WASHINGTON — Since 2006, members of the House have faced electoral waves that swept away scores of incumbents.
But the 2012 struggle for control of the House is shaping up less as a partisan surge than as a series of squalls, in which the outcome will largely depend on individual survival skills rather than a national movement.
In California, a nonpartisan primary and an expensive member-against-member contest between two Democrats, Brad Sherman and Howard Berman, have muddled the outlook in a state where Democrats had high hopes. In Illinois, Democrats are trying to unseat several Republicans, from the freshman Bobby Schilling to the long-serving Judy Biggert, thanks to a redistricting advantage. Republicans are countering with the same strategy in North Carolina, where moderate Democrats such as Larry Kissell and Mike McIntyre face challenges.
The overall dynamic favors Republicans, who look poised to maintain their hold on the House. More Democrats than Republicans have retired in districts where they were endangered, and more Republicans benefited from the redistricting, leaving the Democrats with too small a cushion of Teflon incumbents as they try to regain a majority in the House.
Of the 80 races viewed as most competitive by The New York Times, 32 are leaning Republican, 23 are leaning Democratic, and 25 are tossups.
‘What we’re seeing now is . . . a hybrid effect, with no real momentum for either party.’
Although lawmakers’ approval ratings have hit historic lows, it appears that many voters want their representatives to continue to take the fight to the opposing party.
‘‘There is no doubt that voters believe Washington is broken,’’ said David Wasserman, the House editor of The Cook Political Report. ‘‘But most believe it is broken because the other side broke it.’’
Referring to Speaker John A. Boehner, the top Republican, and Representative Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leader, he said: ‘‘Voters in Boehner’s district believe they are sending Boehner there to fight Obama, and Pelosi’s district believes she is there to fight the Tea Party. It is a retrenchment, not a referendum.’’
Unlike in 2006, when Democrats ran in unison against the Bush administration and dethroned the Republican majority, the Democrats now have no cohesive plan. Some will link themselves to President Obama; others will treat him and his policies like bedbugs.
At the same time, Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, does not appear to be creating the sort of transforming political movement that Obama stirred in 2008.
‘‘In each of the past three election cycles,’’ Wasserman said, ‘‘things were all going right for one party. What we are seeing now is there is kind of a hybrid effect, with no real momentum for either party.’’
The atmosphere is similar surrounding policy issues. Unlike the health care debate, which dominated the 2010 congressional elections, with huge benefits for Republicans, no policy discussion appears to be dominating the House elections this year, beyond the universal desire for more jobs.
The upshot may well be a House with a few more Democrats or a few more Republicans but no radical reconstruction.
More gridlock would be likely to follow.
“A lot had to go right for Nancy Pelosi to be speaker again, and a lot has gone wrong’’ for her, said Paul Lindsay, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee.
The Democrats, of course, will not retreat. With a message that focuses on House Republican votes, combined with the targeting of open seats and seats held by the most conservative members, Democratic officials believe it is possible to eke out the net gain of 25 seats needed to take back the House.
The party has ‘‘a gentle breeze behind our backs,’’ said Representative Steve Israel of New York, who leads the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
‘‘Whether it is strong enough to take us to the majority remains to be seen, but election night will be a good night for Democrats.’’
Democrats have also turned their attention to the long list of open seats around the country. There are 60 seats without an incumbent on the ballot, including 38 open seats, three vacant seats and 19 newly created seats, the highest number since 1992.