WASHINGTON • Halfway through the primary season, election results across the country have strengthened the Democrats' hand in their quest for control of the House, even as shifts in the national mood raise the possibility that an anticipated electoral wave could flatten into a ripple.
After votes in 21 states, including California and seven others that held primaries on Tuesday, Democrats have avoided potential pitfalls and secured general-election candidates in many Republican-held districts who have compelling biographical stories and political profiles that party leaders hope will have broad appeal in a nation that tends to vote for change at this stage in the electoral cycle.
Many of the Democratic nominees are younger, more diverse and less tied to Washington than their Republican rivals.
Fresh evidence of the party's primary success came on Tuesday, when Democrats on California's "top two" ballot succeeded in salvaging spots for several House seats that are considered toss-ups.
Party leaders had feared divided Democrats would cede the seats to Republicans, but voters rallied sufficiently to push Democrats forward to the House ballot in November.
Republicans are counting on an improving economy and the local roots of their incumbents, buttressed by a financial advantage among outside fund-raising groups.
Their fears of an electoral catastrophe in November have been eased by declining concern among voters about the direction of the country and rising approval ratings for President Donald Trump, who continues to dominate the daily news cycle by embracing polarising issues such as immigration and the racially fraught topic of football players kneeling for the anthem.
But that appears to have been offset by the Democratic results so far.
"They have enough seats in play and enough quality candidates in those seats to win the majority," said Mr Nathan Gonzales, who handicaps House races for Inside Elections.
"Democrats have done a good job of turning enthusiasm into a large number of candidates, of turning enthusiasm into fundraising," Mr Gonzalez said.
"But now they have to turn that enthusiasm into votes."
Democratic leaders continue to coach their candidates to steer clear of the fireworks surrounding Mr Trump and the probe into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential race, both to reinforce their focus on local concerns and to avoid riling Republican voters.
"Our candidates aren't talking about him a lot. Republicans are having to explain about the President," said Mr Ben Ray Luján, who leads the House mid-term effort.
Democrats need a net gain of 23 seats to retake the 435-seat House in November and have benefited from a playing field largely in the suburbs of major cities, where polls show swing voters, especially educated white women, are more likely to reject Mr Trump's conduct in office.
WASHINGTON POST, REUTERS