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Friday House Line: 10 Districts to Watch in '08

In our last House Line, we provided our list of the ten races likely to be most closely-contested in 2008 based on their level of competitiveness in 2006. As a result, the Line has been primarily populated with freshmen -- nine of the 10 slots were occupied by first termers.

So, since we always aim to be forward looking here at The Fix, this month's House Line looks at 10 districts that didn't play host to serious contests in 2006 but -- if the party strategists are paying attention -- should in 2008.

This list is not meant to be a comprehensive guide but rather our a glimpse at the previously untapped possibilities heading toward next November. Making this list does not mean an incumbent is headed for a loss or even a particularly serious race in 2008. It simply means that the underlying demographics of the district or other environmental factors make the seat interesting to watch. Your suggestions for other districts that should be included as well as your thoughts on the seats that made our cut are welcome in the comments section below.

To the Line!

Delaware At-Large district (Currently R): Rep. Mike Castle (R) has never dipped below 65 percent in any of his re-election bids since winning this statewide House seat in 1992. He served as governor for eight years before coming to Congress and is a member of Delaware political royalty (Sens. Joe Biden and Tom Carper also qualify.) But, Delaware's Democratic underpinnings -- Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry won it by seven points in 2004 -- make this a must-target for House Democrats. The Democratic field has yet to sort itself out largely because the governor's office will also be open after eight years. One x-factor is Biden. He is up for re-election in 2008 and is also running for president. If he decides not to run again for the Senate, Castle would likely jump into that race.

Florida's 10th district (R): No Member is the focus of more retirement rumors than Rep. C.W. "Bill" Young (R). Starting way back in 1998 Young was on retirement watch, but come each cycle he gives it another go. Is this finally the year when Young ends a congressional career that began in 1970? It just might be. Young is 76 and is no longer chairman of the Appropriations Committee or even in the majority anymore. Democrats would be well-served to convince a serious candidate to announce early in hopes of showing what Young would be in for if he ran for another term. This seat, which stretches north and west of St. Petersburg, is closely divided between the two parties. President Bush lost it 51 percent to 49 percent in 2000 and then won it 51 percent to 49 percent four years later.

Louisiana's 3rd district (D): This southeastern Louisiana seat was long held by Rep. Billy Tauzin (R), but Charles Melancon beat one of Tauzin's sons in 2004 to return it to the Democrats' column. In 2006 Melancon won much more easily over state Sen. Richard Romero (R) who had lost to Billy Tauzin III in the Republican primary two years earlier. In a presidential years, however, Melancon is not likely to escape so easily. Bush carried this district by 17 points in 2004, and with numbers like that Republicans can't take a pass this cycle.

Michigan's 9th district (R): Some Democratic strategists are comparing Michigan to Pennsylvania in 2006 -- a large state moving in the Democrats' direction that turns into a political killing field for Republicans. If that prediction is right, expect Rep. Joe Knollenberg to be in a very serious race. Despite the fact that he grossly outspent his little-known Democratic opponent in 2005, Knollenberg only won with 51.5 percent -- well below his past re-election numbers. The district splits almost evenly on the presidential level as Bush carried it 51 percent to 49 percent in 2004. Knollenberg may have learned his lesson from a close race in 2006; he brought in savvy political operative Trent Wisecup as his chief of staff. Even so, this should be a highly targeted race in 2008.

Ohio's 16th district (R): At 82, Rep. Ralph Regula is no spring chicken. And, now he finds himself in the minority again. Those two facts have ramped up the speculation that Regula will not run for a 19th (!) term in 2008. Even if Regula runs again he can expect a much more serious challenge after taking 58 percent against a little-known Democratic opponent last November. The district, which takes in Canton -- home of the pro football Hall of Fame -- leans slightly toward Republicans. This may be the rare instance where Republicans have a better chance of holding this seat if the incumbent retires.

Pennsylvania's 15th district (R): Democrats were almost certainly kicking themselves in 2006 by their inability to field a serious candidate against freshman Rep. Charlie Dent (R). As it was, Dent took just 54 percent of the vote in 2006. The district, which lies north of Philadelphia and takes in Allentown, is extremely competitive between the parties. Kerry won it by just 726 votes in 2004. A number of Democrats are already looking at an '08 challenge including state Rep. Jennifer Mann and state Sen. Lisa Boscola.

Pennsylvania's 18th district (R): Rep. Tim Murphy (R) has been blessed to avoid any serious opposition since winning a western Pennsylvania seat created in the 2001 redistricting process. But, his own actions may severely hamstring his chances for a fourth term. In December a Pittsburgh television station reported that Murphy was under federal investigation for using official government staff to do campaign work. The investigation was prompted by a late October report in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that featured allegations from six past and present Murphy staffers. Little information about the case has been released since. Democrats don't yet have a candidate but you can bet they will find one.

North Dakota's At-Large district (D): For a time in the late 1990s and earlier this decade, Rep. Earl Pomeroy (D) was a regular target for House Republicans who looked at the state's strong Republican leanings at the presidential level and couldn't understand why they couldn't beat Pomeroy. So, eventually, they stopped trying. Pomeroy won with 60 percent in 2004 and 66 percent in 2006. But, in a presidential year where the Republican vote should soar (especially if Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton is the Democratic nominee) the national party would be remiss not to try one more time. A slew of candidates are mentioned including state Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem.

Tennessee's 6th district (D): Take a long-serving Democratic incumbent who hasn't had a serious race in more than a decade and a district that is rapidly growing more and more Republican and you have at least the potential for a barn burner. Rep. Bart Gordon (D) has held the middle Tennessee 6th district since 1984 and has watched as the area has grown redder by the election cycle. In 2000, with native son Al Gore on the ticket, George Bush carried the district by just 224 votes. Four years later the margin was a whopping 60 percent to 40 percent. Gordon is a savvy incumbent who would be hard to oust even in the best Republican year. Even so, Republicans need to begin to make plays in districts like these in hopes of either pulling an upset or positioning themselves for when the seat comes open.

Utah's 2nd district (D): It's tough for Republicans not to target a district where President Bush won by 35 points in 2004. But, they did exactly that in 2006 and Rep. Jim Matheson racked up his biggest re-election margin yet. Matheson, whose father was a popular Utah governor, is an extremely savvy politician who has beat back repeated attempts by Republicans to knock him off. He has also benefited from the lackluster candidates Republicans have put up against him. Is it possible that there are no Republicans willing to run for the 2nd district who can walk and chew gum at the same time? Maybe. The National Republican Congressional Committee should be double-checking just to make sure.

By Chris Cillizza  |  March 2, 2007; 7:22 AM ET
Categories:  The Line  
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