Republicans get a string of bad news for midterm House elections after fleeting bump from tax cut

Key Points
  • Democrats have improved in the generic congressional ballot after a short-term bump for Republicans.
  • Race handicapper Sabato's Crystal Ball also changed 26 House race ratings in favor of Democrats.
  • The trends do not bode well for Republicans, who aim to hold on to a majority in the House.
Republicans just got a string of bad news for midterm House elections

Promising midterm election trends for House Republicans have worn off, at least for now.

As voters digested the effects of the GOP tax-reform law and a generally well-received State of the Union address from President Donald Trump, Democrats' lead on the generic congressional ballot shrank in February. But the boost for Republicans was short-lived.

Democrats now hold an estimated 9 percentage point advantage in recent polls that measure whether voters support a generic Republican or generic Democrat, according to FiveThirtyEight, a website dedicated statistical analysis. Republicans cut that deficit to as low as 5 percentage points in early February.

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Meanwhile, congressional race handicapper Sabato's Crystal Ball changed its ratings for 26 House elections this week, all in favor of Democrats. The tweaks include Tuesday's closely watched House special election in Pennsylvania, which the organization now lists as a "toss-up." It even shifted its description of House Speaker Paul Ryan's seat from "safe Republican" to "likely Republican."

The news bodes badly for Republicans, who hoped the recent polling rise would help them hold on to a House majority in November's elections. Democrats need to win 24 seats in the midterms to take a majority in the chamber.

Of course, much can change in the roughly eight months before the congressional elections. In addition, Republicans still have a favorable path to holding or adding to their 51 seats in the Senate, as several Democrats run for re-election in states Trump won in 2016.

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Still, recent trends hold some worrying signs for the GOP's House election prospects. Next week's election in Pennsylvania's 18th District, which Trump won by 20 points in 2016, now appears neck-and-neck between Republican state Rep. Rick Saccone and Democratic former prosecutor Conor Lamb.

The tax law has also taken a back seat as an issue in the tight race. National Republicans have abandoned ads there slamming Lamb for opposing the tax law.

Changes in Sabato's Crystal Ball's ratings relate to not only Democrats' ability to unseat Republicans, but the chances of the minority party's incumbents holding on to their seats. The organization says the re-election rate for Democrats "is likely to be extremely high, if not unblemished."

While more shifts in voters' views on the race for Congress could come between now and November, The New York Times' own statistical analysis notes that the generic ballot is generally stable over the long run.

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