October 16, 2013

With the news breaking that John Boehner will allow a House vote on a Senate deal to end the crisis, meaning Republicans surrendered with nothing to show for weeks of crisis brinkmanship, how does that impact GOP fortunes heading into 2014?

Though the shutdown mess has given Dems a sizable lead in the generic House ballot matchup, that will almost certainly fade. But it could have a lasting impact if it enables Dems to recruit good candidates right now, which could matter to the outcome.

In an interview, DCCC chair Steve Israel told me a number of new recruits would be announced in coming days, thanks to GOP damage sustained in the crisis.

“Conservatively, you will see another three — it could be as many as five,” Israel told me. “In a number of districts we had top-tier, all-star potential candidates who several months ago didn’t see a path to victory. They reopened the doors. These are competitive districts. They tend to be moderate and have large concentrations of independent voters. Those voters are now seeing the Tea Party implement their agenda.”

Three to five new top recruits would not be insignificant, since Dems need to flip 17 seats to take back the House, but Dave Wasserman, who tracks House races for the non-partisan Cook Political Report, estimates that Dems are well short of the number of recruits they need. He says that given how few seats are truly competitive, Dems need between 35 and 40 high-quality recruits to have any shot at putting the House in play, and estimates that they only have two dozen serious recruits at present.

Israel says Dems will meet that goal. “I think we’ll get it into the range of 40,” he said. “I don’t accept that we’re at 20-25 top recruits. I would put it right now in the mid-30s.”

The widening ballot matchup in some polls (NBC/WSJ puts it at eight; Pew at six) has led to some talk of a “wave” developing. Stuart Rothenberg suggests it is now a possibility, and says if today’s conditions were present in the fall of 2014, a wave leading to a Dem takeover would be likely, though he also cautions conditions will likely shift again.

Israel agrees conditions are unlikely to remain as they are now, but adds new recruits will matter. “The environment that we have now may dissipate,” he allowed. “But the recruits are boots on the ground unti 2014. The winds change. But a good candidate is there to stay.”

A Dem takeover of the House, however, remains highly unlikely. Cook Political Report estimates that right now, only 13 GOP-held seats are seriously in play for Democrats (another 16 are in the “Likely Republican” category, meaning they could become gettable under certain conditions). Meanwhile, Dems are defending at least 11 of their own seats that are seriously vulnerable (another 15 are in the “Lean Democratic” category). Also, given built in structural dynamics, Cook’s Wasserman believes Dems must win independents perhaps by double digits to take back the House.

The DCCC, however, believes the map is broader. Israel says he believes the battleground will include more than four dozen GOP-held seats, and cites recent polling showing deep disapproval of GOP budget shenanigans among independents and seniors, both key midterm constituencies.

What’s more, there’s still the possibility of more GOP-inspired crises even in 2014, which could again reinforce the Dem message that the party is hostage to extremists and no longer capable of constructive governing.

Israel says we can’t rule out another debt ceiling and/or government shutdown battle once the elections are underway, though he stresses he’s not rooting for such an outcome. This is almost certainly something top Republicans worry about — the possibility that the right will again agitate for such a crisis, which could force 2014 candidates (particularly those facing primaries) to the right.

“Whenever Republicans bring us to a cliff, whenever we have an opportunity to contrast our priorities versus their priorities, we win the debate,” Israel said.

RELATED:  Cringe-inducing effects of the shutdown

Greg Sargent writes The Plum Line blog, a reported opinion blog with a liberal slant -- what you might call “opinionated reporting” from the left.