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The fight for congressional control takes an unexpected turn

A year ago, their House majority appeared untouchable -- a peak that Democrats couldn't possibly climb in one cycle. Now, expectations are changing.
The dome of the US Capitol in Washington, DC, Mar. 19, 2014.
The dome of the US Capitol in Washington, DC, Mar. 19, 2014.
It's been clear for quite a while that the Senate is up for grabs in 2016. Republicans are in the majority, but they're defending 24 seats to the Democrats' 10, and Dems only need a net gain of 5 seats to push the GOP back into the minority. Given the various factors -- recruiting, fundraising, turnout projections -- Democrats are feeling cautious optimism.
And while the upper chamber is obviously critically important, we have plenty of experience in recent years witnessing Congress' dysfunction at a time of divided control, with Democrats in the Senate majority and Republicans in control of the House. But thanks to 2010 redistricting, the GOP majority in the lower chamber is practically untouchable.
Or is it? The non-partisan Cook Political Report published a report late last week that raised some eyebrows.

Republicans are sitting on their largest majority since 1928 -- 247 seats to 188 -- meaning Democrats would need to pick up 30 seats, a daunting challenge given the GOP's immense redistricting advantage and the vaporization of swing districts. But all cycle, Democrats have daydreamed about Republicans nominating an extremely polarizing presidential candidate, and suddenly it's almost certain they will get their wish. A Trump or Cruz nomination wouldn't guarantee a down-ballot disaster for the GOP, but operatives on both sides admit it would inject much more uncertainty into races -- especially if it were Trump.... David Wasserman, who monitors House races for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, says there is now the POSSIBILITY that the House of Representatives could flip with either Trump or Ted Cruz at the top of the ticket.

Politico added this morning, "Donald Trump is on the verge of two things once thought to be impossible: winning the Republican presidential nomination, and putting Republicans' historically large House majority in danger."
I'd recommend quite a bit of caution before counting on a new House Democratic majority. For one thing, we don't yet know for sure that Trump will be the Republican nominee. Quite a bit can and will happen in the coming months.
For another, given the existing landscape, flipping 30 House seats is extremely difficult. In 2012, for example, President Obama won with relative ease; Democratic turnout was decent; and when all was said and done, House Dem candidates earned more actual votes than House Republican candidates. But when the 113th Congress convened, Democrats still controlled 201 seats -- 17 shy of a majority.
Yes, House Dems flipped 30 seats in 2006 -- an anti-Bush wave year for the party -- but it's even more difficult now because of 2010 redistricting, with several states stacking the deck in the GOP's favor to an almost ridiculous degree.
Finally, let's not forget that if Republicans take stock around Labor Day and conclude that the White House and Senate are slipping away, every possible GOP resource will go towards preserving the House majority. As things stand, we can make projections as if the elections were tomorrow, but both parties will make investments between now and then that will alter the landscape in unpredictable ways.
Having said all of that, the fact that this is even a topic of conversation should send chills down the spines of Republican officials. As recently as a year ago, their House majority appeared untouchable -- a peak that Democrats couldn't possibly climb in one cycle. That there's even a question about this in 2016 is itself a striking development.