WASHINGTON -- Prospects for the Democrats holding the Senate improved over the past month, but the same cannot be said of their chances of taking back the House of Representatives.
A Huffington Post analysis of the current ratings from several respected House race handicappers shows that 227 congressional districts are "strong" or "leaning" for the Republicans and 190 districts are "strong" or "leaning" for the Democrats, with 18 "tossup" districts that both parties have a chance of winning.
The Democrats need a net gain of 25 seats to reach a majority of 218 and retake the House. Even if they won all of those tossup races, they would still be 10 seats shy of the majority. To make up the difference, they would have to win many of the races now rated as leaning toward the GOP, which would require a "wave" election.
Typically in wave elections, the prevailing party had a strong lead before Election Day in the generic congressional ballot, a poll question that asks respondents which party's congressional candidate they would vote for. When Republicans netted 63 seats in the 2010 midterm election, they had led in the generic ballot by nearly 8 percentage points. Democrats had similar advantages in 2008 and 2006, when they picked up 21 and 31 seats, respectively.
In those years, the party with the tailwind was pouring money into credible plays for seats that the other party controlled, while the party facing the headwind was employing a decidedly defensive strategy.
By nearly every account, 2012 is not shaping up as a wave election. According to the current HuffPost Pollster trend estimate, which includes all available public polls, Democrats hold about a 1-point advantage on the 2012 generic congressional ballot.
There are certainly more Republican House seats in play this year due to the GOP's large gains in 2010, but by controlling the redistricting processes in many states, the party managed to insulate some of its incumbents from what would otherwise have been competitive races.
Further, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the National Republican Campaign Committee have both pursued offensive strategies across many districts. The DCCC has run ads trying to tie vulnerable Republicans to Rep. Paul Ryan's controversial budget plan, claiming it will "end Medicare as we know it," and has attacked Republican incumbents for voting to give tax cuts to millionaires and companies that ship jobs overseas. Meanwhile, the NRCC's ads have linked many Democratic incumbents to the 2009 stimulus package and the Affordable Care Act, which are unpopular in many battleground districts.
Since neither party has a commanding advantage nationally, each party is likely to win nearly all of the races now leaning its way and to take about half the tossup seats, giving Democrats a net gain of less than 10 seats in the House. Even if Democrats sweep those tossup races, the ceiling for their gains appears to be about 15 seats -- still short of the 25 they need for a majority.
There is also a possibility that the House will be virtually unchanged, and there is an outside chance that Republicans could pick up a few seats.
A good deal of uncertainty remains in predicting the composition of the House in 2013, but it seems unlikely -- though not impossible -- that the Democrats will win enough seats to take back the majority.
The Huffington Post assigns ratings to House races by analyzing the views of respected election handicappers -- specifically, The Cook Political Report, The Rothenberg Political Report and Larry Sabato's Crystal Ball.
For detailed individual descriptions of and polls on the key races in the battle for the House, check out HuffPost Pollster's House Outlook page (updated daily!) under "Seats to Watch."
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