Alex Sink might have raised a few eyebrows last week when she said Democrats won’t win back the U.S. House in this year’s midterm elections.
The Democrat, herself a candidate in a special election for the Congressional seat left empty when U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young died last year, on Thursday told The Tampa Tribune editorial board that a Democratic majority doesn’t appear to be a possibility.
“Not this year,” she said.
Political parties tend to keep skepticism to themselves, exuding confidence that won’t put a dent in voter enthusiasm — or drive away campaign donors. Discouraging rhetoric among Democrats in this year’s House races could, for example, redirect contributions to safer ventures such as U.S. Senate races.
Yet to political observers, Sink just was being realistic.
“The Democrats’ chances of taking the House are virtually nil,” said Kyle Kondik, managing editor of the political analysis website Sabato’s Crystal Ball.
Democrats and their candidates are dealing with the reality of an off-year election, he said.
“There’s just really no historical precedent for the president’s party picking up 17 net House seats in a midterm election. So what Sink said is, I think, pretty common knowledge even amongst Democratic partisans,” he said.
House Republicans had to face that reality in 2006, when Democrats picked up enough seats to win a majority there, as well as in the Senate.
Back then, the unpopularity of the second Iraq War, among other things, made the GOP a target toward the end of President George W. Bush’s second term.
This time, it’s the Affordable Care Act, derided by opponents as “Obamacare,” that may hurt Democrats in President Barack Obama’s second term.
“It’s clear that Alex Sink is feeling the heat over her support of Obamacare with Florida families and seniors,” said National Republican Congressional Committee spokeswoman Katie Prill. “Debbie Wasserman Schultz promised that all Democrats would run on Obamacare in 2014 and if Florida’s 13th District is the first test run, then I think we can already tell how horrible November will be for House Democrats.”
Polls show Sink neck-and-neck with David Jolly, her Republican opponent for the House seat representing most of Pinellas County. Jolly’s backers insist Sink is a proud supporter of the Affordable Care Act, and consider it a weakness. Sink supports the law in part, but has said she would advocate some changes within it. Jolly, meanwhile, wants to repeal it completely.
Sink is not the first Democrat to say she doesn’t think her party will take back the House this year. Wasserman-Schultz, the Democratic National Committee chair, made a similar statement last week.
Still, Democrats hope for positive gains.
“It’s too early to make predictions, but one thing we do know is that House Republicans are at toxically low approval ratings as voters are rejecting their anti-middle class agenda,” said Josh Schwerin, spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
The absence of hubris might help someone like Sink, who is running in what she called “the ultimate swing district.” Saying she expects to be part of the minority party in Congress if she wins could be what moderate voters in the 13th District want to hear. And appealing to them is in the interest of national Democrats, who view this race as a litmus test for their chances in November.
“A realistic goal for the Democrats this cycle is simply to come out of it with more seats than they hold now — and even that is rare historically,” Kondik said. “A win in FL-13 would be a step in that direction, which is why the race is so important to them.”