GOP confident of its grip on the HouseAugust 28, 2012: 9:56 AM ET
The static nature of the Congressional fight reflects the nip-and-tuck battle for the White House.
By Tory Newmyer
FORTUNE -- It's Mitt Romney's show here in rain-soaked Tampa. But as the Republican National Convention got off to a dreary start Monday, some GOPers were rallying around what they believe is an undeniable bright spot: They are putting their House majority increasingly out of Democrats' reach.
The Republican romp in the 2010 midterms that returned the chamber to their control gave the party it's most effective check on President Obama's agenda. And though Congressional approval stands at a dismal 10% -- an all-time low -- the GOP grip on the House remains firm.
Why is that strange? Because the outcome of the presidential race is anybody's guess. When Romney decided to round out his ticket with Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.), the first sitting House member tapped for the veep slot since Geraldine Ferraro in 1984, Democratic strategists were gleeful. Here, they thought, was an opportunity to sink the GOP nominee by tethering him to the controversial entitlement reforms Ryan spelled out in his budget -- and double down on efforts to nationalize the Congressional contest as a referendum on that proposal.
But in a Monday briefing for reporters here, the captains of the House Republican campaign arm said the Democratic strategy is already on the brink of collapse. "I predict in two weeks the Democrats will stop talking about Medicare because they will have officially lost this issue," said Guy Harrison, executive director of the National Republican Congressional Committee.
That's doubtful. As Harrison himself noted, Democrats have already spent months investing heavily in attacking the Republican plan, a sure sign that rightly or wrongly, they view it as a political winner. Indeed, rather than slipping quietly out of the debate, the issue appears set to remain front and center in the fight for control of both the White House and Congress.
Democrats draw confidence in the potency of their attack from their victory last year in a special election in upstate New York -- over a House seat long in Republican hands -- after forcing the Ryan plan to the fore of the race. Republicans struck on their playbook later that year in a Nevada special election. There, they successfully countered the Democratic assault with the argument that Obama's health care reform law included steep cuts to Medicare. "We encourage the debate, and when we have this debate, we win," Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), an NRCC chief, told reporters Monday.
It's too early to tell how the argument will unfold in individual House races. But it seems unlikely to remake the contours of the battle for control of the chamber. Nathan Gonzales, deputy editor of The Rothenberg Political Report, a non-partisan handicapper, sees single-digit gains for one side or the other. That would effectively mean a wash, since Democrats need to net 25 seats to retake the House.
Explaining the House GOP's durability, Gonzales says with the economy stuck in the dumps under a Democratic president, Obama's Congressional foot soldiers have a tough case to make asking for an overwhelming vote of confidence, even if their alternative isn't much loved. In that way, the static nature of the Congressional fight reflects the nip-and-tuck battle for the White House. But it also means whoever occupies the Oval Office next year will almost certainly be facing a House controlled by the same crowd swept in on the 2010 wave.