The final too-close-to-call House seats are finally dropping into place. There’s still one in Arizona and one in North Carolina that haven’t been called, but it looks extremely likely now that Democrats will be reducing the Republican majority to 234 to 201. That's a gain of eight seats for the Democrats, to go along with their two-seat gain in the Senate and, of course, Barack Obama's reelection.
Now, Democrats also received more votes overall than did Republican candidates. Again, there appear to be three reasons Democrats received fewer seats than votes: partisan gerrymandering; the natural effects of districting, because partisan residency patterns make even lines drafted under neutral criteria favorable for Republicans; and incumbency advantage. I think it’s an overreach to say that Republicans have any kind of lock on the House until the next census, as some have been saying; gerrymanders tend to erode over time as populations shift, and the power of incumbency depends on the unpredictable factor of retirements. On the other hand, it’s extremely rare for the president’s party to gain at a second-term midterm, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see Democrats go give back all their gains from 2012 and more.
The biggest single factor in congressional elections, meanwhile, often turns out to be candidate recruitment. By now, almost everyone knows that Republicans were clobbered in Senate elections during this cycle because the Democrats totally dominated the recruitment game. We know a lot less about what happened in House 2012 elections, however, and we have yet to see whether Republican infighting and pessimism in the wake of those elections will have any effect on the next round of potential tea-party primaries — and especially on whether Republicans are able to recruit strong candidates for winnable open seats in 2014. Of course, we’ll also have to see whether strong Democratic candidates are scared off by the possibility of a smaller, more Republican midterm electorate.
The point here is that a lot of 2014 will come down not to which issues play well, or demographic change, or even important factors such as the economy, but to which side is able to persuade their best candidates to ignore the obvious risks of running. All of which is starting to happen right now. I know a lot of people want a break from elections, but I’ve said it before and it’s true: The professionals don’t wait until the last minute to get involved and that means that anyone who wants to affect what happens in Congress in 2014 should think about getting involved soon.