WASHINGTON — Make Massachusetts Relevant Again in the US House!
OK, maybe it makes a bad bumper sticker. (The Massachusetts all-Democrat House delegation doesn’t really need bumper stickers, anyway, because the state GOP can’t field strong challengers).
But the point is optimism reigns among the Bay State’s nine House members, whose clout has pretty much evaporated since Republicans won control of the House in 2010.
Specialists still rank it the longest of long shots, but Donald Trump’s woes might drag down enough Republican representatives nationwide on Nov. 8 that Democrats spring back into the majority. Barring such a monumental upset, even getting closer to an even split could provide some marginal increase in power.
“We are in a far better position than we were just a month ago, with the momentum clearly on our side, said Representative Richard Neal of Springfield.
“More and more, I believe there is a chance we can win back the House,” said Reprepsentative Jim McGovern of Worcester. “Those members of Congress who supported Trump, who enabled Trump, who explained away his craziness and who are now walking away from him based only on political expediency — I don’t think voters are going to reward that.”
At stake for Massachusetts Democrats: key leadership positions. The best way to have influence in the polarized House, where bipartisan compromise is little more than faint memory, is for your party to wield the gavels, from the speaker’s rostrum to individual committees.
McGovern and Neal are both “within a hair’s breadth from chairmanship of their committees,” said Representative Mike Capuano of Somerville. “We have several senior people in good position to push the agenda that Massachusetts would like to see.”
McGovern is the second-highest-ranking Democrat on the Rules committee. Neal, the longest-serving member of the Massachusetts House delegation, is the fifth-ranking Democrat on the Ways and Means Committee.
Capuano himself is the sixth-ranking Democrat on the Financial Services Committee and the eighth-ranking Democrat on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
“We’re in a whole new world here,” Capuano said. “Trump has thrown such a curve ball into the whole concept of campaigning. I’m not one who thinks I know how to read it. My hope and expectation after this election is we have an all-Democratic delegation in New England.”
There are currently only two Republican House members from New England: Bruce Poliquin of Maine and Frank Guinta of New Hampshire. Both are locked in tough reelection battles.
Even House Speaker Paul Ryan seems to have panicked, abandoning his support for Trump to focus his energy — and fund-raising — on helping Republicans in down ballot races. He sounded the alarm last week in a fund-raising appeal: “The race for Congress is too close to call.”
Analysts say the scales have tipped in Democrats’ favor in recent days but remain skeptical that the party will be able to capture the 30 seats it needs to win the House given the limited number of competitive seats.
The bottom line, David Wasserman, House editor of The Cook Political Report, wrote last week that Trump’s antics of “unshackling” himself from party leaders like Ryan could hurt Republican turnout and “substantially increase the odds” for Democrats to win up to 20 seats. But re-taking the House remains “a reach.”
For that to happen, Republican voter turnout on Nov. 8 would have to be poor and Trump supporters would have to refrain from voting down the ballot, said Kyle Kondik, managing editor of “Sabato’s Crystal Ball” at the University of Virginia Center for Politics.
Kondik summed up Democrats’ hopes this way: “Democrats are waiting for Trump’s weakness to deliver them the House. They just better hope they’re not waiting for Godot.”
Members of the Massachusetts delegation, whose seats are all safe, are devoting their energies toward helping their colleagues in New England and around the nation.
Representative Joe Kennedy of Brookline has campaigned for or helped raise money for several dozen House candidates in tough races, including Representative Annie Kuster in New Hampshire and Carol Shea-Porter, who is trying to win back her New Hampshire seat from Guinta.
Even if Democrats don’t retake the House, Kennedy said every seat Democrats can pick up matters. “With more Democrats in the House, it increases Democrats’ leverage and advantage in creating legislation that is far more bipartisan and balanced,” Kennedy said. There are huge differences in the reality of governing, he said, between gains of 12, 18 or 24 new seats.Tracy Jan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @TracyJan.