races thought to either be competitive or have the potential to become competitive before November, 19 of them are currently held by Democrats. Put another way, Democrats are targeting dozens of seats that Cook and other nonpartisan experts think will stay red—some deep red—come Election Day 2018.
This development also comes at a slightly awkward time. Trump’s approval rating, while still deep underwater, has actually inched up toward the surface recently—and at the same time, pollsters have seen Republicans close some of their gap on Democrats on the generic congressional ballot, while Americans are saying they feel better about the economy than they have in quite a while. Despite that, or perhaps because of it, Democrats are pushing forward.
According to the DCCC, their internal, district-level polling is one reason for the confidence. They say Trump is underwater in more than 60 districts he won in 2016. The DCCC also points to strong fundraising by individual candidates and national Democratic groups, which together they hope will offset some of the GOP’s traditional advantage when it comes to outside money (see: Brothers, Koch).
There is certainly some element of posturing here, since it’s not as though Democrats will be equally invested in each of these races, and sometimes contesting a race just means fielding a warm body to fill the ballot line. Credible candidates running to unseat Republicans in districts Clinton won in 2016 will no doubt remain far bigger priorities than going after those she didn’t. And it’s also worth noting that, thanks to the unavoidable tautology of handicapping House races, a district isn’t competitive until it is. The experts at Cook, for example, considered seven Republican seats safe yesterday that they see today as having at least the potential to get far more interesting over the next nine months. That’s just how things work.
Still, it’s fair to wonder whether Democrats are being overconfident here. Every dollar they spend trying to flip that 60th seat—let alone the 98th one—is a buck that they won’t have to invest in those races far more likely to decide control of the House for the next two years. It may not be Hillary can win Texas! but it feels hauntingly close to It’s cool, Michigan’s in the bag.