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Will Dems retake House? It's too early to tell, say campaign officials

Demographics and dislike for Trump work to Democrats' advantage, but congressional campaign officials are cautious with their predictions.

Michael Bonfigli/The Christian Science Monitor
At a Monitor breakfast June 13, Kelly Ward and Ben Ray Luján of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee see the growth of younger and more diverse voters as a plus for Democrats in November.

Leaders of Democrats’ efforts to win additional US House seats argue demographic trends are working in their favor along with Donald Trump’s controversial bid for the presidency. But they add it is too soon to predict whether Democrats will regain a House majority in the 2016 elections.

“The House battlefield is shifting and it is shifting in a way that will naturally benefit Democrats,” says Kelly Ward, executive director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC). She spoke at a Monitor-hosted breakfast for reporters along with Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D) of New Mexico, the DCCC chairman.

“The electorate is getting more diverse, the electorate is getting younger,” and migration patterns show movement from Republican House districts to Democratic ones, Ms. Ward said.

Democratic leaders also contend that Mr. Trump’s presence at the top of the Republican ticket will accelerate the improving outlook for their  House candidates. 

“The same voters who are creating those opportunities for us and are making … districts competitive are the voters that like Donald Trump the least,” Ward says. In addition to rocky poll ratings from young and minority voters, Ward notes that candidate Trump is viewed unfavorably by 59 percent of suburban voters, 62 percent of independents, and 65 percent of people with a college degree.

Ward and Congressman Luján were cautious in assessing the potential impact of Sunday’s terrorist attack in Orlando on the battle for control of the House. Republicans have traditionally had an advantage on national security issues. 

“Clearly the American people right now have real fears about national security at home and abroad,” Luján said. “They are also very concerned about how we approach these serious issues. Voters do not want a reckless national security policy centered around outlandish proposals. Sadly, that is what we are hearing from the GOP nominee, Donald Trump.”

Luján cited a tweet from Trump after the shooting that said, “Appreciate the congrats for being right on radical Islamic terrorism, I don't want congrats, I want toughness & vigilance. We must be smart!”

Luján’s response was, “Look no further than how Trump reacted yesterday to the Orlando shooting, focused on taking credit for being right and calling on President Obama to resign. These are not signs of a leader.”

While citing reasons for optimism about Democrats’ prospects for winning additional House seats, Ward and Luján avoided predicting whether Democrats could win control in November. Democrats would have to pick up a net of 30 seats to regain control. Of the 435 House seats, Republicans control 247, Democrats 188.

A complicating factor for Democrats is the prolonged battle between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. “Because it has taken so long to get to the general election debate, it has taken longer for the House battlefield to solidify…. It is several months later than we normally would want,” Ward said. “House races are a lagging indicator of the national dynamic.”

Katie Martin, communications director for the National Republican Congressional Committee, recently told The Washington Post that talk of Democrats regaining control of the House was a “far-fetched fantasy.”

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