Newspaper article International New York Times

Democrats Win, but Not in the House

Newspaper article International New York Times

Democrats Win, but Not in the House

Article excerpt

Among the quirks of the rapid shift on cultural issues is the inability of Democrats to profit from it in the House of Representatives.

From one vantage point, recent advances on race, gay rights and health care give the impression of powerful momentum for America's liberal Democrats.

But inside one of Washington's power centers, they are running straight into a wall -- and are unlikely to break through it for a long time. Among the ironies of the rapid shift on cultural issues is the inability of Democrats to profit from it in the House of Representatives.

Republicans hold their largest House majority since the Great Depression, holding 246 of the 435 seats in the House, meaning that Democrats must pick up 30 spots to regain a majority. The power of incumbency and the effects of polarization, which has dramatically shrunk the number of voters up for grabs, make gains of that magnitude excruciatingly difficult.

Moreover, the fortuitous timing of the last Republican wave has made it ever harder for Democrats to generate one of their own. Republican victories in 2010, both at the congressional and state legislative levels, positioned the party to dominate the redistricting process that followed the decennial census that year.

That allowed Republicans in state capitals to draw congressional district lines that capitalize on the tendency of Democrats to live in more densely populated urban areas. By packing more and more Democrats into fewer and fewer districts, Republicans significantly increased their chances to win the rest.

The result: Even though House Democratic candidates nationally drew 1.4 million more votes than Republicans in 2012, Republicans won 33 more House races.

That's why the rising wave of public support for gay marriage, for instance, can take House Democrats only so far, even as Republicans seeking the White House swim against the tide of national opinion. That support is highest in urban areas, not the smaller towns and rural areas where House Republicans rack up big advantages.

Democrats "have been crippled by decisions of like-minded voters to congregate in cities where gay rights have been embraced," said David Wasserman, an expert on House elections at the Cook Political Report, a nonpartisan newsletter than analyzes campaigns. …

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