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Friday House Line: How Big is Big?

Four months before the 2008 election, House Democrats are barely able to contain their excitement about their chances of picking up seats and expanding their majority.

Friday Line

At a press briefing earlier this week, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Chris Van Hollen (Md.) warned against "irrational exuberance" but couldn't resist predicting: "We will pick up seats in the next election. Even our colleagues on the other side recognize that."

He's right (duh!). The issue for Democrats is not whether they will pick up seats but how many seats will pick up. An election like this one -- where the national playing field is so heavily tilted toward one party -- comes along VERY infrequently and Democrats know they must work to maximize their gains this cycle in order to keep their majority solid for subsequent elections where the atmosphere might not be as friendly.

To that end, the DCCC has reserved more than $53 million in ad time in 51 districts for the coming fall campaign. The National Republican Congressional Committee has yet to book any ad time.

Democrats are almost certain to gain in the neighborhood of 10 seats this fall. Whether they can get to 20 or even 25 seats depends on two things: whether the political environment remains as advantageous for their party and how smartly they use their financial advantage over Republicans to maximize the number of seats in play.

As always, the number one ranked seat is the most likely to switch sides in the fall election. And, remember that this is only the first of two Lines today. Our latest on the veepstakes will be on the site later today.

To the Line (part 1)!

20. Louisiana's 6th district (Currently D): Rep. Don Cazayoux claimed this seat in a May special election and looked to be cruising to re-election this fall. But, then former state Rep. Woody Jenkins (R), who lost the special to Cazayoux, dropped out, and black state Rep. Michael Jackson (D) decided to run as an independent. That's trouble for the "'Youx." (Previous ranking: N/A)

19. Nevada's 3rd district (R): Drawn to be competitive, this suburban Las Vegas district looks likely to be a barn burner again this fall. Rep. Jon Porter (R) has proven his ability to run and win in a tough district but 2006 gubernatorial nominee and state Senate Minority Leader Dina Titus is his toughest opponent yet. (Previous ranking: 20)

18. Ohio's 1st district (R): Democrats insist this is their year in the Cincinnati area 1st district but a new poll commissioned by Rep. Steve Chabot's campaign says differently. Chabot leads state Rep. Steve Driehaus (D) 50 percent to 37 percent in a survey conducted by Public Opinion Strategies -- one of the most well regarded firms in the business. Due to the black population of the district (27 percent), this one will close, however. (Previous ranking: 14)

17. Minnesota's 3rd district (R): Democrat Ashwin Madia continues to pleasantly surprise party strategists. Madia raised nearly $700,000 in the last three months -- a very solid figure for a political unknown making his first run for office. Still, state Rep. Erik Paulsen draws rave reviews on the campaign trail and has more than $1.1 million on hand at the end of June. (Previous ranking: 15)

16. Colorado's 4th district (R): By far the biggest oversight on our most recent Line was the exclusion of this Colorado seat held by Rep. Marilyn Musgrave (R) since 2002. Despite its strong Republican leanings -- President Bush won it with 58 percent in 2004 -- Musgrave is a consistent underperformer, and faces a well-funded opponent in Democrat Betsy Markey. This is a major weak spot for Republicans. (Previous ranking: N/A)

15. Florida's 16th district (D): Until we know the results of the Aug. 26 Republican primary, which features a three-way fight between attorney Tom Rooney, Palm Beach Gardens Councilman Hal Valeche and state Rep. Gayle Harrell, it's tough to handicap this race. Rep. Tim Mahoney (D) got off to a rocky start in his first term but seems to have settled down nicely and is sitting on $1.2 million for the fall campaign. (Previous ranking: 12)

14. Pennsylvania's 11th district (D): The DCCC has already spent more than $170,000 on ads aimed at strengthening Rep. Paul Kanjorski's (D) hand. The fact that the national party felt the need to step into a district that Kanjorski has held since 1984 speaks to the slippage for the incumbent. Hazelton Mayor Lou Barletta is getting attention from the national GOP but remains woefully underfunded. (Previous ranking: 19)

13.New Hampshire's 1st district (D): A new University of New Hampshire poll shows former Rep. Jeb Bradley (R) leading current Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (D) 46 percent to 40 percent -- a rare Republican challenger carrying a lead. Bradley's loss in 2006 was perhaps the biggest upset in the country and voters may be experiencing a bit of buyer's remorse this time around. (Previous ranking: 16)

12. Pennsylvania's 10th district (D): Rep. Chris Carney, a freshman Democrat, won't ever be free of a serious Republican challenger. His district went for President Bush with 60 percent of the vote in 2004, and a large part of why Carney won in 2006 was the sex scandal surrounding ex-Rep. Don Sherwood (R). But, Carney is doing everything right -- voting his district (he supported the recent domestic surveillance bill) and stockpiling cash. Republican nominee Chris Hackett has already given three quarters of a million dollars to the campaign and is likely to keep giving. (Previous ranking: 11)

