First among those critics was Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., labeled the “face of defeat” after overseeing the loss of 63 seats two years ago. Defying recent precedent, Pelosi gave up the speaker’s gavel but stayed on as party leader. She vowed that “the tea party Congress” was so unpopular that Democrats would ride Obama’s coattails back to the majority.
Now, with a second straight election about to leave Democrats in the minority, Pelosi, 72, has not signaled whether she will remain in office. She delayed her leadership elections until after Thanksgiving, prompting more speculation about her future than about next year’s House majority.
Rothenberg predicted modest gains for Democrats of about a handful of seats, a symbolic victory but well short of Pelosi’s “Drive to 25” for the net gain needed for the majority. Privately, Democrats do not dispute those estimates but contend the gains will set the stakes for a 2014 campaign in which they will shoot for the majority, particularly if Mitt Romney wins the presidency and is facing his first midterm election.
Republicans, however, believe they have used congressional redistricting to shore up enough of their seats to remain in power for years to come. Rather than aggressively seek more seats, Boehner’s leadership team counseled Republican-led state legislatures to fortify those Republicans already serving on Capitol Hill.
The result has been that House Republicans start off with 190 districts that have a historic performance safely in their corner, while Democrats begin with just 146 such districts, according to an analysis by the independent Cook Political Report.
That leaves just 99 districts viewed as regularly competitive, an all-time low. Democrats will likely have to carry 72 of those 99 seats to reach the bare majority of 218.
“That’s a really bad omen for Democrats, not just this year but in future years,” said David Wasserman, the House editor for the Cook report.