It all depends on remaining mail ballots in several key states.

Control of the House of Representatives remains unclear as of Thursday afternoon, as Republicans appear to have an edge but a path to a Democratic majority remains.

To win a majority, a party needs 218 seats. The totals for several close contests and races with many uncounted mail ballots remain in flux. But currently, Republican candidates lead in 222 districts and Democrats lead in 213.

So to hold their majority, Democrats need to gain the lead in five House races where Republicans are currently ahead — as well as holding on to their own leads, some of which are quite narrow.

A Democratic takeover is probably not the likely outcome at this point, but it is possible. At least one contest where Republicans currently lead, in Maryland’s Sixth District, is widely expected to flip to Democrats. There are several other uncalled contests, particularly in California, where only about half the vote has been counted and tallies of the remaining mail ballots could change the leads.

The catch is that Democrats’ small leads in other close races are far from secure. Already today, Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO) regained a lead of a few hundred votes over her Democratic challenger as more votes were tallied. And in three other uncalled contests, the Democrat is leading by less than 1 percentage point. So a lot would have to go right for Democrats for the GOP’s takeover to be thwarted.

The key contests Democrats might hope to flip

There are about a dozen uncalled House contests where Republicans currently lead, so for a majority, Democrats would need to win five of those. And their hopes overwhelmingly hinge on whether slow tallies of mail-in ballots could shift outcomes in their favor.

  • Their best shot may be in Maryland’s Sixth District, where Rep. David Trone (D) currently trails. This race seems likely to flip in Trone’s favor since many mail-in ballots in deep blue Montgomery County remain to be counted.
  • Another possibility is Colorado’s Third District, the site of a potential shocking upset against Boebert. She is only leading her Democratic challenger Adam Frisch by a few hundred votes, with more to tally — as well as potential “cures” for mail ballots that were initially rejected.
  • In Oregon’s Fifth District, progressive Jamie McLeod-Skinner (D), who defeated a moderate incumbent in the Democratic primary, is currently trailing Lori Chavez-DeRemer (R) by 2.6 percentage points, with about one-quarter of the vote still uncounted.
  • In New York’s 22nd District, an open seat contest to replace the retiring moderate Rep. John Katko (R), Republican Brandon Williams leads by 1.6 percentage points.
  • Mail could also be a factor in Arizona’s Second District (which some outlets, but not others, have called for the Republican) and Arizona’s Sixth District (where the Republican leads by 3 percentage points).

In California, another heavily vote-by-mail state, there are several uncalled races where Republicans currently lead, and only about half the vote has been counted.

  • The California 13th District’s open seat contest looks promising for Democrats to flip since Republican John Duarte is leading by only a 0.29 percent margin over Democrat Adam Gray, and just 50 percent of the vote is counted.
  • Rep. David Valadao (R) represents California’s 22nd District, which Joe Biden won handily, and he has been through this before. In 2018, he led his Democratic challenger by 8 points on election night, but as the mail count slowly came in, that lead vanished, and he fell behind on November 26 and wouldn’t regain his lead. (He won the seat back in 2020.) Now, he is leading by 8 points again. Will history repeat itself?
  • California’s Third District and California’s 41st District both narrowly went for Trump in 2020, and Republican candidates Kevin Kiley (CA-03) and Rep. Ken Calvert (CA-41) have single-digit leads, with more than half of the vote uncounted.
  • Finally, California’s 27th District, 40th District, and 45th District feature Republican incumbents — Mike Garcia (CA-27), Young Kim (CA-40), and Michelle Steel (CA-45) — who represent districts Biden won but who currently lead by double digits. Their final margins are expected to get closer, though it’s not clear whether the untallied votes will be sufficient to change the outcome.

So those are Democrats’ hopes — to be saved by mail ballots and California’s slow counting process again. Still, it’s worth noting that though the conventional wisdom is that late-counted mail ballots benefit Democrats, that is not necessarily true in every state or district. (Oregon and California have nonpartisan primaries, and in some of these, Republicans gained ground as mail ballots were counted this year.)

But Democrats would also need to hold on in their own tight races

Having five contests flip where Republicans currently lead isn’t exactly easy, but it is possible considering how close some of those races are and how many mail ballots haven’t been counted.

Yet the extra challenge Democrats face is that they need to hold on to their own leads, including in some very tight races. That isn’t a sure lead, and they already saw leads in two contests (CO-03 and CA-41) slip away Thursday.

The other districts where Democratic leads may be a bit shaky include:

  • Washington’s Third District, a Republican-leaning district where Trump-critical Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R) failed to advance from the top-two primary. The general election pits Trump-endorsed Joe Kent (R) against Marie Gluesenkamp Pérez (D), and while Perez currently leads by more than 4 points, one-third of the vote remains uncounted.
  • Arizona’s First District, where redistricting put Rep. David Schweikert (R) in narrowly Biden-leaning territory. His challenger, Jevin Hodge (D), leads by about 1.6 percentage points, but again, many uncounted mail ballots remain.
  • Oregon’s Sixth District, a new Democratic-leaning district that saw a bitter and expensive primary fight won by Andrea Salinas (D). Salinas leads her GOP opponent by about 1.6 percentage points, with about 40 percent of the vote uncounted.
  • Nevada’s Third District, where Rep. Susie Lee (D) leads her GOP challenger by about 1.6 percentage points.

In addition, Rep. Mary Peltola (D-AK) currently leads Alaska’s at-large district and Rep. Jared Golden leads Maine’s Second District, but their fates will be decided by ranked-choice voting, after lower-performing candidates in those races are eliminated and their ballots are reallocated to the voters’ second choice.

If some of these Democratic leads slip away in favor of Republicans, it’s possible the House will be called for the GOP relatively soon. But if Democrats hang on here and start gaining ground in contests where Republicans are up, House control could take weeks to determine, as California and other states deal with the slow process of processing and counting many thousands of mail ballots. Buckle up.


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