Republicans won a narrow victory in Tuesday’s special election in North Carolina, but their chances of retaking the House next year look bleak.
More than a dozen GOP lawmakers are retiring as President Donald Trump’s unpopularity sinks even lower, with a possible recession on the horizon, and Republicans are headed into their annual retreat in a gloomy mood, reported Politico.
“I see an easy path for 12 pickup seats,” said Rep. Mark Meadow (R-NC), head of the conservative House Freedom Caucus. “It’s the last six that will be tough, and that actually runs through California. If we don’t pick up any in California, it will be virtually impossible.”
Trump will join House Republicans in Baltimore for their three-day retreat buoyed by Dan Bishop’s narrow win in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District, but they recognize signs are ominous heading into 2020.
Bishop eked out a 2-point win in a district Trump won by 12 points in 2016, but he performed dismally in the suburbs that turned against GOP candidate in last year’s midterms.
“This is like a five-alarm fire for Republicans in prosperous suburbs,” said Dave Wasserman, the House editor for the Cook Political Report. “[The GOP] averted disaster, but there’s nothing in the results to persuade House Republicans who are sitting on the fence about running for reelection that they are any likelier to take back the majority.”
The GOP is hoping to hold on to 35 House seats in districts that are even less reliably Republican than Bishop’s, and the party is losing its only black House member and two of its 13 women.
Most of those retirements have come from deeply red districts, but at least three of those races have become more competitive with the loss of GOP incumbents.
“We consistently have a lot more turnover than the Democrats, and that’s been the case when we’re in the majority or the minority,” said Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA), whose Washington roommate Rep. John Shimkus (R-IL) is among the retirements. “We have a real opportunity to win the majority back.”
The wild card remains the economy, which has shown signs of falling into recession before next year’s election.
“The stronger the economy, the better it will be for the president and Republicans,” said Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY). “If the economy is not going well, I guess it depends on how so, which factors of the economy aren’t going well.”
Republicans remain publicly confident the economy will hold strong through the election, but political analysts say they’re in trouble either way.
“In both 2018 and last night, House race results have been highly correlated with Trump’s approval ratings,” Wasserman said. “It’s unlikely that [Republicans] win back control of the House either way. Right now, I would put the chances at somewhere between 25 and 35 percent.”