With less than a week to go, the momentum is clearly with Republicans, and House Democrats are bracing for the possibility that Election Night could be uglier than they originally thought. The DCCC has been forced to shift more and more resources to playing defense in Democratic-leaning districts, and several seats that looked in good shape a few months ago are now looking more precarious.
Overall, we are adjusting our outlook from a GOP gain of four to ten seats to a GOP gain of six to 12 seats, with slightly larger GOP gains not out of the question. With ten ratings changes today, there are 19 Democratic seats and just seven GOP seats in Toss Up or worse. If Republicans were to pick up 13 seats, they would win their largest majority since 1928, when Herbert Hoover was elected president.
Of particular concern for Democrats are several races in DCCC Chair Rep. Steve Israel's New York backyard, where there is no competitive statewide race driving turnout. Although Reps. Tim Bishop (NY-01), Sean Patrick Maloney (NY-18), and Dan Maffei (NY-24) are all very much still in contention, their leads are no longer large enough to keep them out of the Toss Up column.
Of the three, Maffei occupies the most Democratic district, yet he has never established a strong personal brand in Syracuse and took just 49 percent of the vote in 2012 while President Obama was winning 57 percent. Bishop and Maloney may have the opposite challenge: both won with 52 percent in 2012, but they occupy more GOP-leaning seats and could lose in the event of a big Republican night.
There are also places where problematic statewide races are reverberating negatively for down-ballot Democrats. Now that GOP nominee Joni Ernst has the momentum in Iowa's Senate race, both parties view the race for Democratic nominee Bruce Braley's open IA-01 as a pure Toss Up. "Bruce Braley is almost a bigger drag than President Obama," said one consultant familiar with polling in the race.
There are several bright spots for Democrats, including West Virginia's open 2nd CD, where Democrat Nick Casey is running even with Republican Alex Mooney in a Republican-leaning seat thanks to an aggressive push against Mooney over carpetbagging. And, Democratic state Sen. Emily Cain appears to have stabilized her position in Maine's open 2nd CD.
But the fact Democrats feel compelled to spend in heavily blue districts like eastern Iowa's 1st CD and even Hawaii's 1st CD in the final week tells you just how threatened the party feels on its own turf. Even a month ago, Democrats' engagement in these races felt like a distant prospect. But thanks to the climate, it's been Republicans who have expanded the playing field in the homestretch.
|CA-21||Valadao||Likely R to Lean R|
|HI-01||OPEN (Hanabusa)||Likely D to Lean D|
|IA-01||OPEN (Braley)||Lean D to Toss Up|
|ME-02||OPEN (Michaud)||Toss Up to Lean D|
|MI-06||Upton||Solid R to Likely R|
|NY-01||Bishop||Lean D to Toss Up|
|NY-18||Maloney||Lean D to Toss Up|
|NY-21||OPEN (Owens)||Lean R to Likely R|
|NY-24||Maffei||Lean D to Toss Up|
|WV-02||OPEN (Capito)||Lean R to Toss Up|
Updated Bottom Lines
CA-21: David Valadao (R) - Central Valley: Hanford, parts of Bakersfield
Lean Republican. A month ago, most DC Democrats left Democratic former Hill staffer Amanda Renteria's campaign for dead. But there are signs of life in 73-percent Latino CA-21. First, Democrats point to encouraging absentee voting tallies in the Central Valley as evidence that Renteria's campaign is succeeding in turning out low-propensity voters at rates much higher than in 2010.
Second, a SurveyUSA poll taken in mid-October for a Fresno ABC affiliate showed Renteria closing the gap, down just 47 percent to 42 percent to Valadao. Renteria's progress was mostly attributable to Democratic and Latino voters "coming home" in the final month. Valadao remains the favorite, but the strength of Renteria's showing could say a lot about her potential in a future year.
