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September 02, 2014 9:24 AM House Keeping

By Ed Kilgore

There’s no longer any organic connection between Labor Day and election cycles, but since it’s generally assumed voters check into (briefly) politics during the period just before balloting, we’ll be seeing a ton of post-Labor Day election roundups and projections this week.

Politico kicks off today with a House overview by Alex Isenstadt, who suggests Republican gains falling short of the GOP’s eleven-seat target. In his take, there’s not really any underlying “wave” this year, and the turnout advantage Republicans enjoy is being offset by superior Democratic fundraising and by an exceptionally small playing field. As you probably know, strengthening House incumbents was the GOP’s meta-goal during the redistricting process, so while that makes Democratic gains difficult is also limits Republican opportunities.

Those who got excited about the possibility of House Democratic gains—or even a takeover—back during last year’s government shutdown saga, and have trouble imagining an incredibly unpopular Republican Party picking up seats, should keep history in mind:

From a historic perspective, a five- or six-seat gain would be a disappointment for the GOP. Since 1950, the party out of the White House during the sixth year of a presidency has gained an average of 25 seats. In the most recent midterm election, Republicans swamped Democrats across the country en route to a 63-seat gain.
And it would fall well short of the 11-seat pickup some top Republicans have set as their goal.

When you stare at lists of competitive House races, what stands out most is how little overlap there is with states holding competitive Senate races. The Cook Political Report currently has 38 House seats as highly competitive (either tossups or leans). A grand total of one of them—IA-03—is in a state with one of the barnburner Senate contests. So the money pouring into Senate races is unlikely to have much effect on the balance of power in the House.

Needless to say, it’ll be a whole new ballgame in 2016.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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