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Houston Congressional Race Moved from ‘Leans Republican’ to ‘Toss-Up’

All signs point to a blue wave in November.

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By Chris Cillizza

The 2018 election is in 105 days. And the playing field continues to tilt toward Democrats.

On Tuesday, Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia moved 17 House seats in Democrats’ favor. Eight of those seats went from a “leans Republican” rating to a “toss-up,” including Houston’s District 7, where Democrat Lizzie Pannill Fletcher is challenging incumbent Republican John Culberson. That means that of the 36 races rated as “toss-ups” by the Center of Politics, 34 are held by Republicans. Remember that Democrats only need a 23-seat pickup to regain the majority they lost in 2010.

“Democrats are now a little better than 50-50 to win the House,” concludes Kyle Kondik, the managing editor of UVA professor Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball. “This is the first time this cycle we’ve gone beyond 50-50 odds on a House turnover.”

He adds: “At this point, we see the Democrats with slightly better odds to get their required share of the ‘toss-ups’ based largely on the environment, but also because they appear to have well-funded and credible challengers in these districts that can capitalize on that environment.”

These moves are broadly consistent with how other non-partisan handicappers see the current state of play. The Cook Political Report carries 34 seats that are either “toss-ups” or lean toward party that doesn’t currently control the seat; 31 of those are GOP districts. Inside Elections sees 26 Republican-held seats in serious jeopardy as compared to just 5 for Democrats. In CNN’s own ratings, there are 43 Republican-held seats in serious jeopardy as compared to six Democratic-held seats.

It’s reflective of polling from swing districts. Take Pennsylvania’s 17th District in the southwestern part of the state where Reps. Conor Lamb (D) and Keith Rothfus (R) are facing off. Even though President Donald Trump narrowly carried the seat in 2016, Lamb leads Rothfus 51% to 39% in a new Monmouth University poll. And national generic ballot polling where—after a brief Republican resurgence in late spring/early summer—Democrats’ edge on the question is now consistently in the high single digits.

The building Democratic wave is also revealed in fundraising reports filed last week. At least 55 Democratic challengers outraised their Republican incumbent opponents during the second fundraising quarter which covers April 1 to June 30. 55! Fundraising is not, obviously, the sole determining factor when it comes to who wins and who loses, but it does tend to be an expression of passion and energy within the two party bases. When so many Democratic challengers are outraising so many Republican incumbents, you can’t ignore it.

Candidate fundraising also matters in another way: Expanding the playing field. While many of the more than four dozen Democratic challengers who outraised their GOP incumbent opponents are already in targeted races, others remain on the periphery of the landscape of what are commonly accepted as competitive districts. But if the horizon continues to slide toward Democrats, some Republican House members who may not think they are in trouble right now could find themselves suddenly vulnerable. And if their Democratic opponent already has enough money in the bank to run ads and ensure voters know they have a choice, it could be curtains for people who no one is even thinking about possibly losing right now.

Add it all up—and throw in the weight of history that suggests the President’s party loses, on average, 33 seats in midterm elections—and you have a devil’s brew for Republicans.

“Think it’s safe to say the odds of a D House takeover have never been higher this cycle,” tweeted National Journal politics editor Josh Kraushaar. “Time is running out for Rs to turn things around.”

But 105 days is an eternity in politics, you say! And it is—sort of. But the history of midterm elections won’t be changing between now and November 6. Fundraising tends to be momentum driven, meaning that if you don’t have a lot of cash, it’s harder to just go and get it (unless, of course, you are independently wealthy). And once the playing field shifts in a particular direction, it usually takes a cataclysmic event to shift it back in any meaningful way.

All of which is to say: The cake isn’t totally baked on the 2018 election yet. But it’s getting close to finished and the final product isn’t likely to be to Republicans’ liking.

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