Despite President Barack Obama’s passionate pledge to help House Democrats win back a majority, wildly varying obstacles stand in the way: history, redistricting, midterm drop-off, a Washington-based campaign apparatus in disarray, and the president’s new agenda.
Democrats hold 200 seats to Republicans’ 232. Democrats need to pick up 18 seats in 2014 to win back the House marginally, 25 to 30 to attain a bit of hubris.
Historically, midterm elections are a curse for presidents. In the past 100 years, only three have gained House seats during a midterm.
George W. Bush was one of them, in 2002; four years later, in his second term, his party was crushed and lost its majority. Bill Clinton fumbled the Democrats’ four-decade hold on a House majority in 1994; he recovered and won back five seats in 1998, but not a majority.
Obama, in his own words, was “shellacked” in his first midterm cycle.
Don’t let anyone tell you differently: Redistricting matters. Republicans had the upper hand when it came time to redraw congressional and state legislative maps, thanks to their historic gains in state chambers and governors’ offices in 2010 — and they used reapportionment like skilled cartographers.