HI-01: OPEN (Hanabusa) (D) - Oahu: Honolulu
Lean Democratic. Just because President Obama took 70 percent of the vote here twice didn't mean Democrats could take this Honolulu open seat for granted. GOP nominee Charles Djou, who took 45 percent here in 2012 and outperformed Mitt Romney by 16 points in the process, is well-known and well-liked after two previous runs for this seat, while Democratic state Rep. Mark Takai has had to play catch up.
A new Honolulu Star-Advertiser poll shows the race tied at 47 percent apiece, although the DCCC released a poll taken by Global Strategy group showing Takai up 49 percent to 42 percent. Regardless, the GOP-aligned American Action Network has spent $300,000 attacking Takai, and the DCCC has decided to spend here in the final week after ignoring the contest for most of the cycle.
IA-01: OPEN (Braley) (D) - Northeast: Cedar Rapids, Waterloo, Dubuque
Toss Up. Could the most Democratic district in Iowa really be in play? With one week left, both parties' polls show Democratic former state House Speaker Pat Murphy and GOP businessman Rod Blum running neck and neck. Blum has been up with ads featuring footage of "career politician" Murphy throwing a tantrum on the state House floor, almost a partisan mirror image of ads in Illinois's 12th CD.
The real problem here for Democrats, however, could be Rep. Bruce Braley's under-performance in the Senate contest in his home district, which threatens to drag down Murphy. At the end of the day, Democrats are cautiously optimistic they will hold this seat, but the contest has emerged as a much greater worry than Democratic Rep. Dave Loebsack's reelection contest in the 2nd CD.
ME-02: OPEN (Michaud) (D) - North: Bangor, Lewiston, "Down East"
Lean Democratic. After a tepid early fall, Democratic state Sen. Emily Cain finally appears to have established a small lead over GOP former state Treasurer Bruce Poliquin. Cain won the endorsement of Independent Sen. Angus King, and conservative Independent candidate Blaine Richardson may steal some votes from Poliquin. Sensing better opportunities elsewhere, the NRCC largely pulled out of this race.
MI-06: Fred Upton (R) - Southwest: Kalamazoo, Benton Harbor
Likely Republican. Over 27 years in Congress, Energy and Commerce Chair Upton has garnered a bipartisan reputation that has served him well in Southwest Michigan. But recent primary threats have forced him to shift his rhetoric slightly right, and in 2012 he was held to under 55 percent against a weak Democrat. Now, Harvard law professor Larry Lessig's Mayday PAC has put a target squarely on Upton's back.
Mayday has spent $2.1 million portraying Upton as a pawn of big oil and drug companies, and a new Hamilton Campaigns poll taken for scrappy Western Michigan professor Paul Clements's campaign shows Upton leading Clements just 47 percent to 43 percent. Upton hasn't been caught off-guard and is still a strong favorite heading into Election Day, but he may not win by his usual midterm margin.
NY-01: Tim Bishop (D) - Eastern Long Island: Brookhaven, Smithtown
Toss Up. A September Siena Research Institute Poll showed Bishop leading GOP state Sen. Lee Zeldin 51 percent to 41 percent. But Bishop has had to air two separate ads to tell voters he's not under FBI investigation for helping a donor secure a fireworks permit for a Bar Mitzvah, and both parties privately view this Long Island slugfest as a much closer contest today.
The American Action Network and NRCC have both spent over $1 million attacking Bishop as a corrupt Washington insider, while Bishop has pivoted to attacking Zeldin for accepting contributions from polluters in the state senate. Bishop prevailed by a hair in 2010, so in some ways it's hard to see how he will lose this time. But Zeldin may be the toughest opponent Bishop has faced to date.
NY-18: Sean Patrick Maloney (D) - Hudson Valley: Poughkeepsie, Newburgh
Toss Up. Republicans had all but written off this rematch early in the year. But in July, GOP former Rep. Nan Hayworth wrote her campaign a $500,000 check and Maloney got in trouble for hiring drone photography to capture images of his wedding (he sits on a committee that oversees the FAA). Both parties now see the race as much closer than a September Siena poll that showed Maloney up 50 percent to 42 percent.
