The DC Election Outlook: Top House Dems keep a stiff upper lip in the face of long odds

Top Democrats insist that their party will retain the majority in the House. The polls and election forecasters say otherwise, but what would Democrats need to do to be right?

When asked about the election outlook for the House, for instance, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi doesn’t blink when she tells reporters that her party will retain a strong majority. She has expressed confidence that Democrats will hold the House, and will  continue to do so until the last ballot is counted.

She’s not alone.

Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, Maryland Rep. Chris Van Hollen and White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, (well, sort of) have all said they believe there will be a Democratic White House, Senate and House come January.

Democrats are going to have to beat some mighty strong odds to make that outcome a reality.

There are so far only a handful of Republican-held seats that are remotely in jeopardy, so the GOP does not appear worried that those will tip the scales. According to one recent prediction, only one Republican incumbent, Louisiana Rep. Joseph Cao, is in a race that is leaning toward the Democrats. So instead of focusing on beating Republicans who already have a desk at the Capitol, Democrats will need to focus on a handful of “toss-up” seats where they hope their candidates can weather the storm.

Assuming for just a moment that Republicans win the 36 GOP-leaning House seats in districts with a Democratic incumbent that election forecaster Stuart Rothenberg predicts are likely to go their way and lose four Republican seats, Democratic incumbents must keep at least 13 other toss-up races to remain in control of the House.

With the same assumption that Republicans pick up all the seats that they appear to be favored in, a look at election handicapper Charlie Cook’s forecast shows that of 46 toss-ups in Democratic-controlled districts, Republicans need to win 20 of those, and the House is theirs.

The odds of that happening, according to forecasters, are very good. So far, no non-partisan analysts have bet their reputation on Democrats keeping control.

But, like almost anything in life, there’s always a chance.

“Democrats have a 20 percent chance of holding the House,” predicts veteran election handicapper Nate Silver, who blogs at The New York Times. Silver bases his forecasts on thousands of simulations that factor in a number of variables. “Republicans have a 30 percent chance of winning at least 60 seats, a 12 percent chance of winning at least 70 seats, and a 3 percent chance of winning 80 or more seats.”

Despite the consensus among election gurus, it can be said that Democratic leaders who are keeping a straight face are just doing their jobs and holding strong in their last weeks of majority leadership. In the face of a similarly bleak outlook for the GOP in 2006 midterm elections, Republicans said many of the same things. And we all recall how that turned out.

Jon Ward contributed to this report.

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