On top of that, the demise of centrist Democrats in purple districts in 2014 means the party won't be forced to play defense in the most contested races in the next cycle. And the Democrats are also hoping a strong presidential candidate – someone like presumptive contender Hillary Clinton – will excite the party's base and provide candidates with lengthy coattails.
By Mike Lillis - 12/26/14 02:10 PM EST
After being clobbered in the 2014 elections, House Democrats are hoping 2016 will be their year.
Although party leaders didn't expect to gain ground in last month's midterms, they'd hoped to keep their losses in the single digits. Instead, a combination of President Obama's unpopularity, economic anxiety among voters and low turnout at the polls allowed the Republicans to pick up 13 seats, adding a significant cushion to the GOP majority in the next Congress.
In 2016, however, the Democrats foresee more favorable conditions. Not only is voter turnout expected to be much higher, but the economy will likely have had two more years to improve following the Great Recession.
"In a presidential election with a Democratic nominee winning 53, 54 percent of the vote nationally – which I think is quite plausible with Hillary – she's going to outperform that in the purple districts and create some real updraft," said one former Democratic lawmaker.
With that in mind, here's a shortlist of the districts where Democrats stand the best chance of winning back seats in 2016.
• Illinois-10: Former GOP Rep. Robert Dold took this seat from freshman Rep. Brad Schneider (D) last month, regaining the spot he'd held from 2011 to 2013. But Obama won the district, a northern suburb of Chicago, with more than 58 percent of the vote in 2012, making this the most Democratic district to be held by a Republican next year. With Democrats sure to aim their sights on this seat in a presidential year, Dold will be forced to play defense for most of the next Congress.
• Texas-23: Republican Will Hurd bested freshman Democratic Rep. Pete Gallego in last month's race for control of this expansive west Texas border district. But Hurd won with plurality, not majority, support and his razor thin margin (2.1 percentage points) even amid the GOP wave makes him a very appealing target for the Democrats in 2016. Obama's recent executive action easing deportation policy could play a significant role in the next race. Roughly 70 percent of the district’s population is Hispanic.
• Nevada-4: Freshman Rep. Steven Horsford was a rising star among House Democrats before a late surge by GOP challenger Cresent Hardy led to his surprising defeat last month. Still, only 46 percent of registered Nevada voters went to the polls, and Hardy received less than half of the vote in a district that Obama took by a healthy 55-44 margin in 2012. Meanwhile, Horsford has already said he plans to reach out to voters to weigh what went wrong in 2014 – and gauge another potential run two years from now.
• Maine-2: Republican Bruce Poliquin took advantage of the GOP wave to replace outgoing six-term Rep. Michael Michaud (D), who lost a run for governor last month. But Poliquin, too, failed to appeal to a majority of voters, winning just 47 percent in a district where Democrats have held the House seat for the last two decades and 54 percent of the electorate chose Obama in 2012. The Democrats have already begun vying for a rematch by actively recruiting Emily Cain, a 34-year-old state senator, who they think will have a better shot in 2016 when political conditions could be more favorable for the party.
• Iowa-1: Republican Rod Blum won last month's contest to replace outgoing four-term Rep. Bruce Braley (D), who lost his bid to succeed retiring Sen. Tom Harkin (D). But the district has leaned Democratic in recent years, with Obama winning by 14 percentage points in 2012. And the contest was a squeaker – Blum won by 2.5 points – making him a top target of the Democrats two years from now.
• New York-24: Republican John Katko rolled to victory last month, defeating freshman Rep. Dan Maffei (D) by an astounding 20 points. But his Syracuse district also tends to lean blue, with voters there going 58 percent for Obama in 2012. Additionally, only 29 percent of New York voters turned out to the polls last month, and a Hillary Clinton presidential run could bring a surge of Democrats to the polls to support the former Empire State senator.
• New Hampshire-1: Republican Frank Guinta defeated Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (D) in a district where the incumbent has lost in the last four election cycles. The Democrats are hoping that trend continues in 2016. And they've been encouraged by the fact that Obama won this district with roughly 51 percent of the vote in 2012. Also buoying the Democrats’ hopes, Guinta's margin of 3.6 percentage points was among the lowest among victorious Republicans nationwide.
• New York-11: GOP Rep. Michael Grimm easily won his third term last month, but it wasn't without controversy. The former FBI agent has been indicted on a long list of federal charges related to a restaurant he once owned, and he pleaded guilty on Tuesday to one count of felony tax evasion. The Democrats, who'd hoped those legal woes would help them unseat Grimm this year, will surely continue to press the issue as the case evolves and the punishments are handed down. In a presidential year, facing a tarnished incumbent, they'll like their odds in a district where Obama won 52 percent of the vote in 2012.