The summer euphoria for House Democrats thinking they had the momentum to defend their slim majority has given way to a new reality: They are walking into an Election Day buzz saw.
In the eyes of political handicappers, Republican gains for control of the House is a foregone conclusion. The only thing left to sort out is how big the governing majority will be for the remainder of President Biden’s third and fourth years in office.
“It looks like Democrats had a good summer and Republicans may have a good fall,” said J. Miles Coleman of the University of Virginia Center for Politics, which is predicting that Republicans will pick up at least 15 seats.
Ratings from the Cook Political Report highlight the scope of House Democrats’ challenge in this election cycle.
In the 31 races ranked as “toss-ups,” Democrats are defending 21. Making matters worse, five more of the Democratic-held seats “lean Republican” and four are considered “likely Republican.”
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Republicans are defending just two seats rated “lean Democrat.”
The breakdown from Inside Elections, another nonpartisan campaign tracker, shows 19 “toss-up” seats — 13 of which are held by Democrats. The tracker shows Republicans are poised to capture at least five other Democratic-held seats.
Mr. Coleman said Virginia is shaping up to be a barometer for Democratic losses.
Three Virginia Democrats are in different tiers of political trouble.
Rep. Elaine Luria in the Republican-leaning 2nd Congressional District is the most likely to fall. The others are Reps. Abigail Spanberger in the Democratic-leaning 7th Congressional District and Jennifer Wexton in the Democratic-strong 10th Congressional District.
If all three lose their elections, Republican victories could play out in a red wave across the country.
The Republican Party is bullish about its prospects.
“Republicans have the candidates, the message and the resources we need to take back the House,” said Michael McAdams, spokesperson for the National Republican Congressional Committee, the campaign arm for House Republicans. “The American people are fed up with Democrats’ record of rising prices, soaring crime and a border crisis that gets worse by the day.”
Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the campaign arm for House Democrats, is dismissing the doomsday predictions.
“I know there is a bunch of people who are going to be writing our obituary over the next few days. Get out and vote,” Mr. Maloney said in a recent interview. “Where we have shown up, where we have cared about what is happening to our country, we’ve won: in upstate New York, in Alaska for goodness’ sake, in Kansas.
“Don’t tell me this can’t get done,” the New York Democrat said. “So much is at stake.”
The House will go through a dramatic face-lift if Republicans reclaim control just four years after Democrats won the majority of the midterm elections during the Trump administration.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, California Republican, is the front-runner to become the next speaker, and Rep. Jim Jordan, the Ohio Republican firebrand, is expected to become chairman of the Judiciary Committee when the next Congress convenes in January.
He has vowed to take on what he calls an overpoliticized Justice Department and FBI. He recently told The Washington Times that Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas “deserves” to be impeached for lax oversight of the southern border.
In other words, Mr. Biden will not get the kid-glove treatment from Republican-led House committees.
Democrats were more optimistic about their electoral prospects a couple of months ago. They were buoyed over the summer by the uptick in Mr. Biden’s approval rating, a downtick in gas prices and a spike in activist energy after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade’s nationwide abortion rights. Democrats at the time saw a path to defending their majority.
Rep. Pat Ryan’s special election victory in upstate New York and the defeat of an abortion referendum in Kansas added to the sense of hope.
Mr. Biden’s approval rating, which never got above the waterline, has since been pulled down by stubborn economic challenges and overall voter frustration with inflation and rising costs.
Republicans also have expanded their lead over Democrats on the generic ballot question, which tracks how voters respond when pollsters ask whether they plan to vote for an unnamed Democrat or an unnamed Republican in their congressional district.
The Real Clear Politics average of generic ballot polls finds Republicans with a 3 percentage point edge over Democrats.
Democrats led Republicans on the generic ballot question by more than 7 points at this point in the 2018 midterm election cycle and went on to net 41 seats. Four years earlier, Republicans netted 13 seats after leading the generic ballot by 3 points at this moment in the cycle.
Nonetheless, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has been projecting confidence. The California Democrat told Punchbowl News that she has held the belief that Democrats would defend their majority since the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on U.S. Capitol.
When asked about comparisons to 2010, when she maintained Democrats would win before Republicans netted 63 seats, Mrs. Pelosi said, “I don’t know what you mean by that. … Nobody’s told me that.”