NY-21: OPEN (Owens) (D) - North: Plattsburgh, Watertown, Saratoga Springs
Likely Republican. Republicans are on the verge of finally reversing their curse in this North Country district. After a tough primary, the GOP coalesced around young former White House aide Elise Stefanik. Importantly, runner-up Matt Doheny was able to remove his name from the Independence line of the ballot by agreeing to be nominated for a judgeship, preventing a split ballot that has doomed the GOP here in the past.
Meanwhile, documentary filmmaker and organic grocer Aaron Woolf's Brooklyn roots and weak ties to the district have allowed Green Party nominee Matt Funicello to gain some traction by running as the "local" progressive, draining votes from the Democratic ticket. According to a mid-October Siena poll, Stefanik led Woolf 50 percent to 32 percent, with Funicello taking a whopping 11 percent.
Not surprisingly for a filmmaker, Woolf has run several slick ads depicting him walking across the district and framing him as an anti-partisan in the same vein as outgoing Democratic Rep. Bill Owens. But national Democrats, who were expected to aggressively portray Stefanik as a former "Bush White House insider," have canceled their ad time here. This is now almost assuredly a GOP pickup.
NY-24: Dan Maffei (D) - West central: Syracuse, Oswego
Toss Up. Yesterday, Siena Research Institute dropped a bombshell poll showing Republican prosecutor John Katko surging to a 52 percent to 42 percent lead over Maffei. But the survey seems like an outlier. Neither party's internal polling shows Katko ahead (Maffei's counter poll, taken by Global Strategy Group, shows him leading 45 percent to 40 percent), and President Obama took 57 percent here in 2012.
Maffei's campaign alleges Siena's accuracy track record is shaky here, and they have a point: Siena had Maffei leading by 12 right before he lost in 2010, and was also 50 points off in the 2013 Rochester Democratic mayoral primary. But given that Maffei underperformed Obama by eight points in 2012 and conditions have only worsened for Democrats since then, it's not hard to see how he could be in trouble.
Republicans have been able to pound Maffei as a DC insider for the third straight cycle thanks to the inexpensiveness of the Syracuse media market, and Maffei lacks the forceful personality or popularity to combat a negative political environment. There is also the possibility that the Siena poll, which has received wide attention in Syracuse, could become a self-fulfilling prophecy. If Maffei hangs on, it may not be by much.
WV-02: OPEN (Capito) (R) - Central: Charleston, Eastern Panhandle
Toss Up. Some Republicans now believe they have a better chance at defeating Democratic Rep. Nick Rahall in West Virginia's 3rd CD than holding onto GOP Senate nominee Shelley Moore Capito's 2nd CD. The reason? Democratic nominee Nick Casey is aggressively defining GOP nominee Alex Mooney as an opportunistic carpetbagger from Maryland, and it's finally beginning to stick.
West Virginia is an odd place for Democrats to be going on offense in 2014, but Casey is up with two effective, hard-hitting ads: one featuring his friend, popular Sen. Joe Manchin, telling voters Mooney isn't a true West Virginian, and another featuring a former Maryland state delegate, Sue Hecht, chiding Mooney as a nightmare to work with in the Maryland legislature (she doesn't mention her Democratic affiliation).
All along, Mooney's backers have calculated that highlighting Casey's past as an Obama booster and lobbyist would be enough to win this contest. But both parties say Mooney isn't winning nearly the same share of registered Democrats a federal Republican in West Virginia should be winning in 2014, particularly in Charleston, where the carpetbagging charge is more of a liability than in the Panhandle.
Smelling blood, the DCCC has gone in with $600,000 of ads over the final week. Capito's strong performance in the Senate race may still be enough to pull Mooney across the finish line in a district where Obama took just 38 percent in 2012, but Casey has run an aggressive enough race and Mooney a weak enough race that Republicans are quite nervous with just a few days to go until the election.