The 2016 elections have dominated news coverage throughout the spring and summer. The Republican primary, headlined by the quote factory known as Donald Trump, has left politicos scratching their heads and everyday Americans excited that the political conversation is being dominated by non-politicians. The Democratic primary has been a dumpster fire, emanating both a tremendous stench (Clinton’s scandals) and heat (Sanders’ rise). The race for the Senate majority is an interesting, if less-reported, third ring in the circus. The dominant storylines there revolve around Democrats’ inability to recruit top-tier candidates and inability to avoid contentious primary battles.
But what about the House of Representatives? Those races haven’t received a whisper’s worth of coverage despite the tremendous tumult created by Speaker Boehner’s decision to resign. So what gives? Simply put, the House has received no coverage because unlike the races for the White House and the Senate there’s no drama worth wasting ink over. Republicans have built such an enormous lead and crafted such a dominant local party infrastructure that it has potential Democrats throwing up their hands in surrender.
To be clear, this wasn’t always the narrative. At the beginning of the year respected political analyst Stu Rothenberg wrote that “Democrats have a better chance of winning control of the House next year than they did at any time in 2014.” His rationale was simple. First, it’s not a midterm election, which tends to work against the party who controls the White House. Second, it’s a presidential election, which means the electorate is typically favorable to Democrats, especially if they have a strong name at the top of the ticket. And third, Democrats are “oversold,” meaning that they actually performed worse in the last two election cycles than they should have when considering the underlying political make-up of the districts. For instance, Rothenberg notes, in the 2014 midterms, 26 Republicans won seats in district carried by Obama in 2012 while only five Democrats won districts carried by Romney.
Since then, nearly everything that could go wrong for Democrats has gone wrong. The primary problem is that Democrats haven’t been able to find any candidates, much less strong candidates to contend for competitive seats. Emily Cahn reported for Rollcall in late July:
More than a year from Election Day, Democrats are without top-tier recruits in five of the 11 races rated Tossups by the Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report/Roll Call. Democrats are also searching for strong recruits in at least five more of the 15 other districts rated as competitive in 2016.
The holes in the roster contrast with the message former Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel pushed last cycle. In a June 2013 interview with BuzzFeed, Israel said he spoke to a number of candidates in the early days of the 2014 cycle who were reluctant to run in a daunting midterm environment. Israel said candidates wanted to wait to run until 2016 — when presidential turnout and the promise of former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton at the top of the ticket would make for a better Democratic year.
“Whoever has the job of recruiting for the DCCC after I leave will not have a difficult job for as long as people believe Hillary Clinton is gonna be on the ballot,” Israel told BuzzFeed at the time.
Nevertheless, national Democrats pretended to act as if they weren’t worried.
“I don’t think it’s a big concern that they haven’t found folks yet,” Travis Lowe, a Democratic consultant told Roll Call. “Getting into the [fourth quarter and the even-year, the alarm will go off,” if recruits haven’t materialized.
Well, we’re now firmly into fall, which means that alarm should be going off. But rather than use the alarm as a motivating call to action, Democrats are instead hitting the snooze button, rolling over, and asking someone to wake them up in six years or so. Cahn reports:
Democratic operatives thought the prospect of Hillary Rodham Clinton topping the ticket, coupled with a map rife with pickup opportunities in districts where presidential turnout often benefits their party, would be a strong draw for candidates. Yet Democrats are without quality recruits in nearly a dozen competitive districts across the country. As the third quarter of the year comes to an end, the clock is running out to put strong recruits in place. Democrats chalk up the recruitment struggles to the prospect of being in the House minority until at least 2022 — the first cycle after the 2020 redistricting process. Party strategists add that a number of other potential recruits fear they’d be giving up their current jobs to run for a seat that may be unwinnable in 2018 — a midterm cycle that could be treacherous for Democrats if the party holds on to the White House next year.
“The promise of being locked into the minority until the next round of redistricting gets wrapped up is just not really appetizing,” says one national Democratic strategist who insisted on anonymity. “If you’re a bright young Democratic star, why do that? Even if you win you’re in a tough seat, and you get stuck running for re-election in an off cycle, which is really, really, really bad.”
No wonder the media isn’t covering this depressing spectacle. It’d be like tuning in to a poker tournament in which one player folds every hand. So if Democrats are really this content to cede one half of Congress to Republicans, then by all means media, carry on covering something else. After all, the world needs as many people keeping an eye on Clinton as possible.