Rust Belt Democrats took a beating over cap and trade and the few remaining Sun Belt Democrats were lashed for voting against the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, even if they opposed its original passage.
On the flip side, the long-planned Democratic campaign to hang Republicans with the Ryan budget and its alleged ending of “Medicare as we know it” largely fizzled. Despite the millions spent prosecuting their argument, Democrats lost their edge on Medicare, an issue on which they once held an insurmountable advantage.
Republicans stole a march on Democrats and ran their own ads on Medicare in August and September, using a two-pronged strategy conceived and tested by the NRCC in a spring 2012 special election in Nevada.
First, the NRCC urged every Republican candidate to run early ads featuring the candidate’s own parent and a promise to preserve Medicare for both today’s recipients and future generations. Then the NRCC urged GOP candidates to immediately follow up with tough contrasts linking Democrats to the $716 billion cut in Medicare spending embedded in the Obamacare law.
Republicans had enough confidence to spend a sizable chunk of air-time on Medicare in defiance of the old adage to keep the agenda on your own turf. Deep-dive research had informed GOP strategists that senior voters’ mistrust of Obama and angst about Democrats’ profligate spending in general had erased the GOP’s historical disadvantage on Medicare.
Now, in the post-Obama world, the Medicare issue is close to a fair fight — a reality that landed squarely in the blind spot of Democratic House strategists.
With just hours remaining in Campaign 2012, it’s certain that Republicans will retain their majority. The only uncertainty is the net number of seats that will change hands. Long-time House watchers like Stu Rothenberg and Reid Wilson both predict a three-seat gain for Democrats, with Charlie Cook projecting a Democratic gain of less than five. To get to that modest gain, Democrats will need to win the bulk of the outstanding toss-ups, leaving a solid chance that it will be Republicans instead who make gains.
The math is simple. Reapportionment, the decennial process of redistributing House seats among the states to account for population shifts, gave the Republicans a one-seat edge to start — and it might net the GOP three seats if they can pull off plausible upsets in new seats in Nevada and Arizona. Eleven more races are seemingly cooked and will change parties, eight seats moving from Democratic control to Republican control and three from the GOP to Democrats. That gives Republicans a gain of between six and eight seats before any toss-ups are settled.
Of those 35 or so toss-up districts, 12 are held today by Democrats and 23 are represented by Republicans. To net the gain of three seats the experts predict, Democrats will need to retain all of their own shaky seats and elect two-thirds of their viable challengers.
After lofty pronouncements from Rep. Nancy Pelosi’s team as late as this fall that House control was “in play” — it appears every likely scenario on election eve will be considered a loss for House Democrats.