Primaries show GOP prospects brighten in race to keep House majority

At the beginning of this month, most political pundits were predicting Republicans will lose control of the U.S. House of Representatives in the November election. They’re not saying that anymore.

The election is starting to look like a horse race – and one in which the GOP might have a slight lead.

Tuesday’s primaries and runoffs in Texas, Arkansas, Georgia and Kentucky generally confirm this analysis.

The latest Reuters poll shows, incredibly, that the Republicans are slightly ahead of the Democrats on the crucial generic ballot question when voters are asked which party they want to control Congress. That’s a far cry from the more than 13-point deficit earlier this year that made the party of Lincoln look like it needed to scramble for the life rafts.

A GOP lead, even if it’s an outlier – coupled with a decline in the number of people who think the nation is on the wrong track – bodes well for the Republicans in the fall.

None of the congressional seats in Georgia, for example, look like they’ll flip now that the nominees for the general election are set.

In Georgia’s 6th District, which was hotly contested in the 2017 special election narrowly won by Republican Karen Handel (with 51.8 percent of the vote), Handel was renominated for the seat she holds in the House without opposition, while the Democrats cast only 14,600 ballots in a four-way primary. In 2017, with 18 candidates running on one ballot, Democrat Joel Ossoff topped them all with more than 92,000 votes in the initial vote.

The Republicans also look like they will keep the governorship in Georgia for another four years. The top two candidates on the GOP ballot – Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and Secretary of State Brian Kemp – will battle it out in a runoff, since neither candidate reached the magic 50 percent plus one mark in a crowded field.

Cagle and Kemp, whose combined vote total Tuesday was just 50,000 votes less than the total cast by Democrats in a highly contested race on their side, are fighting it out over which of them is more conservative.

On the Democratic side in Georgia, former state House Minority Leader Stacy Abrams, who prevailed in the primary, is trying to become the first African-American woman to win a U.S. gubernatorial election by appealing to the party’s hard-left voter blocs.

In Texas, where GOP strategists worry that the three congressional districts held by Republicans but carried by Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential race are vulnerable, the apparently more electable candidates came out of the runoffs. They may have to work hard to win, but they have the edge because even the moderate suburban parts of Texas tend to be anti-tax, pro-gun, and approve of things like work requirements for food stamp recipients.

The GOP got good news Tuesday in Arkansas, where it got the candidates it wanted for the general election.

In Kentucky, Republican strategists breathed a sigh of relief as Amy McGrath, a Marine Corps veteran running as a progressive, prevailed in the Democratic primary by 8 points over moderate Lexington Mayor Jim Gray for the right to take on Republican Rep. Andy Barr in the general election.

Like Georgia and Arkansas, Kentucky is a conservative state and voters there – unlike many on the East Coast where most national campaign reporters live – actually approve of the GOP platform and reject calls for gun bans, higher taxes, sanctuary for illegal immigrants, and federal funding for groups that provide abortions.

Washington-based commentator Peter Roff is former senior political writer for United Press International and former contributing editor for opinion at U.S. News and World Report.