(The Hill) — House Republicans are widely expected to win back power after four years in the minority in Tuesday’s midterm election, but the partisan breakdown of the chamber will have major implications on how it operates next year.
The GOP’s estimated gains vary wildly, from a handful of seats — which would lend Republican leaders just a slim majority — to a red tsunami that would give them a huge cushion to manage their sometimes boisterous conference through the second half of President Biden’s first term.
House Democrats’ narrow majority after unexpected losses in 2020 put Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) in the tough spot of straddling the frequently competing demands of the progressive and moderate corners of her caucus. Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who’s likely to replace Pelosi as Speaker if the House flips, is expected to face similar pressure from his restive right flank.
The predictive business, of course, is an inexact one. And there is always room for surprises. Nate Silver, editor of FiveThirtyEight, compared the Republicans’ odds to that of an NFL kicker attempting a 42-yard field goal.
“It’s not a guarantee,” he said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.” “But … you would expect that to happen most of the time.”
Here are four midterm scenarios, and their potential consequences.
GOP wins narrow majority
A GOP net gain of between five and 13 seats would win them the majority in the range of 218 to 224 seats. But because Republicans have long had high expectations of a red wave this cycle — McCarthy a year ago predicted they would pick up 60 seats — winning by a narrow majority would likely be seen as a disappointment.
Multiple Republican strategists expect to win a minimum of around 225 seats.
Structural factors — like a wave of Democratic retirements and Republicans shoring up GOP-held seats through redistricting — helped give Republicans built-in advantages in the 2022 House map.
A narrow majority would mean that Republicans are able to execute on those structural advantages and flip Democratic-held districts that former President Trump won in 2020 but, despite heavy spending, were unable to dive into territory that Biden won by more than a few points.
“I think we lose the House. Four seats? There’s just no way. But I don’t think we lose as many as people think,” said a former Democratic leadership aide, who predicted Republicans will end up with a numerical advantage between eight and 15 seats.
That, the aide continued, will make it tough for McCarthy to manage the most conservative members of the conference, who are already pushing to impeach Biden and threatening a federal default if they don’t achieve certain policy demands.
“They’ve got him by the balls now, and if it’s close — he does not have what Pelosi does in our caucus,” the source said.
GOP wins healthy majority
A good night for Republicans would mean they successfully captured districts that Biden won by a few points in 2020, such as Rep. Elaine Luria’s (D) Virginia district that broke for Biden by 2 points.
A GOP majority of around 228 to 237 seats, which would mean gaining a net of 15 to 24 seats, would meet expectations of multiple Republican operatives and independent analysts.
It would be a solid win and a manageable cushion for McCarthy, and Republicans would likely take control of committee gavels without excessive bickering about whether leaders did enough to deliver a majority.
The election experts at Sabato’s Crystal Ball predicted Monday that Republican gains would likely land on the upper end of this range, with a pickup of 24 seats. But they also warned that anything is possible.
“There’s still a fairly wide range of possible outcomes,” said Kyle Kondik, Sabato’s managing editor. “These things always seem obvious after the fact but even a day before there’s often real uncertainty.”
Major red wave
Net GOP gains of 25 seats or more would exceed the expectations of most independent analysts and shoot to the upper limit of what Republican operatives think is possible.
The Congressional Leadership Fund, a Republican super PAC, has invested in Democratic seats where Biden won by about 7 points in 2020 — including those represented by Reps. Angie Craig (Minn.), Kim Schrier (Wash.) and Abigail Spanberger (Va.). Wins there could be the difference between a good night and a great night for Republicans.
Republicans are also reaching for some districts that Biden won by more than 10 points in 2020, such as the New York district where Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, head of House Democrats’ campaign arm, moved to run in this cycle.
Such a substantial majority would give McCarthy room to push his legislative priorities without having to worry too much about GOP defections from hard-line conservatives on the House floor.
While Democrats have been dispirited as their prospects have dimmed heading into Tuesday, some are privately saying that Republican control of one or both chambers of Congress will have at least one benefit: It will give Biden the foil he doesn’t have with Democrats controlling all levers of power, and it would put GOP leaders on the line to accomplish the things they’ve promised — a tall order with Biden still in the White House.
A failure by Republicans to make good on those promises could cause the pendulum of public sentiment to swing back in favor of Democrats two years from now — a prospect that a red wave on Tuesday would insulate against.
Democrats hold on to chamber
It’s the least likely outcome, but not impossible, that Democrats hold the chamber next year.
Polls have been unreliable in recent cycles — the double-digit Democratic gains predicted in 2020 were way off base — and vulnerable lawmakers heading into Tuesday said conditions on the ground are far different from the grim forecasts coming from political prognosticators.
“These races are not just a national referendum,” Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-N.J.), who is among the most threatened House Democrats this year, told CNN on Monday. “Voters are voting for and against individual candidates in individual districts.”
A Democratic hold would send shockwaves through the House GOP, likely putting McCarthy’s leadership in jeopardy. It could similarly impact the composition of the Democrats’ leadership team, giving Pelosi and her top lieutenants plenty of ammunition to argue that they should remain at the helm — if they so choose.
Most significantly, a Democratic House would empower Biden’s party to control the chamber floor — and the message — surrounding the remaining parts of his policy agenda, which includes a promise to codify Roe v. Wade.
It would also insulate Biden from the many investigations that Republicans are eyeing if the chamber flips, to include probes into last year’s withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan and the overseas business dealings of the president’s son Hunter Biden.