11. Ohio's 15th district (R): There's little doubt that state Sen. Steve Stivers (R) is a better candidate than Franklin County Commissioner Mary Jo Kilroy (D). And, the difference in candidate quality had led us to drop the contest down the Line in recent months. There are two reasons we are moving it back up. First, Kilroy lost the seat to a GOP incumbent by less than 1,500 votes in 2006; second, independent candidate Don Eckhart, who challenged Stivers in a state Senate race, will complicate Stivers' attempt to unify conservatives behind him. (Previous ranking: 13)

10. New Mexico's 1st district (R): This Albuquerque district is hard-wired to produce competitive races. Both parties have nominated solid candidates in Albuquerque City Councilman Martin Heinrich (D) and Bernallilo County Sheriff Darren White (R); Heinrich's campaign released polling earlier this month that showed the Democrat with a 47 percent to 44 percent edge. That seems about right. (Previous ranking: 9)

9. Illinois' 11th district (R): Concrete magnate Martin Ozinga (R) got a very late start in this race -- through no fault of his own -- but has performed well since becoming a candidate. In the last three months, Ozinga collected $881,000 -- only $70,000 from his own pocket. State Sen. Debbie Halvorson (D) raised less than half as much but has been stockpiling funds and still carries a cash edge. (Previous ranking: 8)

8. New Jersey's 7th district (R): There are two ways to look at this contest. On the one hand, state Sen. Leonard Lance's (R) campaign released a poll that showed him up seven points on 2006 Democratic nominee Linda Stender. On the other, Stender ended June with $1.2 million in the bank while Lance had less than $100,000 -- a major factor in a district covered by the New York City media market. (Previous ranking: 7)

7. New York's 13th district (R): Just when you thought things couldn't get any worse for House Republicans, their candidate in the race to replace Rep. Vito Fossella (R), chased from office by scandal, drops dead of a heart attack. Former state Assemblyman Robert Straniere (R), a somewhat controversial figure even within his own party, is stepping into the void but New York City Councilman Mike McMahon (D) is the favorite. (Previous ranking: 10)

6. Ohio's 16th district (R): After a rough few months on the campaign trail, state Sen. Kirk Schuring (R) released a poll earlier this month that showed him with a 40 percent to 34 percent lead over state Sen. John Boccieri (D). Maybe. But Schuring has tons of negatives that will be exposed by national Democrats over the course of the next four months. (Previous ranking: 4)

5. New Jersey's 3rd district (R): State Sen. John Adler (D) continues to wow on the fundraising front, having raised more than $1.9 million for his candidacy by the end of June with nearly $1.6 million in the bank. Lockheed Martin Vice President Chris Myers is nearly broke following his contested primary fight and can't depend on the NRCC to make up the difference. (Previous ranking: 5)

4. Texas' 22nd district (D): Pete Olson, former chief of staff to Sen. John Cornyn (R), got an unwelcome moment in the national spotlight recently when President Bush was taped making what he believed to be private comments about the state of the economy at a fundraiser for Olson. Olson is more than happy to take the money, however, and the fact that Bush was in the state to raise it for him shows how high a priority beating Rep. Nick Lampson (D) is for Republicans. (Previous ranking: 6)

3. Arizona's 1st district (R): Sydney Hay, who ran and lost in the Republican primary for this seat in 2002, was WAY down the NRCC's list of preferred candidates. And, after her fundraising performance over the last three months -- $95,000 raised -- it's apparent why. Former state Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D) collected $328,000 during that same time frame and continues to be a strong favorite to replace scandal-tarred Rep. Rick Renzi (R). (Previous ranking: 3)

2. Virginia's 11th district (R): Coming off a stronger-than-expected primary victory last month, Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Gerry Connolly released a poll recently that showed him with a commanding 52 percent to 21 percent edge over businessman -- and first time candidate -- Keith Fimian (R). Republicans insist the race isn't over, pointing to Fimian's $1 million war chest at the end of June. (Previous ranking: 2)

1. New York's 25th (R): Republicans struggled badly to find a candidate in this open seat race in Upstate New York, and it looks like the guy they settled on -- former Onondaga County Legislature Chairman Dale Sweetland -- might not have been the best choice. Sweetland raised a meager $134,000 between April and the end of June and had just $108,000 left in the bank. Dan Maffei, the Democratic nominee in 2006, ended Juned with $962,000 on hand. Case closed. (Previous ranking: 1)

By Chris Cillizza  |  July 25, 2008; 11:00 AM ET
Categories:  The Line  
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Next: Veepstakes Line: It's Now or Never?

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