It’s the same story every election cycle. Out of 435 House races, only a few dozen of them end up being highly competitive. It’s not difficult to understand why this is the case. A House district in a liberal city like Los Angeles is going to be made up mostly of Democratic voters, so the Democratic candidate is automatically going to win big. And a House district in a conservative rural district is going to be made up mostly of Republican voters, so the Republican candidate is automatically going to win big.
Once it sinks in that there’s nothing you can to influence these hundreds of non-competitive House races with your small dollar donations or retweets, you realize that you can only really make a difference in those few dozen highly competitive races. These are the races in districts where roughly half the voters are Democrats and roughly half are Republicans, so they’re up for grabs. They’re going to come down to a point or two on election night, and they’re going to decide the House majority every time. And they’re the races where you can easily tip the scales simply by getting even slightly involved.
Sounds easy, right? But the problem is two-fold. First, it’s difficult to get everyone to understand that most House races – including most of the races that have the biggest names and most controversial personalities – are simply not up for grabs. Majorie Taylor Greene is in a district that leans more than twenty points Republican. There simply aren’t enough Democrats, liberals, or moderates in that district to be able to vote her out. We can throw tens of millions of dollars at her Democratic opponent, and she’ll still win by twenty or thirty points. We know this because in 2022 our side did throw tens of millions of dollars in small donations at her Democratic opponent, and she still won in a massive blowout. The vast majority of House races are literally unwinnable by one side or the other. It’s just a fact.
Even once that fact sinks in, we get to the other tricky part. How do we know precisely which House races are going to be the most competitive? Each election cycle I assemble a list of the most competitive House races, and urge Palmer Report readers to donate directly to the Democrats running in those races. And that’s worked well. In 2022 in particular, the Democrats ended up winning far more than half of the “toss up” races that we promoted. That’s not a coincidence.
But I’m not a political scientist. My list of the most competitive House races mainly just consists of the races that Cook Political Report and/or other professional ratings entities have placed in the “Toss up” and “Lean Democrat” and “Lean Republican” categories. These are educated guesses, and good ones, but it’s not an exact science.
So I’m highly intrigued that someone has come up with a new app called “Oath” that uses a complex algorithm to try to figure out which House races can be impacted the most by your donations.
Some algorithms are better than others. I’ll need to see this app in action, see what kinds of recommendations it makes, and whether they make logical sense, before I can form an opinion about the app. I’ll have to evaluate Oath once the 2024 election cycle gets fully underway.
But in the meantime I’m excited that this kind of thing now exists. I’ve spent numerous election cycles begging everyone to give their money to the races that are actually going to be competitive, even as most of the momentum on social media ends up being focused on races that have no chance of being competitive at all. It’s one of the biggest challenges we face when it comes to winning the congressional majority. The sheer amount of money that folks on our side dump into House races in far right districts, where the Democrat is guaranteed to lose by twenty points no matter what, is astounding. If those same donations had been allocated more smartly in 2022, the Democrats would probably have the House majority right now.
As for my own list of competitive House races in 2024, that’s coming. And if an app like Oath ends up making it easier for me to figure out which races truly belong on the list, all the better. I’ve been holding off for now because a number of states are still drawing and redrawing their House districts and battling it out in court. Such battles directly impact which races will be competitive. But soon enough the court deadlines will come and go, the 2024 maps will be locked in, and we’ll be talking a lot about which races we need to focus on. I can promise you that if we focus on the House (and Senate) races that are actually competitive, our odds of winning the majority will go up tenfold.
By the way, one 2024 House race in the “toss up” category is taking place in just five days. The special election to replace George Santos has received stunningly little national media coverage, but it’s taking place next week. If you have five bucks or an online volunteer shift to give to Democratic candidate Tom Suozzi, now’s the time.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report