In other words, they're going to need a wave election year. A really big one.
To some degree, the situation is out of their hands. How House races turn will heavily depend whether Hillary Clinton is performing extraordinarily well on Election Day, or perhaps more accurately whether Donald Trump is performing extraordinarily badly.
It's possible, say Democrats. But given how improbable it is, we wanted a tangible way to get a sense of whether this is actually within the realm of possibility in the Year of Trump.
So we asked around and came up with the top five seats that would signal a new Democratic House majority on Election Day, if they were to turn blue. They're mostly moderate Republican, suburban seats that weren't in play before Trump's nomination, and they're scattered across the country.
Here they are, in no particular order. To the line!
1. Rep. Erik Paulsen, Minnesota's Third District: The western suburbs of Minneapolis have been held by a Republican since the '60s. They've sent their current member of Congress, Paulsen, to Washington every two years since 2008. But this area has drifted to the left in recent years, and its voters tend to be more highly educated than the average Trump supporter. Outside groups are watching and waiting to see if state Sen. Terri Bonoff (D) can get some momentum and/or there's an indication Paulsen will get dragged down by Trump. (So far, he's tried to keep his head down, saying he "expects to vote for the nominee.") If this seat moves, it could happen quickly: Democratic abortion-rights group Emily's List is talking to Bonoff, and Democratic super PAC House Majority PAC has reserved airtime in nearby Minneapolis that could be used to chase this seat.
2. Rep. Ryan Zinke, Montana At-large: On paper, Montana's one congressional seat (it covers the whole state) shouldn't be on this list. Obama lost the state twice — though he came within a few points in 2008 — and it's a largely rural, heavily white state that leans Republican — i.e., Trump's constituency. But if Democrats were going to take this seat for the first time in 20 years, a wave election with an unpopular Republican nominee would be it. They have a candidate they're excited about in state Education Superintendent Denise Juneau, who in 2008 became first Native American woman in the country elected to statewide office, and she's aiming to be the first Native American woman in Congress as well. Emily's List has already endorsed her, but it will need some help to overcome Zinke's $1 million in the bank and the lean of the state.
3. Rep. Mike Bost, Illinois' 12th District: This largely white, St. Louis-suburban area seat had, for decades, been Democratic territory. But since they lost it in 2014 to Bost, Democrats have struggled to field a candidate to take it back. Subsequently, this race fell off Democrats' radar, and it looks like House Democrats are watching from the sidelines to see if attorney C.J. Baricevic can make a real run for it. He slightly outraised Bost in the first few months of 2016, but he'll have to do much better than that to catch up to the nearly three times as much cash Bost has. Still, how well-known or how well-funded Baricevic is might not matter in a true wave election.
4. Rep. Elise Stefanik, New York's 21st District: Last cycle, Stefanik made national news by becoming the youngest woman ever elected to Congress in (she was 30 when she won her 2014 election). The rising GOP star won her northern, mostly white and rural district with 55 percent, even though it's voted for the Democratic candidate for president every election since 1992. Her opponent this time around, retired Army colonel Mike Derrick (D), hasn't raised the money he needs to be competitive with Stefanik, but we repeat: In a true wave election, the candidate matters less than the party he or she belongs to.
To wit, in April, House Democrats' campaign arm put him on a watch list of sorts to see if the race might be worth seriously investing in. And Trump seems to be looming over this race: Stefanik has struggled with questions about supporting him; she will but doesn't like to talk about it.
5. Rep. David Valadao, California's 21st District: Valadao, the son of Portuguese immigrants, is seeking a third term in this Fresno-area district. It's a district where he's defied the demographic and political odds by holding on for so long. It's now 74 percent Latino. Largely thanks to demographics, nonpartisan election analysts at the Cook Political Report call this seat "a ticking time bomb for Republicans." But Democrats have struggled to put up a candidate here and/or get Latino voters to turn out. This time around, they're still not sure who will face Valadao in the fall: Their preferred candidate, Emilio Huerta, the son of labor icon Dolores Huerta, may not even make it to the general. (Ballots are still being counted, in this race and many others, after California's jungle primary Tuesday.)