Final Cook Political Report analysis puts House ‘easily’ in GOP’s reach

One of the country’s leading election handicappers says the House is “easily” within the reach of Republicans, who are heading into Tuesday’s midterm elections with the highest expectations that they’ll have control of the chamber next year.

In their final analysis heading into the polls, election experts at the Cook Political Report, a nonpartisan group based in Washington, acknowledged the lingering uncertainty surrounding this year’s outcome. But with the political winds shifting decisively to the GOP’s advantage in recent weeks, Republicans are all but guaranteed to flip the lower chamber, Cook said. 

“A dearth of high-quality public polling has made House races tricky to forecast this year, relative to the last midterm in 2018,” David Wasserman, Cook’s top House analyst, wrote in releasing the group’s final assessment. “But a House control appears easily within the GOP’s reach — with the biggest remaining mystery the size of that majority.”

With the GOP needing 218 seats to seize the House majority, Cook analysts have put Republicans squarely in control of 212 of them, which they rank either safely, likely or leaning Republican on the campaign’s last day. Democrats, by contrast, have 187 seats in one of those three categories, leaving 36 races in the most hotly contested “toss up” column.

That’s slightly more cautious than the final assessment from another top election analyst, Sabato’s Crystal Ball, based at the University of Virginia, which says Republicans have 218 seats — enough to win House control — that at least lean in the GOP’s favor on Election Day. 

Sabato’s experts are predicting Republicans will pick up 24 seats — well above the five they need to seize the chamber — though they’re also warning that unforeseen factors could skew the final results. 

“There’s still a fairly wide range of possible outcomes,” Kyle Kondik, Sabato’s managing editor, said Monday. “These things always seem obvious after the fact but even a day before there’s often real uncertainty.” 

Cook’s analysts have targeted a range, rather than a number. And Wasserman said the “likeliest” outcome is that Republicans will pick up between 15 and 30 seats — a broad span that acknowledges the uncertainty of polling and open questions about voter turnout. He characterized the House landscape this year as “unusually uneven.” 

From a historical standpoint, this cycle was always going to be difficult for the Democrats. They have razor-thin margins in both chambers, and the party that controls the White House routinely suffers losses in the midterm cycle of the president’s first term. 

This year, however, there have been additional factors adding to the Democrats’ challenges. President Biden’s approval rating has been underwater for more than a year. Rising inflation and volatile gas prices have exacerbated the economic anxieties on the top of voters’ minds. And Republicans have taken advantage of public concerns over crime and safety, blaming the party in power for doing too little to combat the trend. 

As a result, Democrats have been forced to play defense across a much larger battlefield than they’d anticipated even as recently as a few months ago, to include seats that Biden won by double digits in 2020. 

Emblematic of that shift is New York’s 17th District, where Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, the head of the Democrats’ campaign arm, is in one of the “toss up” contests in a region Biden carried by more than 10 points — a situation that’s forced the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee to spend resources defending its own chairman. 

Kondik said Republicans have benefited from a news cycle that’s shifted, in recent weeks, to the same issues that have favored GOP candidates — and made Democrats more vulnerable.

“The general news flow of the election has been better for Republicans than Democrats, just in the sense that the issues the Democrats wanted people to be thinking about (abortion, Trump, etc.) have perhaps not been as prominent down the stretch,” he said. 

Some Democrats are also second-guessing their strategy to focus much of their midterm message on two other issues that have gained prominence this cycle: abortion rights, in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe vs. Wade, and the state of American democracy amid the spurious claims from former President Trump that the 2020 election was “stolen” — a falsehood that inspired last year’s mob attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Those issues have energized the Democrats’ liberal base, but national polls indicate that voters at large consider pocketbook issues — particularly inflation — to be much more important.

Still, even some of the most threatened Democrats have defended their strategy to the last, insisting that voters care about both their economic worries and issues related to democracy and reproductive rights. 

“Most of the voters I speak to are not single-issue voters. They care about the price of groceries. They also don’t want to lose their rights,” Rep. Tom Malinowski (N.J.), a vulnerable Democrat, told CNN on Monday. “And what I’ve tried to argue is Democrats actually have a plan to protect you on both of those issues. Republicans do not.”

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